Friday, December 30, 2011

David

December 30, 2011
The Sixth Day of Christmas

The Lord be with you

Yesterday (and today as far as that goes) I have been absorbed in a writing project for the D.Min. degree I’m working on. It is my project proposal. What this means is that I utterly forgot to post something yesterday, which was the Commemoration of David on the LC-MS calendar. This is another day added with the adoption of the Lutheran Service Book. I thought I’d put something up today under the general rubric “better late than never.”

David, the greatest of Israel’s kings, ruled from about 1010 to 970 BC. The events of his life are found in 1 Samuel 16 through 1 Kings 2 and in 1 Chronicles 10-29. David was also gifted musically. He was skilled in playing the lyre and the author of no fewer than seventy-three psalms, including the beloved Psalm 23. His public and private character displayed a mixture of good (for example, his defeat of the giant Goliath [1 Samuel 17]) and evil (as in his adultery with Uriah’s wife, followed by his murder of Uriah [2 Samuel 11]) David’s greatness lay in his fierce loyalty to God as Israel’s military and political leader, coupled with his willingness to acknowledge his sins and ask for God’s forgiveness (2 Samuel 12; see Psalm 51). It was under David’s leadership that the people of Israel were united into a single nation with Jerusalem as its capital city.

Appropriate prayers include a repentant heart, for loyalty to the Lord, for our political leaders and the political leaders of the world, for peace in the Middle East.

Blessings in Christ,
Pastor John Rickert

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

The Holy Innocents, Martyrs - 2011

Feast of the Holy Innocents, Martyrs
Fourth Day of Christmas
December 28, 2011

The Lord be with you

Today is the Feast Day of the Holy Innocents, Martyrs, also called the “Slaughter of the Holy Innocents” sometimes. This event is recorded only in the Gospel of Matthew. He tells of King Herod’s vicious plot against the infant Jesus after being “tricked” by the Wise Men. Feeling threatened by the one “born King of the Jews,” Herod murdered all the children in and around Bethlehem who were two years old or younger (Matthew 2:16-18). These “innocents,” commemorated just three days after the celebration of Jesus’ birth, remind us not only 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. Although Jesus’ life was providentially spared at this time, many years later, another ruler, Pontius Pilate, would sentence the innocent Jesus to death.

The celebration of this day first appeared in North Africa in the third century, making it one of the oldest dates observed. If the Church was interested in a strict chronological reliving of the life of Jesus, this day would be celebrated after Epiphany (which in part remembers the visit of the Wise Men). However the Calendar is more about proclaiming the gospel of the Kingdom that has begun in Christ and will be completed in the future.

Appropriate prayers for today include repentance for our national sin of legal abortion; for children; for sensitivity to the suffering of others; for courage to resist oppression and to share the lot of the oppressed; for repentance for brutality and repression, especially that committed in the name of the Holy Child Jesus; for all who are oppressed for the sake of the Gospel.

Blessings in Christ,
Pastor John Rickert

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

St. John, Apostle and Evangelist

Feast of St. John, Apostle and Evangelist
Third Day of Christmas
December 27, 2011

The Lord be with you

Today is the Feast Day of St. John, Apostle and Evangelist. St. John was a son of Zebedee and brother of James the elder (whose festival day is July 25). John was among the first disciples to be called by Jesus (Matthew 4:18-22) and became known as “the disciple whom Jesus loved,” as he refers to himself in the Gospel that bears his name (e.g., John 21:20). Of the Twelve, John alone did not forsake Jesus in the hours of His suffering and death. With the faithful women, he stood at the cross, where our Lord made him the guardian of His mother. After Pentecost, John spent his ministry in Jerusalem and at Ephesus, where tradition says he was bishop. He wrote the fourth Gospel, the three Epistles that bear his name, and the book of Revelation. Especially memorable in his Gospel are the account of the wedding at Cana (John 2:1-12), the “Gospel in a nutshell” (John 3:16), Jesus’ saying about the Good Shepherd (John 10:11-16), the raising of Lazarus from the dead (John 11), and Jesus’ encounter with Mary Magdalene on Easter morning (John 20:11-18). According to tradition, John was banished to the island of Patmos (off the coast of Asia Minor) by the Roman emperor Domitian. John lived to a very old age, surviving all the apostles, and died at Ephesus around 100 AD.

Yesterday we commemorated St. Stephen, the first Martyr. Today we remember John, who was willing to suffer martyrdom for Jesus, but died of natural causes. Tomorrow we will remember the children who were martyred by Herod in his vain attempt to kill Jesus (Matthew 2:16-18). These three stories weave together three possible outcomes of following Christ into death and heaven. Stephen was a martyr in will and deed. John was a martyr in will, but not in deed. The Holy Innocents were martyrs in deed but not in will, being too young to make a conscious choice.

Appropriate prayers for the day include prayers for the work of the new creation in us; for the spirit of awe and reverence in the presence of God; for a glimpse of the glory of God in Jesus Christ; and for increased knowledge of the incarnation.

Blessings in Christ,
Pastor John Rickert

Monday, December 26, 2011

St. Stephen, Martyr

Feast of St. Stephen, Martyr
The Second Day of Christmas
December 26, 2011

The Lord be with you

Today is the Feast of St. Stephen, Martyr. St. Stephen, “a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 6:5), 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)

On this day, the day after we remember the birth of our Lord Jesus, we remember another birth, the birth into heaven of Stephen. His feast day is yet another way of declaring the church’s confidence that the outcome of the Christian struggle is certain. It is also a further testimony that the birth of Christ achieves its purpose, eternal glory for the believer.

Appropriate prayers include prayers for the light of Christ’s glory to shine through us; for grace to adore the mystery of the incarnation; for the poor and the despised, first to hear the announcement of Jesus’ birth; for those to whom the coming of God in human flesh means nothing; and for peace in the Holy Land where Christ was born.

Blessings in Christ,
Pastor John Rickert

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Christmas Day - 2011

Christmas Day
December 25, 2011

The Lord b with you

The following is an excerpt from a sermon, given by Martin Luther in the afternoon, Christmas Day, 1530.


    In my sin, my death, I must take leave of all created things. No, nun, moon, stars, all creatures, physicians, emperors, kings, wise men and potentates cannot help me. When I die I shall see nothing but black darkness, and yet that light, “To you is born this day the Savior” [Luke 2:11], remains in my eyes and fills all heaven and earth. The Savior will help me when all have forsaken me. And when the heavens and the stars and all creatures stare at me with horrible mien, I see nothing in heaven and earth but this child. So great should that light which declares that he is my Savior become in my eyes that I can say: Mary, you did not bear this child for yourself alone. The child is not yours; you did not bring him forth for yourself, but for me, even though you are his mother, even though you held him in your arms and wrapped him in swaddling clothes and picked him up and laid him down. But I have a greater honor than your honor as his mother. For your honor pertains to your motherhood of the body of the child, but my honor is this, that you have my treasure, so that I know none, neither men nor angels, who can help me except this child whom you, O Mary, hold in your arms. If a man could put out of his mind all that he is and has except this child, and if for him everything—money, goods, power, or honor—fades into darkness and he despises everything on earth compared with this child, so that heaven with its stars and earth with all its power and all its treasures becomes as nothing to him, that man would have the true gain and fruit of this message of the angel. And for us the time must come when suddenly all will be darkness and we shall know nothing but this message of the angel: “I bring you good news of great joy; for to you is born this day the Savior.” (Luther’s Works, volume 51)


Merry Christmas


Pastor John Rickert

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Christmas Eve

Christmas Eve
December 24, 2011

The Lord be with you

The exact date of the birth of Jesus is not known, and during the earliest centuries of the Church it seemed to have little significance. This followed the Early Church’s tradition of honoring and celebrating a Christian’s death as his or her birth date into eternity and the ongoing presence of Jesus. Likewise the life, work, death, and resurrection of Christ was of much greater importance to early Christians than the earthly details of His birth. The earliest nativity feast, Epiphany (January 6), celebrated both the birth and the Baptism of Christ. However, in the fourth century great Christological controversies that questioned Christ’s divinity and humanity raced throughout Christianity. By 336 AD, December 25 had been established in Rome as the celebration of Christ’s birth, a festival welcomed particularly by orthodox Christians in the West. The date was chosen because it was believed great prophets died on the day they were conceived, so the date was calculated from the first Good Friday. From Rome, Christ’s natal festival spread throughout the Western Church. In Eastern traditions of the Church, Epiphany remains the principal celebration of the birth of Jesus. (adapted from Treasury of Daily Prayer)

A blessed Christmas,
Pastor John Rickert

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Worship for Christmas Eve & Day - 2011

Thursday after Advent 4
December 22, 2011

The Lord be with you

Saturday is Christmas Eve and Sunday is Christmas Day, both very special for Christians around the world. At Lamb of God we will celebrate with special services for each day. On Christmas Eve we will have a Candlelight service, beginning at 7:00 PM. On Christmas Day we will have a service of Carols and Communion, which will begin at 10:00 AM. These worship notes will be different from my typical Thursday post because it will cover both days.

One of the aspects of Christmas that people truly look forward to are the great Christmas hymns. In our Christmas Eve service we will be singing “A Great and Mighty Wonder,” “O Come, All Ye Faithful,” “What Child Is This,” “Silent Night, Holy Night,” and “Now Sing We, Now Rejoice.” In our Christmas Day service we will sing “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel,” “Angels We Have Heard on High,” “Joy to the World,” and “Let Us All with Gladsome Voice.”

The appointed lessons for Christmas Eve are Isaiah 7:10-14, 1 John 4:7-16 and Matthew 1:18-25. The Gospel lesson is about when Joseph found out that Mary was pregnant and his decision to marry her after an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream. The appointed lessons for Christmas Day are Isaiah 62:10-12, Titus 3:4-7, and Luke 2:1-20. The Gospel lesson is probably the most famous version of the Christmas story. It tells of Joseph and Mary’s trip to Bethlehem, the birth of Jesus, and the visit of the shepherds.

As I have done for several years now, the messages in these services are rather different from my typical sermons. For the Christmas Eve service I tell a Christmas story. This year it is titled “Dear Santa” and focuses on a family who lost a son in Afghanistan. For the Christmas Day service I provide short introductions to the Christmas hymns, which replace the conventional sermon. The theme of these introductions this year is the meaning of Christmas.

Our choir will be singing during the Christmas Eve service.

I will be starting a one week vacation on Christmas Monday, so I will not be posting the worship notes next week.

Christmas blessings in Christ,
Pastor John Rickert

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

St. Thomas, Apostle

Feast of St. Thomas, Apostle
December 21, 2011

The Lord be with you

Today is the Feast of St. Thomas, Apostle. All four Gospels mention St. Thomas as one of the twelve disciples of Jesus. John’s Gospel, which names him “the Twin,” uses Thomas’s questions to reveal truths about Jesus. It is Thomas who says, “Lord, we do not know where You are going. How can we know the way?” To this question Jesus replies, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life” (John 14:5-6). John’s Gospel also tells how Thomas, on the evening of the day of Jesus’ resurrection, doubts the report of the disciples that they had seen Jesus. Later “doubting Thomas” becomes “believing Thomas” when he confesses Jesus as “my Lord and my God” (John 20:24-29). According to tradition, Thomas traveled eastward after Pentecost, eventually reaching India, where still today a group of people call themselves “Christians of St. Thomas.” Thomas was martyred for the faith by being speared to death.

A Reading from a sermon by Kaj Munk (modified)

And now, this Gospel is for you, my Christian friend, who struggles with doubt and faith, with anxiety and denial. This is the Gospel that does not come to catechize you and force upon you certain dogmas, or to condemn you, but comes only to listen to the heartbeat of your soul. If it leans toward Jesus no matter what happens it has chosen Him and wants to belong to Him, then the Gospel says to you: Be faithful, continue in the faith.

It is great to have assurance of faith, but perhaps you do not belong to those who can always take this for granted. However, the Master is also able to use the Thomas type. Such people have a place in His group of disciples. And let me tell you that when the time is at hand, Jesus himself will come and bring an end to your uncertainty and your timid spirit. You will understand that it is not what you fail to understand that matters. Christ has had disciples who did not understand many things. Do not just stare blindly at them. Let not the devil fool you into thinking that unless you understand these things, you cannot be a disciple of Christ.

Abstain from empty and morbid speculation about whether you believe or not. This will get you no place but downwards. As Luther once said about reading the Bible, “where one does not understand it, pass that by and glorify God.” Be faithful to what you do understand. Practice Christianity and at the proper time, even though the doors be ever so tightly closed, Christ himself will appear before you and show you the hands that were pierced for your sin; and you will bow down in prayer, crying to Him in repentance and joy, “My Lord and my God!”

And after you have first addressed Him with so great a name, other things will no longer seem unintelligible. Perhaps it will then come to pass that the things you could not accept before will become dearest to you and your common sense.

Appropriate prayers include remembering the believers in India, for a healthy skepticism, for a renewal of the Easter faith, and for grace to receive Christ.

Blessings in Christ,
Pastor John Rickert

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Katharina von Bora Luther

Commemoration of Katharina von Bora Luther
December 20, 2011

The Lord be with you

Katharina von Bora Luther (1499-1552) is another new addition to the LCMS liturgical calendar. In this we are following the German Evangelical Calendar of Names (1962), which I think was the first time she was included on any such calendar.

Katharina was born to an impoverished noble family, January 29, in a village near Leipzig. Her mother died and her father remarried in 1505. In 1508 or 1509 she was sent to the Cistercian convent in Nimbschen. Most of the novitiates at this convent were from noble families. Katharina’s maternal aunt, Margarete von Haubitz, was the abbess. Katharina’s paternal aunt, Magdelena von Bora, was a nun there as well. On October 8, 1505, the sixteen-year-old Katharina made her final vows to live according to the precepts of Bernard of Clairvaux.

Katharina’s convent was situated close to the boarder of Saxony and so it was perhaps inevitable that the message of the Reformation would penetrate its walls. On Easter Day, 1523, several of the nuns (some sources say 8, others say 12) from the convent escaped, hiding in empty pickled-herring barrels and made their way to Wittenberg. Katharina was among them.

Martin Luther assisted the ladies in finding homes. Some returned to their families. Some found shelter with good families where they served as governess and the like. Husbands were found for others. However none of these solutions suited Katharina. It wasn’t that she didn’t have offers of employment or suitors, it just that Katharina didn’t find any of them suitable. (She was a woman who “knew her own mind.”) Once she said the only men she knew that would do for her was either Nicholas von Amsdorf (1483-1565) or Luther. Many think what she meant was only Luther would do as Amsdorf was clear that he would not marry.

Luther also was not inclined to marry. However, he was convinced that it would be good for the Reformation if he married so he and Katharina were engaged and married on June 13, 1525. Though Luther did not marry Katharina for love, she did win his heart and the marriage was a happy one. They were blessed with six children, four of whom were living when Katharina died.

Katharina skillfully managed the Luther household, which always seemed to grow because of the reformer’s generous hospitality. She ran not only the kitchen but also the brewery and the stables of the Black Cloister, where in 1542 there were five cows, nine calves, four goats, thirteen pigs, and several horses. There was a fish pond with pike, perch, carp, and trout. There were gardens in the town and fields outside the gates and also the farm at Zulsdorf. She was also skilled in medicine, using what we might call today “home remedies.”

Following Luther’s death in 1546 the Smalkaldic War broke out. Katharina fled Wittenberg. When she returned she found her properties ruined and hard times befell her. Then Plague broke out in Wittenberg in 1552. As she traveled to Torgau she had an accident, falling from her wagon and suffering serious injuries that eventually took her life on December 20, 1552. Because of the unsettled conditions in Wittenberg, she was buried in Torgau.

Quotes from Luther:

“I would not trade my Kate for France and Venice for three reasons: (1) Because God has given her to me and me to her. (2) I have seen, time and again, that other women have more faults than my Kate. (3) She is a faithful marriage partner; she is loyal and has integrity.”

“The Letter to the Galatians is my beloved epistle; I trust it. It is my Kate von Bora. …”

“To have grace and peace in marriage is a gift second only to the knowledge of the Gospel. … Kate, you have a god-fearing man who loves you. You are an empress; realize it and thank God for it.”

Appropriate prayers for this day include prayers for wives and husbands, for the strengthening of Christian homes, for all whose duties are many and burdensome, for faithfulness to Christ to the end, for the wife and children of all married ministers.

Blessings in Christ,
Pastor John Rickert

Monday, December 19, 2011

Adam and Eve

Commemoration of Adam and Eve
December 19, 2011

The Lord be with you

Adam was the first man, made in the image of God and given dominion over all the earth (Genesis 1:26). Eve was the first woman, formed from one of Adam’s ribs to be his companion and helper (Genesis 2:18-24). God placed them in the Garden of Eden to take care of creation as His representatives. But they forsook God’s Word and plunged the world into sin (Genesis 3:1-7). For this disobedience, God drove them from the garden. Eve would suffer pain in childbirth and would chafe at her subjection to Adam; Adam would toil amid thorns and thistles and return to the dust of the ground. Yet God promised that the woman’s Seed would crush the serpent’s head (Genesis 3:8-24). Sin had entered God’s perfect creation and changed it until God would restore it again through Christ. Eve is the mother of the human race, while Adam is representative of all humanity and the fall, as the apostle Paul writes, “For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive” (1 Corinthians 15:22).

A writing from Valerius Herberger (1682)

In the midst of paradise stands the tree of life. From this, Adam [and Eve were] driven away so that [they] would not eat of it but instead would die according to God’s judgment on account of the sin [they] committed. But the cross of Christ is the noble tree of life on which hangs the noble fruits that bring us eternal life. “No forest produces such foliage, blossoms, sprouts.” Whoever consoles himself with the precious merit of Jesus Christ shall live, even though he die. “And whoever lives and believes in Him shall never die” (John 11:26). Because of their sins, Adam [and Eve and their] children were locked out of paradise, but through the key of the holy cross, it will be opened once again to all repentant Christians. Crux Christi clavis Paradisi, that is, “The cross of Christ is the key of paradise,” says John of Damascus. To this, the fathers of the Church relate the key of the house of David, which can open so that no one can shut [Isaiah 22:22]. Let all evil spirits be defied, who would like to lock heaven to us, which the Lord Jesus opened by His cross and death.

(Treasury of Daily Prayer, CPH)

Appropriate prayers this day include thanks for Christ overcoming sin, death and the devil on the cross, for all who have not yet received God’s grace in Christ, for marriages and families. One may also remember our responsibility as caretakers of the earth.

Blessings in Christ,
Pastor John Rickert

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Daniel and the Three Young Men

Commemoration Daniel the Prophet and the Three Young Men
December 17, 2011

The Lord be with you

The following link will take you to a post I made in 2009 concerning the Commemoration of Daniel the Prophet and the Three Young Men.

http://lutheran-in-sc.blogspot.com/2009/12/daniel-and-three-young-men.html

This day is also recognized on the Byzantine calendar.

A Writing from Veit Dietrich (1555)

This is a prophecy that the king of Assyria would be defeated before Jerusalem and would retreat with shame, and the righteous would be saved, against all the hopes of the desperate hypocrites. And the prophet comforts them well, so that whoever keeps himself in God’s will and guards himself from sin shall be safe, as if he were on a high rock, and he shall have his bread and water, that is, his nourishment, even if everywhere else everything goes badly. He also promises the forgiveness of sins. And by doing so, he touches on the New Testament, in which the true enemy, the devil, shall be defeated, and the true Jerusalem, the Church, shall be made safe through Christ.

Appropriate prayers include remembering those whose circumstances require them to make a stand for Christ, that our Savior would be with then and guide them, for our ability to remain faithful, and for believers in areas where Christianity is persecuted.

Blessings in Christ,
Pastor John Rickert

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Worship for Advent 4 - 2011

Thursday after Advent 3
December 15, 2011

The Lord be with you

This coming Sunday is the Fourth (and last) Sunday in Advent. For our liturgy we will be using the service of Matins (page 219). This is one of the services we use that uses the appointed Psalm instead of the appointed Introit for the Day. This week that appointed Psalm is Psalm 89, verses one through five. The antiphon will be verse eight. This is also a non-communion service. Matins has options that are used during Advent, and we will be using them. For our canticle we will use the Benedictus, which fits the Advent season better than the Te Deum. The appointed lessons are: 2 Samuel 7:1-11, 16; Romans 16:25-27; Luke 1:26-38. Our hymns will be “Lo, How a Rose E’er Blooming” (LSB 359), “Thy Strong Word” (LSB 578), and “Hark! A Thrilling Voice Is Sounding” (LSB 345). The sermon is titled “Living By The Word” and the text is Luke 1:38.

In our prayers Sunday we will remember The Lutheran Church of Nigeria (LCN) along with its President, Rev. Christian Ekong, President, Concordia International School Hanoi, the persecuted believers in Bangladesh, and our sister congregations Redeemer, Parkton, MD; Galilee, Pasadena, MD; Immanuel, Preston, MD; Lutheran Church of the Cross, Rockville, MD; and Holy Trinity, Columbia, SC. We will continue to remember those who are trapped by the modern practice of slavery, and those who have fallen victim to our cultures acceptance of abortion and advocacy of sexual immorality. We will also remember the orphans in Haiti that our youth are seeking to help.

The video below is of the Tyler Junior College A-Cappella choir singing the first two verses of our opening hymn, “Lo, How a Rose E’er Blooming.” This hymn is based on Isaiah 11:1, which was part of our Old Testament lesson this past Wednesday. It is also the verse that inspired our Advent Altar paraments.



Our adult Bible class this coming Sunday will pick up at Matthew 12:9. We looked briefly at 9-14 last week but will give it a closer look this coming week. Class begins at 9:00 AM. As always, everyone is invited to come.


Preview of the Lessons

2 Samuel 7:1-11, 16: In this reading we have a story from a time when David’s throne was secure and peace had come to the people of Israel. The Tabernacle (a large tent) had been the site of the Arc of the Covenant and the worship place for Israel since the days of Moses. David decided that God should have a permanent dwelling place (the Temple) and ran the idea by the prophet Nathan. Nathan gives David the “thumbs up.” I guess the idea seemed like such an obviously good one that Nathan didn’t feel he needed to confirm the plan with the Lord. However, that very night, the Word of the Lord came to Nathan and told him that David should not build the Temple. God has built the “house” of David, but David is incapable of building a “house” for God. Nonetheless, the Lord did say that David’s heart was in the right place so the Lord reveals, through Nathan, God’s plan to continue to build David’s “house.” David is promised a house and kingdom that will last forever. This is a promise concerning Jesus, whose rule has no end. Through Jesus, the line of David still reigns, and will for all eternity. We do know that David’s son, Solomon, was permitted the privilege of building the Temple. Both the Temple and the Tabernacle were types of Jesus. They represented God dwelling with his people, and Jesus is the fulfillment of that type and promise. Jesus is “God with us.”

Romans 16:25-27: This is a particularly rich text. Just a few highlights include Paul writing “my gospel.” We should all be able to say of the gospel that it is “my gospel.” Paul also speaks of the gospel as “the preaching of Jesus Christ.” Jesus was then, is now, and ever shall be, the heart of the gospel. Take away Jesus and you take away the gospel. You also take away all the divine assistance Paul speaks of in this passage. Paul also writes about the “mystery that was kept secret for long ages.” This “mystery” is one of those things that people don’t understand until after the fact, then everything falls into place. It is kind of like a well written mystery. Once you read the last chapter you can recognize all the clues from the preceding chapters, but before that the ending was a “mystery.” The “mystery” Paul is speaking of is that the Messiah was for all people. This is why Paul says the mystery, “through the prophetic writings has been made known to all nations.” Once again we see Jesus as the heart of the gospel. We should also recognize the vital roll the Old Testament prophets had in communicating this gospel mystery.

Luke 1:26-38: This is Luke’s well know account of the announcement of Jesus’ forthcoming birth to the virgin Mary. You might say this story suffers from being too well known. I don’t know who selected the various passages for our lectionary, but pairing our OT lesson with this Gospel lesson was a stroke of inspiration. In this lesson we recognize that the entire Old Testament hope is about to be realized. The promise of the Tabernacle and the Temple is coming about. Protestants often have trouble with the role of Mary. This is an anti-Roman Catholic sentiment and really has nothing to do with the Bible. Certainly the Bible depicts Mary as a remarkable and blessed woman. In this lesson she is described as a virgin. There is no linguistic argument that has any merit which would have us translate this word any other way. She has found favor with God. This is not a reference to any merit on her part, but a reference to God’s grace which she has received. She is a descendant of David and will be the instrument of God fulfilling his Old Testament promises. In verse 38 Mary says, “I am the slave of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” This statement of faith received the word spoken by the angel. So we too receive the Lord when we receive the word in faith. Mary conceived the Lord then by the action of the Holy Spirit (35). So with us also, the Lord Jesus is conceived and born in our hearts by the working of the Holy Spirit through the word. I could go on, but the focus of this text is really Jesus. He is Mary’s Son and the Son of the Most High. He receives the throne of his Father David and there will be no end to his reign. He is holy and the Son of God. I might also point out that the Trinity is found throughout this reading. However, as this text will be the foundation for Sunday’s sermon, I’ve probably written too much, so I’ll end my comments.


Tidbits

• The Church Council is scheduled to meet Sunday after the worship service..

• Information for the January newsletter is due Sunday.

• Thank you to everyone who helped “Green” the church this past Wednesday.

• We have just one more Advent service. This coming Wednesday the saint we will focus on will be the Apostle Thomas. Wednesday is his Saints’ Day. Our first service is at 12:15 and our second service is at 7:00 PM. We will also have a soup supper beginning at 6:15 PM.

• The choir will practice after the evening Advent service. This is our final practice before Christmas.

Christmas falls on a Sunday this year. We will have our regular “Christmas Day” schedule. That means worship will be at 10:00 AM, and we will not have an education hour. The Christmas Day service will be our “Carols and Communion” service, which we have done for a number of years. In this service we do not have a single “long” sermon but several short meditations inspired by the Christmas Hymns we sing.

• We will also have our traditional Christmas Eve Candlelight service. This service begins at 7:00 PM. As I have done the last couple of years, instead of a “normal” sermon I will tell an original Christmas story. Just to put everyone’s mind at ease, this will not be a “Santa is really real” or “someone falling in love at Christmas” story. I’m leaving those to the television stations.

Well, I pray I’ll see you Sunday.

Blessings in Christ,
Pastor John Rickert

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Lucia, Martyr

Commemoration of Lucia, Martyr
December 13, 2011

The Lord be with you

Another post-Biblical saint newly introduced to the liturgical calendar of the LC-MS with the introduction of the Lutheran Service Book is Lucia (Lucy) who was martyred around the year 304. Her memory was venerated at an early date, and her popularity spread across Europe and the Scandinavian countries.

Her life, it is said, was one of purity and gentleness, and she was loved by the poor. Legends about her abound. When her mother was cured of a disease, one story reports, Lucy in gratitude to God gave all her bridal possessions to the Christian poor. Her disappointed suitor then reported her as a Christian to the prefect Paschasius, who condemned her to be arrested and to taken to a brother. When she would not cooperate in the activity of the place, they built a fire around her to frighten her into submission. She was finally killed by being stabbed in the neck, probably in the year 304 at Syracuse. Her body was taken to Venice; another supposed body of hers was taken to Corfinium in the eighth century and to Metz in 970.

Lucy is remembered with great affection by the people of Sicily and southern Italy. She is regarded as the patron saint of the laboring poor and, because her name means “light,” as a protector against diseases of the eye.

In medieval Europe, before the Gregorian reform of the calendar, St. Lucia’s day was the shortest day of the year, and the day was celebrated, especially in Scandinavia, as the turning point from the long nights. Swedish communities, including many in America, still have special festivities on this day, “Lussida’n.” In private homes one of the young girls of the household, dressed in white and wearing a crown of lighted candles, awakens the family in the morning and offers them coffee and cakes from a tray. For the rest of the day she is called “Lussi” instead of her own name. You can find many pictures of this on the internet.

Appropriate prayers include remembering those who walk in darkness, those who treat eye diseases, and those who struggle to resist the temptation of the world and its ways.

(Adapted from New Book of Festivals & Commemorations: A Proposed Common Calendar of Saints; Philip Pfatteicher)

Blessings in Christ,
Pastor John Rickert

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Worship for Advent 3 - 2011

Thursday after Advent 2
December 8, 2011

The Lord be with you

This coming Sunday is the Third Sunday in Advent. The appointed lessons are Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11; 1 Thessalonians 5:16-24 and John 1:6-8, 19-28. The text for the sermon is Isaiah 61:10 and the sermon is titled “A Sharp Dressed Man”. We will be using the third setting of the Divine Service (page 184). This is a communion service. You may prepare by reading what the catechism says about the Lord’s Supper. Our opening hymn will be “Come, Thou Almighty King” (LSB 905). The sermon hymn will be “The Gospel Shows the Father’s Grace” (LSB 580). The closing hymn will be “Guide Me, O Thou Great Redeemer” (LSB 918). Our distribution hymns will be “Hark! A Thrilling Voice Is Sounding” (LSB 345), “Soul, Adorn Yourself with Gladness” (LSB 636), and “Hark the Glad Sound” (LSB 349). Because it is Advent we will omit the Gloria in Excelsis. Our choir will be singing.

In our prayers Sunday we will remember the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Kenya (ELCK) along with its Presiding Bishop the Rev. Walter E. Obare, Concordia International School Hanoi, the persecuted believers in Azerbaijan, and our sister congregations Trinity, Mount Rainier, MD; First, Odenton, MD; Good Shepherd, Olney, MD; Christ the King, Owings Mills, MD; and Good Shepherd, Charleston, SC. We will continue to remember those who are trapped by the modern practice of slavery, and those who have fallen victim to our cultures acceptance of abortion and advocacy of sexual immorality. We will also remember the orphans in Haiti that our youth are seeking to help.

The video below is of our closing hymn, “Hark the Glad Sound.” I gave up trying to find a video of someone singing it at a lively pace (as the opening words would seem to suggest it should be).



Our adult Bible class this coming Sunday will pick up at Matthew 12. Class begins at 9:00 AM. As always, everyone is invited to come.


Preview of the Lessons

Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11: This is one of Isaiah’s famous “Servant” songs. The “Servant” is Jesus. What the Servant gives is a sure thing. The message of the Servant is God’s message. The Trinity is clearly revealed in verse 1: “The Spirit [Holy Spirit] of the Lord GOD [the Father] is upon me [the Son] …” This passage is pure Gospel and forms the foundation for Sunday’s message so I’m not going to say anything else.

1 Thessalonians 5:16-24: As Paul ends this letter, he encourages us to pursue various aspects of a “sanctified” life: rejoicing, praying, giving thanks in all circumstances, not quenching the Spirit, testing all teaching by the standard of God’s Word, holding to what is good and avoiding what is evil. He then pronounces a blessing on us that the Lord will accomplish this in us and keep us “blameless” in our “whole spirit and soul and body” until Christ returns. God is surely able to do this. The blessing is upon our entire being, indicating that our salvation applies to both our physical as well as our spiritual being. Christ’s redemption is comprehensive.

John 1:6-8, 19-28: This is John’s testimony concerning John the Baptist, which includes the Baptist’s own testimony concerning himself. John tells us that he is all about Jesus. We should be also.


Tidbits

• Our Cub council is scheduled to meet Sunday after the worship service..

• The LWLM will have their Christmas party after Sunday’s worship service.

We will “GREEN” the church Wednesday. Those who attend the 12:15 service will begin the process and those who attend the 7:00 service will finish the job.

• The saint we will focus on during Wednesday’s Advent service will be Nicholas of Myra, Pastor. Our first service is at 12:15 and our second service is at 7:00 PM. We will also have a soup supper beginning at 6:15 PM.

• The choir will practice after the evening Advent service. New voices are welcome.

• The following Saints’ Days are upcoming: Lucia, Martyr (December 13); Daniel the Prophet and the Three Young Men (December 17). Visit the blog on those days to read a post about them.

Well, I pray I’ll see you Sunday.

Blessings in Christ,
Pastor John Rickert

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Ambrose of Milan

Commemoration of Ambrose of Milan, Pastor and Hymnwriter
Wednesday, December 7, 2011

The Lord be with you

December 7th is the day set aside on the LC-MS liturgical calendar to remember Ambrose. Ambrose was the first Latin Church leader to be born, raised, and educated not as a pagan but as a Christian. He was born about 339 in the city of Treves (Trier) in what is now France, where his father was Prefect of Gaul, the governor of a large part of Europe. Ambrose studied the classics and the law at Rome, and before he was thirty-three, he was named governor of Liguria and Aemilia, with headquarters in Milan, which was at that time the seat of the imperial court. When the Arian bishop of Milan died, Ambrose settled the violence that broke out between the Arians and the Catholics. Both sides unanimously insisted that he become their bishop, even though at that time he had not yet been baptized. (It was a custom of the time to delay baptism until late in life so that one might be cleansed close to the time of death.) Ambrose finally bowed to pressure from Church and state authorities and, at the age of 34, rapidly was baptized, ordained priest, and consecrated bishop; some say it was all done on the same day, December 7, 373 or 374.

He gave a portion of his family wealth to the poor and set an example of strict asceticism. Although the Roman Empire was in decline, Ambrose, by his preaching, writing, organizing, and administration, made Milan one of the most distinguished centers of learning and Christian activity in the world, in some way surpassing even Rome itself. He was a powerful preacher, and his sermons affected many, most notably Augustine of Hippo, whom he baptized in Milan at the Easter Vigil, 387.

The empress Justina, mother of Valentinian, jealous of the growing importance of Ambrose, organized a coalition against the bishop and at the beginning of Lent in 385, demanded that one basilica in Milan be given to the Arians. Ambrose refused, and a riot broke out in the city. Just before Easter, Justina demanded the bishop’s own cathedral. On Palm Sunday, there were a series of clashes between the imperial troops and Ambrose’s congregations. On Maundy Thursday the court abandoned its attempt to seize and hold a church. The struggle, however, continued. An edict against the Catholics was promulgated in June 386, and Ambrose was summoned to appear before the emperor. He refused and took refuge in his basilica, which was surrounded by imperial troops. Inside, Ambrose and his people spent the time singing psalms and hymns of their bishop’s own composition. At length, the court was forced to rescind the edict. In 379 Ambrose convinced the Roman emperor Gratian to forbid the Arian heresy in the West. At Ambrose’s urging, Gratian’s successor, Theodosius, also publicly opposed Arianism.

Ambrose was a zealous defender of orthodoxy and one of the most important Latin authors of his day. At the request of the emperor Gratian he wrote On the Christian Faith. He is also the author of a work of pastoral care, On the Duties of the Clergy. One comes closest to the saintly bishop, perhaps, through his hymns. He was one of the first to write metrical Latin hymns, and many of them are still sung in Christian churches. Three of them have been included in the Lutheran Service Book: “Savior of the Nations, Come,” LSB 332; “O Splendor of God’s Glory Bright,” LSB 874; and “O Blessed Light, O Trinity” LSB 890. St. Augustine, addressing God, says of Ambrose’s hymns:
    The tears flowed when I heard your hymns and canticles, for the sweet singing of your church moved me deeply. The music surged in my ears, truth seeped into my heart, and my feelings of devotion overflowed, so that the tears streamed down. But they were tears of gladness. (Confessions, IX, 6-7)
While there are many Icons of the saints, Ambrose is the only Church Father of whom we know for sure his image is based on the real man. There is a mosaic with his name that adorns a chapel in the basilica dedicated to his brother Satyrus that was made at the beginning of the fifth century, shortly after his death.

Ambrose died at Milan on Easter Eve, April 4, 397.

The video below is of three of the eight verses from Savior of the Nations, Come. On a “Lutheran” note, it was Martin Luther who translated the hymn into German.



Prayers appropriate for the Commemoration of Ambrose: For those who are persecuted for the Christian Faith by their government, that governments allow the spread of the Gospel, for lawyers and government officials, for preachers of the word of God and for hymnwriters, for a joyful confidence in God’s care, for the church in Milan and in northern Italy, and for all leaders of the church that they may show by their lives and preaching a dedication to the truth Christian Faith and the love of God for the world.

(Adapted from New Book of Festivals & Commemorations: A Proposed Common Calendar of Saints, Philip H. Pfatteicher)

Blessings in Christ,
Pastor John Rickert

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

St. Nicholas of Myra, Pastor

Commemoration of Nicholas of Myra, Pastor
Tuesday, December 6, 2011

The Lord be with you

Today is the commemoration of Saint Nicholas, bishop of Myra. Yes, Virginia, there really was a St. Nicholas and he lived in the mid 300’s. However the only rock solid, indisputable fact we know about him is that he was bishop of Myra in the mid fourth century. However we can deduce from his extreme popularity that there must be some fact behind all the stories and legends. How popular is Nicholas? Well, around the world, there are more churches dedicated in his honor than any other saint. What follows is either what I consider the most likely to be factual elements of his legend, or portions of that legend that have given rise to traditions that continue to influence to this day.

It is said that Nicholas was born in the village of Patara in what is now modern Turkey. At that time the area was thoroughly Greek in its culture and language. His parents were wealthy and raised Nicholas in the Christian Faith. However Nicholas’ parents died in an epidemic when he was still young. This left Nicholas with a large estate, which he decided to use to help those who were poor, sick and suffering. His uncle, also named Nicholas and the bishop of Patara, took the boy in, furthering his education and advancement in the Christian Faith. As a young man he made a pilgrimage to the Holy Lands and spent some time in a monastery named Holy Sion.

The opportunity soon came for the young Nicholas to put his fortune to charitable use. According to legend, a citizen of Patara had lost all his money and his three daughters could not find husbands because of their poverty. In despair their wretched father was about to sell them into a life of shame (slave prostitutes). When Nicholas heard of this, he took a bag of gold and at night tossed it through an open window of the man's house. Here was a dowry for the eldest girl, and she was quickly married. Nicholas did the same for the second and then for the third daughter. On the last occasion the father was watching by the window, and overwhelmed his young benefactor with gratitude. According to some versions of the story the gold landed in either stockings or shoes left by the fire place to dry. Hence arose our tradition of “hanging stockings by the chimney with care.” Such stories of Nicholas’ charitable acts abound.

It happened that Nicholas was in the city of Myra when the clergy and people were meeting together to elect a new bishop, and God directed them to choose him even though he was still just a young man. This was at the time of Diocletian's persecutions at the beginning of the fourth century. All accounts agree that Nicholas was almost immediately arrested and imprisoned. It is said that the jails were so full of Christians that there was no room for the thieves and murders. At this time Nicholas was tortured, like so many believers. When Constantine became Emperor, the Christians were released.

Bishop Nicholas became known throughout the land for his generosity to those in need, his love for children, and his concern for sailors and ships.

During this century the Arian heresy was spreading throughout the Eastern Roman Empire, however Nicholas was a staunch defender of Orthodoxy and managed to keep the false teaching outside of his territory. He was present at the Council of Nicaea (325 AD) which examined Arius and his teachings and found them to be contrary to the truth of God’s Word. The Arian heresy spread, in part, through popular songs that Arius wrote. Catchy, singable ditties, that denied the eternal divinity of Jesus, making him just a very good follower of God. It is said that Arius sang one of these “pop” songs while testifying at the Council of Nicaea. Nicholas, so outraged by the blasphemous lyrics, got up and struck Arius in the face. At this, they say, he was deprived of his Episcopal insignia and imprisoned, but Our Lord and His Mother appeared and restored to him both his liberty and his office.

Nicholas also took strong measures against paganism in his district. He had torn down many pagan temples, among them one to the Greek goddess Artemis, which was the chief pagan shrine of the district.

He died December 6, 343 AD in Myra and was buried in his cathedral church, where it is said a unique relic, called manna, formed in his grave. This liquid substance, said to have healing powers, fostered the growth of devotion to Nicholas. The anniversary of his death became a day of celebration, St. Nicholas Day, December 6th

Over the centuries many more stories developed concerning Nicholas where he rescued sailors, children, stopped famines, and even managed to raise the dead. The church where he was buried became a major pilgrimage site. In 1034 Myra was taken by the Saracens (Moslems) in battle. Fearing that access to the site would become restricted, and desiring the economic advantage that comes to a major pilgrimage site, the Italian cities of Venice and Bari vied to get the Nicholas relics. In the spring of 1087, sailors from Bari succeeded in spiriting away the bones, bringing them to Bari, a seaport on the southeast coast of Italy. An impressive church was built over St. Nicholas' crypt. It is this story that gave birth to the Christmas song, “I Saw Three Ships A Sailing.”

In a major renovation of the church where Nicholas’ remains lay in the 1950’s, scientist were allowed to examine Nicholas’ remains. They discovered he was only about five feet tall. This was a rare opportunity. In the Middle Ages the veneration of relics was a major enterprise. Most remains of the saints were disbursed over large areas. Nicholas is one of the very few whose remains remained in tack and in one place.

The stories of Nicholas continued to expand during the Middle Ages. One of the oldest stories showing St. Nicholas as a protector of children takes place long after his death. The townspeople of Myra were celebrating the good saint on the eve of his feast day when a band of Arab pirates from Crete came into the district. They stole treasures from the Church of Saint Nicholas to take away as booty. As they were leaving town, they snatched a young boy, Basilios, to make into a slave. The emir, or ruler, selected Basilios to be his personal cupbearer. Because Basilios did not know the language, he would not understand what the king said to those around him. So, for the next year Basilios waited on the king, bringing his wine in a beautiful golden cup. For Basilios' parents, devastated at the loss of their only child, the year passed slowly, filled with grief. As the next St. Nicholas' feast day approached, Basilios' mother would not join in the festivity, as it was now a day of tragedy. However, she was persuaded to have a simple observance at home—with quiet prayers for Basilios' safekeeping. Meanwhile, as Basilios was fulfilling his tasks serving the emir, he was suddenly whisked up and away. St. Nicholas appeared to the terrified boy, blessed him, and set him down at his home back in Myra. Imagine the joy and wonderment when Basilios amazingly appeared before his parents, still holding the king's golden cup. This is the first story told of St. Nicholas protecting children—which became his primary role in the West.

Another story tells of three theological students, traveling on their way to study in Athens. A wicked innkeeper robbed and murdered them, hiding their remains in a large pickling tub. It so happened that Bishop Nicholas, traveling along the same route, stopped at this very inn. In the night he dreamed of the crime, got up, and summoned the innkeeper. As Nicholas prayed earnestly to God the three boys were restored to life and wholeness. In France this story is told but features three small children. While playing they wandered off and became lost. They were lured and captured by an evil butcher. St. Nicholas appears and appeals to God to return them to life and to their families. Again we see St. Nicholas as the patron and protector of children. These stories seem to have started from an incident where a local governor had been bribed to condemn three innocent men to death. On the day fixed for their execution Nicholas stayed the hand of the executioner and released them. Then he turned to the governor and reproved him so sternly that he repented.

Another story relates to his pilgrimage to the Holy Lands. As he was returning by sea, a mighty storm threatened to wreck the ship. Nicholas calmly prayed. The terrified sailors were amazed when the wind and waves suddenly calmed, sparing them all. And so St. Nicholas is the patron of sailors and voyagers. It was as the patron saint of sailors and voyagers that the stories of Nicholas spread far and wide.

St. Nicholas chapels were built in many seaports. As his popularity spread during the Middle Ages, he became the patron saint of Apulia (Italy), Sicily, Greece, and Lorraine (France), and many cities in Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Italy, Russia, Belgium, and the Netherlands. Following his baptism in Constantinople, Vladimir I of Russia brought St. Nicholas' stories and devotion to St. Nicholas to his homeland where Nicholas became the most beloved saint. Nicholas was so widely revered that more than 2,000 churches were named for him, including three hundred in Belgium, thirty-four in Rome, twenty-three in the Netherlands and more than four hundred in England.

Widely celebrated in Europe, St. Nicholas' feast day, December 6th, kept alive the stories of his goodness and generosity. In Germany and Poland, boys dressed as bishops begged alms for the poor—and sometimes for themselves! In the Netherlands and Belgium, St. Nicholas arrived on a steamship from Spain to ride a white horse on his gift-giving rounds. December 6th is still the main day for gift giving and merrymaking in much of Europe. For example, in the Netherlands St. Nicholas is celebrated on the 5th, the eve of the day, by sharing candies (thrown in the door), chocolate initial letters, small gifts, and riddles. Dutch children leave carrots and hay in their shoes for the saint's horse, hoping St. Nicholas will exchange them for small gifts.

As we can see, through the centuries many stories and legends have been told of St. Nicholas' life and deeds. These accounts help us understand his extraordinary character and why he is so beloved and revered as a protector and helper of those in need.

The legend of Santa Claus is really an amalgamation of three stories. One is of a Nordic magician, who visited during winter bringing gifts for good little boys and girls but coal for those who didn’t measure up. This is also where we get the North Pole address and sleigh as a means of transportation for Santa. The second tradition is the English Father Christmas. This is where we get Santa’s distinctive outfit, but not its color. Red comes from St. Nicholas, because red became the distinctive color of bishops. The name Santa Claus comes from a distortion of the Dutch Sinterklaas, itself a distortion from earlier versions of the story.

Santa Claus is a very popular part of the American culture and children wait for Christmas morning with eager anticipation to see what Santa has brought them. However the time comes when every child either realizes that Santa is “only” a story, or they are told by someone. Personally, I think this is more traumatic for the parents than the child, as the parents are coming to grips with their children growing up. Still, the question of how to break the news to a child who is wondering “if Santa is real” is an issue many parents face. In these trying economic times, parents might be facing this discussion at an earlier age than a decade ago. I have found the following approach helpful. First, take the child out to lunch. This places the discussion in a special time between adult and child, a rite of passage so to speak. Second, tell them about St. Nicholas, the “first Santa Claus and a hero of the Christian Faith” Third tell them how people kept his generous and loving spirit alive by annually doing acts of charity and giving gifts, especially to children. Fourth, explain how the story of St. Nicholas changed over time as it moved from culture to culture. Fifth, the presents the child has received in the past from “Santa” have really come from people who love them, but do not want to take credit for the gift (just like the original Nicholas didn’t seek credit for the gold he tossed through the window for the dowry of the girls). Finally, tell your child to not destroy the story for others who have not yet learned the truth behind the legend. Their time will come. However they can thank God for such a wonderful man who inspired such a wonderful tradition that values children and generosity. They can keep the spirit of Nicholas and Christmas alive by keeping Christ central in their lives and fostering a spirit of generosity (just like Nicholas did).

Appropriate prayers for the Commemoration of St. Nicholas, pastor, include prayers for a spirit of generosity, for children – especially those who have no one to care for them, for those who suffer persecution for the sake of the Gospel, for mariners and travelers, and Christians in Turkey, Greece, Russia, and other locals that consider Nicholas their patron saint.

Blessings in Christ,
Pastor John Rickert.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

John of Damascus, Theologian and Hymnwriter

Advent 2
Feast Day of John of Damascus, Theologian and Hymnwriter
December 4, 2011

The Lord be with you

John of Damascus, sometimes called John Damascene, was born about 675, grew up in wealth and luxury, and at an early age succeeded his father as an official in the court of the Caliph of Damascus, Abdul Malek. John is said to have been educated by a Greek monk from Calabria whom the Muslims had taken prisoner. He became a monk around 715 at the famous monastery of Mar Saba, a still-extant hermit colony founded in 484 by St. Sabas (469-532) in the mountain wilderness between Jerusalem and the Dead Sea, and there devoted himself to an ascetic life and to the study of the Fathers. In 725 he was ordained a priest.

About this time a violent controversy concerning the veneration of icons erupted. The Byzantine emperor Leo III forbade the veneration of sacred images, icons, and ordered their destruction. John wrote three treatises in defense of icons, entitled Against Those Who Attack the Divine Images. He effectively defended the doctrine of the Real Presence of Christ in the Lord’s Supper, and the veneration of the Virgin Mary. He also wrote a great synthesis of theology called The Fount of Knowledge, of which the last part, On the Orthodox Faith, is best known. His work is highly regarded in the Eastern Church, and he is considered the last of its Fathers.

He is best known to many as the author of the Easter Hymns, “the Golden Canon” or “the Queen of Canons,” “The day of resurrection, earth tell it out abroad”, and an Ode written for the Sunday of St. Thomas (the Second Sunday of Easter), “Come, ye faithful, raise the strain of triumphant gladness.”

John of Damascus died near Jerusalem around 760. His feast day in East and West is December 4.

A quote from The First Oration against Those Who Attack the Divine Images by John of Damascus
    In former times, God, who is without form or body, could never be depicted. But now when God is seen in the flesh conversing with men, I make an image of the God whom I see, I do not worship matter; I worship the Creator of matter who became matter for my sake, who willed to take his abode in matter; who worked out my salvation through matter. Never will I cease honoring the matter which wrought my salvation! … Because of this I salute all remaining matter with reverence, because God has filled it with his grace and power. Through it my salvation has come to me. Was not the thrice-happy and thrice-blessed wood of the cross matter? Was not the holy and exalted mountain of Calvary matter? What of the life-bearing rock, the holy and life-giving tomb, the fountain of our resurrection, was it not matter? Is not the ink of the most holy Gospel-book matter? From it we receive the Bread of Life! … And over and above all these things, is not the Body and Blood of our Lord matter? Either do away with the honor and veneration these things deserve, or accept the tradition of the Church and the veneration of images. Reverence God and his friends; follow the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. Do not despise matter, for it is not despicable. God has made nothing despicable.
Appropriate Prayers: For artists who adorn churches and who write icons; For a proper appreciation of art and outward beauty as a gift from God; For the church in Syria; For those who teach the church through hymns and song

(Adapted from New Book of Festvals & Commemorations: A Proposed Common Calendar of Saints; Philip H. Pfatteicher)

Blessings in Christ,
Pastor John Rickert

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Worship for Advent 2 - 2011

Feast Day of St. Andrew, Apostle
November 302011

The Lord be with you

Today is the Feast Day of St. Andrew, Apostle. To find out a little more about this day check out the post I made earlier on the blog. I normally post my worship notes on Thursdays, but I will be out of town tomorrow so I’m doing it today.

This coming Sunday is the Second Sunday in Advent. It is also the Commemoration of John of Damascus, Theologian and Hymnwriter. Typically this year that would mean that we would be using the lections for John of Damascus (Psalm 118:14-21 or 16:5-11; 1 Corinthians 15:12-20 or 2 Timothy 1:13-14; 2:1-3; John 5:24-27). However the readings appointed for the first three Sunday’s in Advent all come from Isaiah, and I have chosen to do a little mini-series I’m calling “Isaiah’s Advent” so we will be using the regularly appointed lessons (Isaiah 40:1-11; 2 Peter 3:8-14; Mark 1:1-8; Psalm 85, antiphon v. 9). To compensate, we will have an insert dealing with John of Damascus.

The insert will be part of the way we keep out theme for the year, the Communion of Saints, alive. With this theme we are also remembering various denominations around the globe. This Sunday we will remember our partner church, the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Ghana (ELCG), and their president, Dr. Paul Kofi Fynn. We will also remember again our mission for the month, Concordia International School Hanoi, and its head, Steven Winkelman. There will be another insert about the school in the bulletin. Each week this year we are remembering Christians who are persecuted for the Faith. This week we will remember our brothers and sisters in the Faith from Algeria. We will also remember in our prayers Trinity, Lexington Park, MD; St. John’s, Long Green, MD; St. Paul’s, Mechanicsville, MD; St. Mark, Middle River, MD; Calvary, Charleston, SC, all sister congregations in the Southeastern District.

For our liturgy Sunday we will be using the service of Prayer and Preaching, page 260. This is one of those services that uses the appointed Psalm instead of the Introit. Our hymns will be “On Jordan’s Bank the Baptist’s Cry” (LSB 344), “Hark! A Thrilling Voice Is Sounding,” (LSB 345) and “Savior of the Nations, Come” (LSB 332). The sermon is titled “Are You Ready?” and the text for the sermon is Isaiah 40:10. Our choir will be singing.

The video below of “On Jordan’s Bank the Baptist’s Cry” is by Jim Bode. While he uses the tune found in our hymnal, it has been “refreshed.” This means it isn’t done on an organ, and the arrangement is a little jazzier.



Our adult Bible class this coming Sunday will pick up at Matthew 11:25. Class begins at 9:00 AM. As always, everyone is invited to come.


Preview of the Lessons

Isaiah 40:1-11: For those of you who know Handel’s Messiah, you will have a hard time not bursting into song as this lesson is read. In this lesson Isaiah foresees the ministry of John the Baptist as he announces the Advent of our Lord. Beginning with the words “Comfort, comfort my people, says your God,” Isaiah reveals that John will be the forerunner of Christ, crying in the wilderness, preparing his way. This mighty intervention is then contrasted with the weak efforts of humanity, which withers and fades. This comparison is especially stark when we consider the humble nature of Jesus’ life and ministry and his death on a cross. So Isaiah reminds us that “the word of our God will stand forever.” His might (10) is not like the might of men. His reward is not like the rewards men offer. They are eternal. In the humble birth of Jesus, in his shameful death, God reveals his rule. As this is the text for Sunday, I will say no more.

2 Peter 3:8-14: Peter speaks of the patience of God. Apparently some were wondering why the Second Coming was taking so long. Peter tells us that it is so the maximum number of people can be saved. Indeed the Lord desires all to be saved (9). However Peter does tell us that the Second Coming will come. When it does, all will be surprised. He also tells us that this present creation will be destroyed. It will be replaced with “new heavens and a new earth.” In light of this Peter asks, “what sort of people ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness?” The answer is obvious, I should think. We are to pursue lives of holiness and godliness. Think of it this way. You can pursue two different types of money. One is Monopoly money, by becoming the king of Monopoly. The other is US Dollars. Dollars have real value. Monopoly money doesn’t. When the game is over, it goes back into the box. Well, in the light of eternity, US Dollars are just as valueless as Monopoly money. “You can’t take it with you.” The “currency” of eternity is holiness and godliness.

Mark 1:1-8: Mark begins his Gospel with a bang. John the Baptist appears preparing the way for Jesus. No genealogies, no effort to date the events by telling us who was ruling this or that country, no nice prologue setting the stage, no infant narratives. This is Mark’s style. He tells us right off that this is about Jesus, the Son of God (1). Let’s not clutter things up with other stuff. He sites Isaiah for John’s credentials. The message of John is summed up with two points: 1) he proclaimed a baptism for the forgiveness of sins and 2) One would come after him who was mightier than he, who gives the Holy Spirit. In verse 9 Jesus is introduced as that One to whom John was pointing. This “speed” approach focuses us on Jesus all the way. That is what Marks wants, and it works.


Tidbits

• I think the Board of Evangelism will be meeting Sunday after the worship service.

Advent services have begun. The theme is “The Saints of Advent.” We meet each Wednesday. Our first service is at 12:15 and our second service is at 7:00 PM. We will also have a soup supper beginning at 6:15 PM. Ambrose of Milan, Pastor and Hymnwriter, will be the saint we will consider December 7.

• Choir practice has resumed. We meet after the Wednesday evening worship service. New voices are welcome.

Well, I pray I’ll see you Sunday.

Blessings in Christ,
Pastor John Rickert

St. Andrew, Apostle

Feast of St. Andrew, Apostle
November 30, 2011

The Lord be with you

Vocation, acceptance, God’s call, our response, and ministry to our own family are themes of this feast day. Andrew, whose name means “manly,” was the brother of Peter, and was born in Bethsaida, a village in Galilee. He was the first apostle to follow Christ, his title in the Eastern Church is “the First-Called,” and his name regularly appears near the head of the lists of the apostles. Perhaps his greatest work was to bring his brother Simon Peter to Jesus.

After Pentecost, Andrew is said by Eusebius to have preached in Scythia, by Jerome and Theodoret in Greece; by Nicephorus in Asia Minor and Thrace. A late and rather unreliable tradition says that he was martyred on November 30 around 70 AD, at Patras in Achaia, Greece. The tradition he was crucified on an X-shaped cross first appeared in the tenth century. He was martyred, legend has it, for defying the proconsul Aegeas, who ordered Andrew to stop preaching and to sacrifice to the gods.

St. Andrew’s body is said to have been taken, along with St. Luke’s, to the Church of the Holy Apostles in Constantinople in 357 and later removed to the cathedral in Amalfi, Italy. The church at Constantinople claimed St. Andrew as its first bishop. The churches in Greece and Russia in particular hold Andrew in high honor. Also, quite early, certain of his relics were taken to St. Andrew’s Church in Fife, Scotland, and he became a patron saint of Scotland; the X-shaped cross of St. Andrew in the Union Jack represents Scotland.

The feast of St. Andrew was observed as early as the fourth century by the Eastern Church and by the sixth century in Rome and elsewhere. It is a national holiday in Scotland.

St. Andrew’s Day determines the beginning of the church year, since the First Sunday in Advent is the Sunday nearest to St. Andrew’s Day whether before or after. Because of this, the Feast of St. Andrew is the first day on our liturgical calendar, and many others.

St. Andrew’s eve, as the beginning of the church’s year, was long a traditional time for young girls to expect to see in dreams their future husbands.

Appropriate prayers on this feast day include prayer for obedience to God’s command, for a sense of mission, for those on spiritual pilgrimage, for the church in Scotland, for the church in Greece, and for those who minister to their own families.

(Adapted from: New Book of Festivals & Commemorations: A Proposed Common Calendar of Saints, by Philip H. Pfatteicher)

Blessings in Christ,
Pastor John Rickert

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Noah

Commemoration of Noah
November 29, 2011

The Lord be with you

One of the features of the Liturgical Calendar developed for the Lutheran Service Book is the addition of a number of Biblical saints not previously celebrated in the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod with a designated day. One of them is Noah, whose name means “rest.” His story can be found in Genesis 6-9.

In the days of Noah the world had grown so corrupt that only one man, and his family, retain faith in God. Having abandoned the source of life, they went after the devices of their own hearts, following in the ways of death. God determined to judge the world by sending a flood. Noah was warned and he built the Ark, sort of a giant floating barge, in which he, his family, and representatives of the diverse animal kingdom, would ride out the flood. Along with building the Ark, Noah also regularly warned humanity, but none believed him. On the day Noah and the other passengers entered the Ark, the rains started, great subterranean guises gushed forth, and the flood came. After the Ark beached itself, and the land dried up, Noah disembarked along with all the rest, to give the earth a second chance. God used the rainbow is a symbol for all humanity that he would never again destroy all life with a flood. He did this in spite of the fact that he knew we were all sinners and really deserve nothing but death and damnation.

The debate over the historicity of this story rages. By focusing on this aspect, we often overlook the lessons of the story. In 1 Peter 3:18-22 the Flood and the salvation of Noah through the Ark are presented as a type of Baptism. Just as Noah were brought safely through the waters so “baptism now saves us.” This taps us into the Gospel message of Genesis 6-9. God wants to save. Those who perish are those who reject God’s saving purpose for them.

Noah also is a model of faith. He acted on what he believed. Sometimes we might think that beings saved by grace alone through faith alone means we can sin all we want. Such an attitude is not only not scriptural, but does not reflect saving faith. Saving faith is a faith we act on. Noah didn’t just believe in God as some propositional truth, but he put his faith into action.

A third lesson we might learn from Noah is the need to be vigilant. After the flood he got sloppy drunk and passed out. Clearly this man of God had his flaws. However, so do we all. “None are righteous.” Therefore we learn to keep a watch over how we live our lives.

A fourth lesson we can find in this story is the importance of passing the Faith on to our children. It seems most parents failed in this responsibility in the antediluvian world. Noah, though, had succeeded. Though the names of his family are not recorded, clearly they believed for instead of joining with everyone in the society that mocked Noah, they joined him in the Ark. We too should take every opportunity to pass the Faith on to our children.

A final lesson we might learn is that God knows how to save those who believe in Him. We might say by analogy that the antediluvian world represents our own fallen world. The ark of wood, by which Noah and his family were saved, represents the cross of Christ, by which we are saved. The post-diluvium world represents heaven. The Flood represents the Final Judgment. To be saved on the Last Day, one must have received God’s grace in Christ Jesus. God, who is faithful and just, will safely bring us to that distant shore.

Blessings in Christ,
Pastor John Rickert

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Worship for Advent 1 - 2011

Thursday after Christ the King Sunday
Thanksgiving Day (USA)
November 24, 2011

The Lord be with you

First, let me say that I hope everyone is having a blessed Thanksgiving Day. While I’m writing this early and will post it on Thanksgiving Day, Kitty and I plan to spend the day with my daughter and her family. At Lamb of God we have an Eve of Thanksgiving Day worship service so I get the day of Thanksgiving off. In my childhood, at Holy Cross Lutheran in San Diego, CA, we always had a worship service on Thanksgiving Day. While I always did, and still do, think that is most appropriate, in retrospective I have to wonder how that impacted the family gatherings of my pastor. Pastor Koenig was a dedicated servant of the Lord with a real heart for his people. It is not surprising to me that at least four men in our congregation (those are the ones I know) went on to become pastors themselves.

This coming Sunday is the first Sunday in Advent. This marks the beginning of a new Church Year (happy New Years!). For those who use a three-year lectionary series, this means that this Sunday we will be moving to the next set of assigned readings. For us it is series B. Series B uses Mark heavily in its Gospel lessons.

Another feature of Advent is the dropping of the hymn of praise and all “Alleluias.” That is because Advent is a penitential season. The hymn of praise is either the “Gloria in Excelsis” or the much more contemporary “This is the Feast.” These features of praise will return with Christmas.

One last “Advent” note; You may have wondered how the date for the First Sunday is Advent is determined. Well, it is always the Sunday closest to the Feast Day of St. Andrew, Apostle, which is November 30. This year this feast day is a Wednesday and therefore the First Sunday in Advent is the Sunday before the Feast of St. Andrew.

For the upcoming year Lamb of God will also be accenting the “communion of saints” in our worship services. This will be done in a number of different ways. One of those ways will be in our prayers. We will be remembering all our partner churches and their leaders around the world. We will also be remembering various missionaries and missions. In addition, we will be remembering Christians in areas where persecution because of the Faith is common. We will also continue to remember the churches in the Southeastern District of the LC-MS.

So, this coming Sunday, we will be remembering Rev. Matthew Harrison, who is the president of our denomination, and Rev. Jon Diefenthaler, who is the president of the Southeaster District. We will pray for the Concordia International School Hanoi and Steven Winkelman, who is the head of that school. We will remember the Christians in Afghanistan, who face all kinds of problems for the sake of Christ. Finally, we will bring before the Lord St. Paul’s in Kingsville, MD; Grace in La Plate, MD; Ascension in Landover Hills, MD; Our Savior in Laurel, MD; and Bethlehem in Aiken, SC.

Let us now turn to more typical information fond on this blog in the worship notes. The appointed lessons for Advent 1 are Isaiah 64:1-9, 1 Corinthians 1:3-9, and Mark 13:24-37. The sermon will be based on our reading from Isaiah and is titled “A Scary God.” The text will be Isaiah 64:1-2. We will celebrate the Lord’s Supper, using the first setting of the morning service beginning on page 151 of our hymnal. Our opening hymn will be “Hark! A Thrilling Voice Is Sounding,” (LSB 345). Our sermon hymn will be “The Day Is Surely Drawing Near” (LSB 508). Our closing hymn will be “How Sweet the Name of Jesus Sounds” (LSB 524). Our distribution hymns will be “The Night Will Soon Be Ending” (LSB 337), “O Lord, We Praise Thee” LSB (617), and “The Advent of Our King” (LSB 331).

The video below is of Christ Church Bronxville singing our opening hymn, “Hark! A Thrilling Voice Is Sounding.” It includes an excellent brass section. The hymn was written in 1868 by Daniel March, a Congregational pastor in Philadelphia. He had been asked to preach a sermon to the Philadelphia Christian Association and, at a late hour, he learned that one of the hymns selected was not suitable. He wrote the hymn in “great haste,” and it was sung from the manuscript. It has since become an Advent favorite in many denominations.



Our adult Bible class this coming Sunday will pick up at Matthew 11:20. Class begins at 9:00 AM. As always, everyone is invited to come.

Preview of the Lessons

Isaiah 64:1-9: Isaiah received his call in 740 BC and was active until 681. This means he lived through the fall of the Northern Kingdom of Israel to the Assyrian Empire. There is so much Gospel in Isaiah that he is sometimes called the Old Testament Evangelist. That doesn’t mean that there is no Law. However the general purpose of the book is to comfort God’s people with the good news of Zion’s redemption. The Lutheran Study Bible identifies the following “Law Themes”: Judgment on false worship; Judgment Day, selfishness; woes against Israel and the nations; defeat by Assyria and Babylon; idolatry condemned. The same study Bible identifies the following “Gospel Themes:” The remnant preserved; Immanuel; the Messiah’s just reign, salvation promised to Ethiopia, Assyria, and the nations; the feast; mercy for Hezekiah; God’s comfort for Zion; the Lord’s Servant; Zion’s deliverance; new heavens and a new earth.

In this reading Isaiah speaks of Judgment Day with images drawn from Israel’s days in the wilderness. He recognizes that Israel deserves judgment for their sins. (Verses 6 & 7 are quoted in the New Testament as evidence that we are all sinners.) Still Isaiah pleads for mercy. Therefore the reading ends on a Gospel note, asking the Lord to “remember not iniquity forever.” While calling God “Father” is not common in the Old Testament, this is one of those places where he is. Those who believe in him can come to him as children of a loving Father.

1 Corinthians 1:3-9: In these opening words of St. Paul to the Corinthians, Paul lists numerous reasons he gives thanks to God for the Corinthians. However he makes it abundantly clear that these blessings are not something they have done, but are gifts from Jesus. The last of the blessings mentioned, and therefore the apex of the blessings, is that Jesus will sustain them to the end, guiltless as they stand before the Judgment Throne. God’s grace doesn’t last just a lifetime, but is good for all eternity. Verse nine wraps this up with a reminder that God is faithful, meaning he will keep all his promises, and those promise are all grounded in Christ Jesus, our Lord.

Mark 13:24-37: This lesson is taken from the last week of the earthly life of Jesus. He is speaking of the Last Day. The fundamental message is to “stay awake,” meaning always be looking for the Second Coming. How do we do this? We attend to the word (verse 31)! For example, Jesus says in 32 “But concerning that day or that hour, no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.” Every generation produces false prophets who claim to know when the Last Day will be, or at least to know that they are living in the last generation. Jesus calls them frauds. You can’t circle the Last Day on your calendars. You must be ready at all times, for we do not know when this current age will end.

Tidbits

• Well, as this will be posted on Thanksgiving Day, let me once again say Happy Thanksgiving!

• The December newsletter is already posted on the blog and paper copies will be available Sunday.

• The office will be closed this coming Thursday as Pastor will be attending class.

Advent services begin next week. The theme is “The Saints of Advent.” Our first saint will be the Apostle Andrew. It seems appropriate as November 30 is his Feast Day. Services will be at 12:15 and 7:00 PM. We will also have a soup supper beginning at 6:15 PM.

• Choir practice has resumed. We meet after the Wednesday worship services. New voices are welcome.

Well, I pray I’ll see you Sunday.

Blessings in Christ,
Pastor John Rickert

Monday, November 21, 2011

Thanksgiving

Monday after Christ he King Sunday
November 21, 2011

The Lord be with you

This coming Thursday, November 24, will be celebrated in the United States as Thanksgiving Day. The foundation for this national holiday has eroded in recent decades. That foundation is to set aside a day for the nation to give thanks to the Almighty for his many blessings to our nation and to implore Him to protect and bless us in the future. One of those blessings many of us enjoy is that of family. As such families often gather together, and that gathering typically includes a large meal. Featured in this meal is often a turkey. Those who have lost the original meaning of the day, or have had it pushed into the background by the contemporary culture of the USA, often simply call the day “Turkey Day.” It becomes an excuse to indulge our appetites and entertain ourselves with television specials.

Now there is nothing innately wrong with gathering with our families, enjoying a meal together, or even watching television on Thanksgiving Day (at least many programs on television). What is wrong is when such things become the center of the day, when God is pushed into the background, when it becomes a day to pat ourselves on the back as if God didn’t exist and our particular desires are the center of the universe.

At Lamb of God we will have a Thanksgiving worship service, held on the Eve of Thanksgiving Day, Wednesday, November 23. While our members are encouraged to attend, I encourage all who read this post to attend a Thanksgiving service wherever you may be.

If you live in the Spartanburg area, we invite you to join us. Our service will begin at 7:00 PM. We will be using Evening Prayer for our liturgy (page 243 of the Lutheran Service Book). The focus of the homily will be prayer.

Blessings in Christ,
Pastor John Rickert

Ancient Whale Bones Discovered in Desert

Monday after Christ the King Sundya
November 21, 2011

The Lord be with you

The following AP story appeared on the internet today and I thought I’d share it.



Ancient Whale Bones Discovered in Desert




Paleontologists in Chile have made a surprising discovery in the desert. Scientists uncovered what appears to be a massive graveyard of whale bones in Copiapo, more than a half-mile from the ocean. More than 80 whales, including 25 complete skeletons, were found in one of the driest deserts in the world. There is currently a construction project to widen the highway near the Atacama Desert, where the bones were found. Scientists believe the bones could be between 2 million and 7 million years old. So how did the whales make their way from the ocean to the desert and end up so close to one another when they died? Scientists have many theories: Maybe the area was once a lagoon and it dried up, maybe there was a giant wave that flung the whales onto shore, or maybe a giant earthquake sealed them off. Whale bones were not the only find for the paleontologists. A dolphin carcass with walrus-like tusks was also uncovered. Scientists say this discovery gives them a glimpse of ancient sea life. One paleontologist said, "The fossils are exceptionally well preserved and quite complete--a rare combination in paleontology and one that will likely shed light on many facets of the . . . ecology and evolution of these extinct species." People on social media are debating creationism vs. evolution theories. Some people are just waiting for a scientific explanation. Still others are saying they should "accept the biblical account of the flood."

The following link will take you to the story:

http://news.yahoo.com/blogs/trending-now/ancient-whale-bones-discovered-desert-parents-outraged-hooters-165721306.html

I’m sure the scientist will come up with some explanation for these bones; they always do. However, will that explanation be credible, or just yet another example of the inability for modern theories to predict but only explain and in an after the fact kind of way. If all these theories about the ancient earth were truly sound, why didn’t they go looking for whale bones in this desert much earlier? Why didn't the paleontologists warn the goverment of Chile that this project would unearth ancient marine fossils? Why did they have to wait for a road to be widened? I know why creationists have to wait – they don’t have the money. But surely these people, who have drawn up all these maps of the globe millions of years ago, should be able to spot likely places to make such finds. Well, it is something to think about.

Blessings in Christ,
Pastor John Rickert