WMLT Contributor

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Christmas Appearances

For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men, teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in the present age, looking for the blessed hope and glorious appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us from every lawless deed and purify for Himself His own special people, zealous for good works. Titus 2:11-14

Stories abound about apparitions – that is, an instance of something’s appearing. One of the more famous apparitions is commonly referred to as, “Our Lady of Lourdes.” A young 14-year-old girl, Bernadette Soubirous, reported that she spoke to a woman in a cave near her hometown of Lourdes, France. After her first encounter with the lady in February 1858, she had 17 more meetings with her that year.

Unlike Bernadette’s mysterious encounters, pastors regularly and most predictably experience apparitions during Christmas. They have numerous encounters with parishioners who appear at the celebration of our Savior’s birth, not to be seen for another year with possible exceptions at Easter. They come to hear, once again, the preacher in the pulpit share the story about baby Jesus.

Christmas, although filled with excitement and anticipation of celebrating the Messiah’s birth, can become a litany of appearances. Christians are crushed by shopping sprees, mandatory social gatherings and endless parties. Before they know it, Christmas fatigue sets in — often by the third Sunday in Advent. Divine worship becomes another “event” for them to attend. They make their appearances and subtly grow indifferent about the birth of Jesus.

By now, they wonder what more can be said about Christmas, and there are12 days of Christmas ahead of them! What more can be said about the birth of the Savior? For sinners there is much to share. The law has enslaved humanity under its curse. Redemption is hopeless without God’s intervention and God makes his remarkable appearance at Bethlehem; redemption has come. He came in the flesh and lived among us full of grace and truth. He is man born of woman.

God’s redemption has come for all humanity to see, touch and hear. It is no illusion conjured in the hearts and minds of men. God has come in the flesh. Simeon says it so beautifully as he takes the Savior in his arms and says,

“Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, according to thy word; for mine eyes have seen thy salvation which thou hast prepared in the presence of all peoples,a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to thy people Israel.”

May the grace and peace of God manifest among us in the Savior sustain us always in the one true hope that endures for all eternity. Amen.

Rev. Gregory Williamson
Chief Mission Officer
The Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod

Response to Court Opinion on Clergy Housing Allowance

On November 22, 2013, a Federal District Court in Wisconsin held that the clergy housing allowance is unconstitutional. Specifically, the judge entered an Order and Opinion declaring 26 U.S.C. Section 107(2) unenforceable because it violates the First and Fifth Amendments to the United States Constitution. The judge entered an order enjoining the IRS from enforcing the provision but provided that the injunction will not be effective until all appeals have been concluded or the deadline for filing an appeal has expired, whichever comes later.

Click here to read the opinion.

This Order and Opinion most certainly will be appealed, and we expect voluminous amicus briefs to be filed in support of a reversal of the decision.  For this reason the Opinion will have no immediate impact and will not be effective until all appeals have been exhausted.

Synod General Counsel has been monitoring this case and earlier similar cases for many years and has been reporting on the issue to the LCMS Board of Directors.

Given the recent release of the court’s ruling, church bodies, religious organizations, and legal counsel are assessing the options for response and the potential impact of this ruling. We will provide updated information as it becomes available.

Ronald P. Schultz,
Chief Administrative Officer
The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod