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
What is most sure in our lives is the name God placed on us in our Baptism: In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
All Saints Day, November 1, comes the day after Reformation Day. This juxtaposition points to the fact that we do not make ourselves holy, but that Jesus makes saints by His death and resurrection through His Word of promise. Everything we do apart from Jesus is tainted by sin and leads only to death. God forms the Church, His holy ones, through the forgiveness of sins for the sake of Jesus. So we begin with the name of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, for this is how God has revealed Himself. Attached to that name are the promises of God, promises beginning in the Garden for our first parents, promises for all people. Every promise of God is fulfilled, comes to a head, comes to full flower in Jesus Christ.
The Church follows from these promises, for the promises of God create the church: especially the promise that all who trust in Christ alone are justified by grace alone through faith alone. Therefore we do not put our trust or confidence in the Church, or the character of the pastor, or the behavior of Church members, but only in the promises.
Did you ever notice that the definition of the Church in Augsburg Confession VII is singular? “It is also taught that at all times there must be and remain one holy, Christian church. It is the assembly of all believers among whom the Gospel is purely preached and the holy sacraments are administered according to the Gospel” (AC VII.1).
The assembly – singular…
Also, the Nicene Creed:
I believe in one, holy, catholic and apostolic church, we say in the creed (that is “catholic,” small “c,” “universal,” wherever believers are found). One holy Christian Church, that is, the communion of saints.
The communion – singular…
Though now tragically divided by schism and heresy, by false teaching and sinful pride, we still confess that the church, properly speaking, is one. In essence the Lutheran theology of the Church sees the Church from the perspective of the end. We see the Church as the Lord revealed it to John in the Book of Revelation, as the Bride of Christ, prepared by her bridegroom, adorned, washed clean, no spot or wrinkle, or any such thing, ready for her husband. Now we see this only by faith. Now we perceive it in the Promise, but she is, in the end, truly the ransomed and forgiven Church of Christ, revealed to John in the Revelation (7:9-17):
9 After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, 10 and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” 11 And all the angels were standing around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures, and they fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, 12 saying, “Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen.”
13 Then one of the elders addressed me, saying, “Who are these, clothed in white robes, and from where have they come?” 14 I said to him, “Sir, you know.” And he said to me, “These are the ones coming out of the great tribulation. They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.
15 “Therefore they are before the throne of God,
and serve him day and night in his temple;
and he who sits on the throne will shelter them with his presence.
16 They shall hunger no more, neither thirst anymore;
the sun shall not strike them, nor any scorching heat.
17 For the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd,
and he will guide them to springs of living water,
and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.” (ESV)
Human beings will fail us. “Put not your trust in princes,” Psalm 146:3 says. Human organizations and structures will fail us. This is why the Lutheran Church can exist in various structures – episcopal, congregational, Synodical. The STRUCTURE is not ultimate. It can and does fail. People fail. But the Word and promises of God? These will never fail us. And these are what create the Church.
That’s why the article on which the Church stands or falls is the article of justification. Everything hangs on the promise. Who are those we see around the throne? “These are they who have come out of the great tribulation. They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the lamb” (Revelation 7:14).
Who are those who are justified? Drawn from Scripture, in Augsburg Confession IV we confess: “Furthermore, it is taught that we cannot obtain forgiveness of sin and righteousness before God through our merit, work, or satisfactions, but that we receive forgiveness of sin and become righteous before God out of grace for Christ’s sake, through faith, when we believe that Christ has suffered for us and that for his sake our sin is forgiven and righteousness and eternal life are given to us” (AC IV). So, from the perspective of the end, the Church is the one assembly of all believers in Christ, justified by faith, gathered around the throne.
All believers are justified sinners, saints, holy ones, in the Lord Jesus, “for there is no distinction, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus” (Romans 3:23-24).
But where do you find this Church today? Looking for the right structure, or the right organization, will not necessarily reveal the church. The Church exists within various structures, but the Church LIVES by the Word and Promise of God. That’s why our confessions also say, by the way, that we find the Church by its marks, by looking for the pure preaching of the Gospel and the right administration of the Sacraments. This is also the reason the Lutheran Church is identified, not by a structure or an outward gathering, but by our Confession of faith, by the content of our Symbols.
Or, to ask the question another way, if the Church is believers, where do you find believers now? You look for what brings people to faith, namely the Word and Promises of God. But these Words and promises of God are not simply abstract words on a page. The Word of God must be spoken, proclaimed, for “faith comes by hearing, and hearing through the Word of Christ” (Romans 10:17).
So there must be preachers and teachers of the Gospel, those called and sent to proclaim the Gospel, publicly, that is, on behalf of all. “That we may obtain this faith…” our confession says, echoing Scripture, God “instituted the ministry,” the preaching of the Gospel and the administration of the Sacraments.
Yet Scripture also charges all the baptized with the task of “proclaim(ing) the excellencies of Him who called us out of darkness into His marvelous light” (1 Peter 2:9). In our vocation, our daily life, wherever God has placed us, all the baptized are called to tell what God has promised. Because the Church lives by only Word and promise, God has called the whole Church, the whole communion of saints, to speak that Word before the world. “Always be prepared to give an account of the hope that is within you” (1 Peter 3:15).
Our testimony points beyond ourselves to the things most sure and certain: the name of God applied in our Baptism, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, together with the Word and promise of God in Christ, crucified and raised from the dead for us. “Come and see” (John 1:39), we say, “see what Christ has done for me and for you.” His Word gives life. That’s what is sure. May God bless our witness and our continued reflection on All Saints and Reformation!
+ Herbert Mueller
First Vice President, The Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod
 Robert Kolb and Timothy J. Wengert, ed, The Book of Concord, The Confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church, Fortress Press, Minneapolis, 2000, p. 42.
 Kolb/Wengert, pp. 39f.
 Augustana V, Kolb/Wengert, p. 40.