Posts tagged Advent
All of us find our emotions reeling this weekend in the aftermath of the horrible destruction of innocent childrens’ lives at Sandy Hook Elementary School. Random senseless shootings are awful every time. Random senseless shootings of young children too small to defend themselves strike us as even more awful. Without wishing to minimize in any way this terrible tragedy and this weekend’s suffering by parents, siblings, grandparents, and community . . . just an observation.
In the earlier days of ”legalized” abortion, there were warnings of the long-range effects on our society of wholesale abortion, of the careless destruction of the most defenseless among us, of its devaluation of human life. It was feared that a society that brutally takes the lives of its unborn children will become hardened and, in due time, reflect that brutality toward all human life.
There are, of course, many “dots” that can be connected to random killings–mental illness, violent video games and entertainment, etc. But can we sometime soon also connect the abortion dot? While violent killings are as old as Cain and Abel, random acts of violence against innocent human life continue to increase in number and horror, underscored by what happened on Friday. Brutality toward women and children, once shrugged off as a problem elsewhere in the world, now occurs too often in our own society not to connect this dot.
One of the great messages of this Advent Season is the coming of Christ again. We can only wonder how that will be. But the tragedy in Connecticult must also cause us to wonder how it will be if Christ does not come again soon. As Vice-President Mueller put it in his letter to the Council of Presidents on Friday, the evil one is ”thrashing about” on this earth. Things can and may get really ugly.
However that will be, one thing we know for sure. For those who are in Christ, even the ugliest events of this world and life are always followed by a final dot, announced by that wonderful three-letter word “but” in St. Paul’s words to the church at Corinth: “But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Cor. 15:57). It’s the final dot that counts the most.
A blessed advent to you and yours.
This time of year, in my travels, I see quite a few Christmas displays. There are front yard efforts ranging from the simple with a few lights to the elaborate computer-generated extravaganza. Most stores and malls will put up “Holiday” decorations to enhance their sales. TV stations have little jingles that have a way of sticking in your head: “Happy Holidays from Channel 5.” That’s the point. We are not surprised when a commercial enterprise engages in marketing.
Especially when I see private displays, however, I look to see if the owner is acknowledging in any way Christ in Christmas or if he is, in essence, drinking from a stream whose source he denies. What do I mean? Does it point to Jesus, or is it all about something we want?
Christmas is not simply a generic celebration of “joy to the world” and “peace on earth.” Nor is it a midwinter festival for families with gifts for children. To belabor what ought to be obvious, “The Nativity of Our Lord,” as we call it, is a specifically Christian celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ.
“Unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.”
This is a “great joy” which is “for all the people” (Luke 2:10-11). The eternal Word of God was made flesh for us and for the world. It’s not just for a few, but for all.
Of course, many, many customs around the world have sprung up around the celebration. Some of them are specifically Christian. Others, like St. Nicholas morphing into Santa Claus, have original roots in Christian customs, but today evidence no Christian content whatever. I thought of this the other day watching a complicated, computer-generated display of holiday lights. It was delightful, but there was nothing pointing to Jesus. Nothing at all. It appeared to me the owner was drinking from a stream whose source he denied.
How shall we respond? We are Christmas witnesses! We know the Source of the stream! Do we therefore wag our fingers and insist they “put Christ back in Christmas”? Or rather, shall we seek in the best way possible to
“give an account, to anyone who asks, the reason for the hope that is within,” doing it in “a spirit of gentleness and respect”? (1 Peter 3:15).
We are called, where we are able, to testify to what we have been given. The reason for our joy, the heart of our celebration, is that God Himself has stepped out of eternity, entered our time, shouldered our sin, suffered our pain, walked our path, taken our punishment. And it all began with a baby born for us, a baby who is also the Son of the Most High (Luke 1:32). It is as the angel told Mary, “For nothing will be impossible with God!” (Luke 1:37).
May we, with Mary, drink from the Source in the Word of God, responding with Spirit-given faith,
“I am the servant of the Lord. Let it be to me according to your word” (Luke 1:38).
May we also with the shepherds of Bethlehem be ready to “make known the saying that has been told” us concerning Mary’s child, “glorifying and praising God for all that [we] have seen and heard, as it has been told [us]” (Luke 2:17, 20).
For Christ is born! For all, and for you! A blessed season of Advent preparation for one and all!
+ Herbert Mueller
First Vice President
Jesus said, “Surely, I am coming soon!”
And the Church responds, “Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!” (Revelation 22:20).
These words, found in the closing verses of the Book of Revelation, and echoed even in our “common table prayer,” form the believer’s response to the message of Advent.
Our Lord Christ has come. “Unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given” (Isaiah 9:6). In this blessed, holy season of Advent we prepare for the celebration at Christmas of our Lord’s incarnation, His coming into our flesh.
In this the Son of God has placed on each of us infinite value, showing how God Himself gives us our worth, for God Himself becomes one of us to give Himself on the cross for us. “You were bought with a price…” (1 Corinthians 6:20). “It was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your forefathers, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect.” (1 Peter 1:18-19).
Jesus’ coming in the flesh is the heart of our proclamation and the central fact that gives our lives meaning and purpose. In Him is life. Without Him there is no life, no reason even to be.
Therefore, we rehearse the promises: “A virgin shall conceive and shall bear a son, and they will call his name ‘Immanuel’” (Isaiah 7:14). We pause in wonder: “Unto you is born this day, in the city of David, a Savior, which is Christ the Lord” (Luke 2:11). On His day we sing with the angels, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men” (Luke 2:14).
Yet even in our singing the Advent hymns and Christmas carols, we look beyond this tired and fallen world to the time when we join the multitude of heaven and sing: “Hallelujah! Salvation and glory and power belong to our God… Hallelujah! For our Lord God Almighty reigns…” (Revelation 19:1b, 6b). For the Christ who has come is coming again – visibly, in glory, to take us home.
“The Spirit and the Bride say, ‘Come!’ And let him who hears say, ‘Come!’ Who ever is thirsty, let him come; and who ever wishes, let him take the free gift of the water of life” (Revelation 22:17). Therefore “Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!” is our prayer, as we sing: “The King shall come when morning dawns, And light and beauty brings. Hail! Christ the Lord, your people pray: Come quickly, King of Kings!” (LSB 348, st. 5).
But oh, my beloved brothers and sisters in Christ, you know there is even more. For in the midst of all the busyness of this season, Christ comes to us right now, full of grace and truth!
Yes, here He is, in the down to earth, mundane, but clear Word of God (wasn’t His first coming in swaddling clothes?). You don’t have to climb a high mountain, or plumb the depths of the ocean to find Him. You don’t have to make pilgrimage to exotic places. He is here, here in the Word of Scripture.
He reveals Himself in the words we preach and teach from His Word. He shows Himself under the splash of water and Word in Holy Baptism. In and with the forms of bread and wine, by His Word of promise, He gives His body and blood.
For that reason we take heart, my friends, and know that in the Lord our labor is never in vain. For He comes. And so we also pray, “Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!”
+ Herbert Mueller
First Vice President
May God grant you and yours a wonderful celebration of our Savior’s birth. Merry Christmas to one and all!
There is no more profound proclamation of the message of Christmas, no more poignant explanation of “the reason for the season” than this passage from the letter to the Hebrews. Here is my rendering of Hebrews 2:14-18:
14) Since therefore the children have shared and do share blood and flesh, He Himself in like manner assumed a share in them [flesh and blood] so that through death he might render impotent him who has the power of death, namely the devil.
15) And set free those who by fear of death through all their lives were held in bondage.
16) For surely it was not angels He takes hold of to help, but He helps Abraham’s descendents [i.e., all who believe in Christ – see Galatians 3:7].
17) For this reason He was obligated to become like His brothers in every way so that he might become a merciful and faithful High Priest toward God, for the purpose of making atonement [propitiation] for the sins of the people;
18) For in that He Himself suffered being tempted, He is able to help those who are being tempted.
The children share in blood and flesh. That’s who we are, real people, flesh and blood creatures of God. In the same way, our Lord Himself, in the womb of Mary, also assumed His share in flesh and blood. There can be no greater wonder than this!
The LORD and Creator of all the universe becomes a child of flesh and blood, yet always remains who He is: Lord of all. God in the flesh – the incarnation, we call it, the “enfleshment,” our hymn expresses it: “These are the signs that you shall mark, the swaddling clothes, the manger dark: there you shall find the Infant laid by whom the heavens and earth were made” (Lutheran Service Book 358, st. 5).
Why? Why does God take a share in flesh and blood? The Creator becomes a creature? Here is the heart of the matter, my beloved brothers and sisters. This is what we teach and preach this season. The New International Version has it: “so that by His death He might destroy him who holds the power of death” (2:14). Literally it means, as I have it above, “that through death He might render impotent” the devil, who holds “the power of death.”
I like that. This is good news! The devil looks powerful. He acts powerful. He seeks to destroy, but he is IMPOTENT! He has been stripped of His power! He cannot tear us away from our Lord when we claim Christ’s incarnation for us, Christ’s death on the cross that destroyed his power.
For Christ Himself has set us free. In Christ the Son of God became like us in every way. We suffer. He suffered. We are tempted. He was tempted, “yet without sin.” (Hebrews 4:15).
More than that, He was a faithful High Priest, offering Himself as the sacrifice, the atonement for our sins. His death made satisfaction for our sins. That means He received the full measure of punishment for our sins. His death now sets us free because there is no more sin that needs punishment. It was all done in Him. Now, because He suffered, He is able to help us when we suffer, when we are tested by temptation.
Here is the wonderful message of Christmas!
At the end of the year the world often becomes retrospective about the good, the bad and the ugly of the previous year. Depending on what commentators emphasize, they become hopeful or gloomy about our prospects. But here is the good news that transcends all of that, the good news of Christmas we sing and share, teach and preach: God Himself has come to be with us in our difficulty! God Himself has become a human being of flesh and blood.
God Himself has taken His share in human suffering in Christ, born for us. God Himself has come to set us free from death and atoned for our sin. God Himself gives life! Now there’s a message just begging to be proclaimed! May God bless each of us in the proclaiming!
+ Herbert Mueller
First Vice President
Christmas is almost here, but allow me just a little Advent, still. One of my favorite hymns for Advent shows us there is so much more to come! Check out LSB 348, “The King Shall Come When Morning Dawns” (Lutheran Service Book,#348, text and tune, public domain).
The King shall come when morning dawns And light triumphant breaks,
When beauty guilds the eastern hills And life to joy awakes. (LSB 348, st. 1)
Christmas is coming! How could anyone forget? Yet our anticipation of the celebration of Christ’s birth (special services, special family events, special gifts, etc.) is also but a pale reflection of the celebration to come.
Not as of old a little child, To bear and fight and die,
But crowned with glory like the sun That lights the morning sky. (st. 2)
Christ came in deepest humility. He had to. That’s because we, in our sin, were at “rock bottom.” We couldn’t fall any further than death, even eternal death by sin. So Christ came to humble Himself and become “obedient unto death, even death on a cross.” (Philippians 2:8). But now God has “highly exalted Him, and given Him the name which is above every name…” (Philippians 2:9). And He will come again, “crowned with glory like the sun…”
Oh, brighter than the rising morn When Christ, victorious rose
And left the lonesome place of death Despite the rage of foes. (st. 3)
If the stable in which Christ was born speaks of His humility for us, and the manger in which He was laid looks ahead to His cross, then the glorious angels singing, “Glory to God in the Highest…” (Luke 2:14) also point ahead to His resurrection triumph on Easter morning. But even the glory of Easter is only but a down payment on the glory to come when Christ comes again. Christ is “the first fruits” of those raised from death, but “at His coming all those who belong to Christ” shall be raised (1 Corinthians 15:23). Do you see how the best is yet to come?
Oh, brighter than that glorious morn Shall dawn upon our race
The day when Christ in splendor comes And we shall see His face. (st. 4)
John tells us, “we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as he is.” (1 John 3:2b). Oh, we have been given so much already, it is true, but do you see how there is so much more to come? I know that at times in the church we have to “slog it out,” that serving the Lord Jesus as a pastor or teacher or DCE or deaconess or baptized believer in your vocation is never easy. Jesus didn’t promise it would be. In face, He makes it clear that it can be difficult, but He does promise it will be worth it and that He will never abandon us. In the words of the Gospel, when things look their worst, He tells us to “look up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near” (Luke 21:28).
The King shall come when morning dawns And light and beauty brings.
Hail, Christ the Lord! Your people pray: Come quickly, King of Kings! (st. 5)
Christmas is coming, yes it is! May your celebrations point you and the people you love to the wonderful gift of God in Christ born for us! And this gift is given, is truly given, over and over again, when we hear His Word of peace and receive again His body and blood, trusting His promise. In the midst of our death, He gives His life, makes us alive forever. Still, there’s so much more to come, isn’t there? We will see Jesus, coming again! Even so, come quickly, King of Kings!
May God’s Spirit fill you with all joy and peace in believing that you and yours receive a wonderful celebration of our Savior’s birth! Merry Christmas to all!
+ Herbert Mueller
First Vice President