Posts tagged Christmas

A People of Hope

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 Name of Jesus!

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

Prudentius the Helpful

The message of Christmas is huge, of eternal proportions and significance: “When the fullness of time had come, God sent forth His Son, made of a woman….” (Galatians 4:4-5). This hugeness of Christmas is so important to bear in mind, its dimenions having been so diminished in our day, often reduced to mere tinsel and trappings.

No hymn captures that hugeness better than that of Prudentius of the 4th century, aided by the 12th century plain-song tune we have sung many times (TLH 98). We do well this Christmas season to devote a little personal time its proper perspective:

Of the Father’s love begotten ere the worlds began to be,
He is Alpha and Omega, He the Source, the Ending He,
Of the things that are, that have been, And that future years shall see
Evermore and evermore.

Oh, that birth forever blessed when the Virgin, full of grace
By the Holy Ghost conceiving bare the Savior of our race,
And the Babe, the world’s Redeemer, first revealed His sacred face
Evermore and evermore.

O ye heights of heav’n, adore Him; angel hosts His praises sing;
Pow’rs, dominions, bow before Him and extol our God and King.
Let no tongue on earth be silent, ev’ry voice in concert ring
Evermore and evermore.

This is He whom heav’n-taught singers sang of old with one accord;
Whom the Scriptures of the prophets promised in their faithful word.
Now He shines, the long-expected; let creation praise its Lord
Evermore and evermore.

Immersed in and bombarded by a society and culture that have relegated Christmas to a cute little story in a faraway little town, we do well to join Prudentius in pondering the eternal dimensions of this holy day and its celebration:

Christ, to Thee, with God the Father, and, O Holy Ghost, to Thee
Hymn and chant and high thanksgiving and unending praises be,
Honor, glory, and dominion, and evernal victory
Evermore and evermore.

Ray Hartwig

Reflections on Drinking from a Stream……whose source one denies.

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

Amen! Come, Lord Jesus! – Advent Thoughts

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

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