The Meaning of the Advent Wreath

We’ve all seen it, the wreath in the front of the church.  It’s brought out of the back or the downstairs storage closet every year right around Thanksgiving, dusted off, and put up by the pulpit.  The acolyte comes out and lights one or more candles throughout Advent, and it adds to the lighting and majesty of our preparations for the coming of Christmas.  But what do those four (or five) candles mean?  Why is a new one lit each week?  And what is up with the PINK ONE?!

From an lcms.org/faq document concerning questions about Worship/Congregational Life and the Church Year:

The traditional use of Advent candles (sometimes held in a wreath) originated in eastern Germany even prior to the Reformation. As this tradition came down to us by the beginning of this century, it involved three purple candles and one pink candle. The purple candles matched the purple paraments on the altar (purple for the royalty of the coming King). The pink candle was the third candle to be lit (not the fourth) on Gaudete Sunday, the Third Sunday of Advent. “Gaudete” means “Rejoice!” in Latin, which is taken from Philippians 4:4.  

(“Rejoice! . . . the Lord is near”). Hence a “pink” candle was used to signify “rejoicing.” Some also included a white “Christ candle” in the middle to be lit during the 12 days of Christmas (December 25-January 5).

We light a new candle each week to signify the coming of Christmas, and the excitement of Christ’s birth.  It’s a countdown of sorts, there to remind us that He, Christ Jesus,our Lord and King, came into the world.  He was a baby, born of woman, grew, learned, ate, breathed, walked, talked, worked, taught, suffered, died, rose again, and will return.  Until then, we can still partake in Him in the Holy Supper, receiving from Him the forgiveness of sins bought and paid for on the cross, when He took on the weight of the sins of all mankind.

“For God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.  For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through Him.  Whoever believes in Him is not condemned,” John 3:16-18a.

Come, Lord Jesus!

I’m Pretty Sure the Mayans are Laughing at Us Now…

Grace to you and peace from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

Dear Christian Friends,

There’s certainly been a lot of talk as of late about the End of the World. When I will happen, what it will be like, and who’s going to get it first. The Mayans are getting more discussion as of late than during a seventh grade history lesson. The world is going to end on THIS day (December 21st), or THAT day (the 22nd), or at 11:11 (but which time zone?), or at 5:15 (AM or PM?). Every one is very worried that they’ll have to go to work on Friday morning, but that no one will get Christmas presents three days later. Or, my favorite, that the gravitational pull of the Earth will be reversed, in some cosmic, hilarious, twisting of every tested Law of Physics known to man about the attraction of objects, and all of the stuff not tied down will be blasted into space…I think I’ll just chuckle about that one and move on.

“But concerning that day or that hour, no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.” -Mark 13:32

It seems silly to attempt to predict the end of the world. It is stated very plainly throughout Scripture that we won’t get to know when it’s coming. We can guess all we want, but it’s just a guess. The LORD will not reveal it to us. It makes us anxious because we, as sinful people, want to be in control. We try to know it all. We want to be in charge. We want to be like God. It’s First Commandment stuff here, people.

The words of Christ comfort us as we begin to fret about the end and our lack of control. In Luke 12:25-26 Christ says, “And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? If then you are not able to do as small a thing as that, why are you anxious about the rest?” The end is not for our concern. We do not live by our anxiousness. “The righteous shall live by faith.” -Romans 1:17

We live in the knowledge that Christ died for us. He suffered on the cross, bore our sins, and is our Savior. He gives us life and salvation through His Word, and the faith that comes by His Sacraments, which are the means of grace through the elements and His Word. Because, in the end, it always comes back to Jesus and His Word.

The verse in Mark above is important about the day and hour of the end, but the verse immediately preceding holds all the truth we need about the end of days.

“Heaven and earth will pass away, but My Words will not pass away.”

Come, Lord Jesus. Amen!

Gospel of the Week – December 23

Luke 1:39-45 – Mary Goes to See Elizabeth, and John and Jesus Meet for the First Time

Here we are, in Luke 1. Zechariah has gone mute because he doubted the words of the angel of the Lord, Elizabeth has been hiding out at home because she got pregnant at what Zechariah delicately describes as “advanced in years,” and now Mary has her own angel give her the good news that she is going to, despite her rampant virginity, bear the Son of God, the Christ, the Savior of the World. Needless to say, it’s been busy. All these adults running around, finding out that “Nothing will be impossible with God” in Luke 1:37.

So Mary goes to see Elizabeth, a close relative, with all haste because, frankly, this needs to be discussed. Imagine an angel of the Lord appears to your 70 year-old grandmother and your 13 year-old niece and tells them both that they’re pregnant, one with the greatest prophet to ever walk the Earth, and the other the Son of God Himself. Oh, and both women, one barren and the other a virgin, are having their first child. You can bet these women want to get together and talk this whole situation out.

As Mary approaches the house of Elizabeth, she calls out a greeting. Immediately, John leaps in Elizabeth’s womb. Note here that John doesn’t shift, he doesn’t move slightly, Elizabeth doesn’t get a cramp that might be the baby; John leaps! And Elizabeth, filled with the Holy Spirit, gives it to Mary straight. “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb!” Jesus the Christ, the Son of the Living God, has arrived in Elizabeth’s house!

Let’s note the importance of what is going on here. The Gospel lesson is not about two women getting together over tea to hash out the problems in their lives. They are not meeting up to knit a couple of pairs of socks for the babies-to-come. They only get out a word edge-wise, and the children, who are still unborn, are already part of the act. These unborn infants, which today we have come to call fetuses, are participating in the world, and have stories to tell. John proclaims the Gospel to his mother with his leaping. Elizabeth recognizes that the child growing in Mary is a person, and of the Most High Importance. These are not medical conditions that these women have. They bear blessings for all mankind. One is the preface and prophet to the Greatest Story Ever Told, and the other IS that Story. He, Christ Jesus, is All-Atoning Sacrifice for all humanity, come to bear our sins away on the cross. His mother, Mary, is proclaimed by the Holy Spirit through Elizabeth to be blessed, as she carries in her womb the Son of God. And we are the recipients of the blessing her womb bore.

John 3:16: “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.”

Remember that despise our needs, wants, or desires, life begins when God places it there.  He is the Giver of all life, the Planter of the seed which grows and blooms, and He is the One who shows time and again that we must respect the life He grants.  Amen.

The Mercy of the LORD endures forever!

O give thanks unto the LORD, for He is Good, for His Mercy endures forever! –Psalm 118

Among the evil and sin of the world we seek refuge; the Mercy of the LORD endures forever.

Through the suffering and pain of loss and heartache, we desire peace and strength; the Mercy of the LORD endures forever.

When man’s sinfulness consumes him in body and soul, and he commits heinous acts against others; the Mercy of the LORD endures forever.

We struggle to understand why the evil of this world overtakes us; the Mercy of the LORD endures forever.

We pray for the families, friends, and loved ones of those affected by violence and hatred; the Mercy of the LORD endures forever.

When we come to the altar of the LORD in repentance; the Mercy of the LORD endures forever.

As we receive His forgiveness in the Holy Supper; the Mercy of the LORD endures forever.

We go forth from His Table singing praises and saying, “The Mercy of the LORD endures forever!”

Amen! Come Lord Jesus! Amen!

Viva La Revolution!

Dear Christian Friends,

Many evenings in our household consist of the same routine. Bed-time is announced, which is immediately followed by the first attempted coup d’etat. This is subsequently quashed by the state police (a.k.a. Dad), and then The Resistance is punished with Chinese Water Torture (or, more commonly, a shower). Towel drying then commences (Mom has banned the use of her hair-drier), teeth are brushed (The Second Revolution Rises!), and then the government (a.k.a. Mom) declares a national curfew with the phrase, “Bed-time will be earlier from now on!” Off to the prison cell of a bedroom where the child is locked away under covers and a stuffed bulldog from IKEA. Tales of other failed rebellions are read, (or Charlotte’s Web…whatever is handy), and a hymn is sung by Dad after prayers. Just like any other household, right?

You may have stopped at the hymn. A hymn? Really? But why, one may ask? Is it for the soothing melody? The peaceful music?

I would say that “Water, Blood, and Spirit Crying” or “Onward, Christian Soldiers” are hardly lullabies. But the intent is not to coax the child off to sleep. It’s to teach.

Yes, it’s true. Lessons are learned at all times of day. And what better way to teach the Word of God than through music? Luther said, “Next to theology, I accord to music the highest place and the greatest honor.” He understood the importance of teaching in any way possible. Luther wrote a number of hymns, both to uplift the mind and spirit, and to direct our hearts toward Jesus Christ, the “Valiant One” who fights for us, as “A Mighty Fortress is Our God” proclaims.

And these songs are not just written to sell well, or have a catchy tune that makes the Christian Top 40. They come directly from the Word of God. The liturgical hymn, “Create in Me” is Psalm 51:10-12.

10 Create in me a clean heart, O God,
and renew a right spirit within me.
11 Cast me not away from your presence,
and take not your Holy Spirit from me.
12 Restore to me the joy of your salvation,
and uphold me with a willing spirit.

Sharing the hymns of the church with my children is something that I do because I know that through them I can teach them about Christ Jesus. It’s a blessing to have another way that I can give them the Gospel of our Lord.

And if it helps them to fall asleep, then I guess it’s another indication of how the Lord blesses us in many ways!

Prayers for Those in Need

It’s difficult to accept the fact that there are things the Lord doesn’t tell us. He doesn’t let us in on all the plans. He doesn’t give us all the insight, or the scoop on the whys and hows of the universe.

Our feeble, human minds cannot hold all of the knowledge of God, for He is so much bigger than we could ever be. And yet, we still try. Because our sinfulness will not allow for something to be bigger, greater, more important, more mysterious, more powerful than we want to let it. This is basic First Commandment stuff, people. There’s a reason that God put it first on the list.

“You shall have no other gods before Me.”

But we try so hard to reign God in. We give Him limits when He is limitless. We remove His majesty, divide His divinity, denigrate His name. We put God in the box of our minds and try to keep Him there.

“A good and just god would have turned away the hurricane.”
“A righteous and fair god wouldn’t have let that child be molested.”
“God can’t be in the bread and wine at communion, or in the waters of baptism. That just doesn’t make sense.”

“For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” – Isaiah 55:9 (ESV)

God is a mystery to humans. He is higher, stronger, bigger, and more kind and compassionate than any person. He is more confusing, strange, and difficult to comprehend than anything we can possibly image, because He is beyond our imagination. How can we ever hope to prove ourselves to a being that is unprovable to the human mind? And that is why it is our faith that is so important, given to us not by our own thoughts or our works, but through the Spirit. It is that faith, which comes from His Word, that saves us. It is our faith in His Word that brings us comfort before His magnitude. Faith brought through His Word in the Sacraments. Faith that allows us to say, “His Body IS the bread, and His Blood IS the wine, and we receive forgiveness in our communion with that Body and Blood.”

Oh Lord, Jesus Christ,

So many things happen in this world which we do not understand, cannot comprehend, and will never be able to explain. In these times of struggle for those who are suffering, we ask for Your comfort and protection. Bring peace to those who are in the tempest of sin and earthly strife. Bring Your healing hand where it is Your Will, and let Your Word be preached to all the nations. Lord, we thank you for that which we do have, for that which You have given and will give to us. Allow us the strength to provide for those who need our help, and send Your Spirit to grant faith and hope to all.

Come, Lord Jesus!

Amen!

Temptation Sucks!

Grace and Peace to you from Our Father and Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

Dear Christian Friends,

Temptation sucks. It really does. The Evil One is a powerful being, able to entice you with things that look just so good. He’s “like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour,” says 1 Peter 5:8. He’s silver-tongued, the serpent, who “was more crafty than any other beast of the field” (Genesis 3:1). He tells you that you can be great, even God-like, and wants you to step up to your sinful nature and just do whatever you want, because no God should be able to tell you what to do.

Jesus knows our struggles with temptation. He’s experienced it first-hand, face-to-face with the Evil Foe himself. The devil wrestled with Jesus for 40 days and 40 nights, and the Christ, the Son of the Living God beat him back again and again. And He did it with the Word.

“Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God” – Matthew 4:4, taken from Deuteronomy 8:3.

“You shall not put the Lord your God to the test” – Matthew 4:7, taken from Deuteronomy 6:16.

“You shall worship the Lord your God and Him only shall you serve” – Matthew 4:10, taken from Deuteronomy 6:13.

Christ uses the very Words of God, of His own, to beat back Satan. He shows us the path of strength through the power of the Word.

In the story of the temptation from Mark 9, we see yet another source of strength for Jesus during His temptation. Mark 1 begins with the Baptism of Jesus, and then He “immediately” proceeds to His temptation in the wilderness. He is prepared for His trials through His Baptism.

And the trials of Jesus do not end there. Before the garden of Gethsemane, when He must begin to endure the worst pain in history, we see our Lord institute His Supper, partaking the bread and wine, and then in the garden, praying to the Father for all strength.

What does this mean for us? Jesus shows us the way to deal with pain, temptation, and trials. It is through that which He Himself commands, Baptism and the Lord’s Supper, and that which He teaches, prayer and the Word. These are the things we use to pass the struggles of our lives, our humans lives, which Christ Himself has experienced. Jesus beat back the devil with the Word because He was, as a true human being, tempted by the Evil One. He was baptized and partook of the Supper to show us where to find strength before trials and tribulations. He prayed on that Friday morning because it gave Him comfort and peace before the Father willed Him to suffer and die on the cross. And He silenced the roaring lion forever by rising to life on that blessed Easter morning.

“And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to His eternal glory in Christ, will Himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you.” – 1 Peter 5:10

Amen.