Bishop and Christian, December, 2007

God visits His people. A fitting theme for the seasons of Advent and Christmas. A collect for Christmas Eve says, “Purify my conscience, Almighty God, by your daily visitation, that your Son Jesus Christ, at his coming, may find in me a mansion prepared for himself.” That short prayer sums up the position of the Church and the individual Christian on earth. We live between the comings of Christ. He has come once in humility, hidden in human flesh to be seen only by the eyes of faith. He will come again in glory, at which time every eye will see Him, every knee will bow, and every tongue will confess Him as Lord, whether believer or not.

Advent is that time of the Church Year when we are reminded that we live between the comings of Christ. Advent means “coming,” in fact. Even as we look forward to Christmas and remember Jesus’ first coming amidst animals, angels, and shepherds, we also look forward to His second coming in judgment, power and great glory, surrounded by the armies of heaven.

But there is a third coming of Christ, which is connected to the other two. That is the coming of Christ to each one of us. The coming of Christ as an infant in Bethlehem would be only an historical moment (which probably would have been forgotten) if He did not come to us. The second coming of Christ would be an event of horror and judgment against us if He did not come to us individually.

This coming to each human person is bound up with the mystery of the incarnation. “Incarnation” is a word that means “in-flesh-ed.” (To remember it, you might think of chili con carne, that is, chili “with flesh”!) The in-flesh-ment of the Son of God is how He chose to come to us. We do not have a god who sits on a throne, far removed from human life. We do not have a god who created the world and then sat back to see how it would all unfold. Our God is not only the creator of all that exists, but He actually entered His creation as one of its creatures. It is beyond our understanding how such a thing could take place. (Which, incidentally, is why I genuflect [bow] in the middle of the Nicene Creed when we confess, “and was incarnate [there’s that word again!] by the Holy Spirit of the virgin Mary and was made man.”)

But Jesus was not only a man among us, He actually becomes part of us, and makes us part of Him. He does this by burying us and raising us with Him. He does this by feeding us His own life in His Body and Blood. He does this by repentance and absolution (the “daily visitation” and drowning of the Old Adam that Luther talks about in the Small Catechism). He keeps us as part of His Body by giving us His word of forgiveness and as the Holy Spirit makes us holy and prepares us for the resurrection. At that time He will complete the work He has begun in you and me. He will bring to fulfillment the incarnation, because we will finally have bodies like His, perfect and holy and working as He intended. The creation will be complete. Our baptism will be complete. When He comes again , He will complete what He started in His first coming, and all things will find their fulfillment in Him.

As you celebrate this time of expectation and hope, pray with the Church of all times and places: “Purify my conscience, Almighty God, by your daily visitation, that your Son Jesus Christ, at his coming, may find in me a mansion prepared for himself.” And He will find in you a mansion prepared for Himself, because He is the one preparing it.

“Come, Thou long-expected Jesus, born to set Thy people free; from our fears and sins release us; let us find our rest in Thee. Israel’s strength and consolation, hope of all the earth Thou art, dear desire of ev’ry nation, joy of ev’ry longing heart.

“Born Thy people to deliver; born a child and yet a king. Born to reign in us forever, now Thy gracious kingdom bring. By Thine own eternal Spirit rule in all our hearts alone; by Thine all-sufficient merit raise us to Thy glorious throne” (“Come, Thou Long-Expected Jesus,” LSB 338)

As the days continue to get shorter and the hours of light fewer, the busyness picks up. Many people dread the holiday season, because it reminds them of loved ones who have died, family strife, the stresses of buying gifts and preparing meals. But something I love about Advent and Christmas services is that they slow us down. They make us take time out to meditate and think about what these seasons are really about. “Jesus is the reason for the season” may have become a trite, greeting-card platitude, but it tries to get at the importance of the “Christ” in “Christ-mass.” And Jesus is not only the reason for this season, but He is the reason why there is anything at all, rather than nothing. Even the label “X-mas” cannot get away from Him. The letter “X” is really a Greek letter pronounced “kee.” It is the first letter of “Christ” in Greek [Cristoß].

We will have many opportunities for you to celebrate Jesus’ coming (and His coming again), as well as the Mass of Christ on December 24 and 25:

Advent services will be held at Trinity on Wednesdays, December 5 & 12 and at St. Paul’s on Thursdays, December 6, 13, and 20. The Trinity children’s program will be on Wednesday, December 19 (stay tuned for time); St. Paul’s will hold its children’s program on Sunday, December 23 at 7pm with supper at 5:30pm.

Trinity will have a Christmas Eve service on Monday, December 24 at 5:30pm. On Christmas Day, St. Paul’s will have Divine Service with Holy Communion at 8:15am and Trinity at 10:15am. (If you will have family members in town, please have them speak to me prior to Christmas Day services so that I can explain our Communion practice. Thank you.)

On New Year’s Day, or what is known on the Church Calendar as the Eve of the Naming/Circumcision of Jesus, Trinity will have a service at 7pm. Join us as we celebrate our Savior’s first coming, and anticipate in hope His second coming!

Quote for the Month

Christmas Poem-G.K. Chesterton

There fared a mother driven forth
Out of an inn to roam;
In the place where she was homeless
All men are at home.
The crazy stable close at hand,
With shaking timber and shifting sand,
Grew a stronger thing to abide and stand
Than the square stones of Rome.

For men are homesick in their homes,
And strangers under the sun,
And they lay their heads in a foreign land
Whenever the day is done.

Here we have battle and blazing eyes,
And chance and honour and high surprise,
But our homes are under miraculous skies
Where the yule tale was begun.

A child in a foul stable,
Where the beasts feed and foam;
Only where He was homeless
Are you and I at home;
We have hands that fashion and heads that know,
But our hearts we lost—how long ago!
In a place no chart nor ship can show
Under the sky’s dome.

This world is wild as an old wife’s tale,
And strange the plain things are,
The earth is enough and the air is enough
For our wonder and our war;
But our rest is as far as the fire-drake swings
And our peace is put in impossible things
Where clashed and thundered unthinkable wings
Round an incredible star.

To an open house in the evening
Home shall all men come,
To an older place than Eden
And a taller town than Rome.
To the end of the way of the wandering star,
To the things that cannot be and that are,
To the place where God was homeless
And all men are at home.

*St. Augustine said, as Bishop of Hippo in North Africa, “For you I am a bishop [overseer]; but with you I am a Christian.”

Pr. Winterstein

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