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Monthly Archives: December 2014

7th Day of Christmastide – Feast Day of Sylvester

Sylvester_I_and_Constantine7th Day of Christmastide – and the feast day of St. Sylvester.

Sylvester, born in Rome, was ordained to the ministry during the peaceeful days before the persecutions of Diocletian. He passed through those days of terror, and eventually saw the triumph of Constantine in the year 312, and the Edict of Milan in 313, which made Christianity legal in the Empire for the first time in centuries. Two years later he became Bishop of Rome, a position held for 24 years until his death in 335.

The Council of Nicaea took place during his papal ministry (325), but he didn’t attend because of his advanced age. He sent his legates in his place, but ultimately it was his “sign-off” on the Nicene Creed that was critical for Western acceptance. St. Sylvester was Pope for twenty-four years and eleven months. He died in the year 335. His Feast Day is December 31st.

Sylvester saw so much change: Peaceful days, heavy persecution, Constantine’s triumph, church freedom and prestige, ecumenical councils, and the move of the Empire’s center from his home town to the east. How I wish I could have a cup of coffee with him, and hear all of those stories.

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Posted by on December 31, 2014 in Early Church, Saints

 

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Let the 12 Days Begin! Merry Christmastide!

Merry Christmastide to One and All!

candles litW. Sandys Christmastide

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Posted by on December 25, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

Surfeited, Sluggish and Lazy? Fourth Wednesday of Advent – 14.12.24

It’s here. Christmas Eve. And we find ourselves at the end of 1 Peter, where the Apostle gives a final exhortation:

Resist [the Devil], firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world. And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you. To him be the dominion forever and ever. Amen. (1 Pet. 5:9-11)

Resisting temptation…it just never goes away, does it? C’mon…even on Christmas?!?!?

Here is Martin Luther’s commentary. He starts, interestingly enough, with the physical side of resisting temptation. “Sober you should be, and vigilant, but to the end that the body be kept in a proper frame. Yet with all this, the devil is not routed; this only suffices to afford the body less occasion to sin … if he can make you lazy, so that your body is unguarded and inclined to wantonness, then will he quickly wrench the sword from your grasp … if the body be surfeited, sluggish, and lazy, it is a certain sign that the soul before was drunken, that is, secure, weary and tired of the Word, and besides sleeps and snores.”

Unwrapped Christmas PresentsLuther makes me laugh…and cry at the same time! He nails me. During the holidays, I inevitably find myself sitting on the couch after eating an amazing meal, having had a couple of desserts, now nibbling on cookies, staring at a pile of un-needed gifts and used wrapping paper …you might as well hang a sign around my neck that says “surfeited, sluggish and lazy.” That’s what Christmas is all about, right?

Sleeping-after-Christmas-002But it’s not just Christmas…it’s holidays in general. The nation of Israel used to have holidays. They were all designed to celebrate and honor the mighty acts of God in the lives of His people (Passover, Feast of Booths, Hanukkah…). You gathered and worshiped as prescribed in the law, out of profound gratitude, for the pleasure of God. In the United States, some of our holidays had similar intentions – honoring the Revolution, memorializing and honoring veterans, honoring past leaders, even honoring the labor force. We celebrated something way bigger and more important than ourselves.

But any more, holidays are for self. They are days we are told we don’t have to work, and we can rather indulge ourselves on those days for our pleasure. Parties, sales, lots of alcohol, lot of, as Luther would say, “wantonness.” We’re the honorees…we wear the crowns.

george-cruikshank-swallow-at-christmas-satire-on-seasonal-gluttonySuch is the fate of Christmas, I’m afraid. I guess I shouldn’t expect a culture that struggles to honor anything to gather itself and honor a mostly-rejected spiritual leader’s birthday. I should expect people to celebrate, not Christ, but themselves. It’s really nothing personal, Jesus. It’s how we as a self-absorbed, carnal culture celebrate all holidays.

praying bibleBut, there will be some. I’m sure there are some every year. Some who will actually find joy in the word of God, even in the tough words of God, even on Christmas day. They’ll find it in themselves (through Spirit, prayer and Word) to remain a disciple, even on Jesus’ birthday. The joy of the Lord will trump the happiness of indulgence. And, with the Spirit unquenched, they will resist the Devil, and he will flee. They will enjoy the presence of the Lord on Christmas. To Him will be dominion, forever and ever … including even Christmas day.

Lord, forgive me. Might I be counted among the faithful this year. And throughout the upcoming 12 Days of Christmastide. And forevermore. Amen.

E     *     O

 
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Posted by on December 24, 2014 in Advent 2014, Discipleship

 

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Feeling the Need to (Ad)Vent: Fourth Tuesday of Advent – 14.12.23

“Only one more shopping day until Christmas.” I remember hearing that phrase as a kid – and needing to have it explained to me by my Mom. Even then, I thought it weird that the task of gift-buying was given such an up-front reference.

cb_13Maybe I was touchy about it because I grew up loving the Charlie Brown Christmas special. Since I I can remember, I have always considered Charlie Brown a kindred spirit, longing for the “true meaning of Christmas” in a world saturated in materialism. Toward the end of the show, Charlie Brown says in an aside, I won’t let all this commercialism ruin my Christmas.” That’s right, CB! You tell ‘em! Let’s rise above it all, and turn this holy-day into a Jesus-focused, worship filled season!

47075-Xmas-Presents-Under-The-TreeThen, I make the list of Christmas presents I need to buy, hike to the mall, and engage in the ridiculous ritual of purchasing gifts that people don’t need, with money that I don’t have. Why? I confess…it’s not because I simply want to give gifts. And there is virtually no genuinely spiritual motivation – like imitating the Magi, or celebrating the tradition of St. Nicholas. Nope…for the most part, I buy things because I’ve been convinced that if I don’t, then I’m a Scrooge. And I have to make sure I spend enough on them to match how important they are to me. Oh, and it needs to be a wonderful, creative gift, or else it’s all for naught anyway.

uncle_san_i_want_you_to_spend_a_lotDoes anyone else see that we have been manipulated to make these purchases by a media-infested, capitalistic, greedy culture that cares absolutely nothing about Jesus? Don’t you hear them speak about whether or not this is a “good” Christmas based on “consumer confidence” and “holiday sales”? And isn’t it astonishing that Christian after Christian follows this cultural paradigm like lemmings to the sea, even though it runs counter to the teaching of the Word of God on multiple points? God says bless the poor – we bless those we like who are in our network. God says daily bread, food and shelter, is enough – but we line our homes, garages and mini-storages with piles of stuff. God says share the gospel – we table to gospel to keep the friction of unbelief away from our cozy gatherings. It’s as though we collectively lose our spiritual minds.

pagan ritualIt makes sense to me that Christians should observe the holy days very differently. But I, like so many others, feel the pull of the commercial holiday so profoundly that it seems there is no escaping it. At least not without being called a Grinch.

“Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith.” (1 Pet. 5:8-9). Our enemy is clever…and when we see Him on the prowl, he must be resisted!

And here is Martin Luther’s commentary: “So are we now on earth, where the prince is an evil spirit and has the hearts of men in his power, doing with them what he will. It is a fearful thought if we properly consider it. Therefore Peter warns us to … know the state of things here! … If we then are fools and regard him not, but go on and take no heed, then he has as good as seized us … it is so sad for us that we go about so heedlessly.”

I think that’s it for tonight. Praying that I, and hopefully a community of others, have not be irretrievably seized, and will have the boldness to observe Advent and Christmastide in increasingly godly ways.

E     *     O

 

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Don’t Get All Religious On Me Again!… 4th Monday of Advent – 14.12.22

“Dear friends, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice inasmuch as you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed. If you are insulted because of the name of Christ, you are blessed, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you” (1 Pet. 4:12-14).

xmas vacIt’s the Monday before Christmas day. Family gatherings have begun to take place. For those of us who truly believe in the fullness of the Christ of Christmas, these gatherings can be awkward. The Word of God is clear: We should share the gospel of Christ. Especially on the day we celebrate His coming! But we know that we’re to share the gospel with those in our families who don’t believe. But we know that conversations like these can engender ill will, even hostility.

Enter Luther: “Should you not believe in and confess this name, then the world would love and esteem you, for there is no name hated more by the world than the name of Jesus Christ. Not that it cannot mention his name or hear it mentioned, yea, the worst and bitterest enemies of this name hear it and boast of it the most.”

Cultural Christians, religious unbelievers, are a mixed bag. Do you have these in your family? The ones who think it fine to speak of Jesus, almost authoritatively, and even to attend the occasional church service (especially around the holidays). But they are hostile to the Biblical call to wholeheartedly follow Christ.

ToleranceIn our society which battles relentlessly for political correctness and religious pluralism, it has become the cultural imperative that we not only let people believe whatever they want to, but we are obliged to honor their beliefs. “God, on my terms!” they argue…and who are we to counter their ideas?

Yet our ideas are countered, seemingly without hesitation. Atheists, agnostics, and the pseudo-religious types slander our gospel presentations, says Luther, “because we do not let this name be considered as an ordinary name…because we believe, preach, and confess that Jesus Christ…is the only Savior of the world, who saves from sin….and that only those who know him as such does he deliver from sin and death, and they only obtain grace and eternal salvation. This the people of the world cannot tolerate.”

So, we’re faced with it again: Do we risk putting a damper on the holiday by referencing the fullness of what the coming of Jesus demands of our lives? Or do we shelf the gospel for the sake of “peace on earth, good will toward men?”

cb and linusIn the spirit of Advent…would you share the gospel if you thought Jesus would be arriving for His second coming on Thursday? I would guess yes.

Knowing what you know now about the truth of the gospel, wouldn’t you want people to keep bringing it up if you weren’t a believer? I know I would.

Praying that all of us can be bold carriers of the gospel this holiday season … and that the Spirit of glory and of God will rest upon us, making our lives and words divinely fruitful!

E     *     O

 

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“The Day is Surely Drawing Near” 4th Sunday of Advent – 14.12.21

castle church

Castle Church, Wittenberg

Today’s Sunday Advent hymn text comes from the 16th century. Bartholomaus Ringwaldt puts a comprehensive theology of the second coming of Jesus into poetic form. It combines both the glories and tragedies of the apocalyptic events on the world’s horizon. I seldom “get” to sing about all of these things during the holidays.

The day is surely drawing near when Jesus, God’s anointed,
in all his power shall appear as judge whom God appointed.
Then fright shall banish idle mirth, and hungry flames shall ravage earth as Scripture long has warned us.

The final trumpet then shall sound and all the earth be shaken,
and all who rest beneath the ground shall from their sleep awaken.
But all who live will in that hour, by God’s almighty, boundless power, be changed at his commanding.

The books are opened then to all, a record truly telling 
what each has done, both great and small, when He on earth was dwelling.
And every heart be clearly seen, and all be known as they have been in thoughts and words and actions. *

Then woe to those who scorned the Lord and sought but carnal pleasures,
who here despised His precious Word and loved their earthly treasures!
With shame and trembling they will stand and at the judge’s stern command to Satan be delivered.

My Savior paid the debt I owe, and for my sin was smitten; 
Within the Book of Life I know my name has now been written.
I will not doubt, for I am free, and Satan cannot threaten me; There is no condemnation!

May Christ our intercessor be and through his blood and merit
read from his book that we are free with all who life inherit.
Then we shall see him face to face, with all his saints in that blest place which he has purchased for us.

O Jesus Christ, do not delay, but hasten our salvation;
We often tremble on our way in fear and tribulation.
Oh, hear and grant our fervent plea; Come, mighty judge, and set us free from death and every evil.

* (I wonder about this – will our sins be public domain at the judgment? Isaiah 43:25 says ““I, even I, am he who blots out your transgressions, for my own sake, and remembers your sins no more.” If God won’t remember, why would he have us and others remember our sins? Isaiah 54:4 says ““Do not be afraid; you will not be put to shame. Do not fear disgrace; you will not be humiliated. You will forget the shame of your youth and remember no more the reproach of your widowhood.”  And, in Isaiah 65:17 it says ““See, I will create new heavens and a new earth. The former things will not be remembered, nor will they come to mind.”)

 
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Posted by on December 21, 2014 in Advent 2014, Lutheran

 

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One Fruit Cake Too Many! Third Saturday of Advent – 14.12.20

personalized-christmas-cookies-500x262A brief offering for you today – in light of the growing pile of Christmas goodies on your kitchen counters.

(First, let me preface this with an apology to any over-sensitive Germans there might be out there. I’m just quoting Luther!)

Today, we hit upon this Advent-related verse from 1 Peter: “The end of all things is at hand; therefore be self-controlled and sober-minded for the sake of your prayers.Now, when I think of being “sober”, I think about avoiding the effects of inebriation. Luther has a broader view….

schlaraffenland2“’To be sober’ means that we eat and drink only sufficient, so that the body may practice abstinence and perform its functions aright … On this subject there should be a great deal of preaching, for we Germans are about sinking in ruin under the shameful vice of overeating and overdrinking!”

I rarely connect my physical fitness with my spiritual life. But Luther does, and calls us all to temperance in our appetites – not so we’ll look good, feel good, or live longer, but that our prayer lives would be stronger! What do you think?

(And a brief word about 16th century Germans: I don’t know anything about your eating habits, but I must venture a calculated guess that you didn’t suffer the propensity to obesity that we collectively experience in 21st America, land of fast lifestyles and fast foods. If anything, we need to hear Luther’s thoughts more than the people of his day did!)

Again, in the irony that is the Advent-turned-commercial-Christmas season, what once was a time dedicated to heightened discipline has turned rather into a less-than-holy-day of license, even gluttony. Fitness clubs’ biggest month of the year is January, partly because everyone lets themselves go during the days around Christmas.

sfIf Luther is right … could our over-eating be a key reason why Jesus has slipped from being the reason for the season? Is there any chance that some of us might do the edifying, counter-cultural thing … that is, stay disciplined during this season, allow Christ and His Word to remain on the throne of our lives, and help make the holy-day genuinely holy?

By the way, our feast is coming on the 25th … and for 12 days after that! Hang on, everyone! And pray richly and deeply during these last few days of Advent as we prepare for the true celebration ahead.

E     *     O

 
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Posted by on December 21, 2014 in Advent 2014, Discipleship

 

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