Archive for January 2007
First Sunday in Advent at Old Zion in Philadelphia
December 3rd 2006
Jeremiah 33:14-16 Psalm 25:1-10 1 Thess. 3:9-13 Luke 21:25-36
Lighting the First Advent Candle for the Children:
Today we celebrate our first Advent Sunday of the four, which come before Christmas and we will hear in the sermon that we are to be awake. Just think about the birds that wake up in the morning in the trees and sing God’s praise as if their hearts will burst. If you get up early in the morning before the sun rises and go outside where trees are, you will hear them. We used to say a poem to wake up the children in the morning, which ended:
A bird sat on my windowsill and said:
Ain’t you awake you sleepy head?
Living with End-of-the-World Intensity
We have now entered the Advent season where we deal with an apocalyptic sense of time and “apocalyptic” is a word we have trouble understanding. We hear about a time when the sun refuses to shine, when the moon is full of blood, and the stars fall down from their courses in the sky. What is going on? In these words a different kind of time is being pointed to, a time, which the sun, moon, and stars do not measure. We’ll see that in ancient history, time was measured by the birth of a king. To translate that for our day, we would say that we are now in the sixth year in the reign of President Bush II. So time began with the birth of a king and was then measured in the length of his reign. And now we are looking forward to a very special birth in a very special kingdom, in which God reigns through the Son of Man, who is Jesus Christ, our Lord.
Thus how do we measure that kind of time and how do we wake up into that day that the reign of God brings upon us? That day which breaks, not with the rising of the sun, but with the Son of God, who gives us a very special light to live in, the light of God’s love, the light of God’s infinite wisdom, the light of God’s glory as it shines upon this wonderful creation, which God made and pronounced the words: “Behold it is good!” And touches people and called them by moving their hearts and saying, “Come, I want you to be in that kingdom, where I rule, where Jesus Christ is in your heart, directing the course of your life in order to do those things which God is bidding you to do.”
But somehow, the sun rises and the sun sets, and we see the moon going through its different phases, and we all go to sleep in a kind of time that is oblivious to what God is doing amongst us.
Now we have to feel the urgency that these messages before the birth of Christ are trying to give us in the Advent season, so that as Jesus said, we can escape the afflictions to come, so we can pray for the strength to stand up before the Son of Man when he comes, riding to us on the clouds.
Let me tell you several stories that will help you understand what it means to wake up. Now a congregation can go to sleep. Say that it does not function the way God called it to, then it is much like a lifeguard sitting on a beach. A great number of people are drowning and he is not responding. He just remains sitting there. Our churches are commissioned to be those kinds of lifeguards and if they are not functioning, who is going to rescue the people?
Often I hear that our Lutheran churches here were built for all the German immigrants coming into this country and that made us a very prosperous church in the past. I read that in 1759, no less than 25 ships came in and 12,000 German immigrants flooded into the city of Philadelphia. There may have been more Germans here than there were Americans in the city. Thus we had big churches and we were thriving. Now that is no longer the case. But how many people live in Philadelphia? Are there one and a half to two million? What are they, chopped liver? We cannot get to them? What is happening with us? We need to get to the people all around us, whom we are commissioned to call, whom we are commissioned to help rescue, so that God can be with them, that Christ can rule in their hearts and direct their lives as well as ours. Not that we are not sinners. We are. We struggle all the time to wake up to what God is doing, that God might use us and give us a role in God’s plan of salvation, which God is preparing for all people.
What can we do if our churches go to sleep?
Sometimes people are capable of incredible things. A church building can burn down. Zion Lutheran Church burnt down on December 26, 1794 back in Colonial times as well as one of her daughter churches (St. Paulus Church). That has happened to many a church. Then suddenly everyone in the congregation works together. They become capable of epic stands of action. They do things no one would have considered them capable of doing. In the end a miracle takes place and they have built another church more glorious than the one of the past. In the process they have awakened to an increase in love, to the abounding love that pours down from the reign of God, that love which has been such a dynamic from the Christian movement from its very inception.
Now how can we get a congregation to respond like their church has burnt down if their church has not burnt down? That is, if they have not had the fortune of having had their church burn down, if you hear the irony in that statement. The situation of such a complacent and unresponsive church, however, is worse than that of the one that has burnt down, because, really, in a church where everyone has fallen asleep, the church is not even there.
Let me bring up another example. When we lived on the West Coast, my wife, Nora, and I used to take long walks. I think she thinks that it is good for my constitution. When I visited her last time, we must have walked five or ten miles. We walked through a park in Richmond where we discovered a museum for “Rosie the Riveter.” You may have seen pictures of her: a woman in a red bandana flexing her muscles. After reading all the signs and looking at the pictures there, we realized that a huge shipyard, a shipbuilding factory, had existed there through World War II and Rosie the Riveter represented 80,000 women who worked there while all the soldiers were fighting overseas. The women along with 20,000 African American workers were building the ships that would sink the German and Japanese ships along with their ships of state. To a large extent World War II was an industrial war and we defeated Germany and Japan by out producing them. These women were electricians, carpenters, welders and they knew that every rivet they welded had to be done right because it meant the safety of their men fighting at sea.
This interlude represented a time when the country was mobilized, when together we had a purpose, and we were capable of doing great things.
When the men came home, the women were told to go back to their kitchens, kids, and bedrooms and the Black workers were mostly laid off as well and it was back to the status quo ante.
Why does it take a war to bring about such a response? Why does it take a war to bring out the best in us? From these social changes our country went right back to the old grind. But do we really think the crisis in the world is over? Can we afford to go back to sleep in our sleepy ways, everyone out for him and herself, the devil take the hindmost?
Look at Nine-Eleven. After it we said, “Now the world is a completely different place.” It is. But it brought the worst out of us, I submit. Evil must have been lurking inside our hearts. The kind of innocence that we pretend to have is no more than a cover-up of what we should have confessed as our sins. Our country has not escaped its wickedness. We have again unleashed it, because we have not faced it, confessed it, taken responsibility for it, been forgiven for it, and attempted a moral course of action.
Do you really think our present crisis has passed and now we can lullaby ourselves to sleep in the regularity of the rising of the sun, the setting of the same, the romantic light of the moon, in which we croon love songs as we look at astrological charts to see what the stars tell will befall us?
Just look at our society. How many murders take place amongst us on a daily basis? Why in all the world, are we such a violent society? How many serial killers are there? Look at the school killings! Sometimes there are sixteen to twenty people at a time. Sometimes even children are the murderers. We will not even mention all the people being killed at our hands in places like Iraq and Afghanistan, or the way they are killing each other after we attempted the regime change in their society.
Let’s just look at the Christmas Tsunami that took hundreds of thousands of lives or Hurricane Katrina that sank the whole city of New Orleans. We have to wake up and listen to Jesus: “When these things take place, stand up and raise your heads because your redemption is drawing nigh” (21:28).
This old world is beginning to shake and the stars are beginning to fall. The moon is full of blood, and the sun is refusing to shine and a night can fall upon us in which no one can work. The day of the Lord is at hand.
We have to wake up and be alert and pray for the strength to escape these afflictions. We pray that God can use us and call us by his word to play a role in God’s coming redemption.
At Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary at Berkeley, California, I worked with the late Professor Robert Goeser. I was his teaching assistant for many years. He would sometimes say, “We have to work and live with an end-of-the-world intensity.” He was trying to prepare us and wake us up, because the old world is coming to an end and a new one is being marked by the birth of her King, the Righteous Branch, who is coming to be with us.
Therefore we have to rub the sleep out of our eyes, clean the dross out of our hearts, and live toward the day of the Lord with righteous love. Let the Word of God ring in every corner of our world, especially in our own country, so that the voice of God stirs us and moves us and shows us the divine urgency in which we need to respond to God’s saving will on earth.
Scholars usually say Jesus was wrong about the world ending in his generation. If we check out that history, however, we know that a mere 37 years later, in 70 A.D. the Roman legions besieged Jerusalem, destroyed the temple and erased Israel’s existence for almost 2,000 years. Does that not spell the end of the world as they knew it? Each of us individually does not know when our last day will arrive and that will be the end of the world for us. But we raise up our heads because our redemption is drawing near and we live out the Gospel of Jesus’ love with an end-of-the-world intensity, because we are about to set foot in another more holy one, the commonwealth that is proclaimed by Christ and we receive from heaven. Amen.
 St. Michael’s was built to seat 800 on Fifth and Cherry Street in Colonial Philadelphia. It quickly grew too small and thus Zion Lutheran Church was built on the corner of Cherry and Fourth Street to seat 3,000. St. Michael’s and Zion’s congregation used both buildings for worship.
 Pastor J. E. Nidecker, Deutsch Evangelisch Lutherische St. Michaelis=und Zions=Gemeinde in Philadelphia zum Jubilaeum 1892, p. 9 and 13.
Second Sunday in Advent at Old Zion in Philadelphia
December 10th 2006
Malachi 3:1-4 or Baruch 5:1-9 Ps: Luke 1:68-79 Phil 1: 3-11 Luke 3:1-6
Lighting the Second Advent Candle for the Children:
Last Sunday we wanted to wake up and get ready for Jesus’ coming. This Sunday we have to get prepared by being cleaned and purified. Did your mother ever put you in a tub and then scrub the dirt off your feet with a brush and soap. Ouch! It hurts so much. Especially if you were walking barefoot all summer. My mother would take the dirty foot and put it next to the clean one she had just scrubbed the dirt from and ask, “Now which one do you like better?” Our baptisms will scrub and wash us clean like that and we’ll be shiny and clean, our hair will glow, our souls will sparkle, and our hearts will be so pure that we will be able to see God coming to us in Jesus. Amen.
Prepare Ye the Way of the Lord!
Prepare Ye the Way of the Lord! That shout comes from the prophet Isaiah, who was speaking about the return of the people of Israel from their Babylonian Captivity. A highway had to be made through the desert, through the wilderness, the mountains had to be leveled and brought down, the valleys had to be filled in, rough and crooked places made smooth and straight, because a way had to be made where there was no way, back from captivity, through the wilderness, back to the Promised Land. What was to take place was another version of the Exodus.
In Luke it is John the Baptist preparing the way of the Lord as a voice crying in the wilderness. John the Baptist is making a way where there is no way. Isaiah is speaking about a real highway upon which the people of the exile, men, women, and children will travel back to Israel. John the Baptist is a voice crying in the wilderness, because now even in their own land they are still captive. Not completely because they are occupied by the brutal Romans, under all the foreign names you can read in the lesson, with the high priest listed at the end, who suffered the indignity of having to be reselected for his office each year by the Romans. They wanted the Jews to know, in no uncertain terms, that they were a Roman possession. But God made the promise to Israel that they were God’s possession and they were to be possessed and were to be under the influence of the Holy Spirit and not the unclean spirits of the Romans.
Now the Word of the Lord came to John the son of Zechariah, John, the cousin of Jesus, among all these unholy names: Pontius Pilate, Philip, Herod, Lysanius, Tiberius, – and the Jew that knew that God himself ruled over Israel and not these sinful and unclean Romans, edomites, and Greeks , went out into the desert and called upon God to come. John was preparing a way for God to come and rule over his people, make them the people of his promise, the people of his possession, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, who were to be a light to all the nations and not the occupied, brutalized, and oppressed people they found themselves now to be. They may as well have remained slaves in Egypt without the Exodus or remained in Babylonian Captivity, without the return that Isaiah proclaimed.
So John went out to the margins of the country, there where the Jordan River flows, and introduced baptism. He called upon all of Judea to repent and become washed in the baptism of the forgiveness of sins.
Such a washing was an affront, an insult to the circumcised Jews, who considered themselves clean. Only foreigners, the goyim, who didn’t have the law, were unclean and needed to be washed if they were going to be proselytes and accept the Jewish faith in the one true God. But Jews themselves were clean and did not need to be purified in that way.
To prepare the way of the Lord John disillusioned them. It was as if John was saying, “You yourselves are unclean or God would be present with us ruling over us. But we,who are the people of God, are worse than the people who have false gods and have no idea what righteousness is, no idea about the promises of God’s salvation, no idea that the real king of Israel was God and only God.
Thus John started baptizing the Jews calling upon them to repent of their sins, because sin separates people from God. Then he dunked them under the water of the Jordan with a baptism of forgiveness. In such a way he was preparing the hearts of the people to receive their king and no one could stand before the holy one of Israel, not a Tiberius, not a Pilate, and especially not such a rotten man as Herod. But for God to come, every Jew had to become more righteous.
John the Baptist is still speaking indirectly to us, each one of us has to become more pure in heart, we have to be cleansed and purified, because it is the pure in heart that see God.
It is so easy to become distracted. A state of the art computer is no substitute for the Holy Spirit and praying for guidance from the infinite wisdom of God. We could have cable television and distract ourselves with a hundred different channels, which can sell us a whole life-time of deception and smudge our souls with all manner of dirt from talk shows to reality TV to professional wrestling or whatever else will have you.
I myself have really gotten into my cell-phone, even though for years I secretly laughed at people who felt important because they talked into one in public. What if a person has an Ipod, or a blueberry, raspberry, strawberry, blue-tooth, etc. How do we not allow all these gimmicks to distract us from the work of the soul and the real difficulty of relating and communicating with one another?
How do we ourselves prepare the way of the Lord so that God can come and really be present for us, enter our hearts, and be our ruler, so that we are completely possessed and become the possession of God, and we come under the influence of the Holy Spirit? Not DUI (driving under the influence) nor LUI (living under the influence of alcohol) but living under the influence of the Holy Spirit? How can we become like a leaf blown in the breath of God, the holy wind, moved completely by the Spirit? May the spirit of truth move through our souls and make us clean!
Now Isaiah had the idea of being purified by washing, like going to a cleaner and letting them use the soap on us, getting a cleanser that purifies our soul. In those days they would press clothes by laying them down and treading them underfoot. There is a time, when we follow Christ that we are like a rug with everyone walking over us, we have become so small and helpless. In the process of cleaning clothes in those days, they then bleached the clothes in the sun. As you see, this washing is a whole process of repentance.
Isaiah also uses the metaphor of refining us like pure gold or silver. We have to be melted in the fire of suffering and all our impurities have to be taken out of us, so that we become precious gold and silver, genuine persons, who anticipate and perceive the salvation that God, when he comes to envelope us in promises that God alone can keep and politicians usually break, because they are all too human.
So what are we like, the people who see God’s salvation? Who see our God coming to us by way of the baptism introduced by John? What will God’s salvation look like when God comes to us reigning wherever the Son, Jesus Christ is confessed and his Gospel is lived out in faith:
Let me read the words of scripture in German and then in English. Mostly these words come from St Paul, in Philippians. We have to grow and mature in the stature of Christ, become conscious of what God is doing for saving us, giving us quality relationships, a sense of direction in our life that comes from the Holy Spirit’s counsel. Jetzt auf Deutsch: wir werden einander in unserem Herzen haben und bewegen, denn Paulus sagt: ich habe euch in meinem Herzen, denn ihr habt an der Gnade Anteil in meiner Gefangenschaft, wenn ich das Evangelium verteidige und bekräftige. Und wie Paulus werden wir nach einander uns sehnen, wir werden Verlangen haben für einander von Herzensgrund in Christus Jesus. Unsere Liebe wird immer reicher werden an Erkenntniss und aller Erfahrung, das wir prüfen können was das Beste ist, damit wir lauter und unanstössig sind vor dem Tag des Herrn. So, wir behalten einander in uneren Herzen mit immer reicherer Liebe und dann werden wir von den Früchten der Gerechtigkeit erfüllt werden. Wir werden die Früchte der Gerechtigkeit einsammeln, wie man eine Ernte einsammelt. In English it says, “Then we will produce the harvest of righteousness.” In German I read the passages from Philippians. In English it says they hold Paul in their hearts. In German it says that Paul holds them in his heart. Either way, when our hearts are pure, we can hold each other in our hearts when we share God’s grace with one another. And like Paul, we begin to long and yearn for each other with the compassion of Christ. And through prayer our love overflows more and more with knowledge and insight, so that we are genuine and unalloyed, with hearts made of pure gold for the day of Christ when we reap that harvest of righteousness. That is the great harvest that Jesus is going to come to help us get when this church changes from a remnant who are left to a mighty throng, praising and glorifying God, who is coming to reign over us, that his kingdom might come and God’s will is done, here on earth as it is in heaven. Amen.
Dritten Advent Sonntag 15. Dez., 2006 Alt Zion Philadelphia
Zeph. 3:14-20 Jesajah 12:2-6 Phil. 4:4-7 Luke 3:7-18
Dieser dritte Sonntag in Advent bedeutet eine fröhliche Unterbrechung des schwierigen Rufes zur Busse, auch der endzeitlichen Not, womit wir umgeben sind, und die Hoffnungslosigkeit von einer gottlosen Welt. Heute haben wir eine Botschaft von Freude. Trotz all dem Gegensätzlichem, sagt Jesajah, “Ihr werdet Wasser schöpfen mit Freuden aus dem Heilsbrunnen” (12:3). (Das Wort erinnert an die Stadt, nicht wahr?) Dann sagt Zefanja, “Jauchze, du Tochter Zion! Frohlocke, Israel! Freue dich und sei fröhlich von ganzem Herzen!” (3:14). Wiederum sagt Sankt Paulus, “Freuet euch in dem Herrn allewege und abermals sage ich, Freuet euch!” (Phil 4:4).
Auch wenn wir die scharfen und schweren Worte von Johannes dem Täufer hören: “Ihr Schlangenbrut, ihr Otterngezüchte, wer hat denn euch gewiesen, dass ihr dem zukünftigen Zorn entrinnen werdet?” (Lucas 3:7), trotzdem sammelt sich eine unterschwelige Freude immer mehr, bis wir mit Maria bei der Geburt Jesu auch jauchzen, “Meine Seele erhebt sich im Herrn und mein Geist freut sich in Gott meinem Heiland (Lucas 1:46-47) – wenn ich die Worte etwas mehr aus dem Englischen übertrage. Dort heisst es im Magnificat, “My soul rejoices in God my Savior!” dann singen wir auch, “O Du Fröhliche, O Du Selige!” denn mit seiner Geburt ist das Jenseits zu uns Diesseits gekommen. Der Himmel hat sich eröffnet und himmlische Sachen geschehen in der Anwesenheit Gottes in diesem Christkindlein. Dann
Schleust Gott wieder auf die Tür
zum schönen Paradeis.
Der Cherub steht nicht mehr dafür,
Gott sei Lob, Ehr, und Preis.
wie es so prächtig im Lied lautet. Daher unsere Freude.
Diese Freude ist nicht oberflächlich, sondern steigt aus der Tiefe unserer Seele herauf, wo unser Herz und das Herz Christus zusammen voll Glauben, Liebe, und Hoffnung schlagen. Denn in der Herberge unserer Herzen haben wir Raum für unseren Heiland und dadurch sind wir Kinder Gottes geworden.
Nochmals gesagt, unser christlicher Glaube ist überhaupt nicht oberflächlich, denn kein Leiden, nicht der Tod noch Krankheiten, seine drohenden Boten, auch nicht das Leben mit all seinen Ablenkungen, kann uns von der Liebe Jesus Christus scheiden – daher unsere Freude.
Schau mal Maria an. Als sie so frohlockte, “Meine Seele erhebt sich im Herrn und mein Geist freut sich in Gott meinem Heiland,” war sie schwanger, aber nicht von ihrem Vertrauten, Joseph, und daher war sie lebensgefährdet. Solch eine Lage für eine junge Frau war zu der Zeit, nichts zu lachen. Voll Glauben dass sie die Magd Gottes war und dass der Heiliger Geist das Kind gezeugt hat, singt sie, dass ihre Seele und Geist sich erheben und sich freuen in Gott ihrem Heiland.
Oder schau mal den Paulus an. Er sagt, “’Freuet euch in dem Herrn allewege’ und abermals sage ich euch, ‘Freuet euch!’” Wo war er? Im Gefängniss sass er und da hat er fröhliche Lieder gesungen trotz der Tatsache dass er vors Gericht des Kaisers kommen würde und dann die Todesstrafe erhalten würde, denn er wurde mit dem Schwert geköpft.
Der Luther war auch so. Er hat grosse Anfechtungen ertragen müssen, aber er hat immer einen fröhlichen und frischen Mut und Gesinnung behalten. Er konnte viele Witze machen, hat andere oft zu Lachen gebracht mit seinem Humor, konnte die Laute spielen und herrlich singen. Daher hat er auch so viele Lieder komponieren können. Aber er sass sein Leben-lang unter der Todesstrafe und wenn er südlich ausserhalb Sachsen oder auch ausserhalb Wittenberg ertappt werden würde, dann hätte er das Feuer des Scheiterhaufens ertragen müssen.
Ich selbst habe oft geklagt über alles als ich jünger war. Ich hab so viel geklagt dass meine Geschwister mir einen Klagetag gegeben haben – Mittwochs. Aber oft hab ich nicht gewusst welcher Tag es in der Woche war und dann habe ich mein Klagetag verpasst und versäumt und natürlich hab ich darüber geklagt. Ich musste noch eine Woche warten.
Als ich Pastor wurde, habe ich natürlich mein Klagen weiter getrieben, denn ich hab solch eine schwierige Gemeinde gehabt. Wir hatten in Coney Island 45 mal Einbrechungen ertagen müssen und öfters lag unsere Kirche in Trümmern danach. Einmal hat man ein Eisen durch die Orgel gestossen weil es verriegelt war. Meine Trompete wurde von hinterm Altar gestohlen und dazu auch mein Auto als ich eine Hochzeit amtierte. Halt, ich darf nicht wieder mit meinem Klagen anfangen.
Als ich damals zu einer missionarischer Konferenz ging und wie gewöhnlich über alle diese Dinge geklagt habe, da fragte mich ein Missionar: wie blieb es denn mit sich freuen im Leiden wie uns Sankt Paulus gelehrt hat? Auf English: “Rejoice in your suffering!” (cf. Col. 1:4).
Dann hab ich plötzlich verstanden wie diese Freude im Leiden sich in einer tieferen Liebe verwandelt und wie dieses sich-freuen im Herrn nicht nur hilft unser Leiden und Anfechtungen zu erdulden, sondern bringt mit sich einen seelischen Sieg in dem Frieden Gottes, welcher höher ist als alle Vernunft. Daher kann ich ruhig noch Siegfried heissen, denn es ist einer meinen Mittelnamen: Peter Dietrich Siegfried Krey, heisse ich.
In dieser chistlichen Freude leben wir fröhlich, getrost, und Gott-vertraut weiter, denn die Axt am Baum, ist der Baum des Kreuzes und die Worfschaufel womit Gott seine Tenne fegen wird, bedeutet auch das Kreuz und für uns ist das Kreutz so durchsichtig wie Glass, denn wir können die herrliche Auferstehung dahinter sehen.
Als wir fröhlich die Gute Botschaft leben und durch unseren Glauben, erleben, dann erfahren wir unsere christlichen Erlebnisse auch in einer durchsichtigen Art und Weise. Denn wir sehen die weiteren Geschichten von Christi Seelsorge und Wundertaten, genau so wie wir davon lesen in der Apostelgeschichte, und wir werden durch den Glauben sie auch weiter hier erleben, wenn wir Gott-gehorsam, sein Evangelium hören und leben. Dann werden die biblischen Geschichten auch direkt unter uns geschehen.
Was für eine Freude, dass wir für das Evangelium leiden dürfen! Wie herrlich! Domina Be Rhuys, vom Hendrik Kraemer Hause in Berlin sagte im Holländischen immer, “Prachte! Prachte!” Ein deutscher Lehrer sagte immer, “Ausgezeichnet!” wie herrlich auch unser Kreuz mit Freuden zu tragen, denn in der Gnade Gottes ist es erleichtert und höre genau zu: es trägt uns! Unser Leben wird völlig im Sinn des Lebens vor Gott getragen. Jawohl, wir dringen hindurch zum Heiligen Geist, der runs trägt. Daher, “Freut euch im Herrn allewege und wiederum sage ich euch, Freuet euch!” Amen.
Won’t you hear me O o Savior
And send your favor
We languish without you
And flourish about you
Please be gracious O Jesus
What you’ve done amazes
Your love just dazes
O my heart sing praises
 I composed this song on October 5th 1983 to the notes of the phoebe bird. The notes of the bird’s song “Phoebe” are in “Jesus” and repeated in “Savior.”
Fourth Sunday of Advent, December 24th 2006, Old Zion in Philadelphia
Micah 5:2-5a, Luke 1:46b-55 or Ps 80:1-7, Hebrews 10:5-10, Luke 1:39-55
Today we celebrate the Fourth Advent and basically we move from the end-of-the-world scenarios to John the Baptist, and now to Mary. We champion her faith and the fruit of her faith, the Child of God. Faith is God’s power in us and the power of God is love, which brings healing and new life among us. Mary is a champion of faith greater than Abraham, who was of course the patriarch of proverbial faith. Mary, however, bears the actual Son of promise, where God had to laugh when Sarah bore Isaac. “Isaac” means “to laugh” in Hebrew. “Jesus” means “Jahwey saves or helps us.” In Hebrew Jesus is pronounced Jeshua or Joshua. The vowels always change in languages, while the consonants pin down a name.
Luke always follows a story about men with one about women or children. It is a pattern found in his Gospel. Thus here, it is just like Luke to show the significance of women and the crucial role women play in God’s plan of salvation. Both women are also pregnant, one hardly yet noticeable, the other more than six months along. And the little one in Elizabeth’s womb leaps for joy at the approach of Mary, who is bearing the little Jesus yet unborn. At that time a movement in the womb was considered a sign from God, as indeed it is a sign that the little one is alive and well.
God’s eyes always look down at the lowly and insignificant, taking what the world writes off and changing it into Holy Writ, the Word of God. We are always looking up, while God is always looking down. We have to get down and be humble.
The name “Micah” means “who is like unto God?” The answer is found in what the world thinks to be insignificant. The prophesies seem to contain a pattern as well. Bethlehem could hardly compete with Jerusalem beside it. It was a little town from the tribe of Benjamin, the youngest son of Jacob and it was the city of David, who was the youngest son of Jesse. David was a poet and played the harp. The father did not even call him when Samuel came to anoint one of his sons to be the king. But the spirit of God tells Samuel, “He is the one.” Then we have the clan of Ephrathah, which was so small and so insignificant, that we know nothing about it. God chooses it to enter the world as a little child.
Micah is dealing with a time very much like ours. People are interested in business and do not care about God. There is exploitation, corruption, dishonesty, and oppression. God is angry with the people and Micah’s words are filled with harsh judgment. He claims that the people do not want to hear the truth, but want someone to preach empty lies. “You respond,” says Micah, “if I preach to you about wine and strong drink.” They wanted a bar-tender and did not want to hear about the word of the Lord and justice. Someone who provoked and informed their consciences would not be tolerated. Exasperated Micah shouts, your sacrifices will not be accepted. “What does the Lord require of you, but to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God” (6:8).
Who had jobs more humble than the shepherds? They tended flocks of sheep. They had to watch over them at night as if they were doing the nightshift. Shepherds have been compared to used-car salespersons. Perhaps that is why the play, “Death of a Salesman,” is such a milestone. It champions the common people. The world tries to champion its great and important people and heaven comes down to save the common folk. The great people of the world try to block God, because they do not want to be humble and live their lives in common with all God’s people.
In New Testament times, Hebrew was the holy language, but Jesus spoke the Aramaic of the common people. Classical Greek was important and made great contributions to philosophy and literature. The New Testament was put into the Koiné, the common language of the day. In medieval times everything important was done and spoken in Latin, excluding the common people. Luther translated God’s Holy Word into the vernacular, into the language of the common people, German. He also taught Tyndale how to put it into English. Henry VIII martyred Tyndale and Coverdale had to finish his work. It was considered blasphemy to put the Word of God into the language of the common people. It was throwing pearls before the swine. Luther survived because of Fredrick the Wise, who protected him, or really, because God needed him for many other accomplishments in the plan of his salvation.
Why does God seem to bypass all our striving and ignore our greatness and have the audacity to choose the undeserving, the useless, the helpless, the people we consider unworthy even to get to know? They seem to be more ready for grace. They realize that they are nothing. God shows us that it all depends on his favor. Successful people often depend on everything else other than God’s grace. It’s hard to have and be nothing and stand up merely in the strength of the Lord. Micah says God will call a person, who will serve the people in the strength of the Lord, in the majesty of the name of the Lord.
Mary is about to bear the majesty, who was promised by the prophets since ancient days. He would feed his flock in the strength of the Lord and in the majesty of the name of the Lord his God.
Majestry can be compared with ministry. A “Magister” is a master who commands and you have to obey. To minister is to serve. It is suffering service. But do not be fooled. Such a minister is chosen by God for the peculiar way God rules to bring the way that leads to peace.
Luther writes that a Christian is a sovereign over all, subject to no one [because of faith] and a dutiful servant of all, subject to everyone [because of love]. Thus he relates majesty and ministry in the tension between faith and love.
But God keeps choosing the foolish to shame the wise and the weak to shame the strong. God chooses the people we reject in spite of us, so that we allow our acceptance to grow for all the people God loves so much and came down to save. The grace of God often comes through the most unlikely people. What a surprise! Mary was no princess from the palace of Jerusalem, but a common maid.
Although women are almost completely silenced in ancient records, Luke champions the women Elizabeth and Mary. The angel stopped the mouth of the priest Zechariah. He wanted a sign so that he could believe God’s Word. The angel said, “I’ll give you a sign. You will not be able to speak until Elizabeth bears the child.” Now that was quite an embarrassing punishment for a pastor, not to be able to speak!
And thus without his interference, the women start saying things like, “Blessed are you among women and blessed is the fruit of your womb, Jesus.” And Mary says, “My soul rejoices in God my savior, who casts down the mighty from their thrones and lifts up the lowly.”
Right now God is calling many women to be pastors to shame the men who thought it was their manliness that made God choose them. In Latin “virtue” itself means “manliness” and thus by definition women could not have virtue. But God is not fooled by the tricks we play with language, but finds those who are humble and who know that all they can count on is God’s grace. They are the lowly, who God lifts up. It is wonderful that women are proclaiming the abundant life, even while they themselves give birth to new life with faith and love.
Women can also become harder and more heartless than men at times. Jane Doe was a film that really shocked me in this regard. God does not choose them because they are women, but because of their humility that counts completely on God’s grace. And if women should begin to think they are chosen because they are women, then God will choose children to shame these women. One thing is sure, there is a child sent by the Father in heaven, who will be born of Mary, to be the Christ and him crucified. The one, whom the whole wide world cannot contain, is there contained in a little cradle. Ah, the wonder of it all!
This little babe, a few days old,
Comes to rifle Satan’s fold.
All hell doth at his presence quake,
though he himself for cold doth shake.
For in the weak, unarmed, and wise,
The gates of hell he will surprise.
It all depends on God’s grace and favor: Grace is God’s favor shed upon us in our helplessness. Let me sing a song about God’s favor, which like the sun, when it comes up, makes all the plants flourish and when God’s face turns upon us with favor we flourish and when God’s face turns away we wither and die:
“I am Calling Jesus, Savor.”
I am calling Jesus Savior
Won’t you hear me O o Savior
And send your favor
We languish without you
And flourish about you
Please be gracious O Jesus
What you’ve done amazes
Your love just dazes
O my heart sing praises
 This poem is not mine. I heard it read from someone’s notes in the Pastors’ Bible Study. I’ll find the reference.
 I composed this song on October 5th 1983 to the notes of the phoebe bird. The notes of the bird’s song “Phoebe” are in “Jesus” and repeated in “Savior.”
Heiligabendgottesdienst zu Alt Zion in Philadelphia
24. Dezember, 2006
Text: Lukas 2: 1-20
Alle Tage sind nicht gleich, denn jetzt erleben wir die längsten Nächte des Jahres und daher versammeln wir uns ganz nahe in unseren Familien seid jeher und wollen vertraut bei einander sein und uns gegenseitig beschenken und wir singen inbrunstig vom Licht der Welt, und erwarten die Geburt dieses Lichtes, um den Weg vor uns zu sehen, den Weg des Lebens zu finden, wie geschrieben, “Herr zeige mir deine Wege und lehre mich deine Steige” (Psalm 25:4).
Einmal als wir viel jünger waren, haben Nora und ich einige von den Weissen Bergen in New Hampshire gestiegen. Ich glaube es war auf den Chocorua, dass wir nicht ganz den Gipfel erreichen konnten und wollten unser Lager aufstellen. Wir hatten aber kein Wasser mehr und hörten das Rauschen von einem Strom unter uns. Daher verliessen wir all unser Gepäck und sind nur mit unseren Wasserflaschen herab gestiegen um sie zu füllen. Nun der Strom war weiter weg als wir gedacht haben und plötzlich fing es an dunkel zu werden und dann auf einmal ist die Finterniss der Nacht nur so um uns herum gefallen. Wir konnten überhaupt nichts sehen, von unserem Weg zurück war es garnicht zu sprechen. Da haben wir Angst bekommen, dass wir eine frierende und dunkele Nacht draussen in der Kälte ertragen werden müssten. Wir hatten unsere Taschenlampen oben gelassen. Wir hatten auch keine Streichhölzer. Ich hab versucht Stöcker zusammen zu reiben wie die Indianer, aber das wurde Nichts. Nun, was zu machen? Auf einmal ging der Mond auf und bald konnten wir den Glanz von den Wegweisern an den Bäumen sehen, und im Lichte des Mondes konnten wir den Weg zurück finden.
Unsere Welt, genau wie wir damals, steckt in eine sehr dunklen Finterniss und hat auch grosse Bange and ängstigt sich um den Weg weiter zu finden, zur Sicherheit, echte Geborgenheit und Lebensfülle. Auch du und ich sind in dieser Finsterniss eingeschlossen, denn wir sind ein Volk, dass in dem tiefen Dunkel von Gottlosigkeit, Herzlosigkeit, und Blutvergiessen, Gewalt, und Geschrei wandelt.
Weil unsere Welt in diesem Dunkel verloren ist, hat Gott uns sein Licht geschickt. Er sprach, “Es werde Licht und es ward Licht!” (Gen 1:3). Gott hat uns sein Licht gesandt, “Denn in seinem Licht sehen wir das Licht” (Psalm 36:10). Das heisst, Jesus Christus, das Licht der Welt, ist durch den Glauben von der Jungfrau Maria geboren um all die Verheissungen der Propheten zu erfüllen. Hier sitzen wir in der tiefen Todesnacht der Angst und Pein, aber auch in der Hoffnung unsere Errettung, als wir zu Maria, Joseph, und die Hirten heran nahen und dazu zum strahlenden und glänzenden Kindlein, und dem Leben Jesu, dem lieben Jesus, der von der Krippe zum Kreuz, mehr als genügend, sein Licht spendet um uns unseren Lebensweg zu weisen, unsere Steigen zu zeigen.
Luther hat gesagt, “Die Jungfrauen Geburt is überhaupt nicht für Gott die schwere Sache. Dass Gott Mensch wurde ist ein grösseres Wunder. Am grössten, aber, am meisten zu bewundern, ist die Tatsache dass diese Jungfrau geglaubt hat, dass sie die Ankündigung glaubte, dass sie, anstatt irgendeine andere Jungfrau, erwählte war, die Mutter Gottes zu werden. Es ist nicht am schwersten zu glauben dass er der Sohn einer Jungfrau und Gott selbst ist, sondern zu glauben, dass der Sohn Gottes uns geboren ist.”
Daher wollen wir mit den Hirten in die kleine Stadt Bethlehem eilen und wollen gross mit Glauben werden wie unsere liebe Mutter Maria und wie es im englischen Lied heisst, “Werf die Sünde aus unserem Herz heraus, komme selbst herein, um in uns geboren zu sein.” Wie Paul Gerhardt singt, “ Lass mich doch dein Kripplein sein, komm, komm und lege bei mir ein, dich und deine Freude.”
Wenn Christus in unseren Herzen geboren wird, dann werden wir auch die Engel singen hören, denn über die Weihnächten versammeln wir uns um eine wundervolle Bescherung der Liebe, ein Hungern und Dursten für die Gerrechtigkeit, und um unseren Glauben an den Friedensfürst, dem Lamm Gottes zu erneuern. Dafür soll Christus in der Krippe unseres Herzens geboren werden. Welcher Nutz für uns hat Weihnachten, was für ein Nutz hat das Fest für uns, wenn Christus nicht in unseren Herzen geboren ist? Was taugt es für uns wenn Christus tausend mal geboren ist in anderen, aber nicht in unseren Herzen?
Daher jetzt heisst es schnell machen! Wir brauchen rasch etwas Stroh. Wir haben keine Zeit; keine Hebamme! Zünt an das Licht im Stall deines Herzens. Geht hindurch, es gibt kein anderen Weg! Und nach den Geburts Wehen und nach dem Leiden, von welchem wir Männer angeblich so viel wissen, vergessen wir rasch all die Schmerzen, all unser Leiden, wenn wir das Kind der heiligen Geburt uns satt beschauen, wir selbst, unser neues Selbst, das Geschenk Gottes für uns zu Weihnachten ist gekommen. Wenn Du, O Christus, in uns geboren bist, dann haben wir zugleich all deine Freude, denn das Wort Gottes, das Kindlein Jesus, ist uns geboren, eine Leuchte für unserem Leben, und ein Licht auf deinem und meinem Wege (Psalm 119:105). Fröhliche Weihnacten!