The other day, just for fun, I was reading in Josephus, a first century Jewish historian, some of his descriptions of King Herod’s family (the Herod who was King when Jesus was born). This man was so jealous that when he left town, he told his brother to kill his wife if he did not return, so no one else could have her.
When he thought two of his sons were plotting against him (which they probably were) Herod had them killed, and then bribed his Roman over lords to cover the crime. So, kill a few babies in Bethlehem (see Matthew 2:16-18)? Herod was quite capable of doing much more in his jealous rages.
Into that dark world hope was born.
Into the stillness of the night came the song of the angels to the shepherds: “Glory to God in the Highest, and on earth peace among those with whom He is pleased.” (Luke 2:14). They went to catch a glimpse of hope in the Christ-child laid in a manger.
At about the same time, Magi in the East saw a miraculous star and somehow recognized the dawn of hope. They followed that star to find in Bethlehem the Light of the world.
Mary and Joseph, too, believed the word of the angels that they were holding in their arms the Hope of the world. While carrying him in her womb, Mary had sung “He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, as he spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and to his offspring forever” (Luke 1:54-55).
In the same way Zechariah, with tongue loosed by the Spirit, praised God: “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for he has visited and redeemed his people…to show mercy promised to our fathers and to remember his Holy covenant” (Luke 1:68,72). Old Simeon also, with eyes illuminated by the light of God, when Mary placed in his hands the child who is the Hope of the world, proclaimed: “my eyes have seen your salvation that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples” (Luke 2:30-31).
That’s what they believed, yes, but the 21st century world is different, is it not? No, not really. Human nature and sinful activity are the same, no matter what the century. What you see on TMZ (a contemporary gossip TV show) about today’s celebrities is no better or worse than King Herod and his family. The first century Roman world was full of conflicting religious claims, violence, sexual abuse and grinding poverty next to unimaginable riches. Our 21st century is full of the same foolish and sinful violence, producing in many the same sense of hopelessness.
Into our dark world, we believe, real hope was born in Bethlehem’s stable, as we sing: “The hopes and fears of all the years, are met in thee tonight” (O Little Town of Bethlehem-LSB 361). The Scripture says: “For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved” (Romans 8:22-24). Jesus Christ is that one sure hope of the world.
Here is why we who believe in Jesus are people of authentic hope. We have seen in our own lives the meaning of what the Scripture says:
“For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.” (Romans 15:4). God’s word of hope has lifted our eyes to see in Jesus the assurance, absolute and certain, that God is for us, that He is the God of life, not death, and that God’s promises overcome aimlessness and despair.
The world has many counterfeit hopes, but we celebrate Christmas and Epiphany exactly because Jesus has made us people of hope, people who look to the future, people who know how history will turn out. Again, Scripture says: “…to this end we toil and strive, because we have our hope set on the living God, who is the Savior of all people, especially of those who believe.” (1 Timothy 4:9-10).
So do you ever feel hopeless? Do you ever feel as though life is dead end? With no purpose or meaning? Jesus was born for you! Christmas is your holiday. Every Christmas display you have seen this season has been a sign that God has not abandoned you, that your life has meaning in Christ, that you are valuable to God, and that in Jesus, born for us, crucified and raised from the dead, you have “a future and a hope” (Jeremiah 29:11).
Every Christmas service we attended sent us back into the same world, but filled with hope in Jesus, to be agents of His lasting hope. We now enter the Epiphany season “in our hearts regarding Christ as holy” but also always “prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you” (1 Peter 3:15). We are people of hope in Jesus.
A very blessed and hope filled New Year and Epiphany to all!
+ Herbert Mueller
First Vice President – LCMS
The Gospel for New Year’s Day, the “Name of Jesus,” is very simple: “And at the end of eight days, when he was circumcised, he was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb” (Luke 2:21).
That’s all. Eight days after his birth (which we celebrated December 25th), he was circumcised and given the name Jesus.
Yeshua = “the Lord saves” – “for he will save his people from their sins,” the angel had told Joseph in dream (Matthew 1:21).
So we begin the new year 2015 in the name of Jesus, as the church observes on January 1.
Whatever the new year brings, Jesus has it covered. Whatever happens to us, we bear the name of Jesus. Whatever we go through, Jesus has been there before us.
Eight days old and he already sheds his blood for us. Eight days old and the name he is given is for our redemption. Eight days old and he is already being prepared for his saving work for us. It is as the church sings:
Jesus! Name of mercy mild, Given to the holy Child
When the cup of human woe First He tasted here below.
Jesus! Only name that’s giv’n Under all the mighty heav’n
Whereby those to sin enslaved Burst their fetters and are saved.
Jesus! Name of wondrous love, Human name of God above;
Pleading only this, we flee Helpless, O our God, to Thee.
(Lutheran Service Book, #900, st. 4-6)
Happy New Year, then, in the name of Jesus. “God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” (Philippians 2:9-11).
A blessed New Year to one and all!
+ Herbert Mueller
First Vice President – LCMS
President Matthew Harrison and I have been engaged in recent months in a program of visitation of the districts of the Synod. We are a little more than half way through this visitation of the 35 districts mandated by the 2013 Synod Convention. Resolution 7-01A in 2013 called for a renewal and strengthening of visitation among us, beginning with the President and Vice Presidents visiting district presidents and district boards of directors.
What does such a visit look like? Spread over 2-3 days, we spend time individually with the district president and corporately with the district board of directors. Often we are able to visit with the district praesidium and district staff as well. In many cases we have included meeting with most or all of the district’s circuit visitors. In some cases, open forum meetings have been scheduled so that people are able to hear us and ask questions.
What is the purpose of such a visit? We are coming to listen and to encourage, taking our cue from the apostle Paul, who wrote to the Romans in preparation for his visit with them,
“without ceasing I mention you always in my prayers, asking that somehow by God’s will I may now at last succeed in coming to you. For I long to see you, that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to strengthen you – that is, that we may be encouraged by each other’s faith, both yours and mine.” (Romans 1:9-12).
In every district I have visited, the district president and the district board of directors have good working relationships, addressing issues, even difficult ones, in a spirit of confidence and trust in Christ, and in collaboration with one another. Our conversations have been honest, fruitful and blessed by God. We hear and encourage the good God is doing by His Word in each district and we bring explanations of our shared work as a Synod. The visits deepen our understanding of the blessings, opportunities and challenges facing each district. They also help district boards see the broader picture of what God is doing on behalf of all 6100 plus congregations of the Synod through the national office.
A much more complete report will be given to the district conventions next year and to the national Synod in 2016.
Herbert C. Mueller
1st Vice President
Every congregation exists to give away life. In worship and communion we receive the life Jesus gives. We feed on Him and live through Him who gives Himself for us in Word, and in water, bread and wine connected to the Word. But this life of God is not meant to be kept to ourselves. God has put you and your congregation where it is located in order to give life to your community and beyond. Baptized into Christ, we are called to grow in this life as well as to bring others into this life.
The life of Jesus does not come from a new program, but through repentance and faith. The life of God is not the result of moral instruction and moral living, but flows from God’s gift of a new relationship with Him in Jesus Christ.
This is the beating heart of your congregation – the life of Jesus Christ, His life lived for us and offered up for us on the cross. His life triumphant in His resurrection. His life freely given in His body and blood, in the forgiveness of sins, in the washing of regeneration and renewal in the Holy Spirit.
You are alive because you are in Christ. You are alive because Jesus gives life to you and to all who believe. You are alive because Jesus gives life to you through your congregation, your pastor’s work and your fellow members’ witness to Jesus. You are alive in Christ because He has made you alive in His Spirit.
When we say that your congregation exists to give away life, we are simply praying for your parish to become more and more the body of Christ. We have received in Jesus Christ our true Head. “Now you are [together!] the body of Christ, and individually members of it.” (1 Corinthians 12:27). If Christ is the Head, and we the body, then we are sent into the world as members of the body to extend His ministry of love and service to the world. The Church then becomes the sign of Christ’s presence and Christ’s care for the world, giving away His life.
The life of Jesus given for us therefore implies that we take worship seriously. If Christ is our Head and we His body, we nourish ourselves at the font, the lectern, the pulpit, the altar, wherever the Word of God is found. Here Christ gives Himself to us that we may give away the life of Jesus by serving others and drawing them into the life we have received.
The new life Jesus gives implies that we are always ready to teach the Word of God, “ready always to give an answer to everyone who asks us a reason for the hop that is in us” (1 Peter 3:15). Led by the Spirit, we search the Word of God together to discover and to grow in the will of God for our life together. No one is too young or too old to be taught, but everyone is drawn into the Word.
The life of Jesus connects us to one another in love. We are not alone, but we receive His life – together! We are “thankful for your partnership in the Gospel, from the first day until now…” (Philippians 1:5). We stand together in a new relationship to God in Christ. We seek to strengthen one another in the faith by our words and our actions, helping each other enjoy the good gifts of God.
The life of God in Jesus means that we take prayer and family worship seriously. We teach families to pray together. We provide many opportunities for worship and prayer and study of the Word. We provide holy absolution and holy communion as often as they are desired.
Jesus gives life also in order to send us into the world, for the sake of the hungry, the needy, the lost, those who do not yet know Him. Jesus gives life so that we also present ourselves as “living sacrifices, holy and acceptable to God” in Him (Romans 12:1). We are a community of servants sent into the world and into our various vocations to serve God by serving others. We are the sign of God’s love in Christ for the sake of the world.
Then every week the Spirit pulls us back to the beating heart of the church’s life in the Word of God proclaimed and the body and blood of Christ given and shed for the forgiveness of sins. Christ Himself fills us, enlivens us, and sends us out again to give His life away. How’s it going in your locale? (Various thoughts in this article drawn from A.C. Piepkorn, The Church, pp. 116-118).
+ Herbert Mueller
First Vice President
“Put not your trust in princes, in a son of man, in whom there is no salvation. When his breath departs he returns to the earth: on that very day his plans perish. Blessed is he whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the Lord his God, who made heaven and earth…” (Psalm 146:3-6).
These reflections are written the morning after the election. As I was watching the returns last night and praying this morning for the leaders of our country, this passage from the Psalms comes to mind. No matter who is in charge of the government, of the country, the Lord God is still in charge. Those who “bear the sword” in government, whether they acknowledge it or not, have their authority ultimately from God.
This does not mean that one political party is necessarily closer to God than the other. It simply means that governmental authority derives from God (see Romans 13:1-7). Our trust and faith are to be in Christ, who gave Himself for us, and in the Father’s care. Him we serve, no matter who is in power. Indeed, in America those who serve in government are to hold office as servants of the people.
In the state where I live (Illinois), we now have (at least it appears so) a new governor from a different party than the previous governor. I also have a new congressman from a different party than previously. It appears now that one party is in charge of the White House and the other is in charge of both houses of Congress. The people desired change and worked for that change under our system.
As Christians we are called to pray for those in authority, that they might govern wisely, respecting both God’s law and the rights of the people. “First of all, then,” the apostle writes, “I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in everyway” (1 Timothy 2:1-2). What is our ultimate purpose in praying for those in authority? The apostle continues, “This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Timothy 2:3-4).
We pray for our rulers because we desire room to proclaim the Gospel. No matter who is in charge of the government, we pray that the church has room to do the work God has given us as His “chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for His own possession, that [we] may proclaim the excellencies of Him who called [us] out of darkness into His marvelous light” (1 Peter 2:9). And that’s what we need to be about no matter who is in charge.
“Put not your trust in princes… but blessed is he… whose hope is in the Lord His God” (from Psalm 146).
+ Herbert Mueller
First Vice President