Sunday, December 30, 2012

Christmas, Vacation, The Constantine Codex

First Sunday after Christmas
December 30, 2012

The Lord be with you

Hello all. I apologize for there being such a lag in posts. Christmas is a very busy time for any pastor, and I’m no exception. These posts simply do not rank as high on my priority list as developing sermons, worship services, and newsletters. Nonetheless, I pray everyone had a joyous nativity celebration.

I and my wife are on vacation now. The first few days were full, so again I didn’t get around to posting anything. I did have a chance to read the next LitWits book, The Constantine Codex by Paul L. Maier (more on that later).

This morning we were blessed to worship at Island Lutheran Church here on Hilton Head Island, SC. Their pastor, Rev. Larry Eckart, is also on vacation. The word of God was shared by Pastor Len Moore and Mr. Terry Nickerson led the liturgy. If I was to boil down the sermon to a sentence, it would be that, while the rest of the world is over with Christmas for the year, for Christians the celebration of the birth of our Savior continues on and on.

As I mentioned, I just finished The Constantine Codex. This is the third book featuring Dr. Jon Webber, who first appeared in Maier’s book, A Skeleton in God’s Closet. Each book in the series is a stand-alone novel. Like the first two books, this book continues the fast pace action of an interaction between international religious issues, startling discoveries, intrigue, risk, and mortal danger, while avoiding the Indiana Jones antics which look good on a big screen but are more eye candy than story telling. Maier’s first book asked what would happen if the mortal remains of Jesus were actually found. His second book (More than a Skeleton) asked what would happen if someone living claimed to be the returned Jesus and was very, very convincing. This third book asks what would happen if an ancient manuscript was found that might have been written by one of the recognized New Testament authors. (Naturally, the document seems very, very convincing.) I won’t tell you how the book ends, but ask yourself, “What would it take for a new book to be added to the Bible?”

Blessings in Christ,
Pastor John Rickert

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Sandy Hook Shooting

Saturday after Advent III
December 15, 2012

The Lord be with you

My prayers ascend to the Lord of mercy on behalf of the families of the shooting victims at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. In total there are 28 dead, 20 of which were children.

Some will use this tragedy to argue for banning guns in America. Others will use it to argue for a greater presence of religion in our schools. Still others will use it to argue that God doesn’t exist. Other “special” interests will see in this sad event some opportunity to argue for their cause.

I encourage you to see this as a call to prayer. Pray for the families who lost loved ones, that the God of all consolation will provide them with the consolation they need. Pray for the city of Newtown, that this horrific act may bring them together instead of driving them apart. Pray that other troubled people do not draw some unwholesome inspiration from this and seek to copy it.

Pray also for all the schools in our land, both religious and secular, that they may be nurseries of wholesome values and knowledge, so that our children may grow up to be a blessing to others. May they learn respect, humility, compassion, courage, as well as how to read and write.

Pray for our country in general, that we repent of our arrogance and humbly come to the Lord of all to receive forgiveness. Pray that we may do our part to help the poor, hungry, destitute, sick, abused, and imprisoned, instead of always expecting others to do it. Pray for a unity that is based on godly principles.

Let others use this tragedy as they will. As for me, I will use it as a call to prayer.

Blessings in Christ,
Pastor John Rickert

Friday, December 7, 2012

The Beginning of Advent

Commemoration of Ambrose of Milan, Pastor and Hymnwriter
December 7, 2012

The Lord be with you

Advent Season is the beginning of the Church Year. It begins with the First Sunday in (or “of”) Advent. The First Sunday in Advent is the Sunday closest to the Feast of St. Anthony, Apostle, which is November 30. This year that means Advent I is December 2.

There are four Sundays in Advent but, if November 30 falls on a Thursday, Friday, or Saturday, there are only three Wednesdays. For those congregations that have special Wednesday services during Advent, it can seem odd that their congregation is not having four Wednesday services. That, however, is just how it works.

Though Advent marks the beginning of the Church Year, it was not the first part of the Church Year to develop. That honor belongs to Easter, which was commemorated the very first Sunday after the Resurrection. It quickly developed into an annual celebration. I will write more about that for the Lent/Easter seasons.

Christian time is divided into three great seasons: Christmas, Easter, and Pentecost. Advent is part of the Christmas cycle along with the Christmas season itself and the Epiphany season. I will write more about the Christmas and Epiphany seasons when they arrive.

It may surprise people that Christmas was not a big deal with the Early Church. The “Great Triduum” (Good Friday through Easter Sunday), as the pinnacle of the work of Christ, was the focus of the work of Christ and the Christian life. (These three days are reckoned by the Jewish system of measuring days meaning it was from sundown Thursday to sundown Sunday and, therefore, included the Last Supper on Maundy Thursday.)

Once, however, we recognize the “Great Triduum” as the focal point of salvation history, we also see the importance of all the events that led up to it as they shape our time. That includes, of course, the birth of the person who later died and rose to save us.

It was in the 9th century that Advent became the beginning of the Church year. Way before that, in the year 380, a Church Council declared that there be a three-week fast before the Feast of Epiphany, which is closely related to Christmas. That date was December 17. Later that was pushed back to November. In Rome, the Liturgical season of Advent was first observed toward the end of the 6th century.

So, in a nutshell, Advent appears to have begun after Christmas was lifted up to Christians as a feast to be celebrated.

Blessings in Christ,
Pastor John Rickert

Worship for Advent II & Wed following (2012)

Commemoration of Ambrose of Milan, Pastor and Hymnwriter
Friday after the First Sunday in Advent
December 7, 2012

The Lord be with you

This coming Sunday is the Second Sunday in Advent. The appointed lessons are: Malachi 3:1-7b; Philippians 1:2-11; and Luke 3:1-20. Our liturgy will be Divine Service I (page 151). This is a communion service. Our opening hymn is “The King Shall Come When Morning Dawns” (LSB 348). The sermon hymn is “Herald, Sound the Note of Judgment” (LSB 511). The closing hymn is “Go, My Children, with My Blessing” (LSB 922). The distribution hymns are “Christ is Surely Coming” (LSB 508), “O Lord, We Praise Thee” (LSB 617), and “Once He Came in Blessing” (LSB 333). The sermon is titled “An Obsolete Idea” and the text is Malachi 3:2. The choir will be singing “Advent Prayer.”

Aside from our regular prayers, we will remember the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Ghana, the Concordia International School in Hanoi, the persecuted believers in Algeria and our sister congregations Christ and Church of St. Andrew, Silver Springs, MD; First, Sunderland, MD; Oxon Hill, Temple Hills, MD; and Incarnate Word, Sumter, SC

The adult Sunday school class will begin part four of the four-part study The Intersection of Church and State.

After the worship service the LWML will have a meeting.

If you have a Jewish friend, you may want to wish them a happy Hanukkah on Sunday.

On Wednesday we will again have a 12:15 service and a 7:00 pm service. The “noon” service uses Responsive Prayer I (page 282) and sings only the homily hymn. The evening service uses Vespers (page 229) and sings three hymns. The opening hymn is “Come, Thou Long-Expected Jesus,” (LSB 338). The homily hymn is “Comfort, Comfort Ye My People,” (LSB 347). The closing hymn is “Abide, O Dearest Jesus,” (LSB 919).The scripture lesson is Isaiah 40:1-11. The homily is titled “Waiting with Comfort.” This Wednesday we will “Green” the church (meaning we will decorate it). Those at the “noon” service will begin and those at the evening service will finish the job.

Also each Wednesday in Advent we have a soup supper that begins at 6:15 pm and choir practice following the evening service.

Below is a video of Sunday’s opening hymn, “The King Shall Come When Morning Dawns.” Once again, the video is from the Lutheran Warbler.  

One final note: Over the past Church Year I have posted information concerning each of the commemorations/feasts/festivals in our Church Year. If you are interested in reading something about the feast/festival/commemoration on any particular day, you can go to those posts. I may, from time to time, put something new up but I will not be making that effort as I did last year. The foundation has been laid.

Well, I pray I’ll see you Sunday.

Blessings in Christ,
Pastor John Rickert

Monday, December 3, 2012

First Ever Portrait of Jesus?

Monday after Advent I
December 3, 2012

The Lord be with you

I typed into my search engine “the oldest picture of Jesus” and I came across a fascinating discovery. It seems that an Arab fellow has found/acquired a number of “books,” made of led plates, dating from the late first or second century. They come from a cave in the same general area as the Dead Sea Scrolls and Masada.

Now finding ancient artifacts in that part of the world is not all that surprising. What is surprising it that one of the “books” contains what may be the oldest portrait of Jesus. The portrait is on this page. If you want to read an article about it, click here.

One of the amazing things about this discovery is that it didn’t make the national news. If this had been discovered a century ago, it would have been the topic of everyone’s conversation. Now, such an amazing discovery was so under-reported that I didn’t find out about it until it is really old news.

Whether or not this is an actual representation of Jesus made, perhaps, in the life time of those who knew him face to face, will be debated by scholars. Perhaps, if we are blessed, the media will keep us abreast in an unbiased way. Wouldn’t that be great.

Blessings in Christ,
Pastor John Rickert