Archive for December 2013
I’ve been reflecting about what it means to be moved in the Spirit of God. Jesus tells Nicodemus,
You must be born from above. The wind blows where it wills, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit. (John 3:7-8)
Now Jesus is speaking about rebirth, while I am first speaking about being borne or carried by the Holy Spirit, but the meanings will intersect.
Being carried by the Holy Spirit is like being a leaf blown in the wind, like Philip after baptizing the Ethiopian:
When they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord snatched Philip away; the eunuch saw him no more, and went on his way rejoicing. But Philip found himself at Azotus, and as he was passing through the region, he proclaimed the good news to all the towns until he came to Caesarea. (Acts 8:39-40)
Now when a leaf is blown in the wind, it can be blown up against a building, can be knocked onto the floor. If we identify with that leaf, then we could not let ourselves be carried and blown in that wind, – it would have to be a strong wind, so we could well get hurt. But in Hebrew, ruach, can mean wind, breath, and spirit. The Spirit of God is not the blind physical wind, but the Spirit of God. Thus the Spirit is far more intelligent, more concerned, more loving and compassionate, forgiving than we are. The Spirit of God knows us better and is more concerned for us than we are for ourselves. Thus we can let go and surrender to the Holy Spirit, because we are baptized by water and we have been born from above, having become children of God, brothers and sisters of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Hopefully, this will allow us to not be so afraid of letting go. So many of us have an issue with control. But our trust in God has to grow and our control for the sake of a diminished life, has to decrease. In this way we can live, move, and surrender our being to the Holy Spirit, because under our own auspices we have much to fear, but under the influence of the Holy Spirit, we are completely safe, because we are moved by and trust in the omniscient and almighty love of God.
Christus, die Gnadensonne
In der heiligen Nacht,
voll Freud und Wonne,
vertreibt die Finsterniss
Und im Gnadenhimmel
strahlt der liebe Gott
der űber uns wacht.
30. November, 2013 peterkrey
Advents- und Weihnachtsgottesdienst, 1. Dezember, 2013 United Lutheran Church, Manteca, CA
Deutsche Adventsfeier, 15. Dezember, 2013 Resurrection Lutheran Church, Oakland, CA
Lukas 2:9 und die Klarheit des Herrn leuchtete um sie.
Wie Wird Dann die Stube Glänzen
Warum weiss ich nicht, aber als ich fűr diese Advents-Weihnachts Feier meine Predigt schreiben wollte, kamen mir wieder die Worte in den Sinn, „Wie wird dann die Stube glänzen.“ Ich hab zwar schon einmal davon gepredigt, aber es hat nichts geholfen. Wieder wollte ich diese Worte betrachten.
Die Worte kommen doch von einem wohl bekanntes Weihnachtslied:
1.Morgen, Kinder, wird’s was geben,
Morgen werden wir uns freu’n.
Welch ein Jubel, welch ein Leben
Wird in unserem Hause sein!
Einmal werden wir noch wach,
Heissa, dann ist Weihnachtstag!
2.Wie wird dann die Stube glänzen
Von dem grossen Lichterzahl.
Schőner als bei frohen Tänzen,
Ein geputzter Kronensaal.
Wisst ihr noch vom vor’gem Jahr
Wie’s am Heiligabend war.
Am Heiligabend war unsere Wohnstube fast verklärt. Wir hatten schimmerndes Lammetta am Weihnachtsbaum, mit siebzehn echten Kerzen, eine fűr jedes Familien-Mitglied, fűnfzehn fűr die Kinder und zwei fűr unsere Eltern. Wir konnten wohl singen, „Am Weihnachtsbaum, die Lichter brennen.“ Und dann lagen eine Menge Geschenke im Weihnachtszimmer herum. Wir haben die Weihnachtsgeschichte gehőrt mit Bibellesung und Gebet und wir haben Weihnachtslieder gesungen. Wenn ich mich an das glänzende Weihnachtszimmer errinere, muss ich an Verklärung denken – es kam mir vor wie ein wunderbares, heiliges Licht. Ein geweihtes, heiliges Leben war da in unserem Hause fűr eine geweihte und geliebte Welt. Das Christkind ist gekommen und im Christkind war Gott selbst anwesend und der Raum und die Zeit waren verklärt. Diese Verklärung kann sich durch Gläubige daher in die ganze Welt verbreiten, damit plőtzlich alle Welt und alle Menschen in einem neuen Lichte gesehen werden kőnnen, wie sie eigentlich von Gott so wunderlich geschaffen worden sind.
In der Weihnachtsgeschichte, fűr die Hirten „trat der Engel des Herrn zu ihnen und die Klarheit des Herrn leuchtete um sie.“ Dabei sehen wir wieder, wie die Frohe Botschaft der Engel unsere Welt mit Himmlischen Licht verklärt.
So beten wir:
O Gott, du hast diese geweite Nacht im Glanz des wahren Lichtes scheinen lassen. Verleihe uns, dass wir dort im Himmel der Freude jenes Lichtes innewerden, dessen Geheimnisse du uns hier auf Erden offenbart hast. Durch unsern Herrn Jesus Christus der das wahrhaftige Licht [ist.]
Ich wűnsche so sehr, dass ich fähig wäre diesen Glanz fűr euch zu erläutern! Wir kőnnten auch beten: O Gott, du hast die Stube in dieser geweihten Nacht im Glanz des wahren Lichtes scheinen lassen. Dieser Glanz ist dann auch also eine leuchtende Freude innewerdend in uns.“ (Auch ein leuchtender Glaube, Gnade, Liebe, Trost und Wunder innewerdend in uns.) Der Glanz im Weihnachtszimmer kam, weil das Christkind, das Licht der Welt, mit dem himmlischen Glanz Gottes anwesend war.
Ach, nach diesem Glanz der Ewigkeit will ich jetzt etwas weiter forschen, und zwar durch die Weihnachtslieder im Evangelischen Gesangsbuch, denn ich habe fűr diese Predigt all diese Lieder durch gelesen.
In unsere dunkele Finsterniss ist das Licht der Welt gekommen.
Jochen Klepper singt,
Die Nacht ist vorgedrungen, der Tag ist nicht mehr fern/ So sei nun Lob gesungen den hellen Morgenstern! Auch wer zu Nacht geweinet, der stimme froh mit ein. Der Morgenstern bescheinet auch deine Angst und Pein.
Das Christkind treibt die Finsterniss unserer Schwermut weg mit dem Licht der leuchtenden Freude und neu geborenem Trost.
In Luthers Liedern kommt das Christkind zu uns, so zum Beispiel bei „Vom Himmel Hoch da komm ich her,“ kann man an ein kleines Kind denken, das die Krippe anschaut und sich dann auf die Zehenspitzen stellt und in die Krippe hinein guckt.
Da findet ihr das Kind gelegt,
das alle Welt erhält und trägt.
So auch in dem Luthergesang „Gelobst Seist Du, Jesu Christ:“
Der alle Weltkreis nie beschloss,
der liegt in Marien Schoss.
Er ist ein Kindlein worden klein,
der alle Welt erhält allein. Kyrieleis.
In der Schőpfung spricht Gott: „Es werde Licht und es ward Licht!“ Auf Hebräisch: Yehi Or, wa Yehi Or! Weil das Christkind gekommen ist, sieht man kein Tohu wa Bohu, sondern Gottes wundervolle Schőpfung. Das Wort ward Fleisch und wohnte unter uns. „Fleisch“ in Hebräisch bedeutet „Mensch.“ Das Wort ward Mensch. Das Licht der Welt wurde Mensch und besinnt euch in welch einer lieblichen Art und Weise, als ein Kindlein, ein Baby in Marien Schoss. „Ach, mein herzliebes Jesulein,“ singt Luther.
Und er singt weiter:
Das ewig Licht geht da herein, gibt der Welt ein’ neuen Schein/ es leucht’ wohl mitten in der Nacht/ und uns des Lichtes Kinder macht. Kyreileis.
So im Glanz Gottes könnten wir wohl singen: „Wie wird dann die Stube glänzen!“ Und auch, im Licht unseres Glaubens, wie wird dann diese Welt durch das Christkind glänzen! „Denn uns ist ein Kind geboren, ein Sohn ist uns gegeben!“
Luther spricht őfters von einem Gnadenhimmel űber allen Gläubigen. In einem Weihnachtslied wird das Christkind „die Gnadensonne“ genannt. Dieser Glanz ist dann halt also auch die leuchtende Gnade Gottes űber uns. Im Christkind ist Gottes Gnadensonne zu uns kommen, denn er ist das Licht in dem wir das Licht sehen, wie es im Psalm 36 steht. „Bei dir ist die Quelle des Lebens und in deinem Licht sehen wir das Licht.“
Wenn wir Raum in der Herberge unseres Herzens fűr das Baby Jesu haben, dann kőnnen wir mit Paul Gerhardt singen:
So lass mich doch dein Kriplein sein/ komm und lege bei mir ein/ und alle deine Freuden!
Welch ein Glanz also von leuchtender innewerdender Freude! Wenn wir seine Krippe sind, dann ist das Jesulein in uns geboren, und unsere Gnadensonne vertreibt unsere Sorgen, Sűnde, Angst und Pein, und in der Klarheit des Herrn, gibt uns unsere Gnadensonne Licht, Leben, Freud, und Wonne. Siehe welch Liebe Gott uns erweisst!
Das Christkind trägt uns unter dem Gnadenhimmel, wo wir auf-atmen, wenn wir die schőnen und warmen Strahlen unserer Gnadensonne innewerden. Und da kann unsere Schwermut und Trűbsal nicht Stand halten. In der tiefsten Nacht ist das Christkind unsere Sonnenschein, denn in einem anderen Weihnachtslied heisst es: „und diese Welt- und Himmels Licht weicht hundert tausend Sonnen nicht.“ Die ganze Strophe geht so:
Dies ist die Nacht, da mir erschienen des grossen Gottes Freundlichkeit/ das Kind, dem alle Engel dienen, bringt Licht in meine Dunkelheit, und diese Welt- und Himmels Licht weicht hundert tausend Sonnen nicht.
Dann wird Jesu die schőne Weihnachtssonne genannt:
Drum Jesu, schőne Weihnachtssonne, bestrahle mich mit deiner Gunst; dein Licht sei meine Weihnachtswonne und lehre mich die Weihnachtskunst, wie ich im Lichte wandeln soll und sei des Weihnachtsglanzes voll.
Wie wird dann unsere Seele glänzen! Ja, wenn wir in seinem Lichte wandeln, wie werden dann unsere Augen glänzen! Wie werden dann die Kinder Gottes glänzen, wie wird dann diese ganze geweihte Welt glänzen? Ich konnte mich nur an den Glanz unseres Weihnachtzimmers errinern, aber jetzt merken wir schon, dass zuvor unserer Gnadensonne, unserer Weihnachtsonne, hundert tausend betrűbte Sonnen weichen műssen! Welch ein Morgenstern! Welch eine Sonne bringt uns Gott in diesem Kind fűr uns geboren, diesen Sohn uns gegeben! Und der heisst: Wunder-Rat, Gott-Held, Ewig-Vater, Friede-Fürst fűr uns gekommen!
Die Welt is voll von Trűbsal, Schwermut, Sorgen, Sűnden, Angst und Pein, aber in diesem Christkind will Gott bei uns sein. Der Engel des Herrn trat zu den Hirten, aber er tritt auch zu uns mit der frohen Botschaft der Geburt des Jesulein in der Krippe liegend und in Windeln gewickelt. Die Klarheit, die verklärende Klarheit des Herrn leuchtet auch űber uns, und unsere Gnadensonne, unsere Weihnachtssonne ist auch fűr uns Licht, Leben, Freud und Wonne. Auch zu unserer Weihnachtszeit im Licht des Glaubens scheint der Glanz der Ewigkeit űber uns. Unsere Gnadensonne ist geboren. In dieser heiligen Nacht ist er aufgegangen. Nun bricht an der Gnadentag und in dessen Strahlen werden wir alle glänzen. Amen.
 Evangelisches Kirchen-Gesangbuch: ausgegeben fűr die Evangelische Kirche Berlin-Brandenburg, (Verlag Merseburger Berlin GmbH, 1. Advent, 1951), Seite 27.
 Ibid., Seite 15.
 Ibid., Seite 16.
 Ibid., Seite 15.
 Ps 36:10.
 Evangelisches Kirchen Gesangbuch, Seite 28.
 Ibid., Paul Gerhardt, Seite 28, die dritte Strophe.
 Ibid. Seite 32.
The Difference between John and Jesus, Third Advent December 15, 2013 at St. Paul’s Lutheran in Vallejo
Third Advent December 15, 2013 at St. Paul’s Lutheran in Vallejo
Isaiah 35:1-10 Psalm 146:5-10 James 5:7-10 Matthew 11:2-11
The Difference between John and Jesus
What a joy it is to hear the Word of God again and what a privilege to be able to proclaim it to a congregation! Just read the Isaiah passage to yourself again. Stir up your power, O Lord God, and come! What Good News God will bring! Isaiah tries to describe it for us. Now I’ll only have one more Sundays to be preaching for you again, but Christ has other servants, I mean your coming interim pastor as well as the pastor whom she gets you ready for, and both will also know the wonder of preaching that the Kingdom of Heaven is near and if you believe and repent, God will provide you with that measure of grace in proportion to your faith and repentance. No, I take it back, God will give you far more for just a tiny seed of faith, as tiny as a mustard seed, so that your cup starts overflowing and abundant life is packed into your waiting bushel so tightly that it will not hold anymore, for what you give is what you receive. Isaiah also describes God’s plenteous redemption, God’s amazing grace: the lame do not merely walk, but leap like deer; the mute do not merely receive their voice break into singing.
Last Sunday I tried to help you distinguish the law and the Gospel. In the Gospel of John Moses is the lawgiver, but Christ is full of the grace and the truth of the Gospel. When you consider the relationship of John, the Baptizer and Jesus, then John seems to lean a little closer to the law than to the Gospel and that makes him begin to doubt that Jesus is the Messiah. Jesus is not chopping down the big fruitless trees and threshing the floor with a pitchfork – a pitchfork? That would be giving them the devil! The law of God is all about the commandments, while the Gospel is all about the promises of God for your life. In a nutshell according to Luther:
Commandments teach and prescribe for us many good works. Merely prescribing them, however, does not make them happen. Laws point the way, but they do not help; they teach us what we ought to do, but they do not give us the strength to do it.
But the law humbles us like being pulled over by a state trooper for speeding – thus bringing about the realization of our sin, fault, and debt. In the strong feelings that overpower the driver, he exclaims to himself, “I can’t even pay my bills as it is and now I’ve got a $500 fine on top of that! Now I’m in a deeper hole.” The law brings home our need to be saved. That is where the Gospel comes in.
Believe in Christ, in whom [God] promises you [abundant] grace, righteousness, peace, and freedom. Believe and you have it,” [don’t believe and you won’t.]
I like to translate Luther’s German Glaubstu so hastu/ glaubstu nit/ so hastu nit: “Believe and you receive, don’t and you won’t.” But the German says “having.”
In his Heidelberg Disputation, Luther says, “The law says ‘Do this” and it is never done. Grace says, ‘Believe in this” and everything is already done.” We could say it is spontaneous, but really to quote Luther again, “Our works are no longer works of the law but of Christ working in us through faith and living in us in everything that we do,” and so when we say that we need do nothing to be saved, we mean that we get ourselves out of the way so that God works through us and the miracles which Christ accomplished in the New Testament happen all over again in our lives and by God’s grace, in the new Book of Acts of you saints in St. Paul’s, Vallejo – but mind you, never without suffering and the cross. So we rejoice in our suffering! Christ reminds us, “Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” And you will find that rejoicing is the best way of coping with it.
Now in the Isaiah passage as well as in the words of Jesus the list of miracles is cataloged to show that God is working and Jesus has access to the Kingdom of Heaven, which has become at hand. What is missing from the list? Did anyone notice? In his inaugural in Nazareth, when Jesus is quoting Isaiah, he says, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives, [it is worded, “release to the imprisoned” in Isaiah 61:1) – recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, and to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” So what is missing from the list in today’s passage? Johns asks Jesus, “Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?” and listen how Jesus answers with the list, “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have the good news brought to them.” What is missing from this list?
[Let the congregation try to discover it.]
I believe that John expected Jesus to come and set him free from prison. He becomes offended because Jesus doesn’t include setting the prisoners free and he is sitting in Herod’s prison and will soon have his head delivered to an enraged femme fetale, whom he told that she was doing wrong and she did not like it. Jesus does not take a small force and break John out of prison, which he could have easily done, but says, “Blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me.”
In Luther’s time he was also solicited to join the Wittenberg Disturbances, the Knights’ Rebellion, and the Great Peasants’ War. But what does he say,
[I did not and will not resort to force.] In short, I will preach [the Word of God] teach it, and write it, but I will constrain no one by force, for faith must come freely without compulsion. Take myself as an example. I opposed indulgences and all the [old guard], but never with force. I simply taught, preached, and wrote God’s Word; otherwise I did nothing. And while I slept [cf. Mark 4:26-29], or drank Wittenberg beer with my friends Philip and Amsdorf, the Word so greatly weakened the papacy that no prince or emperor ever inflicted such losses upon it. I did nothing; the Word did everything. Had I desired to foment trouble, I could have brought great bloodshed upon Germany; indeed, I could have started such a game that even the emperor would not have been safe. But what would it have been? Mere fool’s play….For [the Word] is almighty and takes captive hearts and when the hearts are captured the work will fall of itself. So far Luther.
If Christ had taken up the sword, he would have joined the extremists, who were called Zealots, who would not listen to him and started the rebellion against Rome that erased the Jewish state for almost two thousand years. The Zealots refused to see the way of Jesus. They considered him crazy. Imagine loving your enemies! Had Jesus listened to John and been that kind of a Messiah, he would have merely replaced one violent regime with another.
Here’s a thought experiment: say, David, God’s darling, who played the harp and wrote psalms, would have used the one true faith to reach for the sword and conquer the world, like Alexander or Caesar. He could have shed blood in Africa, Europe, and deep into Asia, all the way to the River Ganges, conquering all people and subjecting them by force. Well, that is what Mohammed did with Islam and they have come to their senses in some countries and separated their faith from the coercive power of the state to a degree. The confusion of spiritual and political power has always tempted Christians too, especially when we’ve gone on a crusade.
Jesus is not about singing another verse in the same old ugly and violent song that promises peace through the same old bloodshed for the sake of dominating and oppressing others. Remember how World War One was the war to end all wars? Right! Look what happened! It merely became reason for World War II.
In Latin class we hear about Julius Caesar’s campaigns with his legions massacring those who would not subject themselves to Rome. Meanwhile Jesus, not Caesar, but the Christ goes on healing campaigns. Come one and all and see what the Kingdom of Heaven looks like up close! Those Jesus sends out do not come back with missing limbs, concussions, and PTSD. They are overcome with wonder and awe that the lame walk, the blind see, the deaf hear, the mute have gotten a voice, and all kinds of good things start happening among the poor and the good news of it brings everybody new hope.
The Kingdom of Heaven is based on life, healing, giving, loving, that means on abundant life, not fear, the threat of death, coercion, force, violence, and bloodshed. Jesus, the Lamb of God will shed his blood for us and not vice versa.
Recently someone noted that communism did not work. Then another answered, neither does democracy. Christianity does not work either, but if you really stop and think, it is the only way. That’s why Jesus is the way the truth and life, the very the future of our lives and a future on earth. And about democracy: “It is the very worst form of government except for all the others,” to quote Winston Churchill.
So the Messiah that John wanted and the Jews of Jesus’ day wanted made them disappointed with Jesus. What a wimp! He could have so easily busted John out of prison. We love a real man who takes life without getting PTSD. Now women don’t only give life, they now also take it as soldiers. When we children used to cry, my father would comfort us with the words: “Don’t cry; your mother will never become a soldier. She can’t be drafted.” I’m not judging women, but we dare not all become converted to be the kinds of warriors who lose the way that Christ taught us. (I’m not a pacifist. I’m not against soldiering for self-defense and fighting as a last resort.)
I always thought Jesus was putting John down when he said, “Yet the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.” But in reading the commentary I realized that those already in heaven are so far beyond where we have come on earth, that even the greatest prophet John, will not be able to hold a candle to those already up in heaven. “Because eyes have not seen, nor ears heard, nor any heart been able to conceive or imagine the wonderful things in store for those who love God and are called to God’s purpose;” those who are not offended by the Lamb of God, the Messiah, who is as roundly rejected today as he was back when they nailed him to the cross.
So the Word became flesh, that means that God became a human being in Jesus Christ and Jesus opened up the door to heaven, gave us a window for a look into heaven, and tells us that it is accessible to us if we repent and believe the Good News, the late and great, breaking good news, the news in the making for you in this congregation. Will you receive this Messiah, this Christ who refuses to be a Caesar, and will you continue his healing campaigns here in Vallejo, American Canyon, and wherever you live? Will you let your baptism take and become a Word of God like Jesus, through your rebirth in which you become a Christ to your neighbor, through the water and the Word and the suffering that it entails? If you become converted and translated into Words of God then you will not return empty, but the promises of the Gospel will become fulfilled. You will find that you will really have ears that hear, eyes that see, and a heart full of compassion for the poor. You will no longer be lame, but you will take one step after another into the promises of the kingdom. But deeper still, you will go on healing campaigns bringing those same miracles to others, the lost, so that the new and abundant life is spread by this congregation into the community. For example, going to the nursing home in Oakland last Sunday was one of those campaigns. We thank God for the Holy Spirit who moved you.
How can we receive our savior? That means not only for Christmas, but by continuing his campaigns of forgiveness, love, and compassion in order to have the order that is based on life and more abundant life instead of the order based on death and the taking away of life. You can go the old way. But know that it is bankrupt. Like Oskar in Sesame Street, we love to live in the garbage can that we are used to and we refuse to follow our savior Messiah into the Garden of life and its delights: where the eyes of the blind are opened, the ears of the deaf unstopped; where the lame leap like dear and the tongues of the speechless sing for joy. For thus saith the Prophet: waters shall break forth in the wilderness and streams flow in the desert. The burning sand will turn into a pool of water and the thirsty ground will be quenched by springs and fountains. And a Highway will be there for our Messiah to come and it shall be called the Holy Way and the unclean shall not travel on it, but it shall be there for the people of God. It is the way God made for them and also for us where there was no way. It’s the Highway of Heaven that God is preparing to come to us to give us the change of heart and minds, the revolution of our hearts and souls that we need! Think of all the wonders Isaiah foretells! Think of all the healing and new life Jesus reports! What does this mean for you and this congregation? Oh, how will we receive him? Amen.
 Cf. Luke 6:38.
 Peter and Philip Krey, eds., Luther’s Spirituality, (New York: Paulist Press, 2007), p. 73.
 Ibid., p. 74.
Timothy Lull, Martin Luther’s Basic Theological Writings, (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1989), p. 32 no. 26.
 Luther’s “Judgment on Monastic Vows” Luther’s Works 44:301.
 Matthew 5:12.
 Luke 4:18-19. And Isaiah 61:1-2.
 In this parable of the kingdom of heaven, Jesus maintains that the harvest provided by the scattered seed, meaning the proclaimed word, grows, ripens, and becomes ready for harvest even when we sleep and awaken each day.
 Timothy Lull, ed., Martin Luther’s Basic Theological Writings, (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1989), pp. 421-422.
 After having paraded the proud Vercingetorix in his victory procession through the streets of Rome, Caesar had him strangled in prison.
 Post traumatic stress disorder.
How our Living Room Glistened and Glowed on Christmas Eve, Advent and Christmas Service at Manteca 12/1/2013 and Oakland, CA 12/15/2013
Advent- and Christmas Service, 1.and 15. December, 2013
at United Lutheran Church in Manteca, CA
and in Resurrection Lutheran Church, Oakland, CA
How our Living Room Glistened and Glowed on Christmas Eve
[Remembering how our living room glistened and glowed becoming transfigured on Christmas Eve still fills me with awe and wonder. The candles were all lit on the Christmas tree and the tinsel sparkled, glistened, and glowed and presents surrounded us all around in the room and under the tree. A verse in German Christmas song goes, “How our room will glisten and glow that night!” God was present as we celebrated the birth of the Christ-child and the way that room became transfigured, that Christmas glow can spread throughout the whole world. The people and the whole world can suddenly be seen in the wonder of that light. Like that Christmas room, the whole world can be seen in that wonder of the mystery of our being, the magic of our reality, in the goodness of God’s creation. That is the basic concept of this sermon and I go through all the Christmas songs and prayers in the German Hymnal to show how all the world lights up and becomes transfigured like our living room in the glistening grace and Christmas glow mentioned in those hymns.]
The Sermon: Even though I’ve preached about it before, I need to preach about how our living room became transfigured in such a special way on Christmas Eve. “O how our Christmas room will glisten!” is the line from a song.
Children Waiting for Christmas
(Morgen Kinder Wird’s was Geben)
1.Tomorrow, children, such elation!
Tomorrow is the day, oh girl, oh boy.
Jubilation, what a celebration!
Our house will be full of life and joy!
Just try to wait for goodness sake.
And it’ll be Christmas Day when you awake.
2. How our Christmas room will glisten,
Because of all the candle light aglow!
To the Yuletide story we’ll listen
About the birth of Jesus here below.
Do you remember anymore, Christmas Eve,
the way it was before? 
On Christmas Eve our living room became transfigured. There was the shimmering tinsel on the Christmas tree, with seventeen candles, one for each family member: 15 for us children and two for my parents. We could really sing, “On the Christmas Tree, the Candles are burning.” Then there were the many presents surrounding us in the room as well as under the tree. We listened to the Christmas story, heard the scriptures read, said prayers, and sang Christmas carols. When I remember the glistening glow of the Christmas room, then I think about transfiguration; the room became changed in a wondrous, holy light. A sacred and holy life was there in our house for the sake of God’s sacred and beloved world. The Christ-child had come and in the baby, God was present and time and space was transfigured. This transfiguration can spread over the whole world through believers, so that suddenly the world and all the people in it can be seen in a new light, the way they and the whole world actually have been wonderfully created.
In the Christmas story, it says that “the angel of the Lord stood before the shepherds and the glory of the Lord shone all around them.” With that we can again see how the Good News of the angels can transfigure this whole world with the light of Heaven, by making the glory of the Lord shine all round us. In our prayer it says,
O God, you have let this sacred night shine in the glow of the true Light. Permit us there in Heaven to take in the joys of that light, whose secrets you have revealed to us here on earth, through Jesus Christ our Lord, who is the true Light of the World.
I wish I were capable of explaining what this glistening light means for us. We could also pray, “O God, on this sacred night you have let this Christmas room shine in the glow of the true light.” So this glow is also a joy that shines through us and inside us. (It can also be a shining faith, grace, love, comfort, and wonder shining from within us.) The glory in which the Christmas room shone came about because the Christ-child, the Light of the World, was present with some of the heavenly light of God.
I want to explore this glow of eternity, this light of eternity, somewhat further, by picking up the allusions to it in the songs of the Evangelical German Hymnal. I read all the Christmas songs for this purpose.
Into our darkness has come the Light of the World. Jochen Klepper sings:
The night is spent and the day is not far off. So let us now sing our praise to the bright morning star. Those who cried during the night, just sing along. The morning star will also shine on your pain and sorrow.
The Christ child drives away the darkness of our sadness with joyful light and new born consolation. In Luther’s songs, the Christ child comes to us in a special way. In “From Heaven Above to Earth I come,” one can think of a small child on tip-toes before the manger and with a shining face, looking into it at the baby Jesus.
Now in a manger-bed, in swaddling clothes,
[lies] the child, who all the earth upholds.
And the Luther song, “We Praise You, Jesus that You’ve Come”:
Asleep in Mary’s lap has lain
one the world cannot contain.
Our God a little child so small
who nonetheless sustains us all. O Lord, have mercy.
In the creation God speaks, “Let there be light and there was light.” In Hebrew it goes, Yehi Or va Yehi Or. (My father used to say that when he switched on a light in a room.) Because of the coming of the Christ child, one does not see Tohu va Bohu, (My mother used to say that when she looked into our rooms.) an expression, which means chaos in Hebrew, instead we see God’s wonderful creation.
The Word became flesh and dwelt among us and we beheld his glory, the glory of the Father’s only Son, full of grace and truth.
“Flesh” in Hebrew mean “human being.” So the Word became a human being. The Light of the World became a human being and just think about in what a loving, gentle, and inviting way – as a child, a baby on Mary’s lap. “The Little Jesus, so dear to my heart” Luther sings:
The light eternal enters time,
giving this world a whole new shine.
It brightens up the darkest night
and makes us children of the light. Lord, have mercy.
So in the shining glory of God, we can well sing, “How our Christmas room will glisten!” And also, in the light of our faith, how our whole world will glow and glisten because of the Christ-child. “Because unto us a child is born; unto us a child is given.”
Luther often speaks about a Heaven of grace that is far greater than our sky and stretches out over all believers. In the Christmas songs, the Christ-child is called a shining Sun Full of Grace. This shining glory is also the luminous grace of God over us. In the Christ-child, God’s Sun of Grace shines over us with the light in which we see light. As Psalm 36 says, “With you is the fountain of life and in your light we see light.” If we say, “Come into my heart Lord Jesus. There is room in our hearts for you,” then we can sing with Paul Gerhardt,
Let me be your little cradle,
come and lay down in me, with all your resplendent joy.
How we will glisten and glow when we receive the shining joy of the light of the Christ-child in us! And when we are his cradle, then Jesus becomes born in us, and his sun-shining grace drives away all our worry, sins, sorrows and pain; and the shining glory of the God gives us a Sun Full of Grace for light, life, joy, and bliss. See what love, beloved, our God has shown us!
The Christ-child carries us under the Heaven of Grace, where we can take a deep breath, and take in the radiant beams of our Sun of Grace shining down on us. Our sorrows, even should we be depressed, will lose their hold on us, as Paul Gerhardt sings:
I lay in the deepest night of death,
And you were my sun, shining on me
You brought me light, life, joy and bliss.
While another Christmas song says, “A hundred thousand suns do not equal to the light of Heaven shining on this world.” This verse goes:
This is the night, in which God’s great friendship appeared, the child, whom all the angels serve, brings light into my darkness and this world- and heaven’s light will not be vanquished by a hundred thousand suns.”
Then in the last verse, Jesus is named the Christmas Sun:
Therefore, O Jesus, beautiful Christmas Sun, shine your goodness upon me with your radiant beams of light. Let your light be my Christmas bliss and teach me the art and skill of Christmas: how I can walk in your light and glisten with the glow of Christmas.
Yes, when we walk in that light, how our eyes will glisten! How the children of God will glow and glisten! Just like this whole sacred world will glow and glisten in holiness. I could only remember with awe our glowing and glistening Christmas room, but now we already have a glimpse of how the Christ-child, who is the Sun of Grace, the bright and shining Christmas Sun, can vanquish a hundred thousand shining earthly suns. What a morning star! What a Sun God brings to us in this child born for us, this Son unto us given. And he is called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
The world is full of sorrows, depression, worry, sin, terror and pain, but in this Christ child God has promised to be with us. The angel of the Lord stood before the shepherds and the angel also comes to us with the Good News of Great joy for all people about the birth of little Jesus, the Christ child, who is lying in a manger and wrapped in swaddling clothes. The transfiguring glory of the Lord shone all around them and also all around us and in the darkest night we have a shining Sun of Grace, a Christmas Sun to give us light and life, joy, and bliss. Even in this Christmas time, in the light of faith, the glistening glow of eternity will shine upon us, because our Son Full of Grace is born. In this holy night there breaks a day full of grace and in its radiant beams we will all glow and glisten with the Light of the World within. Amen.
 These are my mostly unrhymed translations. I worked on this one, however, translating it from the song we sang as children so that it is singable in English.
 Luke 2:9.
 From the German hymnal. Evangelisches Kirchen-Gesangbuch: ausgegeben fűr die Evangelische Kirche Berlin-Brandenburg, (Verlag Merseburger Berlin GmbH, 1. Advent, 1951), p. 27. For this hymnal I thank Irmentrud Bronsch.
 Ibid., Hymn No. 14.
 Hymn No. 16 verse 5.
 Hymn No. 15 verse 3. My translation from Philip and Peter Krey, eds., Luther’s Spirituality, (New York: Paulist Press, 2007,), p. 250.
 John 1:14.
 Hymn No. 15 verse 4. Philip and Peter Krey, eds., Luther’s Spirituality, p. 250.
 Isaiah 9:6.
 Philip and Peter Krey, eds., Luther’s Spirituality, p. 138ff. Luther notes that under this heaven of grace believers are never shut out, because God’s steadfast love endures forever. Psalm 117.
 Ps 36:9.
 Hymn No. 28 verse 9.
 Ibid., verse 3. It continues: “O sun, who configured in me the valued light of faith, how beautiful your radiant beams.”
 Hymn No. 32 verse 1.
 Ibid. A translation note: In English calling Christ the “Christmas Sun” works pretty well, but not the “Grace Sun,” so I word it “Sun full of Grace” or “Sun of Grace.” Perhaps I should have used “Sun-shining Grace.” Like in Luther’s very meaningful Heaven of Grace, this Sun shines grace; we bask in its radiant beams of grace.
 Isaiah 9:6.
Second Advent Dec. 8, 2013 at St. Paul’s Lutheran Vallejo, CA
Isaiah 11:1-10 Psalm 72:1-7, 18-19 Romans 15:4-13 Mat 3:1-12
Gospel versus the Gospel Genre
For the children I wrote a John the Baptist song, which was also intended for a stewardship Sunday. A supply pastor, I’m quite limited in what I do here, so we have not scheduled a Stewardship Sunday. But perhaps you can think of giving in terms of repentance as well, because the way we make our offerings and our particular relationship with money indicates a great deal about our repentance. This is a children’s song:
A John the Baptist Song
Of John the Baptist let us sing
He changed our hearts by baptism
Son of Zechariah and Elizabeth
He prepared the way for Jesus
He wore a shirt of camel’s hair
It was scratchy everywhere
Ate grasshoppers and wild honey
(And said), be sure to share your money.
(John said), “Jesus is the great I am,
He is God’s own little lamb.
I’m not good enough to tie his shoes,
To tell about Jesus is good news.
Into the water we all go
And this is what we get to know
We go down and Jesus comes up
and finds a way to save us.
peter krey 06/27/2007
John was an Old Testament prophet preparing the way for Jesus, who proclaimed the Gospel. In Matthew, John does not say, “I am not unworthy to untie Jesus’ shoes, but to carry his shoes. That is explained by a pun there in the text. The word “carry” and “baptism” in the Aramaic are very close (bastazo and baptize), just like the words “son” and “stone” in Hebrew. “Ben” is “son” and “eben” is stone. John says, “Don’t say you are Abraham’s children. God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham.”
Now metanoia or “repent” or “change of mind” has a verb tense in the Greek that means doing it continually: as Luther says about “what baptism means for daily living”:
It means that our sinful-self with all its evil deeds and desires, should be drown through daily repentance and that day after day a new self should arise in to live with God in righteousness forever.
Now let me explain a very important distinction to you and that is how we think about law and Gospel, and that is the difference between John’s approach and that of Jesus. And we have to know how to tell both approaches apart.
John is very much law oriented and using the fire and brimstone approach. He calls the Pharisees and Sadducees who came down to observe and criticize his baptism for repentance, “You brood of vipers.” Now even though we don’t know their insults in those days, it is easy to see that John is insulting them. Like Shakespeare in the play Julius Caesar says, “You blocks, you stones, you worse than senseless things!” John really calls them, “you offspring of vipers!” In those days they thought that a baby viper ate its way out of the belly of its mother, killing her to revenge the father viper, whom the mother had killed. Now this is not to mention that vipers were poisonous and you died if they bit you. So these snakes were not considered nice and it seems that John was calling the Pharisees and Sadducees the worst name he could think of.
We have to make a distinction that is very necessary. We read John’s words in the Gospel lesson, but it is not Gospel but law. There is the Gospel genre and there is the wonderful perspective that the genre, the Gospel lesson, is named after. In God’s Word, everything can be viewed in the light of the Gospel and everything can be viewed in the light of the law. The law judges us, finds us wanting, names our sin, and then really sentences us to death. Now this is a spiritual death I am talking about. We die to ourselves. Then the grace of the Gospel comes and raises us back to live, the new life in Christ, the life we live for others.
So John’s making a way for Christ is very important, but the law without the Gospel remains negative. With the Gospel it can become positive. We all receive grace and forgiveness from the gospel. The law can prepare us for the Gospel’s work. But it is Jesus Christ and the Gospel not John the Baptist, who brings new life in the positive, loving, healing, life-giving, comforting and saving way that lays the basis for our faith and our way of life. In seminary they taught us to preach the law and gospel thinking about an old fashioned bicycle with a small wheel in back and a big wheel in front with the handlebars on top for steering the bicycler’s course. Well in preaching, we were taught that the law was the little wheel in back and the gospel was the big wheel that we had to keep way out front.
So we stood up today for the Gospel lesson, but really it was very much pure law inside the Gospel lesson. This distinction between seeing everything in the light of the law or the light of the gospel, should help you discern when the Gospel lesson is filled with the law as it is today, and filled with the Gospel, as it is at other times. The Old Testament lesson has law and Gospel in it and sometimes the Old Testament lesson or the epistle can be filled with some Gospel, while the Gospel lesson is not.
As an exercise, I wonder if you could talk to the person next to you and figure out what is law and what is Gospel in the Isaiah text today.
(Some time for the discussion of Isaiah 11:1-10)
Note that striking the earth with the rod of his mouth and killing the wicked with the breath of his lips is law and that is just about what John the Baptist is doing. Having to stand in judgment is also law. Everything else in the Isaiah passage is pretty much Gospel. Now in our Gospel text, notice how the axe is lying at the root of the tree. That represents a real threat. If it does not bear fruit, John will chop that tree down. A winnowing fork throws wheat that has been pounded to break its shells, up into the air. The wind blows the useless chaff, meaning, the empty shells away, while the kernels of wheat come down and can be used to make flour to bake bread. So the chaff in our own life has to be discarded, and whatever brings fruit, we have to strengthen in order to bring more fruit.
Pruning trees is similar. Branches that don’t bear fruit, but just take the sunlight away from branches that do, have to be pruned so that the tree can bear fruit. Do you see how this is law and how the law kills, but through the Gospel, it can be a good thing? But without the Gospel, it is very negative.
Look at Nelson Mandela. For 27 years he was imprisoned. He was under a death sentence that was commuted to life imprisonment in the last minute. He was a Gospel personality, because he forgave his torturers and persecutors. “Don’t you hate your persecutors?” reporters asked him. “Hating clouds the mind…A leader can’t afford to hate.” He answered almost dismissively. Like Mark Shields said on the PBS News Hour, “Resentment is a poison we drink hoping it will harm others.” I cannot begin to name all the ways they tried to take away his dignity and humiliate him, but when he was visited by a foreign dignitary in prison he introduced his eight prison guards by name and called them his honor guard! That is grace, because they certainly did not deserve it.
In the Gospel lesson the snake is a viper very much all wrapped up in evil, but in the power of the gospel, notice how the snake has been converted in Isaiah. “The nursing child shall play at the hole of the asp (I have to say that carefully.) and the weaned child shall put its hand on the adder’s den.” These are poisonous snakes just like the viper and so even snakes can be converted by God’s grace, let alone have a leopard change its spots.
Now Winnie Mandela got all involved with violent thugs and she even endorsed their putting those who opposed what they considered their cause into a straightjacket of gas soaked tires, which they called a “necklacing” and setting them on fire. She was all into law and so became discredited and really hurt the movement for the nonracial, democratic South Africa. Nelson Mandela set up the truth commissions for reconciliation with Bishop Desmond Tutu. In this way he prevented a race war with all the victims taking revenge on their White oppressors. Do you see how he was a man of grace, someone who lived the Gospel, remaining very much a royal figure, because his father was the chief of the Thembu people part of the African Xhosa nation. He always knew himself to be royal and never let that be taken away from him, even though he always remained an ordinary man in touch with ordinary concerns in life. A reporter was bolting her food in front of Mandela not to miss his press conference. He leaned down from the lectern and said, “Bon appetite.”
So Mandela was from a royal family. Don’t you know that we are too? When we receive the blood of Jesus Christ, we also receive the nobility of the spirit and what’s more, we become children of God, part of a family that is above all other families, and called to continue the mission of Jesus here on earth. So never let someone push your button and make you lose your self-esteem. Like Jesus, you are a son of the Most High. You are a daughter of the Most High. But that gives you the stature to bend down and help out the least of these, even lowly forgotten people our society tries to forget about in our many nursing homes! What a blessing to go there and spread the Gospel of Jesus’ love.
So here we are in the second Sunday of Advent. We looked at John the Baptist and how he prepared the way for Jesus. We look at ourselves and remember that we have to die to ourselves and become more humble than the dust to do the work of the truth. Last Sunday I was still having to deal with rough feelings about all kinds of things. Then I played my trumpet for the first hymn, “We have come into this house and gathered in his name to worship him.” I love to sing as well as play. That’s why I play every other verse. So I played the first verse and sang the second. God was speaking to me: “So forget about yourself and concentrate on him and worship him!” And of course that is just what I needed to hear.
To prepare for the Advent of Jesus Christ, we have to get ourselves and our own egos out of the way. Then John will also be preparing a way through the wilderness of our times and our hearts for Christ to be really present and for the Kingdom of Heaven to become very near to us. With ourselves out of the way, Christ will be able to work through us performing all the miracles we read about in the Bible. So let’s encourage one another with the Gospel. Let’s be a congregation filled by grace, because we know we are saved by grace. You and I know that we certainly do not deserve to be forgiven and loved, but God does not stop loving us and Jesus does not stop thanking God that we are his and belong to him. Amen.
 Luther’s Small Catechism.
 Luther’s theology is one of making distinctions.
 An article by Bill Keller in the New York Times, 12/6/13 on page A16.
 PBS News Hour 12/06/13.
 This Far by Faith: an African American Resource for Worship, (Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress, 1999), Hymn No. 136.
Stir up your power, Lord Christ and Come! Bring Us New Turning Points! 12/01/2013 First Advent at St Paul’s, Vallejo, CA
First Advent at St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in Vallejo, CA
December 1, 201
Isaiah 2:1-5 Psalm 122 Romans 13:11-14 Matthew 24:36-44
Stir up your power, Lord Christ and Come!
Bring Us New Turning Points
One of the pastors in the Bible study this week suggested that we have an alarm clock go off several times during our sermon to wake everybody up, and becomes mindful to get ready. I did not have a reliable clock like that, so we can all say ”Stir up your power, Lord Christ and come!” to charge us up and get us ready. Because Advent just began, I want to think about the new church year.
Happy New Year! Like the Jews have Rosh Hashanah in September, we have our New Year’s Day on the First Advent, the first day of our new church calendar year. The first of January is merely the secular New Year. It is not completely oriented around Christ like our church calendar, but it still uses the birth of Christ as its beginning. The Jewish calendar is not oriented around Christ’s birth. For them this is the year 5,774 and we wish the Jews a happy Hanukkah which they are celebrating right now from Nov. 27th until December 5th.
Our Church Calendar is very much more oriented around our Lord Jesus Christ and our faith: we have the Advent Sundays before Christmas, when we celebrate Christ’s birth; Epiphany, because the Light of the World has come; then Lent for the Passion of our Lord, Easter for his resurrection and Pentecost for the coming of the Holy Spirit and the birthday of the Church. So you see the church calendar is far more immersed in the story of God’s love for the world than our secular year.
But on this First Sunday of Advent we are made mindful that Christ is coming. In our own lives we should be far more immersed in the story of the Gospel than even the church calendar. Here we are in Advent praying, “Stir up your power, Lord Christ, and come!” and “O Come, O Come, Immanuel.” And we know that Christ is really present with us even now and especially when we get into some trouble or in our time of need. In a way, we could keep Christ away at arms-length if we think Advent is just about marking the shopping days until Christmas and his birthday, because what good is Christmas, if Christ has not been born in the cradle of your heart? What good is the resurrection, if you are not raised up in the new life? What good is Pentecost, if your life is not lived under the influence of the Holy Spirit? What good are all the promises of the Gospel, if God does not keep them for you? And God remains faithful even when we often lose faith.
Someone can bottom out in life, messing up relationships, floundering in his or her career. Then one must cry to the Lord and pray, “God, where are all your promises? Where are all your promises? I’ve been faithful, even though you know that I’m a sinner. But why aren’t you keeping your promises to me?” Luther has the “for me” emphasis. What good is all our faith if it does not really apply to me and you? What good is the Kingdom of Heaven if you and I are shut out of it?
There are situations in life where you have to level with God in prayer, the way Jews argue with God and the way we Christians usually don’t. When you know that God has heard you, then God will make things come out differently for you and with the 126th Psalm you can say, “God has done wonderful thing for me, making me glad.” God will help you get ahead one step at a time, so that the promises are also kept for you and not just for folks in the Bible and not just for others, who happen to be lucky. No, you too have to see to it that Christ becomes the real turning point of your lives.
How important is the turning point from B.C. to A.D. in the calendar to you and me? Not much. B.C., of course, stands for “Before Christ” and for A.D. we often say “After Death,” but A.D. really stands for Anno Domini, that is the Year of our Lord and the Year of our Lord is more than just our church calendar and the different colors with which we dress the altar. You have to have Christ come into your life so that you can compare your old self and your new self. When you realize that Christmas means Christ gets born in your heart and Easter means you have the promise of the resurrection for your life, and Pentecost means the Holy Spirit is inspiring you, then no matter what kind of rejection you may experience here on earth, you have an affirmation from God that makes those troubles which you and I often inflict on ourselves dissolve and melt away. God pronounces a great big “yes” over your life and the “no’s” over you don’t get a chance to keep you down. People here may take away your place on earth, but you know you have a place in God, and that place, has the power to give you a place anywhere on earth.
This is really Theology of the Cross. Luther writes that “It is certain that a person must utterly despair of his or her own ability before the person is prepared to receive the grace of Christ.” That means that we have to come to the end of our rope. People say, “When you get to the end of your rope, tie a knot and hold on.” No, we have to let go and let God! We have to live out of the strength of God. Many problems that we face in life go far beyond our own poor strength. But not when Christ becomes the life of our lives, the power of our love, the wonderful presence that is far better than Christmas presents. Our lives become filled with meaning and we can share that meaning with others, who can also receive the abundant life promised to them by God the same way it is promised to us.
Now there is more to the coming of Christ than just our own individual victories, as St. Paul says, “In all things we are more than victorious through him who loved us.” Somehow the church, our congregation, is involved in the coming of Christ and the whole order of our society goes from the old one filled with injustice rebelling against God to the new one that sees God’s will done here on earth as it is in Heaven. Of course we talk in terms of a foretaste of Heaven. I usually like the metaphor from the movies. We cannot get the feature presentation of Heaven here on earth, but we can have previews of the coming attractions. Just so we don’t take this lightly, we can also get the previews of Hell, if we don’t pray to God with all our hearts and souls: “Stir up your power, Lord Christ, and come!” When Christ comes then we experiences a turning point not only in ourselves but also in our marriages, families, our church, our society.
Pope Francis has been making a strong witness lately. He called unfettered capitalism a new tyranny. Je may be thinking about the bond markets and the way they have done a number on Greece, Spain, and Portugal. Greece is experiencing 27% unemployment and 50% of the youth are unemployed. That is no longer a recession, but a depression. He is speaking of the tyranny of the markets, speculation in the stock market making very undeserving people into billionaires, (in one case, a whole firm guilty of insider trading, and you should see the CEO’s mansion!) and world-wide tax evasion by corporation as well as the rich, shirking their contribution to the common good. Don’t forget that the first Christians shared all things in common. In Acts we read, “They would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as they had need.” Then a few chapters later we read, “Now the whole group of those who believed were of one heart and soul and no one claimed private ownership of any possessions, but everything they owned was held in common…and there was not a needy person among them.”
That certainly does not describe our society today. Although the society and the economy are much more complex today than that of the early Christians in Jerusalem, we can easily see that right now our society needs real improvement. A system that we live in can be fair and just or it can be stacked against ordinary people. Like in the game of monopoly, a winner can rake in all the assets on the board and leave everybody else with nothing. We pray, “Stir up your power, Lord Christ and come” to bring a turning point, so that our society begins to provide opportunities for all to make a living. When we pray “Thy Kingdom come,” we pray that Christ will provide us with an order that does not make the rich richer and run the poor into the ground. The coming of Christ brings a turning point in our families, our congregation, and our society just like his birth in us brings about our personal turning point.
A real renewal of our society does not mean we will be able to experience Heaven on earth and the early Christians did not have all the know-how to improve a system and make it survive. Their communalism in Jerusalem made them very poor, so that St. Paul took up a collection for them throughout the Gentile churches to help the saints there. But the alternative for us is not between accepting all the injustice that is so rampant today or having Heaven on earth. The alternative is not between abject injustice and an ideal society. Just because we cannot do everything does not mean that we should do nothing. The something that we can do is the something that we are responsible for. Doing that something brings about greater approximations of justice. Meanwhile we pray, “Stir up your power, Lord Christ, and come!” Bring a new birth of freedom for our society. “For freedom Christ has set us free, stand fast, therefore and do not submit to the yoke of slavery again.”
The coming Christ will bring a turning point for the better. Democrats and the Republicans will have to find a way to work together to carry out God’s will, so that our government functions once again. There are so many issues and concerns in our country that are being neglected. Immigrant families should not be torn apart by deportation. The homeless need shelter and those who have lost their homes by foreclosure need to find new homes or rentals once more. We need full employment. Our unemployment rate should not drop just because so many people have given up looking for work. “Stir up your power, Lord Christ and come!” With that pray we also have these very important issues in mind, because the Gospel is about more than just you and me having a turning point from an old problem self to a new productive, creative, and loving self as important as that is.
It’s Advent and a new beginning, so let us get ready for the coming of Christ, who does not only come as an individual, but also with the Kingdom of Heaven. “Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is near!” Our epistle lesson says, “For salvation is nearer to us now than when we first became believers!” So getting ready for Christ means having a change of heart and mind. St. Paul reminds us, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you can discern…the will of God – what is good, acceptable, and perfect.” The followers of Christ need to use their minds to further the mission of Christ. A waist is a horrible thing to mind and a mind is a horrible thing to waste. When we don’t use our minds they stagnate like a pond without the entry of fresh water.
So let’s have a renewal of our minds and awaken to the new year and the new time that is on the way, because Christ is coming. Notice that in our gospel lesson Christ says that he himself does not know when the end of the world will come, but that is known only to the Father. But we know that Christ has promised to be with always, even to the end of the world. So just the way a person can have a change of heart in Christ and leave the old self behind and become dressed up in the new self, so our society can as well and achieve greater approximations of justice.
A change of heart and mind is crucial and it is quite necessary for our salvation, but our work for justice and change in our society is also part of it. That’s what the community organizer Surya from Common Ground was all about when she came to visit us. The church hears the Gospel of the Kingdom of Heaven and becomes for the that a woman took and mixed with three measures of flour until all of it was leavened.” The Church that is filled with the Gospel of the Kingdom of Heaven is to society what yeast is to bread dough. The yeast gets mixed into the dough of the whole society, until the whole society becomes leavened. Unleavened bread means bread without yeast, while leavened bread is bread that rises.
My mother used to bake bread for our family twice a week. She had this huge aluminum bread pan. She would put in the water and flour and all the other ingredients. She always used King Arthur flour. Then she put in the yeast, those little yellow and silver packets. When she had kneaded the whole of it, she would divide up the dough and put it in little bread pans and put them on the radiators all over the kitchen. Leavening meant that with the warmth the yeast put all these air-bubbles into the dough making it rise. When the dough started spilling over the edge of the pan, we would have to go and hit it, so it would go back and then rise once more. Then it went into the oven. What a wonderful memory. The whole house would smell like a bakery. But if you let it, the dough would keep on rising. And that means that in the Kingdom of Heaven, we too keep on growing, improving, and maturing and our society can as well. It keeps on growing and maturing. This congregation will as well, when the new interim takes over and helps you through the process of getting ready for the new pastor God has in mind for you. With the leaven of the coming Christ and the kingdom of heaven, you will keep on rising and growing and maturing.
Our lesson emphasizes that we have to stay alert and keep on getting ready. Christ will come like a thief in the night. So we have to make ready. He’ll not make an appointment. He’ll just show up and ring our bell. Will we have changed and will we be involved in changing our society? Let’s be mindful, prepared, alert and ready. So let’s put on Christ and spread love and joy through our relationships and justice throughout the beloved community Christ died in order to bring. “Faith becomes active in love and love seeks justice.” That’s our formula.
So wake up, becomes mindful of the new self we receive in Christ and the turning points in our society that bring ever greater approximations of justice when we pray, ”Stir up your power, Lord Christ and come!” Give us a real dose, Lord Christ, from turning point to turning point. Let your beloved community be peopled by your saints in our time. Amen.