Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Bach's Christmas Oratorio - "Schlafe, mein Liebster"

(notice the Cranach painting in the background)

The Fatherhood of God by Father Stuckwisch

painting:The Trinity by Jusepe de Ribera 1591-1652

(I am thankful that Rev. Dr. Richard Stuckwisch granted me permission to post his presentation on the Fatherhood of God - given at the Concordia Catechetical Academy's Annual Symposia 2010).

The Fatherhood of God is not simply an attribute of God, nor only a metaphor, nor even first of all an action or attitude of God, but His Fatherhood belongs to the essential identity of who and what God is; so also the Sonship of God. For the one true God is the Father from all eternity, as one and the same true God is the Son from all eternity. The relation of the Father and the Son within the Godhead, in the love of the Holy Spirit, comprises both the distinction and the unity and harmony of the three Persons of the Holy Trinity.

The Father is the Father of the Son, and the Son is the Son of the Father, and the Holy Spirit is the Spirit of the Father and the Son, and this intra-Trinitarian relationship is the essential and eternal being of God. It is the “necessity” of His divine being, of who and what He is, and so also the fountain and source of His perfect freedom. God does not become a father because He creates and gives life, but He creates and gives life because He is the Father.

He is the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the incarnate Son, and it is from and with and in that Fatherhood of God that He freely and graciously chooses to become our Father in Christ. For no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal Him. No one comes to the Father but by Him.

He who is true God, begotten of the Father from eternity, has also become true Man, our brother in the flesh, conceived and born of the Blessed Virgin Mary, that we might be “conceived” and “born again” by His Word and thereby receive the adoption of sons by His grace. What Christ is by nature, from all eternity, we become by such gracious adoption, unto the life everlasting.

We receive the adoption of sons, so that God becomes our Father, and so that Christ the beloved Son become the firstborn of many brethren. Our adoption is therefore rooted in Christ, both in His eternal Sonship and in His Incarnation by the Blessed Virgin Mary. His Sonship becomes ours by His grace through the Gospel, through the catechesis of His Word, by the preaching of repentance for the forgiveness of our sins in His Name, and by our Baptism into His Cross and Resurrection. Such is our new birth of water, Word and Spirit.

So do we pray, as Christ has taught us and invited us to pray, “Our Father who art in heaven,” and so do we cry out to Him in faith, “Abba! Father!”

These gracious good gifts of God are the fulfillment of His creation of man in His own Image and Likeness, even as we are recreated and made brand new, conformed to the Image of His Son by the way of the Lord’s Incarnation, Cross and Resurrection for us.

Earthly fatherhood is likewise rooted in that divine work of creation by our Father in heaven, as being a husband is rooted in the divine work of redemption by our heavenly Bridegroom, Christ Jesus. The fact that man is made in the Image of God, both male and female, the woman for the man, and the wife given to her husband to be united to him as one flesh, reflects the loving unity of the three Persons within the one Godhead. It is the Father’s love for the Son, and the Son’s love for the Father, which moves God in His perfect freedom to create man and call Him to Himself, to be His holy Bride, the Church.

As husbands and wives are fruitful and multiply by the gracious Word and work of God, so do Christ and His Church give birth to the children of God by His Word and Holy Spirit. It is for these reasons that a man leaves his father and mother to be joined to his wife and cleave to her in love, and for these reasons that fathers give their daughters in marriage. Accordingly, the first and foremost thing that fathers are given to do for their children, is to love and serve and care for their wives.

So marriage and family are rooted in the gracious freedom and love of husbands and fathers, who receive their calling from the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. This grace of God, in turn, is the inheritance that husbands share with their wives and fathers bestow upon their children.

Thus does Christ, the eternal Son, become the “everlasting Father,” not in His divine personhood in relation to God the Father, but in His redemption and reconciliation of the Church to God. As the Image of the Father, He is also like His Father in begetting children by His Bride, the Church. He cares for them and provides for them, serves them and protects them, teaches them and feeds them, gives them His name and bestows all His gifts and benefits upon them. For He is the new and greater Adam, the Head of a new humanity, and He is the One in whom all the promises of God to Father Abraham are realized, as a blessing to all nations, to all who are the children of Abraham by faith.

In Christ, therefore, is found the freedom and responsibility of fatherhood — in contrast to the different character and quality of motherhood. Mothers become such by receiving what is given to them, but fathers are such by the choice of love; not the "choice" of conception of new life, which remains the prerogative and work of God, but the willing choice and commitment to love and care for those children who are thus conceived. In that respect, every father chooses to “adopt” his children, whether they are his biologically or not, as St. Joseph chose to adopt the Son of Mary, who is the very Son of God.

In fact, there are many different kinds and types of earthly “fatherhood,” both large and small, which are granted in various ways by the vocation of God through His Word, and which are governed by His Word.

“Call no man father,” Jesus says, “for One is your Father, even God.” But He does not thereby prohibit a man from being called a father, for it is by God the Father that every fatherhood on earth is called and named.

Thus do Christian men adopt and care for widows and orphans in their distress, and in this way they exemplify, express and extend the Fatherhood of God on earth as it is in heaven, especially in and through and with His Church. Men receive this calling from God, and they take it up in faith and love, by His Word and Holy Spirit in Christ Jesus.

What it means, therefore, to be a man, is to be a husband and a father after God’s own heart — whether in relation to one’s own earthly wife and biological children, or by way of adoption, or by caring for widows and orphans in their distress, or by caring for the Lord’s Church, the Bride of Christ and the Mother of God’s children, by the spiritual fatherhood of the pastoral office. What it means to be a man is found in Christ Jesus, the Son of God, who is the perfect Image of the Father. What it means to be a man is defined and determined by His Word.

Fathers, name your children, then, as God the Father names you in Christ with His own name. Love your wives, and love the Bride of Christ, and love the children entrusted to your care with the love that Christ has for you and for His Church. In such love, give and nurture life, guard and protect it. Feed and teach your children. Prepare them for marriage, or help them to discern the divine gift and calling of celibacy in service to the household and family of God. Teach your sons how to become men after God’s own heart, to become husbands and fathers like Christ. And likewise teach your daughters, by word and example, what a good and faithful man is like, and show them how a man is to care for a woman with gentle integrity and the strength of mercy and peace.

Catechize your children; pray and confess the Word of Christ with them. Lead them and guide them, again, by your words and by your own godly example. Discipline them in love, that they might learn the life of love. Do so with mercy, compassion, forgiveness and self-sacrifice, that they might learn to live by faith in the Gospel. Demonstrate the humility of repentance and the confidence of faith.

In all of this, the grace and strength of human fatherhood is the Fatherhood of God in Christ Jesus. He calls you and names you, sustains you and upholds you, by His own Fatherhood, which is steadfast and eternal in the relationship of the Father and the Son in the Holy Spirit.

Rev. Dr. Richard Stuckwisch

Thursday, December 16, 2010

"Celebrating the Lord's Supper is officiating at a wedding.  And when God takes His Bride to bed to bring forth children to Himself, He does not want the whole world staring into the bedroom"

Rev. Dr. Kenneth Korby
"The use of John 6 in Lutheran Sacramental Piety"

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Baby girl is healthy and growing

If children recognize their mother's voice in the womb, how clearly they must hear the voice of their Lord and the church's preaching, hymns, and prayers.  

Are You the Coming One, or do we look for another?

(painting: Saint John the Baptist in Prison (1565-70), Juan Fernandez de Navarrette, Oil on canvas, The Hermitage, Saint Petersburg)

“Are You the Coming One, or do we look for another?”
Matthew 11:2-11
Third Sunday in Advent

John, being locked in Herod’s rotting dungeon, sent word to Jesus asking if He was the one to come and redeem Israel – “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?”

As John was chained up and locked down in Herod’s cold jail – he needed the help and comfort of the Christ.  He needed a sweet release – a rescue mission – from on high.  He needed an advent – a coming of Jesus to set him free.  Not to protect his neck from Herod’s cold sword but to preserve and keep his whole body and soul – to redeem Israel and forgive sin. 

Jesus said that among those born of women there has arisen no one greater than John the Baptist.  Yet here, the greatest of all men born of a woman, is locked up, likely tired and beaten.  Here the greatest of all men sends a message to Jesus, asking “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?” 

Even the greatest of all men, the fiery preacher from the river Jordan needed his doubts to be expelled.  Things were far from clear at the bottom of Herod’s damp dungeon.  Death loomed over him, and what frantic fears must have taken hold of him.  Surely he was not a reed shaken by the wind – to be sure – but he was a man, - a flesh and blood man – like us.  Like us, John had to do battle against the sinful flesh that clung to him.

He was likely afraid of death, fearful over sin, and looking for comfort.  Do not be offended by John’s question, “Are you the one, or shall we look for another.”  It is a faithful question.  John needed to know if Jesus was the one who would free the church from all her sins.  The patriarchs of the church are invited by their Lord to inquire of Him.    

Like a child asking his mother if she loves him, John asks, "Are you the Coming One or do we look for another?" He knows the answer but wants reassurance, wants comfort. 

This is the language of faith and it is a sort of love language.  Faith seeks reassurance and comfort.  Faith seeks an answer where doubts spring up. And this is good.  Faith goes to where God promises to be.  Are you the one to come? 

John is like a bride asking her husband if he truly loves her.  The answer of course is “yes.”  No matter how many times it is asked – it remains true. But with John we ask because we love to hear the answer.  It is why we gather here, week in and week out.  Lord are you the one?  Where else shall we go? You have the word of eternal life?  Do you love me?  Do you care for me?  Do you forgive me? 

And this is the great surprise of being a Christian that is always new to us.  To be taken back.  Continually.  Yes, I love you He says.  I forgive you all your sins, He says.  Do not be afraid.  I am with you – He says.              
You probably will not meet martyrdom in the fashion of John.  But you will face crushing disappointments and trials along your way.  And your time of waiting, of suffering, and persisting is worth it.  Your trials are not insignificant – for your bear the marks of Jesus on your forehead – in your heart.  In your wrinkles – in your bones.     

You will not receive the cold blade of Herod’s sword but you will feel the cutting betrayal of a friend or the stabbing insult of a neighbor.  Many will feel the crushing blow of loneliness in these cold dark weeks.     

Like John’s musty, cold, and dark jail cell it is very messy down here – even amidst the joy the coming holy day.  Our lives often feel like a dark prison – where no light shines. 

There will be voids and patches of darkness this Christmas time.  As you gather around the turkey, pie, and tom and jerry’s – there will be family missing this year from divorce – a son will be missing – another family member will be crippled by depression - parents will show new signs of Alzheimer’s.     

Like John the Baptist – your pain and agony is temporary – and it all will soon pass.  John’s question becomes our own.  “Jesus are you the one who will come down and save us or shall we look for another?”  The question is a good one.  And Jesus is your “Yes.”  He is your amen.  He is your “Yes, I believe – help my unbelief!”  Jesus is your man.  He is your God who comes down to you.  And you need not look any further.  For there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved.

John the Baptist was called the greatest among all born of woman, because he pointed to Jesus, and said “Behold the Lamb of God.”  He was great because he waited for Jesus and believed in Him.  And Jesus loved John, before He leaped in the womb. 

You are called great in heaven because Jesus has made you His own.  You wait for Jesus – like a child waits for his father to lift him up and into his lap.       
Come Lord Jesus.

Unlike, Santa Clause, Jesus does not just come once a year to give you things to cover up the pain.  He comes today.  Drink this cup – it is me who is with you – He says.
There is a real mess down here.  But He is down here among us.  In the muck and sin of our lives He is with us.  In your own prison – like John – He is with you.  In your ears, in your heart.  In your bones, and on your lips.  Jesus has scrubbed you down – washed you clean from all sin – and has made living saints out of you.  Waiting – persisting – and standing strong for his coming.       

This is why Isaiah preaches to us, “Strengthen the weak hands, and make firm the feeble knees.  Say to those who have an anxious heart, Be strong; fear not!” 

The Lord is compassionate and merciful to you.  He has gone before you to prepare the way – the way of the bitter cross – a cross that has become so sweet for you.  And when the time is right He will exalt you – and lift you up.  And you will behold His face – and He will shine like the Sun and so shall you.

There is no depression at His coming.  There is no darkness and anxiety.  We have a heavenly Father, whose heart we clearly see in Jesus – in his lowly birth, suffering, and cruxifixion.  There is only Joy – for the kingdom of heaven has come near – that is to say – Jesus is coming to you.      

The advent candles are being lit.  And no light is comparable to the light of Christ – who will scatter all the darkness – He will bring you into his marvelous light.  The dark gloom in which we fumble around – will dissipate – and this veil of tears will be lifted.  That which you have lost will be doubled in heaven – and your sufferings will be jewels in your crown. 

Jesus shall be born in Bethlehem to young Mother Mary.  And soon we will have to endure and wait no longer.  The singing of angels can gently be heard in the distance.  He who has ears let him hear. 

Blessed are you who hear the words of Jesus.  And blessed are you who suffer and rejoice and wait for Him.  Pretty soon now, you’re waiting will all be over. 

In that day you will ask nothing of him.

Come Lord Jesus. Amen.    

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

I don't see the harm in it

God's Merciful Warning

"Be on guard so that your hearts are not weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of this life, and that day catch you unexpectedly" (Luke 31:34)

From the blessed Dr. Luther...

"God in his great mercy does not will that the day of judgment should suddenly overtake us, and so, out of grace, he honors us with a merciful warning.  God causes his Word to be preached to us, call us to repentance, and offers us in Christ forgiveness of all ours sins.  God gives a sure promise that pain and guilt shall be abolished if we believe in his Son.  He commands us to continue in our calling and to do our work well.  If we obey him in doing so, he in no way grudges us food and drink or that we are happy and of good cheer.  For eat and drink we must if we are to live on this earth.  But we must not be forgetful of God and the life to come.  Is not this a good and holy God, in that he looks on us with so fatherly a love?  He ever speaks to us like a father to his children, and he says, 'Dear children, repent; believe in my Son whom I have sent to you.  Be holy and obedient, and faithful servants in your work; then eat and drink and use the earthly good with which I have blessed you.  But take care that you use the world and its passing goods like a man who is awaiting the last trumpet; so that when it peals and when the last thunders resound you are prepared and ready, walking in holy ways and with a godly spirit.  If you live like that, you are in no danger" (sermon of Martin Luther from the year 1545)

Purchase this little book of meditation HERE.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Advent Devotion

"The Lord is my light and my salvation, whom shall I fear" Psalm 27:1

“The LORD is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear?”  It is easy to pass over these words as if they were nothing special.  But here God gives us a prayer and a song that gives our heart true courage and strength. 

In these gray and latter days there is plenty to fear.  Our families have been ravaged by conflict and despair.  Our friendships and marriages are always in need of repair.  There is little hope in the nighttime news as wars rage on – even against children in the womb.          

In many ways we live in utter darkness.  The Christian church is still oppressed with sorrow and misgiving.  All our undertakings are filled with trouble and heart breaks.  We pray to God, “Hear, O LORD, when I cry aloud; be gracious to me and answer me!” 

Dear Christian, take heart and stand strong.  Jesus is coming.  He is the light shining in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it.  He does answer your prayers.  In Him there is nothing to fear.  Wait for the Lord. For soon, the busy world will be hushed and your work will be done.      

So also you have sorrow now, but your Lord is coming to meet you.  He loves you and when you see Him your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you.  In that day you will ask nothing of Him.

The Ship of Baptism never breaks

(painting by Annibale Carracci "Baptism of Jesus" 1584)

Our Baptism abides forever.  Even though someone should fall from Baptism and sin, still we always have access to it.  So we may subdue the old man again.  But we do not need to be sprinkled with water again...Even if we were put under the water a hundred times, it would still be only one Baptism, even though the work and sign continue and remain.  Repentance, therefore, is nothing other than a return and approach to Baptism.  We repeat and do what we began before, but abandoned.

I say this lest we fall into the opinion in which we were stuck for a long time.  We were imagining that our Baptism is something past, we we can no longer use after we have fallen into sin.  The reason for this is that Baptism is regarded as only based on the outward act once performed and completed.  This arose from the fact that St. Jerome wrote that "repentance is the second plank by which we must swim forth and cross over the water after the ship is broken, on which we step and are carried across when we come into the Christian Church."  By this teaching Baptism's use has been abolished so that it can no longer profit us.  Therefore, Jerome's statement is not correct, or at any rate is not rightly understood.  For the ship of Baptism never breaks, because...It is God's ordinance and not our work (1 Peter 3:20-22).  But it does happen, indeed, that we slip and fall out of the ship.  Yet if anyone falls out, let him see to it that he swims up and clings to the ship until he comes into it again and lives in it, as he had done before.

In this way one sees what a great, excellent thing Baptism is.  It deliver us from the devil's jaws and makes us God's own.  It suppresses and takes away sin and then daily strengthens the new man.  It is working and always continues working until we pass from this estate of misery to eternal glory.

Large Catechism IV 77-83