Wednesday, December 26, 2018

Christmas Is for Children

To the members of Faith: This (below) is the "Christmas Card" I shared with you on Sunday after the Children's Program.  This coming Sunday will have a New Year's theme during the service, and then we'll all watch "The Muppet Christmas Carol" - with treats!  Merry Christmas!

God must have had children in mind when He planned the Christmas Gospel.  For the story is just full of the sort of things children like and can understand.

For starters, there are lots of animals: a donkey, sheep, camels.  There's a barn with hay, and more animals.  Add to that shepherds, angels, a special star, kings with treasures, and a curious object called a "manger."  In the middle of it all a mommy keeping her baby warm.

Luke 2:1-20 reads like a play for children to put on, complete with manageable speaking parts and a little carol for all to sing:

Glory to God in the highest,
and on earth peace, good will toward men.

The only one littler than the children is their Lord in the manger.  The children learn in this way to go near to Him, love, and trust in Him.

God is nothing if not a teacher, a teacher of children, and a teacher about Himself.  The Incarnation (God coming in our flesh) is the single greatest theological mystery.  Yet God conveys it in a way understandable to a child.  And then calls all of us to "become as children" (Matt. 18:3).

God grant you - this Christmas and always - the wonder, joy, and faith of a child!

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

The Heart of Christmas

"Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace" (Luke 2:14).

These words belong to the first Christmas carol ever sung.

But look at the word earth.  Move the h from the end of the word to the beginning, and you get heart.

Your heart!

The Peace born on Christmas is God's gift to all the earth.  For God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son.

And yet the Peace born on Christmas is God's personal gift to you, that you who believe in Him should not perish but have eternal life.

This, then, is the prayer:

Ah, dearest Jesus, holy Child,
Prepare a bed, soft, undefiled,
A quiet chamber set apart
For You to dwell within my heart.


Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Be the Tree

"Bear fruits in keeping with repentance" (Luke 3:8).

"The word of God came to John" (Luke 3:2).  And this is the word that came to him: "Bear fruits in keeping with repentance."  The word we need to hear.  It is not my word.  It is not even John's word.  It is God's word.

Advent is a period of preparation.  A time of repentance.  But that really doesn't fit with the decorating, the parties, and the eating that these days before Christmas are known for.

But I remember hearing once that the ball ornaments on the tree represent fruit.  In other words, the Christmas tree is a fruit tree.  A tree that bears good fruit.  The very thing God is calling us to be.  Because "every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire" (Luke 3:9).

And so this Advent and Christmas be like the Christmas tree.  Be the tree.  A tree that bears good fruit - the fruits of repentance.

What is left is to ask and answer two questions.

First, what is repentance?  A very good definition is found in the Augsburg Confession of 1530 (the cornerstone confession of the Lutheran Church).  It reads:

"True repentance is nothing else than to have contrition and sorrow, or terror, on account of sin, and yet at the same time to believe the Gospel and absolution (namely, that sin has been forgiven and grace has been obtained through Christ), and this faith will comfort the heart and again set it at rest.  Amendment of life and the forsaking of sin should then follow, for these must be the fruits of repentance, as John says, 'Bear fruits in keeping with repentance.'"

The second question is, what are the fruits in your particular case?

In Luke 3 the common people ask John, "What then shall we do?"  Then the tax collectors, and then the soldiers, ask the same thing.  The word do in their question and John's word bear ("Bear fruits") are in Greek the same word.  What they're saying is, "What then shall we bear?"  "John, we're soldiers.  What are the fruits of repentance in our case?"  "We're tax collectors.  What are the fruits in our case?"  "We're regular people.  What are the fruits in our case?"  And John gets into the particulars.

Are you a spouse?  What are the fruits in your case?  "Husband and wife love and honor each other."  Are you a person who comes across other people?  What are the fruits in your case?  "Do not hurt or harm your neighbor in his body, but help and support him in every physical need."  Are you a child, a son or daughter?  "Do not despise or anger your parents and other authorities, but honor them, serve and obey them, love and cherish them."  Are you a member of this congregation?  "Do not despise preaching and God's Word, but hold it sacred and gladly hear and learn it."

Are you a Christian?  Be the tree.  A tree that bears good fruit - the fruits of repentance.  Amen.

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

Round Yon Virgin

Note: This Christmas will mark the 200th anniversary of the first singing of "Silent Night."

"Behold, a virgin will be with child and bear a son..." (Isa. 7:14).

"Silent Night" may well be the most beloved Christmas carol.  It dates back to the year 1818.  The English translation of the German original contains the following lines:

All is calm, all is bright
Round yon virgin mother and child.

I admit that for many years I have happily sung these words without really understanding their meaning - in particular, "Round yon."  Maybe you can relate!

After studying the matter, I offer this simple explanation.  The sentence can be understood as though it were written, "All is calm, all is bright around yonder virgin mother and child."

"Yon" is a poetic little adjective telling us that a virgin mother and her baby are "just over there, not far."  It's as though we are being pointed in the direction of the stable from which is coming a calm and a light.  Let us go!

The world, as we know, can be a dark and troubled place.  Christmas reveals the only Source of lasting peace and hope for such a world: the Child born of a virgin mother.

Let us sing sweetly of this hope!