December 23, 2010
The Lord be with you
This coming Sunday will be the First Sunday after Christmas. It is also the Second Day of Christmas and the Festival of St. Stephen, Martyr. We are using the lessons appointed for the First Sunday after Christmas which are: Isaiah 63:7-14, Galatians 4:4-7; and Matthew 2:13-23. We will be using the first setting of the morning service for our liturgy (page 151). This is the setting that is very similar to the liturgy in The Lutheran Hymnal. The text for the sermon will be Matthew 2:13 and the sermon is titled “The Irony of Christmas.” As it is NOW the Christmas Season, we will be singing a lot of Christmas hymns this Sunday and next. One of those Christmas hymns will be a hymn selected by our hymnal review committee as worth learning, O Sing of Christ (LSB 362). To learn more about it go to the January newsletter on this blog. Our other hymns will be I’m But a Stranger Here (LSB 748), O Jesus, Blessed Lord, to Thee (LSB 632), O Come, O Come, Emmanuel (LSB 357), What Child Is This (LSB 370), and Angels from the Realms of Glory (LSB 367). This will be a communion service.
In may seem odd to some to honor a martyr so soon after the celebration of the birth of our Lord; however there is some solid theological reasoning behind selecting this date. Jesus himself said, “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword” (Matthew 10:34). Jesus didn’t mean that the Church should send out armies, but that the Gospel message of salvation by grace through faith would be violently opposed (Matthew 11:12). Many even falsely believe that they are serving God by killing Christians (John 16:2). So by honoring the Church’s first martyr so close to the birth of Jesus reminds us that there is a cost in following Christ. It reminds us that the Christian Faith will be opposed, even violently. There is another reason this date is appropriate. Jesus came into our world that we might enter his world, that is, eternal glory with him and all those who are with him in heaven. We enter his blessed presence when we die, it is our heavenly birthday. So we mark Stephen’s heavenly birthday in the season of our Savior’s earthly birthday. The entrance of Christ into history is linked to the entrance of all believers into glory.
As the first martyr, Stephen’s death made a profound impact on the Early Church (given two whole chapters in the book of Acts) and it marked the beginning of a general persecution of the Church by Jewish authorities. Their hatchet man was Saul, later to become St. Paul. St. Stephen was “a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 6:5) and was one of the Church’s first seven deacons. He was appointed by the leaders of the Church to distribute food and other necessities to the poor in the growing Christian community in Jerusalem, thereby giving the apostles more time for their public ministry of proclamation (Acts 6:2-5). He and the other deacons apparently were expected not only to “wait on tables” but also to teach and preach. When some of his colleagues became jealous of him, they brought Stephen to the Sanhedrin and falsely charged him with blaspheming against Moses (Acts 6:9-14). Stephen’s confession of faith, along with his rebuke of the members of the Sanhedrin for rejecting their Messiah and being responsible for His death, so infuriated them that they dragged him out of the city and stoned him to death. Stephen is honored as the Church’s first martyr and for his words of commendation and forgiveness as he lay dying: “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit” and “Lord, do not hold this sin against them” (Acts 7:59-60).
Below is a video of the Lutheran Warbler playing O Sing of Christ, our new hymn for the month. Because the words are copyrighted, she is not singing. However you can hear the tune and arrangement, which is public domain.
Preview of the LessonsIsaiah 63:7-14: This section of scripture begins with a remembering of God’s past steadfast love. This is always a good place for us to begin as well. When God identifies with us, even our afflictions become his (verse 9). When God deals with us in love and mercy there should be a natural result of faithfulness to him and lives lived in harmony with his will. However, as verse 10 tells us, Israel rebelled, and this rebellion grieved the Holy Spirit (a great passage for establishing the personhood of the Spirit. Also see verses 11 and 14.). Immediately Isaiah, in verse 11, calls to the rebellions people to again remember God’s past mercy, kindness, aid, etc. So the focus of the passage is to remember God’s actions in the past. What a wonderful reminder in these days of Christmas as we remember the Christ Child who was born to save us from the consequences of our sinful ways.
Galatians 4:4-7: Paul begins this short lesson with the words “When the fullness of time had come”. What this means is “at just the right moment in time.” Everything necessary had been accomplished for the birth of Jesus. Once all was ready not a moment was lost, the Son of God became flesh. Paul alludes to the virgin birth when he says Jesus was “born of woman.” He doesn’t say he was the son of Joseph or born of "man." Still Jesus had a human mother, which was necessary for him to be “born under the law.” Being born "under the law" was necessary so that Jesus could be the redeemer of all who are under the law, that is, all humanity for we are all under God’s law. The end result is that those who receive Christ are adopted as sons. Being a “son” of God is not a sexist designation. Its root is in the legal system of antiquity. Daughters could not inherit. By designating all believers as “sons of God” Paul is saying that all believers are now heirs of eternal life. A woman does not have to depend on her father or brother or husband, she inherits in her own name as a “son” of God. So, in reality, the title “son of God” for believers is the exact opposite of sexism. As adopted sons of God we how possess the Holy Spirit. This means that you don’t become a Christian and a son of God at point A in time and then, sometime later, receive the Holy Spirit (as some teach), but as soon as you are adopted into the family of God, as soon as you believe in Jesus, as soon as you become a Christian, as soon as you become a child of God (all these phrases and many more refer to the same thing from different angles) you receive the Holy Spirit and freedom from the consequences of your sins.
Matthew 2:13-23: This is the epilog to the story of the visit of the Magi to the Christ Child. It is a part of the Christmas story that is known to those who attend church regularly, but unknown to those who are only casual attendees. That is because it is a dark story and does not fit with the warm and fuzzy image of Christmas that is popular in general American culture. This story is called, in tradition, the Slaughter of the Innocents, and is commemorated on December 28. Our calendar names the day “The Holy Innocents, Martyrs.” In their search to find the Christ Child, the Magi stopped in Jerusalem and called on King Herod the Great. By this time Herod was an old and paranoid ruler, who even murdered two of his own sons. When the Magi asked where they could find the one “born king of the Jews,” Herod’s paranoid, yet cunning, nature swung into full gear. He found out from his scribes that the Messiah was to be born in Bethlehem. He found out from the Magi when the star first appeared, giving him a rough idea of how old Jesus was. Then he told the Magi to go to Bethlehem, find the child, and report back to him so he also could worship the newborn Lord. Herod, however, planned to murder Jesus. The Magi were warned by God of Herod’s treachery and so they went home by a different route. This is where our reading picks up the story. When Herod figured out that the Wise Men had been wiser than he thought, he flew into a rage and ordered all the children in the Bethlehem area, two years old and younger, murdered. Jesus escaped Herod’s hand because Joseph, warned in a dream by God, immediately got the Holy Family up and fled to Egypt, where they stayed until Herod died a few years later. When they returned to Judea, Joseph moved the family to Nazareth. This story not only reminds us of the terrible brutality of which human beings are capable, but more significantly of the persecution Jesus endured from the beginning of His earthly life. This whole episode is depicted figuratively in Revelation 12:1-6 where a dragon (Satan) seeks to devour the newborn child of a spectacular lady, but fails. So we see who the real mastermind behind the persecution of Jesus and his Church is, the devil. Although Jesus’ life was providentially spared at this time, many years later, another ruler, Pontius Pilate, would sentence the innocent Jesus to death. By the way, thanks to the prophecy of Jeremiah, quoted in this Sunday’s Introit, we can be certain that these children went to glory.
Gradual (Isaiah 9:6; Ps 98:1 a)To us a child is born, to us a son is given;
and the government shall be upon his shoulder.
And his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Sing to the Lord a new song,
for he has done marvelous things!
Verse (Luke 2:30, 32)Alleluia. My eyes have seen your salvation; a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel. Alleluia.
Collect for the Day
O God, our Maker and Redeemer, You wonderfully created us and in the incarnation of Your Son yet more wondrously restored our human nature. Grant that we may ever be alive in Him who made Himself to be like us; through Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.
Introit (Jeremiah 31:15-17; antiphon Hosea 11:1)When Israel was a child, I loved him,
and out of Egypt I called my son.
Thus says the LORD: “A voice is heard in Raman,
lamentation and bitter weeping.
Rachel is weeping for her children;
she refuses to be comforted for her children, because they are no more.”
Thus says the LORD: “Keep your voice from weeping,
and your eyes from tears,
for there is a reward for your work, declares the LORD,
and they shall come back from the land of the enemy.
There is hope for your future, declares the LORD,
and your children shall come back to their own country.”
Glory be to the Father and to the Son
and to the Holy Spirit;
as it was in the beginning,
is now, and will be forever. Amen.
When Israel was a child, I loved him,
and out of Egypt I called my son.
Adult Bible StudyWe continue our series “Puzzlers and Questions about the Bible.” The question for this coming Sunday is: “Mark 7:27-30 – What was meant by verses 27 and 28?” This is the story of a woman seeking the help of Jesus and, in the conversation, Jesus compares her, and apparently all Gentiles, to dogs. The story can be found in Mark 7:24-30. I resisted giving this some cute or catchy name and simply call the study, “The Syrophoencian Woman and Jesus.” The study begins at 9:00 AM. Come one and come all.
Well, I hope to see you Sunday.
Blessings in Christ,
Pastor John Rickert