Thursday, December 20, 2012

FW: One Year Prayer of the Church




Feed: Weedon's Blog
Posted on: Wednesday, December 19, 2012 4:32 PM
Author: (William Weedon)
Subject: One Year Prayer of the Church


Note that beginning with the January prayers, you can download a LetUsPray Prayer of the Church at this link.

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FW: A Message for Those Not Feeling “Merry” About Christmas




Feed: Cyberbrethren Lutheran Blog Feed
Posted on: Thursday, December 20, 2012 10:22 AM
Author: Paul T. McCain
Subject: A Message for Those Not Feeling "Merry" About Christmas


unhappy_christmas_sad-300x300I am thinking a lot this Christmas about the fact that for many people, more than would ever be willing to admit openly, there is very little, "merry" about Christmas. Are you feeling this way? If so, this message is for you.

You may be dealing with personal troubles and situations that cause you intense pain and anguish of heart and mind, soul and spirit. You see all the decorations around and you hear the music, and receive the cheerful, bright and wonderful greeting cards from friends and family, and it yet these things are another pointed reminder to you of a long-felt grief, or hurt, or sorrow, a reminder that while many are merry, you are not.

Our culture's celebration of Christmas contributes to measure to this problem. Christmas is a time for family, so you are told. But what happens when your family is missing a beloved father, or mother, grandma or grandpa, son or daughter? What happens when Christmas for you is a reminder that you have lost a dear one to death? What about other problems that might be hurting your family at this time? What about the sickness that has you or a loved one in its grip?

Christmas can often also be a reminder of the failings of the past year that haunt you, a reminder of all your personal faults and the trouble that you may have brought on yourself, with your own sinful choices and actions. Oh, how sharp that pain is, and particularly so at a time of "happiness," when you are feeling anything but happy.

How important it is then to let the Word of Christ dwell in you richly at this time, a Word that was made flesh and dwelt among us, a Word through Whom all things were made, that have been made. It was this Word, sent from the Father, who came among us, to be your great Savior, from sin, from death, from the power of hell, to pour out his lifeblood as the perfect atoning sacrificial ransom for the sins of the world, for your sins, every one of them, even those you would not want another person to know about.

The best advice I can give to you if you are feeling lonely and sad at this time of the year is: reach out to people whom you know, and share your love with them. Dive deeply into the Word of God. Take advantage of every opportunity provided to gather with your fellow saints in Gods' House for worship and to receive the true and lasting gifts of Christmas: forgiveness, life and salvation. These are the gifts that are truly what make for a Merry Christmas.

In spite of the loneliness, and in spite of the pain, and there is no denying either, there always stands Christ, with arms open wide, saying to you, "Fear not. I have overcome the world." He says to you, "Let not your heart be troubled" and "Come to me, all you who are weary and heavy-laden and I will give you rest." This is not some kind of "magic formula" for you to recite that will just magically make all the pain go away, but you can, and you must, continue to pray the Lord's Prayer, and pray the Psalms. These are the words Jesus has for you, for you to use and to pray. You can think those things that you ought, to set your minds on things above, and not dwell on those below. The "things above" are the beautiful and powerful truths that Christ reveals, in His Word.

Here are some powerfully comforting words for you from the Lutheran Confessions, that you should read very carefully and hold them close. Read these words out loud and then return to praying the Psalms. Recite them daily or as often as necessary when you feel a bout of gloom come over you at this time of the year:

"The doctrine that God in His counsel, before the time of the world, determined and decreed that He would assist us in all distresses,anxieties and perplexities, grant patience under the cross, give consolation, nourish and encourage hope, and produce such an outcome as would contribute to our salvation affords glorious consolation under the cross and amid temptations. Also, as Paul in a very consolatory way treats this, Rom. 8:28- 29, 35, 38, 39, that God in His purpose has ordained before the time of the world by what crosses and sufferings He would conform every one of His elect to the image of His Son, and that to every one His cross shall and must work together for good, because they are called according to the purpose, whence Paul has concluded that it is certain and indubitable that neither tribulation, nor distress, nor death, nor life, etc., shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus, our Lord." Solid Declaration, Article XI.48-49.

So, indeed, in no matter what situation you find yourself, you can, and you will, have a "merry" Christmas, with Christ at the center, and by your side. You can say with the blessed Apostle: "I have learned the secret of being content."I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do everything through him who gives me strength. (Philippians 4:10-13).

Centuries ago, a Lutheran pastor wrote a beautiful Christmas hymn full of joy and comfort. And he was preaching to himself, for he was a man who had suffered the loss of a dear wife and the death of several children. He would be, during his career, removed from his office for remaining faithful to God's Word, when he was persecuted and pressure to compromise. Pastor Paul Gerhardt wrote All This Night, My Heart Rejoices:

1. All my heart this night rejoices, as I hear far and near sweetest angel voices. "Christ is born," their choirs are singing, till the air everywhere now with joy is ringing.

2. Forth today the conqueror goeth, who the Foe, sin and woe, Death and hell, o'erthroweth. God is man, man to deliver. His dear Son now is one With our blood forever.

3. Shall we still dread God's displeasure, who, to save, freely gave His most cherished Treasure? To redeem us, He hath given His own Son from the throne of His might in heaven.

4. Should He who Himself imparted aught withhold from the fold, leave us broken-hearted? Should the Son of God not love us, Who, to cheer sufferers here, left His throne above us?

5. If our blessed Lord and Maker hated men, would He then be of flesh partaker? If He in our woe delighted, would He bear all the care of our race benighted?

6. He becomes the Lamb that taketh sin away and for aye full atonement maketh. For our life His own He tenders and our race, by His grace, meet for glory renders.

7. Hark! a voice from yonder manger, Soft and sweet, doth entreat: "Flee from woe and danger. Brethren, from all ills that grieve you you are feed; All you need I will surely give you."

8. Come, then, banish all your sadness, one and all, great and small, come with songs of gladness. Love Him who with love is glowing. Hail the star, near and far light and joy bestowing.

9. Ye whose anguish knew no measure, weep no more, see the door to celestial pleasure. Cling to Him, for He will guide you where no cross, pain, or loss can again betide you.

10. Hither come, ye heavy-hearted, who for sin, deep within, long and sore have smarted. For the poisoned wound you're feeling help is near, One is here Mighty for their healing.

11. Hither come, ye poor and wretched. Know His will is to fill every hand outstretched. Here are riches without measure. Here forget all regret, fill your hearts with treasure.

12. Let me in my arms receive Thee; On Thy breast Let me rest, Savior, ne'er to leave Thee. Since Thou hast Thyself presented now to me, I shall be evermore contented.

13. Guilt no longer can distress me; Son of God, Thou my load Bearest to release me. Stain in me Thou findest never; I am clean, All my sin is removed forever.

14. I am pure, in Thee believing, From Thy store evermore, righteous robes receiving. In my heart I will enfold Thee, treasure rare, let me there, loving, ever hold Thee.

15. Dearest Lord, Thee will I cherish. though my breath fail in death, Yet I shall not perish, But with Thee abide forever there on high, in that joy which can vanish never.

Notes: Hymn #77 from The Handbook to The Lutheran Hymnal Text: Luke 2:11 Author: Paul Gerhardt, 1653; Translated by: Catherine Winkworth, 1858, altered.

Titled: Froehlich soll mein Herze springen

Composer: Johann Crueger, 1653 Tune: Froehlich soll mein Herze

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Wednesday, December 19, 2012

FW: Hymn of the Day for Advent 3C


An ambitious project…


Feed: PrayTellBlog
Posted on: Saturday, December 15, 2012 2:16 PM
Author: Michael Joncas
Subject: Hymn of the Day for Advent 3C


As some of the readers of Pray Tell know I am working on a project of attempting to create a Hymn of the Day inspired by the RC lectionary readings for the OF for the 3 year cycle of Sundays and Solemnities. I am here printing the text that I have created for Advent 3C. Unlike my earlier initiative at this blog, I am not seeking your critique of the text, but am simply offering it for your prayer this weekend. Although it was written in 2009, I find the text surprisingly appropriate in the light of this past week's events in Newtown.

A people that in darkness walked
Yet hoped to find the light anew
Heard in John's words the voice of God
And cried aloud: "What must we do?"

"What must we do as we await
The coming of the Holy One
To welcome Him for whom we long,
To welcome in God's kingdom come?"

John told the crowds: "Renew your hearts;
Let those with plenty learn to give.
Hoard not your clothes, your food, your goods,
But kindly share and simply live.

Let those who serve the common good
Take justice as your guiding thought.
Do not extort; do not defraud;
To each their proper share allot."

John's challenge echoes down the years
As other issues come to view,
Till we in turn cry out to God,
"In these last days what must we do?"

"What must we do to heal the wounds
Our greed has gouged upon the globe?
What must we do to house the poor,
The hungry feed, the naked robe?"

"What must we do to end war's curse:
The lives extinguished without cause,
The terror stalking innocents,
The harsh perversion of your laws?"

"What must we do to guarantee
A respite from unending strife,
Sustain a child's security,
And cherish those at end of life?"

With Holy Spirit and with fire
Baptize us, God, set us ablaze;
Teach us to act what you desire
And so fulfill these Advent days.

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FW: The Real Story of “Christmas”


Read on…


Feed: Intrepid Lutherans
Posted on: Wednesday, December 19, 2012 4:00 AM
Author: (Pastor Spencer)
Subject: The Real Story of "Christmas"


How the Observance of Our Savior's Birth Became A Winter Festival of Holly, Deck the Halls, and Saint Nick!

'The Nativity at Night' by Guido Reni, 1640The term "Christmas"
The word "Christmas" comes from the Old English term Cristes Maesse, or the "Mass of Christ," first found recorded in A.D. 1038. In Dutch it is "Kerst-misse," and in Latin "Dies Natalis," from which we get the French word "Noël." In Italian it is "Il natale;" but in German "Weihnachtsfest," named for the sacred vigil which takes place the night before Christmas. The word "Yule" simply comes from the Anglo-Saxon word "geol," or feast, which was also the name of their month in which this feast took place. In Icelandic the term is "iol," a feast still celebrated there each year in December.

As far as we can tell, Christmas as an observance of the birth of Jesus Christ, was not celebrated during the first hundred years of the Christian Church. The first evidence of the feast comes from Egypt. Sometime just before A.D. 200, Clement of Alexandria said that some Egyptian theologians set the year and the day of Christ's birth, placing it on 25th day of the Egyptian month Pachon, or our May 20th, in the twenty-eighth year of Caesar Augustus. However, Clement also tells us that the Basilidians celebrated the Epiphany, and with it, the Nativity, most often on 11 Tybi, or our January 6th. Indeed, this double celebration became quite popular, partly because the appearance to the shepherds was seen as a manifestation of Christ's glory, with the other being the worship of Magi from the East, which was already observed on that day. The December feast day did not reach the rest of the Church in North Africa until around the Third Century A.D.

When Was the first "Year of Our Lord?"
When was Jesus born? According to the present system of reckoning time, Jesus was born on December 25th before the year 1 (thus 1 B.C. as there is no year "zero"), or 754 years after the founding of Rome. This system was introduced by the Roman abbot, Dionysius Exigius in the Sixth Century, and is therefore called the "Dionysian System." It was first used in historical writings in the Eighth Century by The Venerable Bede. Shortly after this, it was given official sanction in public documents by the French king Pepin the Short, and later by his son, Charlemagne. However, nearly all theologians are generally agreed that the year is not correct. The majority of the theologians of our day have accepted the year 749 or the early part of 750, four or five years before our era. This is based on the following facts:'Herod the Great' by Théophile Lybaert, 1883

  1. Jesus was born, according to both Matthew and Luke, before the death of Herod the Great. King Herod died during the 37th year after he had been appointed in Rome to rule over Judea. Thus his coronation took place in the Roman year 714. (Romans marked years from the founding of the City of Rome, which in our calendar took place in 753 B.C.) It was the Jewish custom that the royal years should always be counted from the 1st of Nisan (usually corresponding to our month of April), the first month of their religious year. Thus, his 37th year makes it's beginning on the 1st of Nisan, 750, and runs to 751. Therefore Herod died in 750 or 751, four or five years previous to the present era. And since Herod ordered all the infant males in Bethlehem killed who were less than two years of age, Jesus would have to have been born in late 749 or very early in 750, that is, 5 or 4 B.C.
  2. The Jewish historian Josephus states that an eclipse of the moon took place shortly before the death of Herod. Astronomers have established that this happened in the night of March 12 to 13, 750. The death of Herod therefore falls in the latter part of March or early in April 750. At that time Jesus was already born, and as His circumcision, the Presentation in the temple, the visit of the wise men, and the slaughter of the innocents in Bethlehem belong between these two events, there must be a reasonable interval before the death of Herod. Herod died shortly after the murder of the children in Bethlehem. Jesus must have been born, then, in the final days of 749 or early in 750.
  3. In John 2: 19-20, we are told that when Jesus was in Jerusalem for His first Passover after His own baptism, He said, "Destroy this temple..." after which the Jews answered Him, "Forty and six years was this temple in building..." The sanctuary was not at that time completed, and we know that the work of reconstruction was begun in the 18th year of the reign of Herod.'St. John the Baptist' by Leonardo da Vinci, 1516 The first year Herod actually ruled in Judea came in 717, the 18th year then falls between 734 and 735. The year of this visit of Christ to Jerusalem must therefore be 780. Since Luke informs us that Jesus was about thirty years of age when He commenced His ministry shortly after His baptism (Luke 3:23), we therefore come once again to late 749 as the year of His birth.
  4. Luke 3:1 contains the account of John the Baptist and of his appearance as the Forerunner of Christ. According to his report, the activity of John dates from the 15th year in the rule of Tiberius. The emperor Augustus died August 19th, 767, and was succeeded on the throne by his stepson, Tiberius. However, we should note that Luke uses the word "hegemony," not "monarchy," when he mentions the fifteen years in the reign of Tiberius. The Roman historian, Tacitus, informs us that Augustus, in a manner consistent with Roman law, made Tiberius his co-ruler toward the close of 764 or in January 765. From that time on then Tiberius was also Caesar. The Baptist's appearance upon the scene comes then in 779. After John had begun his work, Jesus came to him. Thus, we arrive at 779 as the year of Jesus' baptism, which brings us yet again to the Winter of 749-750 as the time of His birth.

What Was the Month and Day of Christ's Birth?
'The Anunciation' by Phillippe de Champaigne, 1644But, in which month and on what day was Jesus born? Our present system uses December 25th, as we all know. And this date was universally accepted in the Fourth Century by the Western Christian Church, while the Churches in the East observed either January 6th or 10th. According to the old Julian calendar, December 25th was the shortest day of the year, and referred to in Rome and elsewhere as "the birthday of the unconquerable sun" or Dies natatis invicti solis. After that day, the sun began to rise on the horizon, and the days began to lengthen once again. As Jesus is the light of the world, early believers felt it was eminently fitting that the day of His birth should also be December 25th. This date was first placed on record in Rome in connection with Christ's birth in a chronicle dating from A.D. 354. The Christian writer Chrysostom said, "It is not yet ten years since this day (December 25) was made known. Even so, it is now just as seriously observed as if it has come to us from the beginning. It is very plain, according to the Evangelist [Luke], that Christ was born during the first census, and in Rome it is possible for anyone to deduce, with the aid of the public archives, when this came about. From persons who have intimate knowledge of these records and who still live in the city, we have obtained this day; for they who dwell there and who have kept the day in accordance with an age-long tradition have recently given us this information." In writing on the 132nd Psalm of David, Augustine says, "John was born on June 24th, when the days already began to diminish; but the Lord was born December 25th in which the days began to lengthen; for John himself has said: 'He must increase, but I must decrease (John 3:30).'"

'The Vision of Zacharias' by JamesTissot, 1899Also, in his account of the alternation of priests in the temple, Luke gives us additional information touching upon the date of Jesus' birth. We read that the angel Gabriel came to Zacharias in the temple where he was carrying out the priest's office before God. From I Chronicles 24 we find that there were twenty-four orders or classes in the priesthood. Each order took its turn eight days twice annually. Zacharias was of the order of Abijah, the eighth in the list given in the Chronicles (1 Chr. 24: 10). From the Talmud we learn that the first order, that of Jehoiarib, was charged with the service on the day the temple in Jerusalem was destroyed, and that this catastrophe occurred the 9th day in the month of Ab, the 5th month of the Roman year 823, corresponding to our August 4, A.D. 70. Working back from this date, we can therefore determine that the later turn of the order of Abijah came October 3rd to 9th in the year 748. Thus, Zacharias officiated for his order on one of these days. After this he returned home, with the conception of John the Baptist occurring sometime after his return. Six months later comes the Annunciation to Mary, in the spring of 749. After three months John the Baptist was born in midsummer 749. And six months after this comes the birth of Christ, in the Winter of 749, December 25th, or January 6th or even the 10th.

Still, if Jesus was born in the dead of Winter, how would this be reconciled with the presence of shepherds in the field, keeping watch over their flocks by night? Those who have traveled in Palestine will testify that weather conditions may remain almost perfect through the month of December, and even far into January.Thus, there is no reason why the last month or 749 or first month of 750 should not be settled upon as the time of Jesus' birth. This would be our 5 or 6 B.C. Yes, it sounds odd to have Jesus born five or six years "Before Christ," but unless we want to add five or six years to the number of our current year, we'll just have to tolerate this little anomaly.

'Annunciation to the Shepherds' by Jacob Gerritz Cuyp, 1594-1650The feast of Christ's birth was brought into the official life of the Church and the Empire by Constantine as early as A. D. 330. The Christian historian, Epiphanius, writing in Cyprus near the end of the Fourth Century, asserts that Christ was born on January 6th, and the Christian churches in Mesopotamia observed the birth of the Savior thirteen days after the winter solstice; that is, January 6th. But in Cappadocia December 25th was already celebrated as the anniversary of Christ's birth before 380. About 385 Cyril of Jerusalem asked Pope Julius I to assign the true date of the nativity "from census documents brought by Titus to Rome;" and using this information Julius assigned December 25th. Jerome, writing about 411, chastises the Christian churches in Palestine for observing Christ's birthday on Epiphany rather than the now accepted December date. In Antioch in A.D. 386, St. Chrysostom tries to unite Antioch in celebrating Christ's birth on the 25th of December. Indeed, a large part of the community had already observed this festival on that day for at least the previous ten years. In the West, he says, the feast was thus kept, and goes on to say this was no novelty; for from Thrace (Greece) to Cadiz (Spain) this feast was celebrated. Finally, he asserts with authority that the census papers of the Holy Family were still at that time in Rome and could be used to verify the date of this celebration. Unfortunately, these records are no longer extant, otherwise there would be no mystery.

Is the Feast of Christmas Simply a Cover for a Pagan Holiday?
It is clear that the origin of Christmas did not come simply from the Roman festival of Saturnalia. True, the Emperor Aurelian, during his brief rule, tried to institute a lavish festival around the Birth of the Unconquered Sun, on December 25th, A.D. 274, borrowing heavily from the Mithras observances of Persia. He pushed this celebration in order to breathe new life into Roman idol-worship, which was already dying out. And Aurelian's pronouncement came after Christians had already been associating this day with the birth of Christ for many decades in at least a few parts of the Empire. Indeed this "Sol Invictus" festival was almost certainly an attempt to create a pagan alternative to a date that was already of some significance to believers. Thus, Christians were not imitating the pagans, rather the pagans were imitating the Christians!

Where Did Some of the other "Traditions" of Christmas Come From?

Feasting and Partying
'Christmas Eve' by Carl Larsson, 1904This did not come from the Church. In fact, the Church attempted to impose strict discipline on this festival, and make it day of worship and contemplation. Emperor Theodoric, in A.D. 425, forbade Circus games on 25 December; though not until the time of Justinian III, in 529 is the cessation of all work imposed throughout the Empire on Christmas. The Council of Agde in 506 orders Holy Communion be celebrated on Christmas regardless of what day of the week it falls. The Second Council of Tours in 566 sets the sanctity of the "twelve days" from Christmas to Epiphany, and the duty of an Advent fast. Still, after that merry-making increased so much that the "Laws of King Cnut," written around 1110, ordered a complete fast for all Christians from Christmas to Epiphany. In England, Christmas was forbidden by Act of Parliament in 1644; the day was to be a fast and a market day; shops were even compelled to be open on pain of a heavy fine; plum puddings and mince pies were condemned as indulgent and heathen. Even after the Restoration, Baptist and Puritan "Dissenters" continued to call Yuletide "Fooltide," and refused to have anything to do with Christmas.

Christmas Pageants & Carols
Victorian CarolersThe tradition of putting on dramatic, sometimes spectacular, displays of the various incidents of the Nativity began early in the Middle Ages. Often the Apostles and Martyrs would be included with Old Testament prophets, angels, kings, popes, and even well-known poets and artists in honoring Christ in these plays. In fact, the old adage, "To out-herod Herod", that is, to over-act, dates from the often vivid depictions of Herod's cruel violence in these plays.

These plays also had a part in bringing about a great number of "noels," and carols. Prudentius writes a hymn to the nativity in the Fourth Century, and Sedulius in the Fifth Century. The earliest German Weihnachtslieder date from the Eleventh and Twelfth centuries, the earliest French noels from the Eleventh, and the earliest English carols from the Thirteenth. "Adeste Fideles," for example does not appear in its present form until the Seventeenth century. Most certainly however, these very popular tunes and words must have existed long before they were put down in writing.

Nativity Scenes or The "Crèche"
The word "crèche" comes from the French word for crib or cradle. St. Francis of Assisi in 1223 set up the first crèche outside of church. Normally these nativity scenes, some quite small, others actually life-size, were displayed only in churches, and mostly in the side altars. Almost immediately, however, these little replicas of the stable where Christ was born, along with the central characters of the story, became immensely popular in Christian homes and town squares throughout Europe. The presence of an ox and donkey were seen as a commentary on Isaiah 1:3 and Habakkuk 3:2, and they appear in the unique Fourth Century "Nativity" discovered in the St. Sebastian catacombs in 1877.

Christmas Tree
'Round the Christmas Tree' by Viggo Johansen, 1891In the Thirteen Century Gervase of Tilbury wrote that in England grain is exposed on Christmas night to gain fertility from the dew which then falls. Indeed, the tradition that trees and flowers blossomed on this night is first quoted from an Arab geographer of the Tenth Century, and from there the story made it's way to England. In a Thirteenth Century French story, candles are portrayed on a flowering tree. In England it was Joseph of Arimathea's rod which was supposed to bloom at Glastonbury and elsewhere. Ivy, holly, mistletoe, and evergreen trees were all used by the ancient Druids as symbols of life in the dead of Winter. These were then appropriated by Christians for the same use.

From these various sources then came the practice of many types of greenery being used as decorations during the Christmas season. One of these customs developed into the Christmas tree. It is thought Martin Luther first brought an evergreen tree into the home and placed small candles on its branches to illustrate everlasting life coming from Christ, the Light of the World. However the first definite mention of such a tree is in 1605 at Strassburg. From there the custom entered the rest of France during the next century, and finally came to England in 1840 by way of the Prince Consort, Albert, the Lutheran husband of Queen Victoria.

Well-meaning Christians sometimes bemoan the use of the letter "X" in place of Jesus' title of "Christ" when used to designate the term "Christmas." Almost every year lately there are emotional calls from believers to "keep Christ in Christmas!" Rest assured, the Savior is still very much in "Xmas."

The Chi-RhoThe letter 'X' of the English alphabet closely resembles the Greek letter "chi," which in that language gives a sound much like our English 'k,' as in cholera or chrome. From very early in the Christian Church the first two Greek letters of the word "Christ," were used as a symbol for the Redeemer. The Greek letter for the "r" sound, or "Rho," looks like our English letter "p". We see this combination in the symbol used in many church decorations which we call the "Chi-Rho;" what looks like an "X" and a "P" superimposed over one another.

Eventually, just the single letter "X" also came to represent Jesus Christ. This symbolism came to England with Christianity. As the Anglo-Saxon language grew into first Old English and then common English, it was considered very acceptable to abbreviate "Christ," or "Jesus Christ" with either the Chi-Rho, or just the Chi or "X". We can see this done frequently in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicles beginning around A.D. 1050. This usage continued to be quite common through the Middle Ages, to the Victorian period, and of course is still used today. There was never any intention to do away with Jesus. "Xmas" means "Christmas," period.

Santa Claus and Gift-giving
It is said that the origin for the mysterious benefactor of Christmas night: Knecht Ruprecht, Pelzmärtel on a wooden horse, St. Martin on a white charger, St. Nicholas, or Father Christmas, comes from Saints stepping into the shoes of the pagan god Oden, who, with his wife Frigga, descended during the nights between 25 December and 6 January on white horses to bless both earth and people. Welcoming fires were set on the hilltops, houses were adorned with many kinds of decorations and lights, work and trials suspended, and great feasts celebrated during these nights.

Indeed, it was quite common for peoples once they converted to Christianity to incorporate their one-time pagan deities into many of the customs and traditions of the new Christian Church. However, that is only part of the story, and it would not be fair not to give due acknowledgment to the individual most certainly more responsible than any other for the "Santa Claus" phenomenon, namely, Saint Nicholas of Myra.

Santa Claus with GiftsAs with many heroes of the early Christian Church; i.e. those that lived during that period of nearly three centuries before the faith could be practiced openly and without persecution; the life and works of Nicholas have acquired a great many myths and legends, some of them quite fantastic. In fact, one could say he is perhaps the most honored and venerated of any of Saints of this period. These facts we know: He was born about A.D. 270 at Patara in Lycia in the Roman province of Asia, now modern Turkey, to well-to-do Christian parents. Both his parents died in a plague when he was quite young and left him very wealthy, and he was raised by an uncle who was the Bishop of Patara. From very early in his childhood he was known for his piety and zeal for the Lord and the Church. He underwent severe hardship and imprisonment during the intense persecution of the Emperor Diocletian, but survived to see the legalization of the Christian faith during the rule of Constantine. When the office of Bishop at Myra, the provincial capital went vacant, the people persuaded him to take on this office, even though he was still quite young at the time. He was said to have attended the great Council of Nicaea in A.D. 325, and the story is that he walked right up to the arch-heretic Arius and slapped him in the face before the entire assembly. He is said to have died on December 6th, A.D. 343, in Myra, and buried there under the altar of his church. After the Muslim Saracens took over the area in the Eleventh Century, his bones were removed to the town of Bari in Italy, where they remain today.

Among the nearly countless stories of amazing miracles attributed to Nicholas, two stand out as explanations for why he became the model for Santa Claus. During a severe famine a man of Patara lost all his money and was about to lose his home and property. He had three daughters of marriage age, but because they had no dowry they had no prospects of finding husbands. The father planned, it is said, to force his daughters into prostitution so that the family could survive. Nicholas heard of his plans, and one night, tossed three bags of gold in though an open window where the daughters were sleeping. Finding the gold when they awoke the next morning, they now had their dowries and soon were married off successfully.

In some versions, the bags were given in three successive nights, or even years on the same date, and by some accounts the bags were thrown – where else – down the chimney. Another variant has the daughters wash out their stocking and hang them to dry, the gold bags landing in them to be found the next morning. All these variants were widely known throughout the Christian world as early as the A.D. 700s. Another story takes place during yet another famine. An innkeeper on an island just off the coast of Myra supposedly killed and butchered three little children, and put them in pickling barrels to sell them to unsuspecting guests. Visiting the island to give aid to the needy, Nicholas surmised the evil deed done by the innkeeper. He brought the children back to life and returned them to their parents, thus becoming seen as the special protector and benefactor to all children.

From these pious legends it is easy to see how Saint Nicholas could become so dear and important to people of many countries down through the centuries. That his "saint day" was so close to Christmas also lent itself to a close association between the two. Once we throw in various other aspects left over from early pagan sources, such as elves, reindeer, sleighs, coal, and the like, and stir the whole mixture together with an excuse for merry-making at the end of the year and the natural commercialism of free enterprise – viola! – Santa Claus!

Christmas Eve at ChurchOf course, Christian believers, should, can, and do filter out all this interference with their worship of the Christ-child, and the celebration of the great fact of Christmas, which is Immanuel – God with us! As the Apostle John writes so beautifully by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, "And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the Only Begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth." (John 1:14)

A very blessed and joyous Christmas to one and all!

Pastor Spencer

[Once again, no claim is made for originality in this material. It has been collected from many sources over many years, for the benefit of my local congregation.]



Dear Reader, while many have declared resonance with us, many more are still considering it. We invite you to Stand With Us.

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Tuesday, December 18, 2012

FW: Is the Liturgy Biblical? According to the Book of Revelation it Is – Interview on Issues, by Pr. Rossow




Feed: Steadfast Lutherans
Posted on: Wednesday, December 12, 2012 2:59 AM
Author: Pastor Tim Rossow
Subject: Is the Liturgy Biblical? According to the Book of Revelation it Is – Interview on Issues, by Pr. Rossow


Those who resist the historical and liturgical expression of the faith as a human invention would do well to read, mark, learn and inwardly digest the Book of Revelation. This afternoon at 3 PM Central I will be interviewed on Issues, Etc. concerning a little pamphlet I wrote on the liturgy and the book of Revelation.

A few years ago I ran across a gem of a book called the "The Lamb's Supper – The Mass as Heaven on Earth." In this book, the author Scott Hahn, who converted to Romanism from Evangelicalism, joyfully tells of his discovery of ritual and liturgy and how the Book of Revelation is filled with the liturgy, and is even outlined according to it.

I was so moved by the book that I wrote a shorter version of it for my parish that excised the false teachings of penance sprinkled throughout and excised the false teachings of the mass. Overall, Hahn's general point is edifying and even shocking for those who piously and falsely label the liturgy as a human invention and as unbiblical.

You can listen to the interview for more detail but here are a few highlights. First, the Book of Revelation is outlined according to the liturgy, or should we say, vice versa. It begins with an entrance of the Pastor into a chancel filled with candles. (Rev. 1) It continues with confession with people bowing and crying before God, continuing with the Hymn of Praise, (excerpts showing up in our "This is the Feast") that follows upon the Absolution of Christ opening the Book of Life. (Rev. 3)  The book then ends with the great banquet feast of eternity closing with the eternal benediction. The book is filled with liturgical rituals and accoutrements such as bowing, waving palm branches, white robes with stoles, candles and even a clear emphasis on exclusivity supporting the closing of the communion rail. (REv. 19-22)

Despite this this helpful little book on the liturgy in Revelation, Scott Hahn is a frustrating mystery to Lutherans for a couple of reasons. First, it is too bad that his conversion out of Evangelicalism led him to Rome instead of to Wittenberg. He could have found all the liturgical richness he wanted with none of the damning teaching of pennance and indelible character if he had happened into a Lutheran Mass instead of a Catholic one on that fateful day that led to his conversion. Truth be told though, in today's LCMS it is sad that in over half the churches, Scott Hahn would not have found the liturgy.

Beyond that, another frustration about Professor Hann is his latest forray in Romanism -  post-modern, liberal, neo-Thomism. Because I admire his journey, I was delighted to see that he was one of the speakers at last year's Symposium, but low and behold, I was disappointed to hear that he had crossed beyond his original liturgical devotion into the subtle, neo-Platonic and mystical side of Aquinas. Upon reflection that did not surprise me because there is a subtle undercurrent of post-modern Romanism at the home of The Symposium. That concern will have to wait for another post. For now, we rejoice that the liturgy is not some man-made thing, but is rooted in and based on the very inspiration of the Holy Spirit in his Holy Scriptures.


For the booklet, click here.

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FW: Rightly Dividing the Lectionaries




Feed: Steadfast Lutherans
Posted on: Monday, December 17, 2012 7:15 AM
Author: Pastor John Fraiser
Subject: Rightly Dividing the Lectionaries


What you're about to read should rightly be considered "inside baseball". Many of you who read this are lay persons who will quite possibly shake your head that there are such debates among the clergy. For those head-shakers, please consider that for those of us who are clergy, this is our craft. We have devoted our lives to the ministry of the church, and for this reason, it is right that we discuss and consider things in greater detail than those outside the craft might otherwise — much in the same way one in a civil profession would give attention to things that the rest of us know nothing or very little about. One man's trivium is another man's craft. In fact, if one gives no greater thought to his profession than those outside the profession, then there is little use for the rest of us that he occupy that profession. It should be no different for pastors.

Yet I don't want to assume that it is only pastors who are interested in a discussion about the choice of lectionaries among Lutherans.


Should we use the One-Year or the Three-Year lectionary?
It turns out that this is one of those subjects that is deeper and more complex than it seems upon initial inspection.

The truth is, there are advantages and disadvantages to each, and as I'll argue, there's no clear winner here. But if we're to identify what are the advantages and disadvantages of each, we need to distinguish the good reasons from the bad for choosing one over the other.

Is the Three-Year Lectionary the Pope's lectionary?
I have routinely heard my One-Year friends scoff that the Three-Year Lectionary is the pope's lectionary. This bit of fault-finding comes from the fact that the Three-Year Lectionary was the product of the Second Vatican Council in the 1960's. Sounds bad, right? I mean what self-respecting (or self-loathing) Lutheran wants to read from the pope's lectionary?

Calling the Three-Year Lectionary the pope's lectionary suggests that there is a lectionary that isn't the pope's lectionary, but in the choice between the One-Year and the Three-Year there isn't a non-papal option. It's just a question of which papal lectionary you want.

The origin of the One-Year Lectionary is an interesting blend of readings compiled under several popes across eight centuries.

It begins with a set of readings for Advent, Christmas, Lent and Easter derived from Comes Hieronymi, a document attributed to Jerome (as the title indicates). The readings for these seasons were put together most likely in the late fifth century. Three hundred years later, Charlemagne, one of the most pro-papacy monarchs the world has ever known, commissioned some adjustments to the lectionary which were drawn from Pope Gregory the Great's sacramentary. The final major addition came in the thirteenth century with the adoption of Trinity Sunday and all that follows for the rest of the year. Finally put together under a powerful papacy, the One-Year Lectionary was solidified for the church for several hundred years.

And so the fingerprints of various popes are all over the One-Year Lectionary. Luther noticed this as well, although he doesn't appear to be aware of its historical development. He writes,

After [the collect] the Epistle is read. Certainly the time has not yet come to attempt revision here, as nothing unevangelical is read, except that those parts from the Epistles of Paul in which faith is taught are read only rarely, while the exhortations to morality are most frequently read. The Epistles seem to have been chosen by a singularly unlearned and superstitious advocate of works. But for the service those sections in which faith in Christ is taught should have been given preference. The latter were certainly considered more often in the Gospels by whoever it was who chose these lessons. In the meantime, the sermon in the vernacular will have to supply what is lacking (LW 53:23).

Luther noticed that the One-Year Lectionary does not include enough of the great Pauline texts on God's free salvation by grace through faith alone. For example, Romans 3 and Ephesians 2:1-10 are not in the Historic Lectionary (although the LCMS has since added these texts in its version of it). Yet, despite its deficiencies, Luther retained the lectionary, because it was already part of the life of the church, and there was no compelling reason to get rid of it. Instead, he called on pastors to use their preaching to make up for the deficiencies of the lectionary.

Notice also that Luther does not mention any Old Testament readings. Historically, the One-Year lectionary did not include Old Testament lessons on Sundays, but only at the Easter Vigil, the Vigil of Pentecost, the feast of Epiphany, during Holy Week, and on some weekdays.

Now maybe you can stomach certain popes more than others, but in the category of "lectionaries organized under papal influence", there's no difference between our two lectionary candidates.

It's also worth noting that the Three-Year Lectionary used in the LCMS isn't simply the Ordo Lectionum Missae created by Vatican II. There are major differences. Vatican II's OLM was adopted widely by Protestant groups but not before making significant changes. The result was the Common Lectionary. From there, the Common Lectionary underwent further revision to become the aptly-titled Revised Common Lectionary (RCL). The LCMS still wasn't satisfied and so, working from RCL, made even more changes before giving us our own Three-Year Lectionary. As states, "While a lectionary cannot include the entire Bible, it was the committee's opinion that a Lutheran lectionary needed to include such theologically important texts, even if some of the RCL selections were not incorporated." Here are some of those "theologically important texts": Ephesians 5:22–33; Romans 13:1–7; 1 Corinthians 10:16–17; 11:27–32; Galatians 2:11–14; 6:1–6; Philippians 4:10–20; Hebrews 12:4–13; 1 John 4:1–6; and Luke 13:22–30.

The LCMS three-year is Vatican II's lectionary, you say? Not by a long shot.

How much does a lectionary's origins matter anyway?
But so what if a lectionary is put together under papal influence. Are you aware of the myriad of things that you have received from a church under the papacy? If the criteria for throwing something out of the church is papal influence, then we've got a lot of chucking to do, and once we're finished, we'll be left with less of a church than what the Evangelicals possess.

Luther saw this point as well when he discussed the Anabaptist spirit toward papal influence.

We do not rave as do the rebellious spirits, so as to reject everything that is found in the papal church. For then we would east out even Christendom from the temple of God, and all that it contained of Christ….So it is of no consequence when these Anabaptists and enthusiasts say, "Whatever is of the pope is wrong," or, "Whatever is in the papacy we must have and do differently," thinking thereby to prove themselves the foremost enemy of Antichrist. Not realizing that they thus give him most help, they hurt Christendom most and deceive themselves. For they should help us to reject abuse and accretion, but they would not get much credit for this because they realize they were not first to do this (LW 40:233).

Martin Luther never got wrapped up in letting a practice's source determine its worth, and we shouldn't either. It's a foolish pursuit that ends with us trying to chase down the origins of all that we do instead of asking about its current value. The question should not be "Where did it come from?", but "Is it good?". The lectionaries should be judged on their merits as lectionaries, not on the basis of their origins, and to accept or dismiss them on the basis of their origins is nothing other than the genetic fallacy. Ask yourself: "If I had no idea where the Three-Year Lectionary came from, would I still have the same concerns?" If the answer is no and you still object to it, then you're guilty of the genetic fallacy. Lutherans have been smart enough to avoid the genetic fallacy when it comes to other matters such as Halloween, Christmas, and sausage, they should do the same when it comes to the lectionary.

Besides, if there is anything that isn't the pope's, it's Scripture. The lectionary is Scripture, and no Scripture is the pope's Scripture. I won't yield one jot or tittle to the pope's ownership. Unless we can detect a discernible agenda to string together various texts in such a way as to distort their context in support of an agenda contrary to Lutheran doctrine (and we can't), we should treat both lectionaries as Scripture simpliciter, not the pope's Scripture.

But the One-Year Lectionary is more historic, right?
Yes, the One-Year Lectionary is the more historic of the two, but not as much as one might think, and certainly not to the degree that many boast. In its current LCMS form, it's been overhauled quite a bit. As noted above, almost all of the Old Testament readings in today's One-Year were omitted in the Historic Lectionary, and while readings from  1 Timothy, 2 Peter, and Revelation have been included in the LCMS version, these were omitted historically. Numerous other texts have been removed and other put in their place. So, much of it is not so historic.

Factor in also, that the Three-Year lectionary retains much of the One-Year lectionary on most feast days, and the argument that the One-Year is the historic lectionary is weaker than it initially appears.

Does including more Scripture make the Three-Year Lectionary better?

The touted advantages of the Three-Year Lectionary aren't so cut-and-dry either.

From the Three-Year crowd, I regularly hear that the Three-Year Lectionary is obviously better because it contains a wider variety of Scripture. Even in the modified LCMS form, the One-Year leaves out readings from 23 of the 66 books (Leviticus, Judges, Ruth, 1 Chronicles, Ezra, Nehemiah, Esther, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs, Hosea, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah [listed as an alternate for Joel on Ash Wednesday. If Jonah is read, then Joel is not and so Joel would be added to the list of omitted books and vice versa], Nahum, Habakuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, 2 Thessalonians, 2 Timothy, Philemon, 2 John, 3 John, and Jude). Meanwhile, the Three-Year Lectionary omits only 1 Chronicles and Obadiah.

But does a wider variety of Scripture trump everything else? I don't think so. Some of the advantages found in the One-Year Lectionary are lost by the wider scope of the Three-Year.

  • Consider that a lifetime of attentively listening to the same passages read publicly each year results in a deep familiarity with the text and a great deal of memorization. This is sacrificed with the Three-Year Lectionary.
  • Fitting in so many different texts as the Three-Year does comes at the cost. The One-Year Lectionary readings for each service weave together a theme that is harder to discern in the Three-Year. The One-Year has the advantage of clarifying the structure of the church year much better. For example, Isaiah 50:4-9 (series A) is not nearly as appropriate for Palm Sunday as is the One-Year reading, Zechariah 9:9-12. There are some exceptions where the Three-Year reading fits better with the season, but these occur far less. On a similar note, the Old Testament lessons fit hand-in-glove with the Gospel lessons much more than their Three-Year counterparts.
  • Then there's the advantage of sharing a lectionary with a great many churchmen of antiquity who can help you in your own reading and study of the lectionary. The Three-Year pastors and congregations lose some of this.
  • What's more, many of our hymns were written to compliment the readings of the Historic Lectionary.

Is reading a wider variety of Scripture a good thing? On it's own, yes, but one has to recognize that reading a wider variety of Scripture comes at a cost to other things, and when those things are added up, it isn't clear that the Three-Year lectionary is better just by virtue of including more Scripture.

And yet, the Three-Year truly brings with it some important advantages.

  • By focusing on a particular Gospel for a year, congregations have a chance to get a sense of the character of each Gospel.
  • While a wider scope of Scripture may not trump all other considerations, it is nevertheless a point in the Three-Year Lectionary's favor. I have found that it lends itself better to a redemptive-historical/ biblical theological approach — particularly in the Old Testament readings.
  • The Three-Year Lectionary has been approved and/or adopted by most church bodies that follow the church calendar. It has been adopted by the Episcopal Church, the ELCA, the ELCIC, the United Methodist Church, most Presbyterians, the United Church of Christ, Disciples of Christ, and numerous others. It is also far and away the dominate lectionary used in the LCMS. Now One-Year users may not like this fact, but it nevertheless counts for something that a majority of the present-day church is using this lectionary.
  • The Three-Year Lectionary does not reflect the 'canonical suspicion' in the Historic Lectionary that kept out readings from numerous canonical books such 2 John, 3 John, Jude, and Revelation. Seriously, there's no good defense for  the Historic Lectionary omitting readings from the last four canonical books.

So which one is better then?
I don't think that there's an absolute answer on which lectionary is better, and this is just the conclusion I've been pushing you toward throughout the post. It depends on how you weight the advantages and disadvantages of one over the other.

Is it good to read a wider variety of Scripture over the course of three years? I think it is, but as I mentioned previously, doing so comes at the cost of giving up some of the niceties of the Historic Lectionary. Is it good to be rooted in the rich lectionary history of the One-Year? Of course, but what do I have to give up to do this?

There will continue to be a difference in preference, and the reason for that is simply that there is no independent set of criteria by which to assess the balance of advantages and disadvantages. We can't change that. What we can change, however, is appeals to faulty reasons for our preference.

Lastly, let's remember that a key purpose of a lectionary is to unite us, not to become yet another dueling matter in the long list of dueling matters.

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FW: “Mary’s Song Prepares Us for Mary’s Son” (Sermon on Luke 1:46-55, by Pr. Charles Henrickson)




Feed: Steadfast Lutherans
Posted on: Thursday, December 13, 2012 12:04 AM
Author: Charles Henrickson
Subject: "Mary's Song Prepares Us for Mary's Son" (Sermon on Luke 1:46-55, by Pr. Charles Henrickson)


"Mary's Song Prepares Us for Mary's Son" (Luke 1:46-55)

One of the things we're doing this month in our Advent and Christmas services is looking at a number of texts from Luke's "Infancy Narrative," that is, the first two chapters of Luke's gospel, which concern events related to the birth of Jesus Christ. And one of the distinctive features of Luke chapters 1 and 2 is the inclusion of four poetic, song-like pieces–in other words, the four canticles of Luke. And those four canticles are as follows: Mary's Song, the Magnificat; Zechariah's Song, the Benedictus; the Angels' Song, the Gloria in Excelsis; and Simeon's Song, the Nunc Dimittis. The fact that these four canticles are referred to by their Latin titles shows their long history of usage in the church's worship.

Our text today is the first of those four canticles, Mary's Song, the Magnificat. Mary, newly pregnant with the Christ child, breaks into this song of praise that we call the Magnificat. Let's listen now to her words and hear how "Mary's Song Prepares Us for Mary's Son."

"My soul magnifies the Lord," Mary begins. In Latin that would be "Magnificat anima mea Dominum." And so the first word "Magnificat" is where we get the title for this canticle. To "magnify" is to "make great." Think of a magnifying lens. It's not that a magnifying lens makes the thing you're looking at any larger than it actually is. It's just that when you magnify something, it occupies more of your vision. That which you are magnifying is all you can see at that moment. So it is for Mary as her soul "magnifies" the Lord. It's not that she could make the Lord any greater than he already is. It's just that she is totally occupied with his greatness. What he had done for her, and what he was in the process of doing for his people–this was so great that when she stopped to think about it, she couldn't help but sing.

Mary serves as a good example for us in this regard. It's good to stop and think about what the Lord has done for us and what he continues to do. That's what we do here in church, isn't it? When we stop and think of what God has done for us by sending his Son into the flesh as the son of Mary, we can't help but to join Mary in her song of praise.

"My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant." Here Mary magnifies the Lord in a way we all can identify with. She calls God her "Savior," in whom she rejoices. To know this same God, that he is our Savior, too–this is a joyful thing. God is the Savior of people who need his help, who are in need of saving. He looked on the humble estate of his servant Mary, and he is mindful of our low estate, as well. You and I–we were nobody special that God should look on us so kindly. And yet he is our Savior. What a joy this is! What a joy it gives us!

"For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed; for he who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is his name." Now Mary magnifies the Lord in a way that only she could do. For only she had the unique privilege of being the mother of the Christ child. Imagine the feelings Mary must have experienced, to ponder that out of all the women in history she would be the one to give birth to the Savior of the world! "Surely, Lord, you could have chosen a princess or a queen; but instead you have chosen your lowly servant, a humble handmaiden. Lord, you have done great things for me. How mighty you are, and how mighty will be this little king I am carrying! How holy you are, and how holy this Son of God who will be born."

Mary says, "From now on all generations will call me blessed." Her relative Elizabeth had just called her blessed: "Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb!" Now Mary recognizes that not just Elizabeth but all generations will call her the most blessed of women for having had the great honor of giving birth to the Savior of the world.

Mary then expands her song from how God had blessed her individually to what God was doing for his people as a whole by sending the Savior into the world: "And his mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation." Yes, from generation to generation God keeps on showing his mercy to his people. It started way back when, long before Mary. She recalls how the Lord has been faithful in showing mercy over time, generation after generation, throughout Israel's history, culminating now in the birth of the Messiah.

But that same mercy which God shows toward his people extends also even down to us. From generation to generation, century after century, the mercies of the Lord are new every morning. Even now, as we come toward Christmas, Anno Domini, "in the year of our Lord," 2012. Over two thousand years since we turned the calendar, marking the birth of Christ. Throughout all those years, and for all the years to come, we have a merciful God. His mercy extends, from generation to generation.

What is God's mercy? God's mercy is that he looks upon us in our sorry state and does something to help us. God sees our misery, the wretched condition we inflicted on ourselves as a result of our sin. And we are living in "the state of misery," in more ways than one: sickness, strife, discord, death. A sorry lot indeed. But God shows his mercy toward us precisely in our misery. "Lord, have mercy," we pray. And he does. His mercy is such that he cares for us day by day, he helps us in our distress, and he has provided the ultimate answer to all our woes in the person of this little child he sent. That's why Mary is singing. She sees this child as the great sign, the great fulfillment, of God's mercy toward humankind.

What is God's mercy like, through all these generations? How does God work, how does he operate, in his dealings toward man? Mary tells us: "He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts; he has brought down the mighty from their thrones and exalted those of humble estate; he has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent empty away." What is Mary singing about here? That this is how God acts toward men, in a twofold way, in a twofold action. In a word–in two words, actually–he brings down, and he lifts up. He brings down the proud. He lifts up the lowly. This is Law and Gospel, this twofold word of God.

To those who are proud in themselves–like the Pharisee who stood in the temple, boasting–God will scatter them to the winds. To those who feel like they are in control, the rulers of their own destiny–God will bring them down from their thrones. To those who are rich in things, in the pleasures of this life–like the rich man to whom God said, "Thou fool!" or like the rich man who ignored poor Lazarus–God will send them away empty. This is how God deals with all who are secure in themselves, who feel no need for forgiveness, who have no use for a Savior. He will bring those haughty souls down.

But the lowly he will lift up. He exalts those of humble estate. This is the good news in Mary's song. God shows strength with his arm on behalf of his not-so-strong, not-so-mighty people, whose arms are too weak to save themselves. God exalts those of humble estate–and if truth be told, you and I have a lot to be humble about! When I look in the mirror, I see a man who fails himself, who fails his family, who fails his neighbor and his God. That's me. That's you, too. We are exactly what we confess–poor, miserable sinners. But those are exactly the kind of people God lifts up–the lowly. He fills the hungry with good things–things like righteousness, things like the forgiveness of sins. I'm hungry for that, aren't you? I need that, in order to live. Hungry ones, God will fill you, he will satisfy you.

What Mary is singing about here is what is sometimes called the "Great Reversal," the great change in position that God will accomplish in the sending of his Son. The high and mighty will be brought low. The poor and lowly will be lifted up. Just the opposite, just the reverse, of the way the world sees things. God brings it about in the person of Christ.

For Christ himself came from the heights of heaven and was born the lowly child of Mary. He laid aside his glory. He humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross. Christ Jesus was brought low–lifted up on a cross and then brought low and laid in a tomb–he, the Holy One of God. That's why he came in the flesh–to take our place, to suffer death for us.

Yet this is exactly how he strikes down our high and mighty enemies: death, grave, devil, and hell. Those proud rulers are brought low, scattered, sent away empty–as empty as the tomb from which Christ rose. God raised this Jesus up, in victory over sin and death; and now you who trust in Christ–God will raise you up, too. This is the Great Reversal: God bringing down the proud and lifting up the lowly. This is what God will accomplish in the little baby to whom Mary is going to give birth.

Mary concludes her song of praise to God: "He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, as he spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and to his offspring forever." Mary praises the Lord for being faithful to his promises, faithful to his covenant, faithful to his word. God had made a promise to Abraham, saying, "In your seed, Abraham, all the nations of the earth will be blessed." One of the descendants of Abraham, one from the nation of Israel, would be the one to fulfill this promise. And here he is, this Jesus who is to be born. He is the seed of Abraham who will bring blessing to the world.

And so Mary's son brings the blessing to us. And that's something to sing about! "My soul magnifies the Lord!" Mary's song, then–Mary's song prepares us for Mary's son. In him the lowly are lifted up. In him God's mercy extends, from generation to generation. So magnify the Lord with Mary, and let us exalt his name together!

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