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quod pro nobis traditum est

Thursday, December 22, 2011

An Advent meditation

As we begin this new church year we rely on God’s grace and power to come and strengthen us in the faith. Our sin hinders Jesus’ coming to us. It is more natural for us to go our own way rather than gladly hear and obey God’s word. Although Jesus was risen from the dead, it was only when he appeared to Thomas that Thomas believed and confessed, “My Lord and my God!” It is not that he did not want to believe, he simply couldn’t believe without Jesus’ gracious coming to him first. This is how it is with us. We are hindered by our sins yet God is merciful to us. Hence we need and look forward to Jesus’ coming, that we may know that grace that overcomes sin, death and hell, bringing instead God’s merciful forgiveness. Every opportunity to hear God’s word is an opportunity to know Him and His salvation, to know His grace and power in working out our salvation. Advent reminds us that the Lord is nearer to us than when we first believed. We look forward to Jesus’ return as we look forward to the solemn celebration of His nativity.

We hear the account of Jesus’ birth from Matthew the Evangelist. Before this account Matthew gives a genealogical account of Jesus going back to David and Abraham. Jesus’ coming is foretold by the prophet, “Behold, the virgin shall be with child, and bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel, which is translated, “God with us.” The people of God looked forward to the coming Messiah. They lived by faith in the promise of Abraham and awaited Him who would reign forever on the throne of David. The genealogy of Jesus from David comes through Joseph, but it is through Mary that He comes a child of the Holy Spirit, “God with us.” The Apostle Paul calls this baby, “[God’s] Son Jesus Christ our Lord, who was born of the seed of David according to the flesh, and declared to be the Son of God with power according to the Spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead.” We know Jesus is connected to the Cross because the angel of the Lord says “He will save His people from their sins.” Here Paul connects Jesus, born of the seed of David, declared the Son of God, with the resurrection from the dead. Jesus risen from the dead appeared to Thomas and the other disciples and by His grace and power they believed. He ascended into heaven “and He shall come again with glory to judge both the quick and the dead, whose kingdom shall have no end.” How can we look forward to Jesus’ return? He has already appeared and come to us in Baptism. Here in the waters of forgiveness of sins is the grace and power, to make confession like Thomas, “My Lord and My God” and “I look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come.”

God’s grace and power comes to us. Through Christ Jesus we have received God’s grace and power. The crooked shall become straight, and the rough ways plain. Where there is forgiveness of sins, there is also life and salvation. Jesus comes in fulfillment of God’s promise through His prophets in the Holy Scriptures. Still, He comes to us in the hearing of these same Scriptures and prepares us here on earth for the glory He has prepared for us in heaven. So even at the end of the day, even as we sit in the darkness before another night’s rest, we live by God’s grace and power in the brightness of the saints. Jesus comes and brings to us the brightness of light eternal. We rely on God’s grace and power to come and strengthen us in the faith, the same faith of Thomas who saw the risen Lord. And God’s grace and power keeps coming to us. Soon we celebrate this coming in the flesh. His name is Jesus.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

the Sussex Carol

At a choral concert on Sunday I heard the Sussex Carol.

A story in the history of this popular British carol caught my eye. The carol was first published by an Irish bishop in 1684. Vaughn Williams apparently heard it sung in Sussex, England, and wrote down the text and tune. The tune we generally hear today is the Vaughn Williams tune of 1919.

Here is the text of the first stanza from the Ralph Vaughn Williams version:

On Christmas night all Christians sing
To hear the news the angels bring.
News of great joy, news of great mirth,
News of our merciful King's birth.

Christ-mas in America

What is so controversial about this?

Saturday, December 10, 2011

an online survival guide for clergy

In surviving online, the clergy face three challenges: 1) Maneuvering from the left (may come in the form of mind games; it's all relative/-istic) 2) Mind games from the right (may come in the form of maneuvering) 3) Mayhem from the faithful. There is no escaping these challenges. What, then, can be done? After years of study, research and experience, there may now be a solution. Research has discovered that these challenges may be solved by eating M&Ms (dark chocolate or peanut butter).

Friday, December 09, 2011

Reformation in reverse

Some blogs are rightly abuzz. Check here and here regarding a retired Lutheran bishop's feeble attempt to teach the Catholic bishops. The Catholic bishops here are clearly on the side of truth and the blogs cut to the chase. This is another sad chapter in the demise of mainline protestantism and another news item that makes clearer to the public the distinction between the Lutheran synods. How things have changed in 500 years . . .

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

Mary's blessedness, a good thing for us

This week the vast majority of Christians in the world will be reminded of the genealogy of Mary and Jesus. Both the Western Church and the Eastern Church recognize the Blessed Virgin's Conception, on the 8th and 9th, respectively. Most in the protestant tradition, heirs of the reformation, will not even notice. There may rise some reactions here and there to the Catholic understanding of the Immaculate Conception or how any emphasis on Mary may sidetrack us from Christmas. Otherwise, these are days like any other.

Sometimes our reactions get in the way. The very Word we uphold brings us to pause and marvel at the greater realities. We appreciate Mary's humility before the Angel Gabriel when she says, "Let it be to me according to your word," especially after she hears unbelievable things about how the birth and naming of Jesus would come about. Certainly, this is something of divine action and power. This is the word of the Lord.

What of Mary's birth? We know little. Yet her birth is part of the greater plan in the birth of Him who was and is incarnate, a divine genealogy. My tradition might question the immaculate conception of Mary yet Jesus' birth demonstrates that nothing is outside His power, "and holy is His Name."

Therefore, in terms of appreciating what God is doing through Mary, the debate tends to distract. It is a worthy debate but not one for me to pursue here and now. Rather, what is it that draws attention to Mary as the "Blessed Virgin," "Our Lady," and the "Theotokos?" Here again we return to the words of the angel, "Rejoice, highly favored one, [or "Hail, full of grace,"], the Lord is with you; blessed are you among women!"

Leave it to the mysterious grace and mercy of God to regard the low estate of His handmaiden and then to have her called blessed by all generations. This is not a post-reformation contest between Mary and Jesus but a recognition of ongoing greater realities at work in the genealogy of Mary and God's only begotten Son.