Archive for the tag “Christmas”

When God Winked

michelangelo-71282_1280Already in the opening chapter of the Bible, God is dropping hints about a Christmas to come. After he’s fashioned the sun, moon, and stars; after he’s poured out the oceans and rivers; after he’s given flight to the birds, leaves to the trees, and fields to the cattle—after every detail of creation is perfected, he makes his crowning achievement: man and woman.

But he doesn’t make us in the image of the angels, or according to the likeness of cows, cats, or crawfish. The Father says to the Son, and the Son echoes to the Spirit, “Let us make man in our image, according to our likeness…So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them,” (Gen 1:26f).

And in so doing, God not only reveals that we are like he is; he also is winking that he will become as we are. As Luther writes, “Because [Adam] was created in the image of the invisible God, [we have here a hint] that God was to reveal himself to the world in the man Christ,” (AE 1:87).

On the birthday of Adam and Eve, the angels filled their lungs with the breath they’d exhale centuries later as they sang the Gloria in Excelsis in the fields outside Bethlehem.

In the beginning was the Word. The Word was with God. And that Word with God became God with us, our Emmanuel. The Creator becomes a creature while yet remaining Creator. “Upon a manger filled with hay, In poverty content he lay. With milk was fed the Lord of all, Who feeds the ravens when they call,” (TLH 104:5).

The Word becomes flesh, our flesh and blood, our bones and sinews, our heart and soul. He becomes like us in all things, except sin, that he might redeem all of who we are.
In his body is life for our bodies.
In his heart is life for our hearts.
In his blood is life for our blood.
The Image maker becomes the image made that he might recreate us in his own image, according to his likeness. The Son of God becomes a son of man to make us all the children of our heavenly Father.

*This reflection is part of a series of mediations on hymns that I presented at the “Day of Singing Boldly” at St. John Lutheran Church, Seward, Nebraska. It draws from the language of John 1, especially verse 14,”The Word became flesh and dwelt among us. And we beheld his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.”

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christ alone cover

What we need in our fragmented world, full of hurting people, is the love of Jesus Christ, who InfantPriestfrontcoverwelcomes home sinners with a grace that knows no bounds. My book Christ Alone: Meditations and Sermons, is packed with reflections that go that extra mile of grace. Again and again, they present the Christ who is crucified and risen for you. Please take a moment to check it out here. You may also be interested in my collections of hymns and poetry entitled, The Infant Priest, which you can purchase here. Both books are also available on Amazon, as is my booklet Why Lutherans Sing What They Sing (also on Kindle). Thank you for your prayers and support!

Enemies With Benefits

It is good for you to have family. It is good for you to have friends. It is good for you to have those with whom you can share a beer, share a laugh, share a life. Blessed is the man on whom God has bestowed these gifts. For it is not good for the man to be alone, but it is good for him to be surrounded by those whom he loves and who love him. For love is not only the fulfillment of the law; it is who God is.

But if it is good for the Christian to have family and friends, it is even better for him to have enemies. Indeed, our Lord pronounced no beatitude upon the man who is loved by his wife and cherished by his children, but He does say, “Blessed are you when men cast insults at you, and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely, on account of Me,” (Mt 5:11). Blessed are you, O Elijah, for you had your Jezebel; blessed are you, O David, for you had your Saul; Moses, for you had your Pharaoh; and you, for you have your own Jezebels, Sauls, and Pharaohs. Or soon you shall.

It is good for you to have enemies for they provide the perfect opportunity for you to be imitators of God, as beloved children: to give food and drink to those who wish you to starve; to clothe those who would strip you of possessions or reputation; to defend those who attack you; in short, to love your enemies, pray for those who persecute you, never to take revenge, but to overcome evil with good. For why make such a fuss about loving those who love you back; don’t even tax-collectors do the same? But if you love those who hate you and do good to those who wish you only evil, then, O Christian, you are perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect. Yes, how good it is for you to have enemies, for without them, when would you ever have the opportunity to fulfill, joyfully and willingly, the law of Christian love?

But there is also another good reason for you to have enemies: their presence in your life is a constant reminder of how deeply and madly you are in love with yourself. If you ever fool yourself into thinking you’ve made great progress in virtue and are slowly but surely making headway in cleansing that dirty heart of yours, take note of your thoughts and feelings toward a person who has wronged you, cursed you, treated you like crap. Those thoughts and feelings toward the enemy are your sanctification barometer. Sorry, O would-be saint, but you’ve got a long row to hoe and the weeds of self-love just keep a’coming. It is good to have enemies, for what are they but living reminders of the death that lurks within you.

Repent, for it is not good for the man to be alone, all alone with his sin. And you are never more alone than when you are alone with your transgression. Nor do you ever have more companions than when you repent, for if the angels of God rejoice over one sinner who repents, then surely they rejoice all around you.

And there is much ado about everything when you confess, for if it is good for God to have saints in heaven, it is even better for God to have penitent sinners on earth. For it is in His dealings with us, who are by nature His enemies, that God shows us what His love really is. It is the kind of love that feeds you when you’re hungry, gives you who are thirsty a drink, clothes you when you’re naked, and – in paternal compassion for His children – keeps right on wiping your dirty, stinking butts while you kick and scream and fuss. Not in His celestial conversations with angels, not surrounded by His saints upon the throne above, but while living in the enemy camp of earth God showed us who He really is.

He is the Babe-like-Moses who was nearly drowned in His own blood; the Prophet hounded by queens of deceit and heresy; the Son of David whom Saul, Saul, persecuted with blinded rage. He is the Friend of sinners but the Enemy of so-called saints who will fight tooth and claw to bring Him down. But all of it He shoulders, joyfully and willingly, that He might have you as His own. He who would overcome evil with good is overcome by evil men. God in the hands of angry sinners, spider-like men who wrap him in their web of lies, tie Him to the cross, and drain His blood.

But drained it is from the corpse on the cross that it might fill the cup in His resurrected hand. Part your lips, O sinner, for your Friend, the Friend of sinners, wishes to slake your thirst, to overcome the evil within you with the good that He is, that He gives, that is all for you. So be imitators of God, drink the cup your Father gives you, for as that blood washes down your throats, heaven sings, devils weep, and once more creation eyes the epiphany that declares one simple truth: God is love.

**This meditation is in included in my book, Christ Alone: Mediations and Sermons, available at amazon.com

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Christmas Isn’t God Slumming with Humanity

swaddledJesusThe heavens do not turn three shades of red when God is born a babe. They sing. Glory to God in the highest, whose birth room smells of manure and hay. There lies the swaddled creator, all wrapped up in the things of creation—infant holy yet infant lowly, a diapered divinity.

But you’re wrong if you suppose this is beneath God, as if He’s slumming with humanity. The incarnation is not so much God-made-small as it is man-made-big. The God who made man in His own image outdoes Himself: He makes Himself into His own image and thereby exalts us. Jesus becomes what you are—a woman’s child—that He might make you what He is—a son of the Father. That’s what this is all about. One small step for God, one giant leap for mankind. He becomes no less, but we become infinitely more in Him. Within the womb of Mary, something new happens under the sun. A woman is pregnant with God, by God, for us. Conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the virgin Mary, Jesus issues forth as the first man of a new race. This race calls God Father, and means it. For in the fullness of time, He sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.

That is what you need: redemption, adoption. You don’t need a god who strokes your ego with applause from on high when you “do good.” You don’t need a deadbeat deity who’s so busy caring for his universe that he shows no concern when his children go astray. You need the God for whom nothing matters more than to save you, to adopt you as His own flesh and blood. You need the God who cares enough to tell you the truth, to say, “Apart from me, you are depraved, dead, and damned. But I love you. I want you. I desire you to be my child more than anything else. So I have done all and everything necessary for you to be mine.”

This is the God—the God-made-man—you need. He is the Lord you have. He gives purity to the depraved, life to the dead, salvation to you under hell’s thumb. He did not come to save the trees or the spotted owl. He was not born to rid the world of hunger or stop the ravages of war. He came to be for every man what no man has been or could be for himself. Born under the law, Jesus fulfilled the law He Himself had given. He was the perfect infant, perfect teenager, perfect adult. He bore your flesh and blood along through every stage of life, bearing it to the cross, bearing it out of the grave. And all of it is credited to you. You—perfect infant; you—perfect teenager; you—perfect adult, all in Jesus. For God so loved the world, He strapped the world to the back of His Son, so that where He went and what He did, you went and you did also.

So shout greatly, O daughters of Zion, for a virgin daughter of Israel has entered motherhood. Humble and mounted on a manger, Jesus rides into our world, and heaven follows after Him. Hosanna to the Son of David, born in David’s town. Blessed is He who comes from the bosom of His Father to the bosom of His mother. He comes for all.

Are you bruised and battered by the cares of this world? He comes for you, this great physician of soul and body.
Are you betrayed and abused, divorced and lonely? His advent is for you, this faithful bridegroom of the Church.
Are you rich and happy, well-fed and comfortable? Yes, He comes for you, too, to show you that true riches and true happiness are found only in Him.

The nails and a spear shall pierce Him; the cross he will bear. That is why He came down from heaven, to let the earth have its way with Him that He might have His way with you. And His way is life. So be not afraid, for I bring you good tidings of great joy. For unto you is born a Savior, God in the flesh, who fills you with life divine.

This reflection is included in my collection of meditations entitled Christ Alone. If you’d like to read more, please check out the two books that I now have on sale. From now to the end of 2014, Christ Alone: Meditations and Sermons and The Infant Priest: Hymns and Poems, are on sale for an additional 25% off through CreateSpace. Click here if you’d like to purchase Christ Alone or here for The Infant Priest. When you check out, enter this code, YLECQSWE, for the discount. Thank you!

What to Expect When Mary’s Expecting

maryelizabethAn uncreated God
Of blood and skin and bone.
A Lord within a womb
Who sits on heaven’s throne.
The Father’s only Son
Who’ll nurse at Mary’s breast.
The ever-watchful King
Asleep on Joseph’s chest.
Creator of the stars,
With diapers on his bum.
The right hand of the Lord
Who’ll suck his tiny thumb.

 

This poem is included in my collection entitled, The Infant Priest: Hymns and Poems. If you’d like to purchase a copy, it’s now on sale to the end of 2014. Click here to purchase your copy. When you check out, enter this code, YLECQSWE, for a 25% discount. Thank you!

Why Christmas is My Favorite Jewish Holiday

When I taught in Siberia several years ago, I returned home with a box full of Russian dolls to give as Christmas presents. These famous nesting dolls come in various sizes and colors; they depict everyone from politicians to biblical figures. My favorite was the Virgin Mary. Inside her was another smaller Mary, and inside her another, and still many more. I liked the combination of elaborate colors on this particular doll, but even more I liked the symbolism inherent in the nesting design. The doll, you see, was like the biblical story in which this mother plays a prominent role, for nesting inside the story of the nativity of our Lord is another story, and yet another, and still many more. And what we Christians tend to forget is that each of these stories contained with the Christmas story are as Jewish as they come.

jewishchristmasJesus Himself says that “salvation is from the Jews,” (John 4:22). They are the ones to whom God gave “the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises. To them belong the patriarchs, and from their race, according to the flesh, is the Christ who is God over all, blessed forever,” (Rom 9:4-5). Christ was born a Jew, of a Jewish family, in a Jewish town, as the climactic story in the long line of Jewish stories that we call the Old Testament. Thus, to fully understand what the Nativity is all about, to fully confess the truth of who Jesus is, we need to grasp how Jewish the Christian Christmas really is.

The Holy Jewish Family. “From their race, according to the flesh, is the Christ,” Paul says. The divine plan did not call for the Messiah to be born as a blond-haired, blue-eyed American. Or African. Or Australian. His family tree was a Jewish tree, planted in the soil of Israel, rooted in the promises God made to Abraham. And the branch on that Jewish tree mattered as well, for He was born the King of kings, of the “house and lineage of [King] David,” (Luke 2:4). For this reason, both Matthew and Luke include those seemingly dull and tedious genealogies in their Gospels. These genealogies, however, are theological gold, for they testify that Jesus is God’s YES to all the promises. All history comes to fulfillment in Him—Mary’s son, David’s son, Abraham’s son, God’s Son. This Jewish baby, born of a Jewish family, is Himself all people’s adoption into God’s holy family.

O Little Jewish Town of Bethlehem. Rather than entering this world in a renowned, opulent metropolis like Rome or Alexandria, Jesus was born in a one-horse town, a backwater Jewish village. He chose a birthplace amongst the no-names and the powerless, for He Himself came poor and lowly. Indeed, He came “to bring down the mighty from their thrones and to exalt those of humble estate,” (Luke 1:52). Centuries before, through the prophet Micah, God had pinpointed Bethlehem for the Messiah’s nativity (5:2), for this was King David’s hometown (1 Sam 16), and thus the fitting place for He who was born King of the Jews. Moreover, Bethlehem means “house of bread,” for Jesus is the Bread of Life, and the Bread of the Presence in the house of His Father. He came to feed us His flesh as the true Manna by which we consume  eternal life (John 6:32, 51, 53-58). In this Jewish village, the Jewish Jesus was born to be King of Kings and Bread of Breads, by which we all are ruled and fed.

Angels Appear to Jewish Shepherds. Of all the people to whom the angels could have announced the birth of the Savior, why shepherds? As far back as the time of Joseph, the sons of Abraham were shepherds (Gen 46:31-34). The Lord appeared to Moses in the burning bush while he was caring for flocks (Exod 3:1), then sent him to shepherd Israel out of Egypt (Isa 63:11). David guarded his father’s flocks in these same pastures before being called to shepherd the tribes of Jacob (Ps 78:71). And, as the Jews had long sung in one of their psalms, “the Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want,” (Ps 23:1). How fitting, therefore, that when God Himself came down to be our good Shepherd, to rule over Israel, and to shepherd us out of slavery to sin and death, He made His birth known to Jewish shepherds, and through them, to others (Luke 3:17-18).

The Jewish Exodus of Jesus. Again and again in the history of the Jewish people, there are exodus stories. In these narratives, God’s people live outside the holy land for a time, but eventually the Lord mercifully brings them home. It happened to Abraham in Egypt (Gen 12:10-20); Jacob in Haran (Gen 28); and the nation of Israel first in Egypt and later in Babylon. All of these exoduses, however, were but prototypes for the exodus that Jesus accomplished, beginning already in His infancy. For soon after His birth, when Herod sought to kill the Christ child, Jesus was forced into exile in Egypt, where He remained until His Father mercifully brought Him home (Matt 2:13-15). Just like the Jewish people, this Jewish Savior followed in the footsteps of Abraham, Joseph, Jacob, and the twelve tribes of Israel. However, He was not simply reenacting the exoduses of old; He was ushering in the final, climactic exodus. He brought this to fulfillment in Jerusalem (Luke 9:31), when He endured total exile upon the cross in order that He might bring us all out of darkness and into the promised land of light and life in His resurrection.

Indeed, “salvation is from the Jews,” for Jesus the Jew is our salvation. In His body both Jews and Gentiles are washed into unity by the Spirit’s baptismal work (1 Cor 12:13). The family tree of Jesus is Jewish, but we Gentiles are grafted into that tree by the gracious work of God (Rom 11:17-18). For God so loved the world that He sent His only begotten Son into the womb of a Jewish virgin, to be born in a Jewish town, and to be crucified with a sign over His head that reads, “Jesus the Nazarene, the King of the Jews,” in order that salvation might go forth to all people from Him.

All this saving work begins at Christmas, my favorite Jewish holiday, for on that day the angels announce the “good news of a great joy that will be for ALL the people,” (Luke 2:10).

If this reflection was a blessing to you, please take a moment to check out my book, Christ Alone: Meditations and Sermons. This is not a collection of feel-good, saccharine devotional material. It’s hard-hitting, Gospel-giving, Christ-focused writing that takes you to the cross of Jesus again and again as the only source of healing for us. Purchase your copy by clicking on CreateSpace or Amazon.

You may also be interested in my two other books. The Infant Priest is a collection of hymns and poems. These give voice to the triumphs and tragedies of life in a broken world. It is available at this website or on Amazon.com.  I also just published Why Lutherans Sing What They Sing. This booklet is a clear and concise explanation of the place of hymns in worship. To buy your print copy, click on the link here for CreateSpace or Amazon. It is also available as a Kindle edition here. If you wish to purchase bulk copies at a reduced rate for your congregation, Bible Class group, Board of Elders or Deacons, please send me an email at birdchadlouis@yahoo.com for more information. Thank you very much for your interest!

Washing Down Antidepressants with Eggnog

sad_santa_57639661Kent and I slept through the same sermons every Sunday at the First Baptist Church in Shamrock, Texas. Our butts bruised their way down many a ski slope together. We hunted turkeys by day and raccoons by night. And we bragged about how many girls we’d kissed (though I’m pretty sure we both grossly inflated the numbers). His older brother dated my older sister, and, especially in middle school, we both greatly delighted in being as obnoxious as possible when we were around them. Kent was a little guy but a force to reckoned with on the football field or basketball court. He was smart, likable, an overall good kid and great friend.

I was unloading a truck at the feed store in town when my mom pulled up one day in late December to tell me that, on his birthday, Kent had put a gun to his head and pulled shut the door to life. Were I to outlive Methuselah, it would still seem like yesterday. It’s one of those moments welded into my memory. Shock and fear and anger and guilt and emotions I didn’t even know were in me—they all came cascading out. A few days later, I, but a teenager, helped bear his teenage casket out of the church, into a world that blinked at us with a potpourri of festive lights that seemed a blasphemy of joy in the vortex of our grief.

Almost a decade later, the parsonage phone rang way too early one Saturday morning. I knew the instant Dale began to speak that whatever he said next would be wounded words. A police officer had knocked on the door of the family’s country home earlier that morning. Dale and Roxie’s twenty year old son had fallen asleep at the wheel, hit a guardrail, and been thrown from his pickup. Snow and ice blanketed the town on the day we laid Dewayne’s body to rest. It was December 26. And the day before, as I and my fellow mourners at St. Paul Lutheran church pretended to celebrate our Lord’s Nativity, every happy hymn, every joyful carol, was dragged from our lips like a dirge, and the sanctuary liquefied into one vast sea of tears.

I think, for most people, Christmas is the best of times and the worst of times. When I was a boy, I was unacquainted with the cruel nonchalance with which evil disregards the festival calendar. I knew nothing of tear-laden birthday parties and pill-popping Christmases. I sat on Santa’s lap and told him what I wanted under the tree. My family was all together on that happy morning. We all had colorful wrapping paper strewn about our feet when it was all over, new toys to play with, a feast to consume. Christmas was the best of times. And for those sweet boyhood memories, I am everlastingly grateful.

But I know now the darker side of Christmas, the gloom beneath the glitter, a side many of you reading this know all too well. Every December I think of the family of Kent, and the family of Dewayne, and the what-might-have-been memories that must rise to the surface every time the tree goes up and carols flood the airwaves. And though the grief is of a different kind, I think of all the families of broken marriages, of which mine is a part. The Hallmark scene of eager children waking their mom and dad early on Christmas morning to open the gifts isn’t possible when dad is living hours away, and mom’s newest boyfriend doesn’t appreciate some kid jumping in bed with them, especially when he’s nursing a hangover.

Perhaps part of the mistake we’ve made is in forgetting that the first Christmas, the actual birthday of Jesus, started out as the worst of times. Mary and Joseph were in Bethlehem because of taxes, because the money-hungry, tyrannical Roman overlords had forced them to undertake this journey when no pregnant woman should be on the road. No warm, sanitized room awaited them after their trip, but a cold, dark barn. When this young mother went into labor, where was she supposed to lay down to give birth? On rough hay littered with cow crap? Where’d they get light? Warm water? Cloths to clean up the blood? It’s a wonder both mother and child didn’t die that night. The original crèche must have looked like a rural crime scene. This is not the way any baby, least of all Jesus, should have been born.

And yet it was. Far from home, in the dark, in the cold, in the mess, in the blood, in the shit of this world, God was born.

That’s a Christmas story I like, for it’s one I can identify with. More than that, it’s a story that gives meaning and hope to our own dark, cold, bloody, shitty stories of Christmases that seem anything but joyful. For it was on this night that God began to teach us that we don’t need to have a Hallmark Christmas to find peace and contentment and joy in him.

For Christmas is not about presents. It’s not even about family and friends. It’s about God taking on our flesh and blood, being born as one of us, to share our griefs, to bear our sorrows, and to unite us to himself, that we might find in our griefs and sorrows him. There’s a reason he’s called a “man of sorrows, well acquainted with grief.” The first sound leaving our newborn Lord’s lips would have been a cry. How fitting is that? God knows what it means to weep, to hurt, to suffer loneliness, anger, loss, and, yes, even the pangs of death. You do not have a Savior unable to sympathize with your weaknesses, but one who has experienced them all, so that no matter what your own hurt, he redeems it, and carries you through it.

All I want for Christmas is a God like that.

If you’d like to read more of my writings, please check out the two books that I now have on sale. From now to the end of 2014, Christ Alone: Meditations and Sermons and The Infant Priest: Hymns and Poems, are on sale for an additional 25% off through CreateSpace. Click here if you’d like to purchase Christ Alone or herefor The Infant Priest. When you check out, enter this code, YLECQSWE, for the discount. Thank you!

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