Tuesday, December 31, 2013

God the Son: Begotten, yet Eternal

He is the radiance of the glory of God.  (Hebrews 1:3)

Since in speaking of the Son he called him eternal, and yet to those not initiated in divine things, it seemed incredible how the Son is not posterior to the one begetting him, he brings out from a kind of visible image the truth of the true doctrine about God in the words: He is the radiance of the glory.  The radiance comes both from the fire and remains with the fire.  It has the fire for its cause, and it is inseparable from the fire: the fire comes from the one, the radiance from the other.  So if in material things it is possible for something to come from something, and to coexist with what it comes from, have no doubt (he is saying) that God the Word, the only-begotten Son of God, is both begotten as son and also coexists as Word, which is the radiance of glory, with the one begetting him.  The glory comes from one, the radiance from the other.  The glory remains forever, and therefore too the radiance remains forever.  The radiance is of the same nature as the fire, so too the Son is as the fire.

Theodoret of Cyrus, "The Letter to the Hebrews"

Monday, December 30, 2013

Worship God Alone

For thus says the Lord,
who created the heavens
        (he is God!),
who formed the earth and made it
        (he established it;
he did not create it empty,
        he formed it to be inhabited!):
“I am the Lord, and there is no other.”  (Isa 45:18)

Our God did not begin to be in time: He alone is without beginning, and He Himself is the beginning of all things.  God is a Spirit, not pervading matter, but the Maker of material spirits, and of the forms that are in matter.  He is invisible, impalpable, being Himself the Father of both sensible and invisible things.  Him we know from His creation, and apprehend His invisible power by His works.  I refuse to adore that workmanship which He has made for our sakes.  The sun and moon were made for us: how, then, can I adore my own servants?  How can I speak of stocks and stones as gods?  For the spirit that pervades matter is inferior to the more divine spirit; and this, even when assimilated to the soul, is not to be honored equally with the perfect God.

Tatian, Address to the Greeks 4

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Consider, O Man, God's Works

The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.
Day to day pours out speech, and night to night reveals knowledge.  (Psalm 19:1-2)

Consider, O man, His works,—the timely rotation of the seasons, and the changes of temperature; the regular march of the stars; the well-ordered course of days and nights, and months, and years; the various beauty of seeds, and plants, and fruits; and the divers species of quadrupeds, and birds, and reptiles, and fishes, both of the rivers and of the sea; or consider the instinct implanted in these animals to beget and rear offspring, not for their own profit, but for the use of man; and the providence with which God provides nourishment for all flesh, or the subjection in which He has ordained that all things subserve mankind.  Consider, too, the flowing of sweet fountains and never-failing rivers, and the seasonable supply of dews, and showers, and rains; the manifold movement of the heavenly bodies, the morning star rising and heralding the approach of the perfect luminary; and the constellation of Pleiades, and Orion, and Arcturus, and the orbit of the other stars that circle through the heavens, all of which the manifold wisdom of God has called by names of their own.

He is God alone who made light out of darkness, and brought forth light from His treasures, and formed the chambers of the south wind, and the treasure-houses of the deep, and the bounds of the seas, and the treasuries of snows and hail-storms, collecting the waters in the storehouses of the deep, and the darkness in His treasures, and bringing forth the sweet, and desirable, and pleasant light out of His treasures; who “makes the mist rise from the ends of the earth.  He makes lightning for the rain;”* who sends forth His thunder to terrify, and foretells by the lightning the peal of the thunder, that no soul may faint with the sudden shock; and who so moderates the violence of the lightning as it flashes out of heaven, that it does not consume the earth; for, if the lightning were allowed all its power, it would burn up the earth; and were the thunder allowed all its power, it would overthrow all the works that are therein.

Theophilus of Antioch, To Autolycus 1.6

* Jeremiah 51:16

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Christ Is Born, Glorify Him

Christ is born, glorify him.  Christ from heaven, go out to meet him.  Christ on earth: be exalted.  Sing unto the Lord all the whole earth; and that I may join both in one word, Let the heavens rejoice, and let the earth be glad, for him who is of heaven and then of earth.  Christ in the flesh, rejoice with trembling and with joy; with trembling because of your sins, with joy because of your hope.… Who does not worship him that is from the beginning?  Who does not glorify him that is the last?

Again the darkness is past.  Again light is made.  Again Egypt is punished with darkness.  Again Israel is enlightened by a pillar.  The people that sat in the darkness of ignorance, let it see the great light of full knowledge.  Old things are passed away, behold all things are become new.  The letter gives way, the Spirit comes to the front.  The shadows flee away, the truth comes in upon them.  Melchizedek is concluded.  He that was without mother becomes without father (without mother of his former state, without father of his second).  The laws of nature are upset; the world above must be filled.  Christ commands it, let us not set ourselves against Him.  O clap your hands together all people, because unto us a child is born, and a son given unto us, whose government is upon his shoulder (for with the cross it is raised up), and his name is called the angel of the great counsel of the Father.*  Let John cry, “Prepare the way of the Lord:” I too will cry the power of this day.  He who is not carnal is incarnate; the son of God becomes the son of man, Jesus Christ the same yesterday, and today, and forever.†  Let the Jews be offended, let the Greeks deride.‡  Let heretics talk till their tongues ache.  Then shall they believe, when they see Him ascending up into heaven; and if not then, yet when they see Him coming out of heaven and sitting as judge.

Gregory Nazianzen, On the Theophany, or Birthday of Christ, Oration XXXVIII.1-2

*  Isaiah 5:6
†  Hebrews 13:8
‡  1 Corinthians 1:23

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

From Heaven Above to Earth I Come

And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of a great joy that will be for all the people.  For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.  And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.”  And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!”  (Luke 2:10-14)

“From heaven above to earth I come
To bear good news to every home;
Glad tidings of great joy I bring,
Whereof I now will say and sing:

“To you this night is born a child
Of Mary, chosen virgin mild;
This little child, of lowly birth,
Shall be the joy of all the earth.

“This is the Christ, our God and Lord,
Who in all need shall aid afford;
He will Himself your Savior be
From all your sins to set you free.

“He will on you the gifts bestow
Prepared by God for all below,
That in His kingdom, bright and fair,
You may with us His glory share.

“These are the tokens ye shall mark:
The swaddling-clothes and manger dark;
There ye shall find the Infant laid
By whom the heavens and earth were made.”

Now let us all with gladsome cheer
Go with the shepherds and draw near
To see the precious gift of God,
Who hath His own dear Son bestowed.

Give heed, my heart, lift up thine eyes!
What is it in yon manger lies?
Who is this child, so young and fair?
The blessed Christ-child lieth there.

Welcome to earth, Thou noble Guest,
Through whom the sinful world is blest!
Thou com’st to share my misery;
What thanks shall I return to Thee?

Ah, Lord, who hast created all,
How weak art Thou, how poor and small,
That Thou dost choose Thine infant bed
Where humble cattle lately fed!

Were earth a thousand times as fair,
Beset with gold and jewels rare,
It yet were far too poor to be
A narrow cradle, Lord, for Thee.

For velvets soft and silken stuff
Thou hast but hay and straw so rough,
Whereon Thou, King, so rich and great,
As 'twere Thy heaven, art throned in state.

And thus, dear Lord, it pleaseth Thee
To make this truth quite plain to me,
That all the world's wealth, honor, might,
Are naught and worthless in Thy sight.

Ah, dearest Jesus, holy Child,
Make Thee a bed, soft, undefiled,
Within my heart, that it may be
A quiet chamber kept for Thee.

My heart for very joy doth leap,
My lips no more can silence keep;
I, too, must sing with joyful tongue
That sweetest ancient cradle-song:

Glory to God in highest heav’n,
Who unto us His Son hath giv’n!
While angels sing with pious mirth
A glad new year to all the earth.*

Words: Martin Luther
Translated: Catherine Winkworth, alt.

*  Historical note: In Saxony, where Martin Luther lived, the new year began on Christmas day.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Christ's All-Encompassing Sacrifice: Our Only Means of Reconciliation

In Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them.  (2 Cor 5:19)

Therefore the Epistle [of Hebrews] is occupied to a great extent with the topic that the ancient priesthood and the ancient sacrifices were instituted not for the purpose of meriting the remission of sins before God or reconciliation, but only to signify the future sacrifice of Christ alone.  For in the Old Testament it was necessary for saints to be justified by faith derived from the promise of the remission of sins that was to be granted for Christ's sake, just as saints are also justified in the New Testament.  From the beginning of the world it was necessary for all saints to believe that Christ would be the promised offering and satisfaction for sins, as Isaiah 53:10 teaches: When you shall make His soul an offering for sin.

Since, therefore, in the Old Testament, sacrifices did not merit reconciliation, unless by a figure (for they merited civil reconciliation), but signified the coming sacrifice, it follows that Christ is the only sacrifice applied on behalf of the sins of others.  Therefore, in the New Testament no sacrifice is left to be applied for the sins of others, except the one sacrifice of Christ upon the cross.

Apology of the Augsburg Confession XXIV.54-56

Sunday, December 22, 2013

I Remember

One of the themes I considered in my preparation for the Lord’s Supper devotional was remembrance.  Jesus said on that night, “Do this in remembrance of me,” as recorded by both Luke (Luke 22:19) and Paul (1 Cor 11:24-25).  Remembrance does not mean that we forget about something and then bring it to mind again, rather it is a deliberate act of the will to hold someone or something at the forefront to consider it intently.  Such consideration causes one to act in a way that recognizes the associated importance in all its aspects.  Do a study of remembering and remembrance in scripture, and much the same is found.  People and events are to be remembered with appropriate actions or honorifics applied.

What I found interesting were the occasions where God remembered.  From Noah (Gen 8:1) to fallen Babylon (Rev 16:19; 18), we find him paying specific attention to a person or group and acting accordingly.  For Noah, there was new hope and new life after the sinful was destroyed.  For Babylon, nothing but utter destruction remains.  Both of these are by the Almighty’s hand, but it is to his elect that there is always good both now and forever in you.  His actions in time and space have eternal ramifications, so that he takes special care to let the people understand their place.  This is brought out nicely by the prophet Malachi.
Then those who feared the Lord spoke with one another.  The Lord paid attention and heard them, and a book of remembrance was written before him of those who feared the Lord and esteemed his name.  They shall be mine, says the Lord of hosts, in the day when I make up my treasured possession, and I will spare them as a man spares his son who serves him.  Then once more you shall see the distinction between the righteous and the wicked, between one who serves God and one who does not serve him.  (Mal 3:16-18)
Those walking by faith have there names written in God’s book of remembrance.  I imagine that this is one the books opened on the last day, possibly the very book of life (Rev 20:12-15).  Whatever the case, there is comfort in the certainty that he acts and will act on behalf of those who believe on him.

It is this last point that causes us to remember him.  We look back at both the commands and the promises seeing how they have been and are being fulfilled.  As Israel regularly brought the Lord to mind in their deliberate actions of daily, weekly, and annual worship, we living under the new covenant are called to do the same.  This helps us to understand what Jesus meant in the remembrance found in the bread and cup.  We remember, because he remembers.  We call to mind, because he had us ever in mind.

As we come together on Sunday, is Jesus remembered for remembering us and gaining access to the Father through the Holy Spirit?  What more proper thing is there to consider?

Friday, December 20, 2013

The Law Is Holy and Good—and Impossible Apart from Christ

Now, the purpose of teaching that it is impossible to fulfill the Law is not to encourage or excuse carelessness, sloth, and intentional negligence…rather, it is so that

  • (1) we, confessing the powerlessness of our abilities and the imperfection of our own righteousness, may flee for refuge to Christ, “who has redeemed us from the curse of the Law, having been made a curse for us” (Gal. 3:13); “through [Him] God has done what was impossible for the Law” (Rom. 8:3), “that He might be the end of the Law for righteousness for all who believe” (Rom. 10:4).  The glory of having perfect righteousness must be reserved for Christ alone, who is “holy, blameless, unstained, separated from sinners” (Heb. 7:26).  Those who ignore and reject His righteousness “seeking to establish their own, are not under the righteousness of God” (Rom. 10:3).  Therefore the first use of this teaching lies in the article of justification, namely, that we not set before God’s judgment our imperfect and variously stained obedience to the Law but that we may learn that we are justified by faith in Christ.
  • (2) The second use of this teaching lies in the article on good works, that we may learn that by the natural powers of our own free choice we cannot begin the sincere and true obedience we owe the Law, but the Law of God “must be written on our hearts” through the Holy Spirit (Jer. 31:33), so that we may begin to show not merely an external obedience but also an inner one with a spontaneous spirit and from the heart.  On the other hand, because this inchoate obedience is still very far from the perfection the Law requires, we cannot boast about it before the judgment of God but are forced to confess that “all our righteousnesses are as menstrual rags” (Isa. 64:6) and that, “when we have done everything, we are still but unworthy servants” (Luke 17:10).
  • (3) Lastly, it serves to teach us that the inchoate obedience of the regenerate is pleasing to God, not because it satisfies the law perfectly but because it proceeds from faith in Christ; through such faith its imperfection and remaining fault is covered.

Johann Gerhard, On the Law

Monday, December 16, 2013

Are You the One Who Is to Come?

Two weeks ago, I posted some thoughts on advent that were preparatory material for yesterday’s communion devotional.  Below is what I shared.

“Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?”

In Matthew 11, John the Baptizer from prison sent disciples to Jesus asking this question.  What response did they receive?  Watch and listen.
Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them.  And blessed is the one who is not offended by me.
What had been prophesied by Isaiah concerning Messiah was coming to pass before them: his advent was in full swing.  Yes, Jesus is the one to come.

Why did he add that last comment: “blessed is the one who is not offended by me”?  First, John's disciples needed to loosen their bond with the Baptizer in order to follow Christ. Earlier, in a moment of misplaced zeal prior to John's imprisonment, those disciples had taken offense at Jesus because everybody was following after the new Rabbi, to which John replied, “Good.  He must increase, and I must decrease.”  Those who hear the promise need to grasp hold of the reality.

The second reason for the comment?  An advent still remains.  Jesus is coming in power and glory.  Those who have believed the gospel, he will welcome into eternal glory—the bridegroom coming for his bride.  Theirs is eternal blessing.  Those who are offended, who do not believe, are sent to eternal punishment and eternal destruction.

In between the first and second advent is another advent, a different kind of advent.  What do I mean?  He comes as we gather together.  How so?  From beginning to end of scripture, you will find God coming to be with his people whenever they are gathered unto him.  We see this played out in the tabernacle, the temple, and looking to the New Jerusalem.  He is here now.  Where we see this especially is in the tangible elements Jesus gave to his disciples on the night he was betrayed:
He took the bread, gave thanks, broke it, and said, “This is my body which is for you.”
Then after supper, he took the cup and said, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood.”
God remembered our sinful state.  The Son came willingly, paid the debt for all—every sin of every person, and left this continual remembrance that we receive.  In the eating and drinking, Messiah comes to you.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

A Poem for Advent

The author of this poem, A. D. Everingham, is a Canadian brother in Christ whom I met online.  His blog is entitled Hyperbolic Mediocrity.  Some people prefer more rhyme and rhythm (me included), but I hope you appreciate this one.


Forgive the land it is barren and demoralized

it is inverted and crucified like St. Peter

but in shape and form only

for St. Peter was anything but hopeless

Forgive the forgeries that are scratched in the dust

by the shiny little onyx beaks of bastard crows

who die in the wind which lifts from the wasteland

hurling them against the side of the huntsman’s brow

Forgive the behemoth beholden to Job

when from the midst of the whirlwind the Lord

the Lord

the Lord

Forgive the dry vessels whose parched clay hips

are inscribed with insurrection

as thirty gallons of emptiness proclaim

the inauguration of the Kingdom

Await we now in silent wonder

receiving forgiveness and the

bleeding heart to forgive which is


by this taught wire strung across

the loom between two holy Advents:

one which the Temple

passed through a womb, a feeding trough

a cross and a stone

and one we await in prayerful anticipation

while in the now and not yet

we, the drowned, are succored by the breath

of the Lord

the Lord

Friday, December 13, 2013

Christ Is the One True Atoning Sacrifice

But in fact there has been only one propitiatory sacrifice in the world, namely, the death of Christ, as the epistle to the Hebrews 10:4 teaches: It is not possible that the blood of bulls and of goats should take away sins.  And a little after, of the will of Christ, Heb. 10:10: By the which will we are sanctified by the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.  And Isaiah interprets the Law, in order that we may know that the death of Christ is truly a satisfaction for our sins, or expiation, and that the ceremonies of the Law are not; wherefore he says, Isa. 53:10: When you shall make His soul an offering for sin, He will see His seed, etc.  For the word employed here, asham, signifies a victim for transgression; which signified in the Law that a certain Victim was to come to make satisfaction for our sins and reconcile God, in order that men might know that God wishes to be reconciled to us, not on account of our own righteousnesses, but on account of the merits of another, namely, of Christ.  Paul interprets the same word asham as sin, Rom. 8:3: For sin, he condemned sin, i.e., He punished sin for sin, i.e., by a Victim for sin.… Isaiah and Paul, therefore, mean that Christ became a victim, i.e., an expiation, that by His merits, and not by our own, God might be reconciled.  Therefore let this remain established in the case, namely, that the death of Christ alone is truly a propitiatory sacrifice.  For the Levitical propitiatory sacrifices were so called only to signify a future expiation.  On account of a certain resemblance, therefore, they were satisfactions redeeming the righteousness of the Law, lest those persons who sinned should be excluded from the commonwealth.  But after the revelation of the Gospel they had to cease.  And because they had to cease in the revelation of the Gospel, they were not truly propitiatory, since the Gospel was promised for this very reason, namely, to set forth a propitiation.

Apology of the Augsburg Confession XXIV.22-24

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Comforted in the Promise of God's Judgment

This is evidence of the righteous judgment of God, that you may be considered worthy of the kingdom of God, for which you are also suffering—since indeed God considers it just to repay with affliction those who afflict you, and to grant relief to you who are afflicted as well as to us, when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance on those who do not know God and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus.  (2 Thess 1:6-8)

So he means that it is just and right for the lawgiver of righteousness both to reward us for our sufferings for the faith and to exact of the adversaries a penalty for impiety.  This will be at the time of consummation.  Then the Lord will come from heaven, the choirs of angels will precede him, and those invested in the gloom of unbelief will be consigned to inextinguishable fire.  Now, the divine apostle wrote this to comfort with future hope those enduring those dire and awful things.  This is surely the reason he also presented the judgment as fearsome, showing firstly the Judge arriving from heaven, then the power of those ministering to him—namely, angels—and then the form of punishment—namely, consignment to flaming fire.

Theodoret of Cyrus, "The Second Letter to the Thessalonians"

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

What Is Your Church Known For?

We ought always to give thanks to God for you, brothers, as is right, because your faith is growing abundantly, and the love of every one of you for one another is increasing.  (2 Thess 1:3)

Again [Paul] presents thanksgiving as commendation, and on the one hand he expresses admiration for their faith in God, while on the other he expresses admiration for their love for the neighbor.  On both scores he testifies to their perfect virtue.  The Lord said, remember, that in two commandments the whole Law and the Prophets is summed up.

Theodoret of Cyrus, "The Second Letter to the Thessalonians"

Friday, December 6, 2013

In Defense of the Faith

Psalm 48 is a beautiful meditation on Mount Zion: the place where God has chosen to place his name and to gather and contend for his people.  The sons of Korah use this backdrop to emphasize the response of a grateful people.
We have thought on your steadfast love, O God,
        in the midst of your temple.
As your name, O God,
        so your praise reaches to the ends of the earth.
Your right hand is filled with righteousness.
        Let Mount Zion be glad!
Let the daughters of Judah rejoice
        because of your judgments!  (Psalm 48:9-11)
The Lord’s steadfast love and mercies have continued unabated for his people: they are knew every morning (Lam 3:23).  Indeed they are as eternal as God himself, knowing no beginning or end, so that before he laid the foundations of the world, the Lord Almighty created all things and acted in Adam’s rebellion not as a backup plan, but according to all his nature.  This he continued to do to a stiff-necked and rebellious people for his name’s sake in that promises were made to Abraham concerning a land, seed, and blessing.  The Lord’s faithfulness to act has caused his name and praise to reach beyond the borders of Israel.  He has acted in righteousness and is worthy to be praised for maintaining his cause.

Christians can relate immediately to this scenario for his or her own life.  As one once dead in sin and separate from the promises, he can look back on the mercies demonstrated during a life of rebellion until holding fast to the word of life.  Then after finding the life of faith is fraught with enemies on every side, he seeks refuge in the shelter of the Most High, who alone is our refuge and fortress (Psa 91:1-2).

The final section of Psalm 48 would do a child of Israel proud:
Walk about Zion, go around her,
        number her towers,
consider well her ramparts,
        go through her citadels,
that you may tell the next generation
        that this is God,
our God forever and ever.
        He will guide us forever.  (Psalm 48:12-14)
We can understand how the Jews would look to the strong, seemingly impregnable presence of Mount Zion as a source of exaltation.  The psalmist is drawing attention to those things that are set to guard the temple of God and his worshipers: towers, ramparts, and citadels.  Though not necessary for worship or governance, these fortifications aided the Levitical defense of the Lord and his things (Num 1:50-53), and they speak of what others had established for future service and protection.

Christians are able to use the same language.  Though there is no visible structure protecting the Church and her doctrine, we have centuries of “apostles, prophets, evangelists, and pastor-teachers” who have labored, many under dire circumstances, to correctly convey the scriptures.  As the faithful struggled to present sound doctrine against heresy and periods of persecution, one generation built upon the preceding.  They examined God's word to understand better his revelation.  When something heretofore undiscovered was brought to light, teachers would verify against previous orthodox teaching to ensure soundness.  Heterodoxy infiltrated when this check was not in place, future generations were required to quell the advance.  This body of historic, orthodox teaching is our tower, rampart, and citadel.  By remaining firm on scripture as faithfully taught, we can see the enemy approaching to sound the alarm, make the way of the false teacher more difficult in their uphill battles, and stand unconquerable in spiritual battle.

Ambrose of Milan tied the work of the local pastor in the defense of the faith to the work performed by the Levites:
You, then, are chosen out of the whole number of the children of Israel, regarded as the firstfruits of the sacred offerings, set over the tabernacle so as to keep guard in the camp of holiness and faith, to which if a stranger approach, he shall surely die.  You are placed there to watch over the ark of the covenant.  All do not see the depths of the mysteries, for they are hidden from the Levites, lest they should see who ought not to see, and they who cannot serve should take it up.  Moses, indeed, saw the circumcision of the Spirit, but veiled it, so as to give circumcision only in an outward sign.  He saw the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.  He saw the sufferings of the Lord, but he veiled the unleavened bread of truth in the material unleavened bread, he veiled the sufferings of the Lord in the sacrifice of a lamb or a calf.  Good Levites have ever preserved the mystery entrusted to them under the protection of their own faith, and yet do you think little of what is entrusted to you?  First, you shall see the deep things of God, which needs wisdom.  Next, you must keep watch for the people; this requires justice.  You must defend the camp and guard the tabernacle, which needs fortitude.  You must show yourself self-controlled and sober, and this needs temperance.
On the Duties of the Clergy, I.50.260

This work is still needed today as men and women seek after unseen truths or innovative tactics to make a name for themselves in the name of furthering the church in the world.  God does not need our unseen and innovative to further the church.  He needs those who will defend and confess what has already been given through his word and expounded by faithful forbears.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

God Provides the Means, and Most Despise It

The Holy Spirit wishes certainly to be present with the Word preached, heard, considered, and to be efficacious and operate through it.… Moreover, even as God has ordained in His counsel that the Holy Spirit should call, enlighten, and convert the elect through the Word, and that He will justify and save all those who by true faith receive Christ, so He also determined in His counsel that He will harden, reprobate, and condemn those who are called through the Word, if they reject the Word and resist the Holy Spirit, who wishes to be efficacious and to work in them through the Word and persevere therein.  And in this manner “many are called, but few are chosen.”

For few receive the Word and follow it.  The greatest number despise the Word and will not come to the wedding (Matt 22:3-6).  The cause for this contempt for the Word is not God's foreknowledge, but the perverse will of man, which rejects or perverts the means and instrument of the Holy Spirit, which God offers him through the call, and resists the Holy Spirit, who wishes to be efficacious, and works through the Word, as Christ says:
How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you would not!  (Matt 23:37)
Thus many receive the Word with joy, but afterwards fall away again (Luke 8:13).  The reason is not as though God was unwilling to grant grace for perseverance….  The reason is that they willfully turn away again from the holy commandment, grieve and embitter the Holy Spirit, implicate themselves again in the filth of the world, and garnish again the habitation of the heart for the devil.  With them the last state is worse than the first (2 Pet 2:10, 20; Eph 4:30; Heb 10:26; Luke 11:25).

Formula of Concord XI, 39-42

Monday, December 2, 2013

Where Are You, Advent?

Thanksgiving has come and gone in whirlwind fashion lasting barely a day, as Black Friday shopping was set to begin anywhere from 5:00 PM to 8:00 PM Thursday and continued until stores closed Friday evening.  Saturday, brought more shopping and tension trying to assist, appease, or otherwise cater to extended family until tempers flared.  On top of this activity, the house and Christmas tree were completely decorated, after which came a collapse from utter exhaustion.  I dare say this was true in 75-85% of homes this past weekend, all in anticipation of Christmas Day.

As tempting as another diatribe on the commercialization of Christmas might be with all the media promotion and Christmas songs on the radio that began right after Halloween, I wish to ask a question.  Where is the season of Advent?

Advent literally means “coming” or “arrival,” and most Christians, if they were aware of the concept, would identify it as pointing to Jesus’ birth, whereas everyone else who celebrates this holiday would simply view it as a countdown to the giving of gifts on December 25th.  Even Advent calendars tend to promote a festive month rather than the coming of the King of kings, and even then the focus is on his birth alone missing the breadth of meaning bound up in this period.

Historically, Advent looks to a three-fold coming of Jesus.  The first is the most celebrated, that of his birth in Bethlehem, and we rightly remember that miraculous event.  The others are more obscure to the general public, because they speak of covenant and judgment—themes absent from common parlance.  The covenantal coming is recognized as his people gather each Sunday in worship and the Lord’s Supper: first, he has promised to be wherever his people are gathered in his name; and second, there are his words at the institution of his supper—“This is my body which is for you … This cup is the new covenant in my blood” (1 Cor 11:24-25).  The elements are uniquely joined to Christ and testify of his giving himself to and for us.  The third coming will be that time when he will come with a rod of iron and a sword in his mouth when he will judge the living and the dead.  The sheep will be separated from the goats with the latter going into eternal punishment, while the former are received into eternal blessing and glory.

As we celebrate this season, look not only to Joseph, Mary, and a manger.  Look to the one “who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty” (Rev 1:8).  It is his three-fold arrival we are to keep in view.