Archive for the ‘Advent and Christmas Sermons’ Category
IT ALL DEPENDS ON OUR FAITH:
CHRISTMAS EVE SERVICE at CLC, El Cerrito, CA, December 24th 2016
For the Christmas story, which is so familiar to us that we do not properly fathom it, everything depends on our faith. Now don’t get crushed by taking that as an obligation to believe. According to Luther, your faith is ultimately a gift of God. You can consider it a Christmas gift from God to you. So the reason I place myself right into this story, acting it out with gestures and facial expressions is in order to convince you to trust God completely and believe that God came to be with us in this story about the Christ-child, Mary, Joseph, the Angels, the shepherds, and everybody in Bethlehem.
Many years ago, I was in Bethlehem and I walked down from the city to look for the shepherd hills, to find the fields where the shepherds watched over their flocks by night. After I had walked a good while through the fields I became lost, and believe it or not there were shepherds there in the area and I walked up to them and asked them for directions on how to get back to the city. Among several paths, they pointed out the direction and the path I needed to take. As I climbed up that path, because it was uphill, suddenly the night fell down hard around me and it was so dark I could not see my hand before my face. But after I walked only a short distance farther, the whole city suddenly appeared completely lit up. The saying of Jesus occurred to me: “A city built on a hill cannot be hid.” (Mat 5:14) And clouds framed the city so that it looked like an impressionist painting. It was as beautiful as Christmas tree.
It seemed as if the city of Bethlehem itself was witnessing to me that in it was born the Light of the World. And when we light up with faith in the Christ-child, then shining brightly, we will also hear Jesus say, “You are the light of the world!” Then we can understand Isaiah: “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light and those who lived in a land of deep darkness, on them light has shined.” (9:2)
When in Bethlehem the Christ-child, Mary’s Son was born, the angels first proclaimed the Good News to the shepherds. An angel of the Lord appeared before them and the glory of the Lord shone round-about them and they became really afraid. But the angel proclaimed the Good News to them, which filled them with joy.
How dark the world becomes when we hear and read about all the bad news of today. I remember as a child getting cereal boxes, which on the back had only good news and even the weather report was all sunshine and blue skies. But those are not the kind of news that we read in the newspapers these mornings. The light of Christ, however, still shines in our world and the darkness will not overcome it!
That’s because the crown of the whole creation,
the One the whole universe and all
could not contain, became a baby, small
in that manger in Bethlehem.
And that is why we sing about the city of David, Belen, Bethlehem, Bethlehem. When I pastored in Philadelphia, a church downtown had a plaque that read, Phillip Brooks (1835-1893), who wrote “O Little Town of Bethlehem” was a pastor here.
The angel also brings those glad tidings of great joy to you and me because the angel says that the Good News is for all people. “For unto you and me is born this day in the city of David, a Savior, who is Christ the Lord! That is the Good News, the Gospel for us.
That’s why Phillip brooks composed his song and why we sing so much about Bethlehem, because Christ the Lord, God’s Son himself came to us human beings in that little suburb of Jerusalem in order to save us.
Isaiah points out that this Savior will break the burdensome yoke and the iron bar across our shoulders and the rod of our oppressors. Christ frees us and then envelopes us in the freedom of Christians, to use Luther’s words. With the freedom of God’s Son we experience real joy. The Prophet Isaiah already long ago foretold how much joy we would have singing Christmas carols and how much joy would fill them, because
unto us a son is given; unto us a child is born! And the authority rests upon his shoulders and he is named: Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Isaiah gives the Messiah four throne names. Many of the Pharaohs of Egypt had four throne names, along with their birth names. For example, Ramesses VII was named UsermaatRa, Meryamun, (which meant beloved of Amun), SetepenRa, and Ramesses, that is, Ra-Moses. Moses of the Exodus was brought up an Egyptian prince, and thus his name “Moses.” Ahmoses had liberated the Egyptians from the Hyksos, the way Moses later liberated the children of Israel from the Egyptians. The Messiah breaks every yoke and rod of oppressors. Thus Isaiah, too, gives David’s royal Son four throne names.
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. (I studied the names in Hebrew as well, but I’ll spare you the Hebrew.)
his authority shall grow continually, and there shall be endless peace for the throne of David and his kingdom. He will establish and uphold it with justice and righteousness from this time onward and forevermore.
Isaiah is referring to God’s promise that a successor on the throne of David would never fail. (1Kings 9:5-6) God was keeping his promise for David in his royal city.
That’s why the heavenly hosts of angels flew up from the earth into the open heavens and back down to the earth and back up into heaven, ascending and descending, while rejoicing:
“Glory to God in the highest, Peace on Earth, God’s favor to all!” Jesus is God’s gift to humankind.
But it all depends upon our faith. The angel of the Lord first proclaimed the Good News to the shepherds, then the shepherds proclaimed it to Mary and Joseph and all the astonished people around the Jesus’ manger, and then the shepherds changed into pastors and spread the heavenly word to everybody they came across. And all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them and what pastors today are telling you. But Mary kept all these things and pondered them in her heart.
If we also keep these words and ponder them in our hearts, like Mary, then our hearts will be moved and we too will be amazed by the words of the shepherds. In one of the German carols we sang in the German service, Mary asks Joseph to help her rock Jesus’ cradle.
Joseph, dear Joseph of mine,
Help me rock this child so fine
And Joseph answers
Gladly, dear Mary mine
I’ll help you rock your child so fine.
Because after the Virgin Mary’s Son is born in your hearts and mine, we rock him in the cradle of our hearts because he needs sleep and needs good rest so that the Christ-child can grow up and mature in us and become strong and powerful and we can move other people’s hearts with the Good News, too. Yes, let’s gently rock the cradle of the Christ-child in our hearts so that he can sleep in heavenly peace, sleep in heavenly peace.
Then we can also hear and rejoice in the Good News of Isaiah:
“for unto us a son is given; unto us a child is born!”
This birth of the Christ-child is your and my new birth, for which the whole creation has been waiting with eager longing, yes for the birth of the children of God. And keeping God’s words in our hearts and pondering them, brings about the birth of the Christ-child in us.
And we are the children of God gathered together in this congregation and the way we will light up each other’s candles, so the fire of faith will ignite in and fill each one of us until we shine together as the Light of the world. And our church, lit up by the Light of the World, will itself turn into the shining city of Bethlehem, built on Mt. Zion, God’s Holy Mountain, so that it cannot remain hidden. Because one does not light a candle and place it under a bushel, but on the lampstand of the public church, Christ Lutheran Curch, so that all the people in the whole house, in all of El Cerrito in the state of California, and the whole country see our joyful light.
It has been such a privilege and such a blessing for me to be able to preach and minister among you. I am so very grateful to you all. You gave me another much needed chapter in my ministry, because it was particularly difficult retiring from unemployment. Now another church has given me a call, a preliminary telephone call, that is. I will still have to talk with the bishop about it and try to discern if I should take it. I was the interim pastor of Christ Lutheran Church in 1992 before Pastor Sharon / and I have had many interim ministries and even calls since then, but after them I have always returned to Christ Lutheran. The fact that there will be an interim even before the new pastor makes this separation somewhat longer. But no matter. We are one in the spirit and Christ, the namesake of this congregation, will remain the real pastor, because we believe Christ is really present and will continue to be with you and me during this short intermission. Did you know I worked on the Luther Musical for many years and if it hadn’t been for Christ Lutheran, Mark and I couldn’t have finished it. It even gave Bertha and Lars a chance to renew their wedding vows when Soren played the young Luther; Lars, Professor Luther, and Bertha, Katie von Bora. So I’ll ask Mark if we can dedicate the Musical to you, CLC. We have one production in the works and we’re hoping for another one. And you can be sure that you will all be invited. Amen.
 In Hebrew: Wonderful Counselor: Pele Yo-w-es; Mighty God, El gibbowr; Abi’yad, everlasting Father; Sar Schalom, Prince of Peace. You may remember that Sarah means princess, so Sar is prince in Hebrew. Thus Sar Schalom, Prince of Peace.
 Romans 8:19.
The Second Sunday of Christmas January 3rd 2016
Jeremiah 31:7-14 Psalm 147:12-20 Ephesians 1:3-14 John 1:1-18e
John’s Signs of Enlightenment
This is the third time the introduction or Prologue of John has come up in our recent lessons. In our adult studies Sunday mornings at quarter of nine, we’ll be looking closer at this very important Gospel. I’ll use some verses as building blocks to understand God’s Word for us. Don’t forget that it is the 7th Day of Christmas and considering “the Word become flesh” keeps us in the glow and the light of Christmas.
“The word became flesh and dwelt among us.” “Flesh” in Hebrew is their idiomatic way of referring to human beings. “All flesh is grass …the grass withers” and dies. That means human beings are mortal. Thus it means that the word or logos in Greek became a human being. That verse has to be seen in the light of John 3:16:
For God so loved the world, that God gave God’s only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in him, will not perish but receive everlasting life.
Thus the good news is that the way God’s heart ached for the Hebrew slaves suffering in Egypt, now God’s heart ached with so much love for all of us sinners that God self-differentiated into the Father and Son and became one of us in Christ. (I think I can use that term.) John has a very high Christology. The Word or the second person of the most Holy Trinity was God and with God at the creation. A low Christology is Adoptionist, that God saw how good Jesus was and adopted him as a Son. John begs to differ.
Now this Prologue is like a flashlight whose beam shines through the whole Gospel, just like God thought through the whole creation, through the redemption brought by God’s Son, Jesus, all the way through our salvation in the Holy Spirit.
In the incarnation heaven and earth become one. That’s why the shepherds could see the angels on Bethlehem’s hills. And we somehow become taken into God, taken into the Blessed Trinity. Each Person of the Holy Trinity dances mutually in the other Persons and their predominant assignment. So the Son is also completely involved in the creation. Perichoresis is the great word for this dance in the wonderful mutuality of the communion of the Persons of the Trinity with their involvement in each other. The word “perichoresis” comes from the Greek. And then Jesus includes us saying:
On that day you will know that I am in the Father and you in me and I in you. (and then some chapters later) As you, Father are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us…The glory that you have given me, I have given them, so that they may be one as we are one. I in them and you in me that they may become completely one…
We too are caught up in the perichoresis of the Holy Trinity, so that our empathy with each other, our communion, mean that our selves completely are in there with each other to shoulder each other’s burdens.
Roughly, the Gospel of John moves from the Prologue to the Book of Signs, ending with the Passion story. Remember how the Prologue says, “In the beginning was the Word and that Word was with God” from the very foundation of the world. The Son is the Word of God, the Light of the world. In the words of the Psalm,
How precious is your steadfast love, O God!…For with you is the fountain of life and in your light we see light.
That is the light which existed before the creation of the sun, moon, and stars: the fountain or source of all our lives and our sentient consciousness, and the birth of love. The One from heaven brought even our material and natural world into existence, because our text says, through the Logos all things were created and without him not one thing was created, to translate the Greek somewhat differently.
According to a theologian, Teilhard de Chardin, the birth of life was followed by the birth of thought, which was followed by the birth of love. But that loving creative Word was there at the beginning, so love gave birth to life, which gave birth to thought. Then our text states, the One, who was the true light, come into the world to enlighten everyone.
We sing, “This little light of mine,I’m going to let it shine, ” but did you consider that we receive enlightenment in Christ?
Here’s where John’s signs come in. The other gospels call the acts Jesus performed miracles, but John calls them signs, which for him are not merely miracles, but significant acts, which for our seeing eyes and understanding minds symbolize eternal realities.
In John’s book of signs, Jesus begins by changing water into wine, which is his first sign, showing that the Old Testament is now transformed into the New, the law of Moses is fulfilled in the truth and grace of Christ, the commandments replaced by the promises of God that give us the strength to fulfill them. The whole quality of our existence and all our relationship are transformed, like water compared to wine. Then Jesus heals a boy through his access to the fountain of life. Later he raised Lazarus from the dead and even is raised by God himself. But he always cries out, “Those who have ears to hear, let them hear!” In his signs he opens the ears of the deaf, opens the eyes of the blind, and opens the minds and hearts of the people, so that they, in that day and we today, become enlightened by the love and light by which Christ Jesus lived. He heals a person who is paralyzed, meaning that we too can be empowered to do all kinds of creative and good works.
Our prayer for the day emphasized “doing,” i.e., that “we reflect the light of the incarnate word in all that we do.” But we first have to reflect that light in all that we are.
Mary and Joseph found no room at the inn. We have to pray: “Come into my heart, Lord Jesus, there’s room in my heart for you.” We have to accept him as opposed to his coming into his own and his own people not accepting him. But all of us receiving him, who believe in his name, Jesus gives the power to become the children of God, who are not born merely naturally, but born of God, born from above, born of heaven.
That means where our natural parents left off, where their up-bringing ran out, God starts bringing us up. That is where we can be sure of experiencing growing pains. I remember in the throes of the inner-city ministry how we exclaimed, “My mother never said it would be like this!” The only way through it is through it. But it leads from one maturity to the next, grace upon grace, so that people will also behold the glory of Christ in us, full of truth and grace, with the life of Christ in us, and his loving heart throbbing within us.
These signs of Christ also become our living experience. From a rule and law based-existence, our existence is caught up in the promises of God. We begin to live lives of faith, throwing all our worries overboard and trusting God, who in Christ is a person of his word, keeping his word to us, so that all the promises of our lives come true.
Our enlightenment comes when God opens our ears. As Isaiah says, “Morning by morning God awakens, wakens my ears to hear as an apprentice” that means, learning the skill of hearing. And the Lord God gives me the tongue of an apprentice, so that we can lift up, sustain, the weary and the depressed with a word. When we are born from above out of God we receive new senses, because we become part of the new creation.
And believe it or not, God chose us before the foundation of the world. We were the twinkling stars in God’s eyes even before the world was created, in the words of our epistle. And we do not take our heavenly places after we die, but after we have been baptized and died in the death of Christ, so that by the death of death, we are catapulted into our eternal life right now, here and now is the acceptable time, here and now, we can become enlightened by the light of Christ. We can hear with our ears, see with our eyes, understand with our hearts and say, “Our Father in heaven, let us hallow your name, we willingly let you rule over us, so that we have a foretaste of heaven even here on earth. The foretaste refers to the feast to come. Perhaps a more understandable metaphor for today comes from the movies: we can’t have the feature presentation here, but we can have the preview of heaven’s coming attractions. Amen.
 Isaiah 40:6.
 John 14:20.
 Psalm 36:7, 9.
 From C.H. Dodd, The Interpretation of the Fourth Gospel, (Cambridge University Press, 1970), page 90.
 Cf. Isaiah 50:4-5.
Advents-Weihnachts Gottesdienst in Christ Lutheran Church
Hast Du eine Christliche Geburtsurkunde für Liebe und Vergebung?
- Dezember, 2015, den Vierten Advents Sonntag
Wenn mein Vater, Pastor Rudolf Krey zu Weihnachten gepredigt hat, dann hat Gott ihm immer geistliche Geschenke in der Gestalt von neuen Einsichten in der Weihnachtsgeschichte gegeben. Mit anderen Geschenken ist er immer mit sehr wenig zufrieden gewesen. Er bekam immer ein Paar Strümpfe oder Taschentücher, Half und Half (Tobacco) Tabak für seine Pfeife, und echtes Lübecker Marzipan, an dem wir alle mitgegessen haben.
Ich kann mich an ein geistliches Geschenk errinern, nämlich, dass die Hirten die Vorläufer aller Pastoren waren, denn auf Latein ist ein “Hirte” ein “pastor.” Und wie Pastoren heutzutage Christus verkündigen, haben sie zuerst das Christkind verkündigt nachdem sie die frohe Botschaft von den Engeln gehört und das Kindlein zu Bethlehem angebetet hatten.
Oft habe ich auch so etwas erfahren. Als ich zuerst Hand Gesten bei der Erzählung der Weihnachtsgeschichte in einer dramatischen Vorführung versuchte, merkte ich, dass mit den Worten “den Menschen ein Wohlgefallen” das Christkind selbst als Gottes Geschenk zu Weihnachten angedeutet war, und dabei die Frage, ob Friede auf Erden für alle Menschen oder nur die Gläubigen gilt, hinfällig ist.
Im Zentrum dieser Geschichte ist die Geburt des Christkindes. Aber wir und alle Kinder sind in dem Christkind einbegriffen und daher gibt es Freude bei jeder Geburt. Daher strahlen die Eltern mit Freude bei der Geburt, auch durch die Tränen, die unter den Augen noch nicht getrocknet sind.
Der Zeitpunkt in der Geschichte und der Kalender selbst war damals mit Regenten und Königen angedeutet. Dadurch wird auch die Geschichtlichkeit dieser Botschaft begründet. Geboren ist das Christkind als Kaiser Augustus regierte und als Quirinius Landpfleger in Syrien war. Heute würden wir sagen, in der Zeit unseres Präsident Barack Obama, mit Franziskus, dem Papst, und Gerry Brown, unserm Gouveneur. Wir könnten sagen, an diesem Zeitpunkt ist das Christkind in der Krippe unseres Herzens geboren.
Nun aber öffnet sich der Himmel und des Herrn Engel trat zu den Hirten und die Klarheit des Herrn leuchtete um sie. Diese Geburt ist gross! Wir müssen diese Geburt mit einem Vergrösserrungs-glas ansehen, so zu sagen, weil sie von besonderer Wichtigkeit ist, denn der ganze Kalender des Westens gilt als vor oder nach Christus, d.h., Anno Domini, im Jahr unseres Herrn. Auch wenn wir heutzutage seinen Name auslassen, fängt es dennoch mit Christus Geburt an. Daher ist diese Geburt sehr gross oder wichtig zu betrachten. Denn nicht ein Kaiser, sondern Christus ist geboren. Das römische Reich hat für eine gewisse Zeit bestanden, und andere Reiche sind vor and nach Rom gekommen und wieder gefallen, aber Christi Himmelreich besteht von nun an bis in Ewigkeit.
Denn seine Macht ist die Liebe; seine Verheissung, die Fülle des Lebens; sein Wort, die Wahrheit; sein Himmelreich besteht ohne Gewalt, sondern durch freie Überzeugung, die zum Glauben führt. Sein Gnadenreich wird ohne Armeen, d.h., nicht militärisch, sondern durch Feldzüge von Erneuerungen des Lebens und Heilungen der Blinden, Lahmen, Stummen und Tauben erweitert.
Marien Sohn, d.h., Jesu Geburt ist daher etwas sehr grosses oder wichtiges. Der Schöpfer des Himmels und der Erden, der Vater-Gott, den unser ganzen Welt-all nicht fassen kann, ist zu uns gekommen in diesem Christkinde, an der Brust der Mutter Maria und danach in der armseligen Krippe liegend.
Jesaja sagt: Ein Ochse kennt seinen Herrn und ein Esel die Krippe seines Herrn, aber Israel kennt nicht und mein Volk versteht’s nicht. (1:3) Daher, obwohl kein Tier in dieser Geschichte vorkommt, haben wir das liebe Vieh rund um die Krippe herum. Denn zum grössten Teil für Gott und seinen lieben Sohn haben wir kein Raum in der Herrberge von unseren Herzen.
Daher hat Gott unwichtige, gewöhnliche Menschen erwählt, wie Maria, jung, wahrscheinlich 12 bis 14 Jahren alt, die dann schwanger mit Gottes Sohn wurde; und Josef, der wahrscheinlich schon alt war. Gott hat ganz gewöhnliche und armselige Leutchen erwählt, so wie Du und ich. Auch als die Engel kamen, erschienen sie nicht vornehmen und hoch-erhabenen Menschen, sondern armen Hirten, die auch Nachts arbeiten mussten. Hier haben wir kein Gebot eines Kaisers, sondern die Verkündigung von Christus, wo die Letzten die Ersten und die Ersten die Letzten werden, denn dadurch werden Alle in der Liebe Gottes eingeschlossen.
Als gewöhnliche Leute sind wir auch bei Gott eingeladen zu der Krippe des Christkindes zu kommen, wie die Kinder. Wenn wir das Christkind anbeten, wird es in unserem Herzen geboren, denn Christus ist für uns geboren, ein Sohn ist uns gegeben, damit die Klarheit des Herrn über uns kommt, und die Engel herauf und herab über uns jauchzen, damit der Friede Gottes, welcher höher ist als alle Vernunft, auch in unseren Herzen waltet weil wir die Schwestern und Brüdern, Geschwister unsers Herrn Christus, d.h., auch Kinder Gottes geworden sind. Daher singen wir und freuen uns, denn Gott hat grossartiges für uns getan. Amen.
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.
Angels ascending and descending and how Jacob’s dream came true on the Shepherd Hills of Bethlehem, A Mini-Lecture, August 11, 2013
Jacob’s Ladder and Luther on the Incarnation August 11, 2013
Angels ascending and descending and how Jacob’s dream came true on the Shepherd Hills of Bethlehem
By Pr. Peter D.S. Krey, Ph.D.
I thought I would read what Luther had to say about the way Jacob’s dream came true in the angels appearing to the shepherds at the nativity of Christ, as they watched over their flocks by night. So I read Luther’s Christ-messe Postil. (A Postil contains long commentary-like sermons that are design to help preachers with their sermons). The lecture you have printed out comes mostly from that section of Luther’s Genesis Lectures, where he interpreted Jacob’s Ladder (Gen 28:10—22). It is this interpretation that Philip and I included in our book Luther’s Spirituality. In this mini-lecture, Luther’s interpretation of the angels ascending and descending before the shepherds in Bethlehem will predominate.
Notice that in Jacob’s dream, God is leaning on the ladder and speaking with Jacob, making the divine promises once again. The angel of the Lord, probably Gabriel, approaches the shepherds, but now God is not leaning on the ladder, but lying there in the manger, having just been born of Mary, and then because these are “things into which the angels long to look,” the angels cannot marvel enough and adore this lowly infant at the breasts of Mary and ascend into heaven, where they “continually see the face of Jesus’ Father in Heaven.” Ascending and descending over and over again, the way Jesus says, “Amen. Amen, I tell you, you will see the heavens open and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.” So we can talk of our ascending from the depths to the heights of humanity, but for the incarnation the angels are ascending and descending between heaven and earth, between God and humanity here in the union of the one person, the God-Man, Jesus Christ.
Now here are some of Luther’s words, which I translated from the German of Luther’s Postil for the Christmas story in Luke, which we read on Christmas Eve:
The deeper we can pull Christ down into our nature and flesh, the more comforting it is for us.
I once read in Luther that we cannot delve deeply enough into the flesh, meaning that we cannot become human enough.
How could God [more greatly] show his goodness, than by steeping himself so deeply into our flesh and blood, so that he does not disrespect nor reject the secret of our [human] nature, but in this place (the birth of the baby Jesus from Mary) gives it the very highest honor. Adam and Eve brought it to the very lowest degree of shamefulness, but now from this point on, [human nature] becomes godly, honest, and pure, which all people had made most ungodly, most shameful, and most unclean.
What is completely invisible on earth, what is given absolutely no attention, no standing, gets the highest regard or recognition in heaven, where the joy of the angels spills and overflows upon the shepherds. How under-impressive [for God] is the birth of a child to a prince or princess compared to the impressive celebration [of the angels] at the birth of this complete nobody in the eyes of this world.
Luther has in mind the coram Deo versus the coram hominibus / mundo distinction: the one forum before the eyes of God, the other forum in the eyes of our secular society.
See with what superlative honor God respects those, whom people reject and take pleasure in rejecting. Then you see where God’s eyes look; they look only into the depths and humiliation, as it is written, ‘God sits above the Cherubim and looks into the depths or the abyss.
Sometimes we refer to the highest human nature as high society or the high life, and the lowest human nature as low life. But
The angels could not find any princes or any of the high and mighty of the earth, [but appeared] to uneducated laypeople, the very lowliest people on earth.
The late Bob Smith, a New Testament professor compared the shepherds to today’s used-car salesmen.
Shouldn’t the angels have graced the high priest, the intelligentsia of Jerusalem, who would know how to say a lot about God and angels? But it was the poor shepherds, who received such abundant grace and honor from heaven and who on earth were considered to be nothing. How utterly God rejects the highfalutin, but we horse around and rampage for nothing so much as joining them up there. And so we never receive the honor of heaven. Ever and again we step out of God’s sight, away from the face of God, so that God can no longer see us, because we don’t want to be seen in the depths, which is the only place that God looks.
God’s word is like a fire that warms our hearts. And the nature of God’s Word is that it teaches us to recognize God and God’s works, and it points to the fact that this life is nothing. Because the way God does not live according to this life and does not have property, possessions, honor, and the power of this life in time, God does not regard them either, and doesn’t speak of them, but teaches only a game that is played against them, played opposite them, working also contrary to our minds; God looks to the places that the world turns away from, teaches what it flees, picks up what it leaves there, and although we become disgruntled and suffer by the way God works, because we do not wish to surrender our property and possessions, our honor and life, so that’s the only way it can be. God won’t change; we won’t be able to direct him. He will direct us.
Angels ascend and descend in the space between the lowest and the highest regard of human beings, while the lowest are lifted to the highest and the highest are humbled to be the lowest; the poor are made rich and the rich a sent empty away. There is a space coram hominibus or Mundo and the space coram Deo between which the angels ascend and descend celebrating the wonder of God’s Incarnation.
The angels are ascending and descending always away up in heaven beholding the face of God and now unable to marvel enough while adoring God in Christ, feeding at the breasts of his mother Mary, under all the demons and every creature residing on earth. Christ subjects the angels to himself, Luther says,
not because of his human nature, but because of the wonderful conjunction and union established out of the two contrary and unjoinable natures in one person. This, therefore, is the article by which the whole world, reason, and Satan are offended.
This tension of opposites, I will argue also brings about the tension that produces growth and maturity in the ascent of faith and the descent of falling in love of what I call the existential rapture.
 Luke 2:8.
 For the previous mini-lecture given in a Mid-Week Lenten Series see: http://www.scholardarity.com/?s=Midweek+Lenten+message
 1 Peter 1:12. Philip and Peter Krey, Luther’s Spirituality, (New York: Paulist Press, 2007), from p. 177.
 Mat 18:10.
 John 1:51.
 Martin Luther, Ausgewählte Werke, 3rd Edition, H. H. Borcherdt and Georg Merz, eds., Supplemental Series, Vol. 4, (München: Chr. Kaeser Verlag, 1960), Page 116.
 I’ve never been able to find the citation again whenever I look into Otto Clemen, Luthers Werke: Erster Band, (Berlin: Verlag von Walter de Gruyter & Co., 1929) where I thought I read it. Perhaps this is the very citation I was thinking of, just with my extrapolating that we are in Christ and cannot get into the flesh deeply enough.
 Ibid. This is a paraphrase reducing the number of Luther’s words.
 Ibid., pp. 116-17.
 Cf. Jer 23:29. I conflated two sentences in this one.
 Ibid., p. 117.
 Philip and Peter Krey, pages 178-79.
What about a Teenage Christ? The First Sunday of Christmas, Shepherd by the Sea, Gualala, CA. December 30th 2012
The First Sunday of Christmas, Shepherd by the Sea, Gualala, CA. December 30th 2012
1 Samuel 2:18-20, 26 / Psalm 148 / 1 Col. 3:12-17 / Luke 2:41-52
What about a Teenage Christ?
It’s the Sixth Day of Christmas and the light of the Christ-child is still shining on us. Whereas most Americans usually crowd Christmas into Advent, we usually buy a Christmas tree on Christmas Eve, celebrate the Twelve Days of Christmas, and then let Christmas spill over into Epiphany. In our Puerto Rican congregation in Coney Island, New York, January 6th was the Day of the Three Kings and like the people of many Latin American countries, it was the day that everyone shared their gifts. The children bring shoeboxes full of straw for the camels of the Three Kings, who give them presents, like the Magi of old, who brought the Christ-child gold, frankincense, and myrrh. That seems to be a more biblical custom, don’t you think, than Santa Clause, our Father-God image?
But today we already have the story of the 12 year old Jesus brought to the temple again by his very devout parents, Mary and Joseph. They were very much into the religion that taught salvation by the law. We now follow their son, whom we also confess to be the Son of God, who brings us salvation by Jesus the Christ, this little boy. Thus for us the Ten Commandments are overshadowed by the Seven Beatitudes, for in them Jesus describes the new beings, who have become clothed in Christ, just like little Samuel, wearing that linen Ephod, that white robe his mother, Hannah made him each year. That’s why Christians also usually dress in white robes for baptism and devout Moslems also love to wear white robes.
But Christians put on Christ. We become clothed in the character of Christ, so that the wonderful words of our Colossians passage also describe us, just like the Beatitudes, when we live our lives in Christ as our way of salvation. Let’s hear the passage again:
As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other; just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you must also forgive. Above all clothe yourself with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of God rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in the one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly; teach and admonish one another in all wisdom; and with gratitude in your hearts sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. (1 Col. 3:12-17)
What a wonderful passage! Notice the way it moves from your personal body to the body of the community through the peace brought about by the rule of God! Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly! It needs to dwell in you so richly that God brings about the birth of Christ in you. Christ needs to be born in our hearts and then grow and mature in us so that we actually bear a family resemblance with the Christ of God, the way his followers are described in this Colossian’s passage, as well as in the Sermon on the Mount.
The law is about what we are not. What are we really? What good is it if we are not killers, adulterers, liars, thieves? What are we on the positive side of the law, when we are shaped by love? Thus our lives are not centered in the laws’ demands, but in the gracious promises of God, who overcomes our doleful old hearts and gives us loving, compassionate, forgiving, and thankful hearts ready to immerse ourselves ever more deeply in God’s Word and into the relationships with those who are the vessels of that Word.
Mary, Joseph, and Jesus had been to the temple in Jerusalem and now were on their way back to Nazareth, the families and relatives traveling together for protection from those who mugged and preyed on pilgrims. Nazareth was a very secular city and it did not even have a rabbi. When Jesus came back to the city during the time of his mature ministry, you may remember, he was not welcomed. They tried to throw him off a cliff!
So the journey to Jerusalem was a festival like Christmas, but they were returning to a secular, mostly Pagan, and violent Nazareth. (Not as violent as our society, of course. New York City is celebrating the fact that it had only 414 murders this year! There were only 598 murders in all of Canada last year. )
Meanwhile Mary and Joseph suddenly discovered that Jesus was missing on their return trip. The twelve year old Jesus had forgotten everything in his long Q and A session listening to and questioning the priests of the temple in Jerusalem. They were amazed at the boy’s understanding and his answers. Mind you that he also came from Nazareth, where the synagogue was not even worthy of a rabbi and where the family was probably hiding, so there was no one there to teach Jesus. That means God was directly revealing understanding to him, much the way St. Paul received his wonderful gospel purely by revelation.
At twelve years of age Jesus was missing on the return to Nazareth because he had to be in his Father’s House about his Father’s business. He had to be sharing and growing richly in the Word of God and in divine and human favor. But what can we make of a twelve year old Jesus, who would in one year become a teenage Jesus? The baby Jesus in his Christmas manger is all powerful. Who has more power than a baby anyway? The little bundle of love has both parents as big as they are completely wrapped around his or her little finger. They are there to fill its every need.
But what do you make of a 12 year old Christ, who is about to become a teenager? When the baby Christ is born – in us, he also grows up in us. But there are no stories about the teenage Christ in scripture. That could change if we became teenage Christs. Would we too sometimes want to be more adult that adults and more like children than a child? This age is certainly an in-between time; but we could also find ourselves there as well.
Perhaps it is necessary to step back, however and like Nicodemus, ask Jesus the question, “How can we be born again when we are old?” The new birth means filling ourselves with the expectancy of life, the life ahead of us, like that of a child. A cup in Starbucks reads: “When the old caterpillar comes to the end of the world, it finds itself a butterfly!” And we have to anticipate a wonderful life in heaven after this one! So the baby Jesus in us becomes a Christ-child, the 12 year old boy, and then the teenage Christ, with an incredible zest for life, never wanting to go to bed in order not to miss a moment for the mission for which we are heaven sent. So as old as we are we can open ourselves to the new wonders that life can bring, the new words that teenagers coin that express the wonder of their new experience. I think they coin most of the new words that are introduced into our lives. Being the time-machines that they are, they already explore the future, while still being right here with us. Like them, the Teenage Christ in us can have a new growth spurt, so that far from a journey to Nazareth, we can be on a pilgrimage growing into the embodiment of that passage in Colossians: singing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs with grateful hearts with the word of Christ living in us richly.
How does personal growth into the full stature of Christ and social movement into the peaceful body of Christ ruled by God, take place? Like a little child hearing grown-ups speaking grown-up language all around him or her, we have to be like the boy Jesus listening to and questioning the mature and wise priests in the temple – for us mature and wise followers of the faith. This week I read some more of Michael Polanyi, a scholar, who was a scientist who became a sociologist and philosopher and a Christian, too. He writes, “The amazing deployment of the infant mind is stirred up by a veritable blaze of confidence sensing the hidden meanings of speech and other adult behavior and grasping these meanings.”  The way a child grows up to be a teenager and then an adult is a measure of the spiritual growth that is outstanding for us. Polanyi compares the child’s intellectual progress to the highest levels of creative achievement and notes that it is like the “self-transformation…entailed in a religious conversion.”
So the Christ born in our hearts has to become surrounded by the Word of God, language that we have to grow up to understand: all the meanings that surround us in the beloved community that Jesus proclaimed so that we continue the incarnation of Christ in ourselves and in the peaceful rule of his collective body, the church, so that we become real incarnations of Christ growing from rebirth to teenage to maturity into the full stature of our Lord proclaiming the peaceful rule of God to our society.
Our Lord Jesus faced the issue of violence head on: those who live by the sword die by the sword. Those who live by a Bushmaster semi-automatic assault rifle die by one. Jesus faced the issue of the mentally deranged head on: if only a modern day Christ had faced the demons in an Adam Lansa! Jesus faced them in Legion, rebuked them, let them enter a herd of pigs that stampeded off a cliff and drowned in the sea.
But for that we need Teenage Christs and the adult and mature incarnations of Christ. We have too many people incarnating cruelty, hatred,  selfishness, and Rambo-types slaughtering defenseless innocents! What do we make of all those asserting themselves by buying these assault weapons and doing target practice right after the carnage of those children and teachers? They have hardened hearts: that is the only concept that I can come up with.
It will take many a teenage Christ with growth spurts into maturity to dismantle our culture of violence. Looking at movie posters, almost every leading actor is depicted wielding a gun and sometimes an assault weapon one would have to be a weight-lifter even to hold. But look at the social backdrop of a nuclear arsenal, drone warfare, tomahawk missiles, etc. The more we base our lives and the order of our society on the threat of death, the less we base them on God’s promise of life, the abundant life that love brings. The threat of death is becoming bankrupt in the face of those dying to kill, even themselves. God’s peaceful rule is based on the promise of life. Communion means that where two or three are gathered together and become one in Christ, God is there to do wonders. We need to repent of our culture of violence; repent for such assault weapons, but as well as for SWAT teams kicking down doors in the middle of the night. It has grown so cold. When it comes to the beloved community Christ proclaimed, we are so far away we are not even warm! We need to repent and believe the Good News. Can’t we expect that world, and enter the beloved community based on the promises of God with the exuberant energy of teenage Christs?
We also need careful and wise negotiations by the leaders of our government. They could say, “We will stop the drone attacks if you stop your suicide bombers.” Russia and the USA could say: “We will drastically decrease our nuclear arsenal if you in Israel, India, Pakistan, and North Korea reduce yours as well and Iran stop in its hope to join the nuclear club.” It is still the arms race or the human race, because the hydrogen bombs we have in our arsenal today make the atom bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki look like child’s play.
As teenage Christs we can certainly believe and witness to the beloved community and teach the nations how to forgive each other and make friends once again rather than threatening each other in such a drastic way. It is not all or nothing. We can grow by increments and approximations of justice.
And we can keep growing up in Christ. But we need to face the issues head on. In a movie about the Columbine massacre, a fellow was talking about it shaking his head in incomprehension while standing in front of a tomahawk missile in the Colorado factory there that was making them. Isn’t that the backdrop to the violence we are experiencing?
Jesus was able to bring good news to the poor, to be the healing presence of God for the sick, return a mentally deranged man to his right mind, open the eyes of the blind, the ears of the deaf, let the lame walk, the paralyzed move, and the stultified grow again.
We too can incarnate the young and growing Christ. We need to be Teenage Christs as old as we are and bring the teenage, awkward and clumsy presence of God into our society. Let’s fill our time with the stories of the Teenage Christ that are not recorded in scripture! We need those stories in our time. They have to tell and be told about the beloved relationships and the beloved community that is to die for. We will end up on the cross, of course. But what a glorious resurrection! The cross is glory for you and glory for me. Amen.
 That is being merciful, humble, peace-loving, hungering and thirsting for righteousness. I would like to write “justice” but I wonder if that might not be taken for revenge, in the sense that it is often now used.
 Police Reported Crime Statistics in Canada. http://www.statcan.gc.ca/pub/85-002-x/2012001/article/11692-eng.htm
 Miachael Polanyi, “The Scientific Revolution, “ in Hugh C. White, ed., Christians in a Technological Era, (New York: Seabury Press, 1964), p. 40.
 A letter to the editor from Ann Ilton, Boca Raton, FL and dated Dec. 26, 2012 in the New York Times, December 28, 2012, page A20. Her letter influenced my sermon. She said that those who came to her and gathered around her and “offered loving solace were truly God incarnate, just as cruelty and cynicism are the opposite.” She continues: “It is a tough lesson to learn. However, when love surrounds you in its light, the darkness dissipates, and you can move on to the next phase of your life. You are not stultified by tragedy.”
God’s Christmas Present: Our New Birth in Christ, The First Advent German Christmas Eve Service, United Lutheran Church, Manteca, CA – December 2, 2012
The First Advent German Christmas Eve Service
United Lutheran Church, Manteca, CA – December 2, 2012
(translated from the German)
God’s Christmas Present: Our New Birth in Christ
The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all. Amen.
Everything in this service will be in German so that we can imagine that we are back in Germany for Christmas. When Mrs. Christine Jenkins called me this time for our German Christmas Eve service, it made me very happy. The time had come once again for me to prepare myself for this wonderful service in Manteca, to once again proclaim the Good News in German, our mother tongue. I took out my trumpet right away and played all the German Christmas carols, because I have to know the key and the very first note to be able to play them by ear. But I know it is far more important to beg God, to pray to God for the grace, for the gift, to proclaim God’s Word to you.
The last time the Christmas saying that was in my heart came from a German carol: “How the Christmas room shimmers and glistens!” as if the Christmas event could also make our hearts glisten and glow the same way. But to light up our hearts, it takes more than the glitter of a decorated Christmas room, the shimmering angel hair on the Christmas tree, more than the Christmas candles burning brightly on its branches, and the Christmas presents all around the tree, – because something inside us can be missing.
When I was about eleven or twelve years old, during the sharing of the Christmas presents, I smiled from ear to ear, but only to hide my disappointment. I only acted happy.
My father asked me, “Are you satisfied?”
Of course, I answered, “Yes.” Even though I felt that something was missing and somehow I could not come to terms with myself.
For Christmas my father usually received a few pairs of socks and a can of Half and Half tobacco for his pipe and he was satisfied with that. He was also a pastor and he felt that he received his real Christmas present from God, when God gave him new insights for his Christmas sermon. Those new insights were like revelations which made him very happy.
On Christmas Eve when everything was ready, he would sing “O Come Little Children, come one and come all” and as we entered the Christmas room, we children knew that we first had to have a Christmas service with the reading of the Christmas story. There would be long prayers and many a song before we could get to our Christmas presents. My childish selfishness and greed was intense and for me the Christmas presents were the main thing and the Christmas story and the long prayers, very much secondary. The service was overshadowed by the presents and my wrong-heartedness did not leave me in peace.
In a large family one can easily get lost, because there is often too little understanding and help for getting self-knowledge and instead an emphasis on obedience, where the sharing of mercy and grace would be more helpful.
As a young preacher I was still very immature. Sometimes I preached about the dark side of Christmas: that Christmas had been sold out to consumerism, business, and commercial interests and the hectic shopping for presents and finishing all the Christmas preparations hid a great loneliness and alienation. My sisters would actually run up thousands of dollars on their credit cards buying Christmas presents. Completely indebted that way it would take till the next Christmas before they had paid off the balance, and then they would go into debt all over again.
At the office where they worked they would have Christmas parties and everyone would drink way too much. Something was missing in their lives and that was the reality of Christmas, the sharing of the gifts of grace through the Good News, the glad tidings of great joy that will reach all people, because this birth in Bethlehem meant nothing else than that God came to be with us. So through faith God is among us, really present. In the birth of Jesus Christ from the Virgin Mary, we find that God was attracted to us and fell in love with us. God has struck up a friendship with us, the people of the earth, and through Jesus Christ, he wants to be our Father.
In those days even this pastor was on the dark side of Christmas, because the reality of Christmas was missing. It is much like for our society where Black Friday has even cut away part of Thanksgiving Day in a crazy frenzy of greedy consumerism. Hearts have not been and still need to be marvelously changed, because that brings boundless love into everyday life, fresh new hope, and an ever increasing strength of faith. The Christmas spirit over these days is only faint and temporary in comparison.
In Berlin when I ministered in St. Ann’s Church in Dahlem, I learned that Bishop Scharf always celebrated Christmas with the prisoners in jail. Separated from their families, the suffering there is the worst over Christmas. To spend Christmas Eve there requires great maturity and a strong faith.
I wanted to celebrate Christmas in a special way too. In the Western District of St. Ann’s Dahlem parish, there were many very rich people who lived in villas. But there was also an orphanage for boys. So I took myself over there on Christmas Eve and asked if there was anything I could do for them, for example, what present I could give them. The present that they wanted was to go to the movies. So on Christmas Eve I sat with them in a movie house and what’s worse, we watched a shocking horror film! That on Christmas Eve! I should not say, “On that Holy Night” but “that unholy night”! I was with them as their pastor, but that Christmas Eve was pathetic, bleak, and empty.
Then I thought about our Christmas at home, the prayers, the Christmas story, the Christmas sermon of my father; it suddenly seemed to me that the Christmas room was almost transfigured – glistening in a heavenly light. Because the birth of the Christ-Child in the cradle of my heart had not yet taken place, my representation of the Good News was too weak to help those boys from the orphanage experience the real Christmas.
For that one had to have experienced God’s grace, that means, to have received a new birth in Christ, because the birth of Jesus Christ in the cradle of our hearts is our real God-given Christmas present and after receiving it, we can say with St. Paul, “I live, but it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me!” (Gal 2:20) For we believers live in Christ, in the Son of God, who was born for us, so that we too could become children of God and as Jesus said, we could have a “dear Our Father in Heaven.” Through this birth, just like through our baptism, God our Father gives us gifts of grace, hope, faith, satisfaction, protection, and the blessing of having spiritual possessions. This kind of a “blessed having” is the direct opposite of being greedy, because God gives us wonderful gifts through faith. Like Luther said, “If you believe, you have them, if you don’t believe, you don’t have them.” More poetically, “If you believe, you receive; if you do not believe, you don’t receive.” You don’t “get” it.
Christmas as a mere festival on the church calendar won’t do. That we celebrate the birthday of Jesus Christ helps us, but it also won’t do. Through faith we receive a new birth in the birth of God’s Son. The Good News is that we ordinary, everyday, and even lowly people, who may not have room in the inn of our hearts, but do provide a stall and in it a cradle, so that the Christ Child, the Son of God can be born there – in our hearts. This new birth is like our baptism, because the experience includes suffering the contractions, until our new being is born into the world, a new person. This new birth takes place through the baptism of our faith, by which we are born children of God, marvelously changed and new.
At that point we have experienced the real Christmas. The Christmas story becomes our story and our life turns into a prayer, a Word of God, a loving and worshiping service of others. That is why it is also appropriate for us to celebrate Christmas Eve on the First Advent, because although we celebrate the birthday of Christ on December 25, our new birth can take place any time of year, we could even experience our Christmas birth in July. We celebrate the birthday of Jesus Christ, since God came to us in his birth so that, because of God’s love for us, we also are born anew and that also means that a new start from Heaven has come down to the earth.
As I matured further in faith, like a child, I relearned the Christmas story by heart and a few years ago, I presented it dramatically in a Christmas party in Philadelphia. The people were caught in the spell of the Gospel. Then one very smart and intellectual woman said, “You told the story as if you believe it! You are pretty naive. No one in our modern times today still believes it.”
If someone has already gone through that birth, that baptism of faith, in which Jesus Christ is born in the cradle of your heart, then you know that you have received a gift from God and someone taking that kind of a critical stand merely demonstrates that she is missing what’s real about Christmas. In these modern times one can also go to the movies and see a horror show on Christmas Eve! What is holy for these modern times?
As a child I had more greed than the blessed having of God’s gift. You become blessed when Christ is in your heart. “If you believe, you receive; if you don’t, you won’t.” In this birth in Bethlehem, the overwhelming friendship to us human beings by God, the Father of Jesus, was revealed to us, and now God is with us, among us, and in us through his dear Son.
Now my knowledge is certain: the main thing is God’s Word, prayer, loving worshipful service, the Christmas story, so that God our Father through love brings about our new birth as the children of God. This God-given Christmas gift is the main thing and then as having everything, lovingly, we can give and receive presents in sharing the gifts of grace.
The peace of God which surpasses human understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.
A Blessed and Merry Christmas to everyone!
Pastor Peter Krey