Archive for December, 2017

Reading Ramblings – Epiphany – January 6, 2018

December 31, 2017

Reading Ramblings

Date: Epiphany Sunday – January 6, 2017

Texts: Isaiah 60:1-6; Psalm 72:1-15; Ephesians 3:1-12; Matthew 2:1-12

Context: Epiphany is like the second half of Christmas. Whereas Christmas celebrates and emphasizes that God became human, Epiphany celebrates and emphasizes that the person Jesus of Nazareth is also the divine eternal Son of God. The celebration dates from at least the fourth century, where observances are recorded in Jerusalem and Bethlehem.

Isaiah 60:1-6 – A restoration of Israel’s glory and preeminence is prophesied here, bound up with the Lord’s appearance. This appearance seems specific to God’s people – causing a light to be witnessed by the other nations and prompting their journey to God’s people. Curiosity is no doubt a motivation, but perhaps ultimately it is recognition of God’s presence with and among his people, so that other nations and leaders come to bow down and worship. In the process, they bring with them God’s dispersed peoples from near and far. This all corresponds with a restoration of God’s people’s wealth and prestige in the world. The coming of the Son of God among the people of God has established this reality in part already, and it will be fulfilled completely in the day of his glorious return.

Psalm 72:1-11 – This coronation psalm was likely used at the installation of a new king. It begins as a prayer for God to bless the king with gifts necessary for the well-being of the king’s subjects – God’s people. Justice and righteousness are the foremost requests (vs.1-4) because when these are in place, the people can prosper under God’s blessings (v.3). The kings enemies should be put in fear of him (v.5), but to his friends and loyal subjects his reign and power should be gentle and soft (v.6). As he receives the Lord’s blessings, a long reign is a desirable thing (v.7). Verses 8-11 elaborate on the breadth of the king’s rule, indicating peace from troublesome neighbors and within Israel’s borders. Verses 12-15 elaborate further on why the king should be honored so – namely because he does not simply dispense justice to the wealthy and privileged, but uses his power and position to protect the vulnerable and marginalized. It’s obviously a wonderful list of attributes for any ruler, but certainly one that we will never witness fully and completely outside of the reign of the King of Kings, the God-man Jesus.

Ephesians 3:1-12 – Paul’s evangelistic ministry is to take the good news of Jesus the Christ to those unfamiliar with the prophecies concerning him, those who don’t know that they should be waiting for him. Some of this is also new – the Hebrews received the Word of God in prophesy and promise, but it wasn’t fully revealed until the Incarnation of God in Jesus of Nazareth. This was a surprise to God’s people, but it also needs to be explained to the non-Jews because part of the unexpected nature of Jesus is that He comes for the non-Jews as well as the Jews! God himself has enabled and equipped Paul for this specialized ministry. The amazing thing is that this isn’t just good news for humanity, but it is a witness of God’s power and wisdom to spiritual entities. In other words, God’s plan of salvation is intended not simply to reconcile a fallen humanity but to speak of his greatness to the spiritual powers. Does this mean angels? One would expect that angels would be well aware of this already as they serve God! Could it be that the witness is to those spiritual entities who have set themselves in opposition to God, namely Lucifer and his followers? The possibilities are fascinating but Paul does not give us more insight here.

Matthew 2:1-12 – The visit of the magi is a traditional emphasis (along with Jesus’ baptism) for Epiphany. We can certainly see how this episode in the early life of Jesus fits in well with the prophetic nature of the reading from Isaiah 60 as well as the psalm for the day. Here, foreigners come from afar in search of the fulfillment of prophecy. Who they are is never fully disclosed. The Biblical etymology of magi in the Bible can infer magicians, but this is not the more common, non-Biblical association. Long-standing tradition dating back to Herodotus is that these were priests from Persia, though there is no explanation for this assertion. In any event, there is no suggestion from extra-Biblical sources that these might have been literal kings, and the early Church Fathers did not assert this either. The Biblical text does not specify a number, but early on the tradition of three developed in association with the three named gifts (gold, frankincense, and myrrh), but in the Eastern church the tradition is of 12 magi. In the West, their names are allegedly Balthasar, Melchior, and and Gaspar, but again there is no historical basis for this tradition.

The tradition of the magi visiting the Holy Family in the manger is likely erroneous. Given that Herod slays all the boys in Bethlehem two years old and younger (Matthew 2:16),it is possible that the magi arrived much later. Some favor the idea that they visit the Holy Family in Bethlehem but not at the manger, and prior to the angel’s warning to Joseph to flee to Egypt.

It seems clear that they were unusual visitors at the very least, and a curious interjection into the Gospels and birth narrative. Similar to Melchizedek in Genesis 14, to me the magi represent the reminder that while God has worked through his own chosen people, it is not as though nobody else in the world is aware of what God has promised through his Scriptures. The Holy Spirit works in his own way to accomplish the plans of God, and the foreign visitors are a reminder that the Holy Spirit is in no wise limited as to who or where or when He works – something we would do well to remember also!

Jesus is the baby in the manger but also the King of Kings, worthy of rich offerings such as what the magi offer. While partially prophetic fulfillment, they are a reminder to us of who it is we proclaim to be Lord, and what the proper posture is before our Lord and Savior.

When we were still under the papacy, they used to tell this story. Once a time the devil attended Mass in a church where it was customary in either the Lord’s Prayer or in the Creed to sing: “Et homo factus est,” that is, “Gods’ Son became a human being.” While they were singing this, the people just remained standing and did not kneel down. The devil was so incensed, that he slammed his fist into one man’s mouth saying, “You boorish bum, aren’t you ashamed to just stand there like a post and refuse to kneel for joy? If God had become OUR brother, as he did YOUR brother, our joy would be so great that we wouldn’t know what to do with ourselves.”

~ Martin Luther – Fourth Sermon for Holy Christmas Day, 1534 ~

YFA – December 24, 2017

December 24, 2017
A Weekly Devotional Resource


  • Sunday: Reflect on today’s sermon & service
  • Monday: Old Testament Lesson – Isaiah 61:1062:3
    • What is the primary reason we should praise God (v.10)?
    • Where should righteousness be sprouting up (v.11)?
  • Tuesday: Epistle Lesson – Galatians 4:4-7
    • How would you explain or interpret the fullness of time (v.4)?
    • Read Genesis 3:15.  Why does Paul emphasize Jesus’ human origins?
  • Wednesday: Gospel Lesson – Luke 2:22-40
    • How old is Simeon?
    • What is the revelation the Gentiles are to receive through Jesus (v.32)?
  • Thursday: Psalm – Psalm 111
    • What should our response to God’s wonders be (v.2)?
    • How does God’s wisdom compare to our own knowledge (v.10)?
  • Friday: Luther’s Small Catechism – Fourth Commandment
    • How does Luther extend the scope of this commandment?
    • Why might God link this commandment to the promise of long life?
  • Saturday: (LSB #366) It Came Upon the Midnight Clear
    • How might angels still be singing the good tidings today (v.1)?
    • How would you interpret or explain the ever-circling years (v.3)?



Reading Ramblings – December 31, 2017

December 24, 2017

Reading Ramblings

Date: First Sunday after Christmas, December 31, 2017

Texts: Isaiah 61:10- 62:3; Psalm 111; Galatians 4:4-7; Luke 2:22-40

Context: Christmas is not just a single day, but an actual season of the Church year! It lasts for twelve days, until Epiphany. So keep playing those Christmas songs a little longer yet as we continue to explore the miracle of the Son of God made man in Jesus of Nazareth.

Isaiah 61:10-62:3 – The proper response to the birth of the promised Messiah and Savior is one of unmitigated rejoicing. This rejoicing, properly, is not separated from the sorrow of Good Friday or the joy of Easter morning, but forms a continuum that runs through and is the focus of the first half of the Church year. More than any other baby ever born, we have reason to still celebrate God the Father fulfilling his promise to Eve by sending God the Son as one of her descendants, to tread upon the serpent’s head and free us from sin, death, and the power of Satan. With the divine victory banner implanted in the heart of enemy territory, can there be any other result than righteousness? Is there anything more fitting than to tell it on the mountains that Jesus Christ is born, and in this every man, woman and child is offered amnesty and forgiveness through the baby in the manger who is also the God on the cross? We are transformed! And it is to God alone that the glory should be given now and forever.

Psalm 111: A common identity and purpose undergird this psalm of praise to God. The first verse indicates that it is appropriate among God’s people and during worship. Praise can begin immediately based on a common understanding and experience of who God is, and the psalm can be offered in the shorthand appropriate to a shared faith that results from and leads to shared study of God’s mighty works (vs.2-4). Verse 5 begins to allude to specifics – the feeding of his people in the wilderness with manna and the establishment of his covenant with them at Mt. Sinai. Verse 6 may refer to the establishment of the nation of Israel in the Promised Land, first under Joshua and then more fully under King David. The goodness of God is also evident in that He has shown his people how to live (vs. 7-8), and his precepts and guidelines are alone trustworthy among all the myriad ideas people have about right and wrong and how the world should work. Ultimately though, the Lord is to be praised for providing salvation to his people, redeeming them, which implies a need to be redeemed, an acknowledgment of our estranged position with God because of our sinful rebelliousness. His covenant is not just a temporary arrangement but rather the eternal work and purpose of God with his creation. Likewise, our praise of Him and our immersion in his Word should and will be eternal as well.

Galatians 4:4-7 – Christmas is inextricably linked to Easter. It is God’s salvation plan incarnate, the fulfillment of God the Father’s promise to Eve in Genesis 3:15. God the Son is adopted into humanity, and in exchange we are adopted as heirs into the forgiveness and grace and promises of God the Father. The proof of this is the Holy Spirit of God now in our hearts, now operating on our behalf, constantly interceding with us and calling out to God our Father in the most intimate of terms, as only a true child can ever do comfortably or rightfully. Christmas begins the real-time breaking of our slavery to sin, death, and Satan. Paul beautifully summarizes the heart of the Gospel.

Luke 2:22-40 – The Christmas story doesn’t end in the manger. The birth of Jesus renders Mary ritually unclean, as per Leviticus 12, and requires sacrifice. While it is conceivable that they could have fulfilled this back home in Galilee, both Mary’s physical condition after the birth as well as the proximity of the temple in Jerusalem likely made it reasonable and desirable that they stay on with relatives in Bethlehem for 40 days after the birth.

The reality that Jesus is also the Son of God does not negate the Levitical law. Jesus will later state that He has not come to abolish the law but fulfill it (Matthew 5:17), and this is true even from his infancy. Mary and Joseph adhere to the expected requirements of the Law pertaining to their newborn son. But in case they might begin to say to themselves after the birth that the visitations and dreams were flights of fancy, they meet Simeon and Anna in the temple grounds. These devout figures serve as prophets – speakers of God’s Word and wisdom. Simeon’s primary message is to Mary and Joseph, who are astonished (despite the angelic dreams and visitations!) at what he has to say. Anna speaks to others, linking Jesus to the anticipated redemption of Jerusalem. It must have made for quite a spectacle!

Luke nearly completes his narrative of Jesus’ early years with the summary verses 39-40. By ancient standards, this was certainly more than adequate in terms of biographical detail. Ancient biographies emphasize what a person did to become noteworthy. Our modern ideas of biography are heavily influenced by modern psychology and the idea that in order to understand a person fully we need to understand everything about them, not just the noteworthy things. So it is that we hunger to know more about Jesus’ childhood. Luke only tells us that the child grew and was strong and wise and favored by God. The implication is also that his parents, who began so faithfully fulfilling the requirements of the Law in his regard, continued in this fashion.

Simeon’s words have come down through the Church as the Nunc Dimittis – the opening words of Simeon as translated in the Latin Vulgate of the Bible by St. Jerome in the fourth century. Simeon’s words are also seen as the last of the three great canticles (or sacred songs) of the New Testament – the first being Mary’s Magnificat in Luke 1, then Zechariah’s song also in Luke 1.

While it has often been traditional to interpret Simeon’s words as indicating that he is ready to die, this is certainly not a necessary interpretation and may be overstating Simeon’s point. The assumption is that Simeon was advanced in years, but the text doesn’t specifically tell us this. Rather, Simeon’s song is an acknowledgment that God has fulfilled his promise to him to see the Messiah. He can leave the Temple grounds secure in this knowledge, and no longer needs to look anxiously each day to see whether today is the day that he will see the Messiah. His words ring true to us today, and particularly at Christmas time. By the eyes of faith, through the historical words of eye-witnesses, we too have seen God’s salvation incarnate. We anticipate eagerly when we will see him face to face in glory and for eternity!

Don’t Get Cute

December 21, 2017

Someone – someone I’m not sure I even know – sent me a hard copy of this missive today.   What a great Christmas present.

Because of course pastors are stressed out about Christmas Eve service.  As my buddy notes, there is an added pressure to this service, perhaps more so than any other service the entire year.  Additional people present.  And not just extended family of current members, but others as well.  Perhaps estranged former members of the congregation.  People that had a falling out with a pastor some years ago – or perhaps with me! – might show up for some reason they can’t even define well themselves.  People injured by the Church in the past, stepping their toes back in the water after years or decades away.

To have the perfect message – witty, sparkling, engaging – could mean so much for these people and my congregation!  Old faces returning and new faces showing up on Sunday mornings.  Is there a better feeling as a pastor to be told that you’re the reason that someone has decided to return or come to church or the faith?  The monstrous pride that lurks within many preachers and pastors, sometimes masquerading as pious humility – that monster gorges itself on those sorts of comments.  It’s not that the comments are bad, or shouldn’t be shared.  It’s just that the sin within me wants to lead me down dangerous, dark roads of self-congratulatory ego-caressing.

But the perfect message isn’t mine, it’s God the Holy Spirit’s.  And while the Holy Spirit deigns to work through imperfect pastors that fall out in different places on a dizzyingly broad spectrum of speaking skills and writing mastery, the message that counts is the message of salvation in Jesus Christ.  The baby in the manger and the God on the cross.  I should care about delivery and about making it enjoyable for the people festively attired in the candlelit pews, but only towards the end that the Holy Spirit’s Word might penetrate the heart, might strike the lethal blow that leads to the death of the old Adam within us, and raises up a new creation in Jesus Christ.  I can’t do that, only the Holy Spirit can.

So I will endeavor, as I like to think I always do, not to be cute.  To make sure the full message is delivered, and that the results of that are to God’s glory not mine.  On Christmas Eve and during every other worship service of the year.

True Worship II

December 20, 2017

Thinking further about this, it came to me that it isn’t just a matter of people deciding not to go to church any more on Christmas that is at issue.  Once again, it’s a complicated subject.  One that is complicated to great extent by our mobile culture and our oft-cited idea that one can (or even should) work and live wherever they want.

I’ve ended up doing this more by hook than by crook.  I understand the appeal of living in different places and seeing different parts of the world and learning about culture and food and all sorts of ancillary aspects of God’s amazing creation (and sometimes our sinful twisting of it).  We recently bid farewell to a young woman headed for multiple parts of the world over the next six months, after living four years away from her family so she could attend university and then another two years after that as she waited to figure out what her next moves (heh) in life would be.

But this mobility is a somewhat new phenomenon, historically speaking.  It used to be that in general, you stayed where you were raised.  In great part because work and family were more closely intertwined, and so the odds of going away from home and finding work were much smaller for most people than the odds of already having work at home.  Most people didn’t go off to work, but lived and worked all in the same or closely related setting.

Family members were more apt to stay put, which meant you had larger networks of extended families all in the same location.  Which meant that Christmas worship wasn’t something that was separate from all your other Christmas traditions – it was a part of them because practically all of your extended family was going to be at church as well.  Church was a more natural part of the larger family celebration of Christmas (or Easter, or just an average Sunday).

Now that’s not as often the case.  Most of the members in my congregation have to travel somewhere else to be with their kids and grandkids for the holidays.  Or their family has to travel to them, often from multiple locations around the country, which of course is hard to coordinate and often doesn’t happen.  Our Sunday Happy Hour Crew is mostly still of the age (early 20’s) that they go home to be with their parents for Christmas.

This sounds at one level as though not much has changed.  Family is still together on Christmas, so they should naturally be at church, right?  Sure, I can agree with that.  Except that mom and dad’s church may not be son and daughter’s church.  Or it may be the same church with a new pastor.  Or the pastor may be the same, but son and daughter were whisked away to children’s church every Sunday and never formed relationships with the pastor or the other adults in the congregation, so effectively their parent’s church really is a different church from the one they went to, even if the location and the preaching pastor is the same.

All of which continues to contribute to a sense that church really isn’t part of the family’s Christmas observance, even if technically they were all at church together before.

I’m not advocating throwing our hands in the air and saying well that’s that, we might as well cancel our Christmas worship.   There are plenty of people who still incorporate church as part of their Christmas day celebration.  There are still a few who will wander out on Christmas by some indefinable prompting even if they don’t go to church the rest of the year.

And while people may relocate away from family more often these days, this highlights the important aspect that church can play as a new family to transplants.  Few of my parishioners were born and grew up here.  Most came from elsewhere, generally in their 20’s with spouses and children in tow.  But they found a home away from home, a family away from family in their congregation.  I visited a woman in the hospital who is 91-years old.  She was sitting and talking with a woman she has been best friends with for 60 years.  Many of the people in my congregation have known each other for more than half a decade.  They are family to one another, which is an incentive for them to come to worship regularly.  They’re getting to see their family that they didn’t get to see most of the rest of the week.

Just like people did centuries ago.

The rise of the Church and particular celebratory observances was facilitated in great part by the fact that families – extended families – would all go together.  It was part of their tradition (and if they were Roman Catholic, also an obligation on their part!) together.  While we can lament that this is no longer the case, we should at least acknowledge that this will have an impact on church attendance patterns on holy days.  And we should, as the church and parents and grandparents, be encouraging our kids and grandkids to plug into congregations where they live, so that they can begin building the relationships that will serve as surrogate family to them all the rest of the year when they don’t travel home to be with Mom and Dad and the rest of the clan.

True Worship

December 20, 2017

Since this is the time of year when many Christians take up the familiar lamentation about how our culture is forgetting the real meaning of Christmas, I read this article the other day arguing that it isn’t secular cultural we should be mad at for being, well, secular.  Rather it’s Christians we should be mad at because they don’t prioritize Church for Christmas.

Which of course, got me thinking.

Growing up, our family tradition was to go to a late-night Christmas Eve worship.  Probably not technically midnight, but maybe 10pm or 11pm.  It was great as kids because we’d get to stay up late and sing some cool Advent and Christmas hymns.  Then we’d get a paper bag with some peanuts and an orange and a candy cane in it on our way out of church.  We had no idea why this combination of things was supposed to be in some way valued, but we’d at least eat the candy cane.

I serve a congregation with a tradition of worship on Christmas morning.  I don’t have any problem with this tradition and am happy to continue it and foster it.  But if I served a congregation who didn’t have a tradition of meeting for worship on Christmas morning, I wouldn’t be inclined to start one.

Some might say this just reveals my lazy, self-centered nature.  I’m guilty of what the article author blames as the demise of Christmas in Christian culture.  But my wife and I have intentionally set up ground rules to buying into (heheh – that’s a pun, get it?) the consumer mentality that does tend to overwhelm all other aspects of the Advent and Christmas season.  The author sets up an either or without an in between and without necessarily questioning the validity of the one pole while presuming the other pole is of course evil.

But here’s my radical thought.  You don’t need to go to church on Christmas morning in order to have a Christ-filled Christmas.  You may not have the technical Christ Mass which the author likes to emphasize, but this is, after all, not a Biblical mandate either.  It’s a tradition, to be sure, and a tradition that had great value perhaps in an age when persecution was rampant.  Perhaps as our culture becomes less Christian on the surface, Christians will once again see value in gathering communally to celebrate the birth of Christ.

I’d argue that while it’s fine to go to Church on Jesus’ birthday, if that’s how you define putting Christ back in Christmas, you’re woefully missing the point and settling for the very surface-level sort of lip service that the author tries to decry.  In other words, the Church should be in the business of teaching people how to celebrate the birth of Christ in their families.  Before church.  After church.  For the whole season of Advent and Christmas and Epiphany (gasp!).  Heck, every day of the year, every day of our lives.  If putting the Christ back in Christmas consists simply of attending the literal Christ’s Mass, we’re actually no better off.  And perhaps, this is actually the reason we’re at this point of apparent Christian decay in our culture.

There is no glory or benefit per se in Church in and of itself.  Yes, we are to continue gathering together as the faithful, to be certain (Hebrews 10:25).  But why do we do this?  Because there is intrinsic merit in this?  No.  But rather because of what Christian community can and should do.  It enables us to hear the Word of God – but this should be something we are doing in daily prayer and devotion.  We receive the gifts of God in his Sacrament, and to be sure this is something that traditionally only happens in Church as believers gather together.  Church should be equipping people to live out their faith in their daily lives, as parents, siblings, children, grandparents, aunts, uncles, neighbors, employees, employers, citizens, etc.  Church is supposed to help connect our faith to all the aspects of our life.

Simply equating church with having a Christ-filled Christmas is oversimplification.  And I could conceivably see myself saying to people wondering whether or not they should start a Christmas Day service – No problem, as long as you’re going to sing or listen to the Christmas hymns at home as well.  As long as you’re going to pray together at home as well to give thanks to God for sending his Son into the world.  As long as you’re going to read the Christmas story to your kids and talk about what it means to you so they can learn what a life of faith looks and sounds like by watching and listening to you.  So long as you’re not going to spend the rest of the day focused only on football or food or drinks or whatever other good gifts and creations of God may really fire you up.

In other words, Sure, let’s gather together to praise God for sending his Son, so long as you don’t think you’ve fulfilled your ‘Christian duty’ in this act alone, and the rest of the day is yours to spend without a second thought for God.  Sure, let’s celebrate together, as long as you’re celebrating with your family at home as well.  Because Church is NOT supposed to be a substitute for that most primal and critical congregation of faith, the family.  The Church should strengthen that smaller congregation.  Equip it.  Minister to and with it.  But never set itself up as the replacement for it or to it.

Just like the family should never, under ideal circumstances, be the substitute for Church.  Just like those folks who insist on worshiping alone in their family or in front of their television instead of plunging themselves into the messy world of congregational relationships are in error.  Just like those who insist that they can worship alone better than they can worship with others are waving a massive red flag about something in their heart or past that the Holy Spirit should be working through to resolve, not reinforce.  Circumstances may dictate that Christians worship in hiding or only as families, but this is the exception to the rule.  The healthiest life of faith consists of a strong grounding at home reinforced with regular involvement in the larger community of faith, where forgiveness of sins, the Sacraments, and as necessary even private or – God-forbid, public – rebuke is possible for serious misunderstandings or misappropriations of the life of faith.

The author is dead on – Christians need to keep Christ at the center of Christmas as well as every day of their life.  The Church should help them do it.  But let’s not oversimplify things to the point where Church becomes the definition of a Christ-centered Christmas.  If you have the ability to gather with other Christians to celebrate Christ this Christmas, by all means do so!  Do it week after week, frankly.  Maybe even do it on Christmas Day at church!  But by all means, make sure that in your private life of faith, in your family life of faith you’re doing it as well.  Don’t assume that just going to Church puts Christ back at the center of Christmas for your heart or your family.  Don’t separate or confuse Church and everyday life.  Keep them both together and in proper relationship.



Christmas Eve & Christmas Day Readings

December 18, 2017

In addition to the regular readings for Sunday morning (which happens to be Christmas Eve this year), we have two additional services and sets of readings – one for Christmas Eve evening and one for Christmas morning worship.

For Christmas Eve I use a variety of readings from each of the Gospels to take hearers through the full Christmas story.

For Christmas morning I utilize the assigned lectionary texts for the day.  Since the readings for Christmas Day are usually the same, I’m switching up and using the texts for Christmas service at dawn, even though we aren’t meeting at dawn.  Those texts are:

  • Isaiah 62:10-12 – a beautiful call to God’s people to make final preparations for the long-anticipated arrival of her savior, ushering in a new day of peace and joy
  • Psalm 98 – a blessing and praise of God based on his mighty acts of mercy and creation
  • Titus 3:4-7 – a succinct restatement of the Gospel of Jesus Christ – that we are saved by him and not by our own efforts, however well-intentioned
  • Luke 2:1-20 – Luke’s account of Jesus’ birth, including angels & shepherds!



YFA – December 17, 2017

December 17, 2017
A Weekly Devotional Resource
  • Sunday: Reflect Upon Today’s Sermon & Service
  • Monday: Old Testament Lesson – 2 Samuel 7:1-11, 16
    • What does David intend to do for the Lord (v.2)?
    • What does the Lord intend to do for David instead?
  • Tuesday: Epistle Lesson – Romans 16:25-27 
    • Who will strengthen us, Paul or God  (v.25)?
    • Who receives the glory for working out his plan through us (v.27)?
  • Wednesday: Psalm 89:1-5, 19-29
    • What is our proper response to the blessings of God (v.1)?
    • Who is the primary actor in these verses?
  • Thursday: Gospel – Luke 1:26-38
    • Why does Luke mention Joseph’s lineage (v.27)?
    • Why do you think Gabriel is gentler with Mary than with Zechariah?
  • Friday: Luther’s Small Catechism – The Third Commandment
    • Do you agree with Luther’s definition?  Why or why not?
    • Read Exodus 20.  How is worship or the Lord’s Word mentioned here?
  • Saturday: LSB #356 – The Angel Gabriel from Heaven Came
    • How is Mary blessed and honored still today (ST 2)?
    • Is Jesus’ birth completely unexpected (ST2)?



Reading Ramblings – December 24, 2017

December 17, 2017

Reading Ramblings

Date: Fourth Sunday in Advent, December 24, 2017

Texts: 2 Samuel 7:1-11, 16; Psalm 89:1-5, 19-29; Romans 16:25-27; Luke 1:26-38

Context: The last Sunday of Advent is also Christmas Eve this year. This allows for a nice progression from the texts this morning to Christmas Eve and Christmas morning in quick succession. Having gradually shifted our focus to the baby in the manger via John the Baptist, this week’s readings emphasize his prophetic backstory as a descendant of King David, a fitting fulfillment of God’s promise to establish David’s family and throne forever. First we hear God’s promise to David, then have it reinforced in the psalm, and finally Luke reminds his readers that Jesus is properly a descendant of David, something which prompts his parents to make an undoubtedly uncomfortable road trip just as Mary is due to give birth. The baby in the manger is truly and fully a king, both in human as well as divine terms.

2 Samuel 7:1-11 – David aspires to give something to God, but God intends to give something to and through David. David thinks in strictly physical terms, but God speaks in both spiritual and physical terms, playing with the language of house. David’s dynasty will be established. God’s plan will be fulfilled, regardless of David’s upcoming sinful behavior. God is not simply coming down from nowhere to accomplish his plan of reconciling creation to himself, He will continue to work through a particular people, fulfilling his earlier promises to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob that they would be the fathers of kings. The Messiah will be thoroughly grounded and rooted in human history and geography, not a once-upon-a-time sort of savior, but real flesh and blood with a lineage and a future.

Psalm 89:1-4, 19-29 – The promises of God are a source reason for giving him praise and thanks. This psalm retells God’s promises to David (one who is mighty, v.19), tracing the Lord’s faithfulness from his initial anointing of David (1 Samuel 16) through his faithful protection of and prospering of David despite fierce opposition (vs. 21-24). The Lord’s faithfulness (despite Davids unfaithfulness) is strongly pronounced in vs. 27-29. Fortunately, God’s promises are not dependent on our worthiness, but rather are rooted in his holiness and righteousness and mercy. We never have reason to boast of our relationship to God, as it is fully initiated, established, sustained and fulfilled by him. We can only give him thanks and praise for his goodness to us.

Romans 16:25-27 – The closing of Paul’s letter to the Romans is a beautiful blessing, an assurance of and praising of God’s faithfulness to his people. Paul’s hearers are to trust that God will strengthen their faith as Paul has preached the Gospel of Jesus Christ to them in his letter. His letter is not an inanimate thing but a means by which God will strengthen the hearers faith, then as now. Our faith is rooted in a mystery, but a mystery that has been told about for millenia. The salvation of the world through Jesus Christ is a mystery but not an unanticipated one. It isn’t as though God sprung something new on the world. Instead, God fulfilled his longstanding promises, which should be clear to those who study his Word. The mystery was not understood for much of that time, but such misunderstanding does not prevent God from bringing prophesy to fruition at a particular place and time. That this has happened is made clear from the prophetic writings of the Old Testament, something that can be proclaimed to all the world for their own evaluation. This is what God has commanded, and this is what has happened, so that countless people have come to faith in Jesus Christ through the study of God’s Word, resulting in obedient faith lived out day after day. All of this is to God’s glory, as it is God’s plan from start to finish. And as God’s salvation and plan are worked out through Jesus Christ, it is only appropriate and fitting that our praise to God the Father is through Jesus Christ as well.

Luke 1:26-38 – We hear of the Anunciation – the angel Gabriel’s amazing message that Mary of Nazareth would bear the Son of God. Luke’s account is full of details. The sixth month of the year. Nazareth in Galilee. Mary, a virgin. Betrothed to a man of the line of David. Specifics and details to be investigated and vetted by the hearers of Luke’s Gospel. Mary is understandably confused, but Gabriel is gentle to her, patiently explaining what will take place so that she will give birth to a son without the involvement of a human father. It must have seemed incomprehensible to her. How could she possibly be prepared to receive such news? But Mary was prepared to agree that if the Lord wanted to utilize her, it was both fitting and proper that He should. Mary did not let her doubt or uncertainty or fear stand in the way of her giving herself to God’s plan.

This is an essential quality of faith, that receives what the Lord directs even when we don’t understand it or necessarily want it. An acknowledgment that God is in control and we are necessarily his obedient servants. In this regard Mary’s faith is no different than ours. What God does in and with and through her faith is unique to her, but that is God’s power, not hers. The Son of God, the Messiah, the descendant of David who will establish the Davidic dynasty for all eternity comes into the world through a simple man and woman who are proper descendants of King David. God fulfills his prophesy perfectly and completely even if somewhat unexpectedly. As the Holy Spirit leads and guides us, may we, with God’s Word as our guide, respond with the simple trust and faith of Mary, to the glory of God.

Charity & Taxes

December 17, 2017

As we move closer to a major (or allegedly major) overhaul of our tax code, some are raising red flags that this might have a significant impact on the Church, namely in the realm of charitable giving.

Currently donations given to churches and other non-profit entities are tax-deductible if you itemize deductions.  But the new tax code may reduce the overall benefit of itemizing by increasing the standard deduction.  The net result could be lower incentive to give to charities for a tax benefit, and overall lower donation levels.

So would you give even if you weren’t getting a tax write-off for it?