Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Hypostatic What? (aka Musings on the Blessed Incarnation and Nativity of Christ)

The Feast of the Nativity is perhaps one of the most widely-anticipated events in both the secular and sacred realms. While the latter would probably hold Pascha up as the pinnacle of its anticipation and joy, Christmas still holds a very important place in the Christian Church Year. After all, what is Christmas but a foretaste of the Pascha, for at both events Christ bursts forth vicariously and victoriously: at Christmas from the womb of His Mother with angelic acclamation, taking our corrupted flesh into His perfection; at the latter from the womb of the tomb, trampling Satan under foot and freeing us from his tyrannical reign.

Simply put, Christmas is the celebration of Immanuel, “God With Us;” that is, the Incarnation of the fullness of the Deity in bodily form - our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. In honor of this marvelous Day, I think it is meet, right, and salutary to consider just what the Incarnation means, both dogmatically and practically.

When I was young, I tried rationalizing the mystery of the Incarnation by contorted acts of reason. At one point I think I believed that Christ was half man by virtue of His Virgin Mother, and half God by virtue of His miraculous conception by the Holy Spirit.  I know for sure that this eventually manifested itself as the belief that Christ was a human body with a God-spirit. To be sure, I was taught the truth that Christ is both fully man and fully God - as in, 100% man and 100% God. But I couldn’t understand this. I didn’t understand that, by virtue of His humanity, Christ still has a “Y” chromosome. How exactly that is, we do not understand. Church Fathers like Tertullian and St. Theodoret postulated that because Adam was not begotten from human seed (being created by God Himself), so too the “New Adam," Christ, was begotten without means of a human father.  Some have taken this to mean that Christ shares Adam's Y chromosome.  This is pious speculation, but what we do know from the Sacred Scriptures is that Christ is fully, 100%, really, truly human. He is not some Herculean half-breed. He is not only slightly human. He is not a human body with God for a soul; He is 100% human with a 100% human soul.

But He is also 100%, truly, really God. Yes, in Him “all the fullness of the Deity dwells in bodily form,” as the Blessed Apostle tells us. How can this be? Surely, an apple cannot be an orange. One can cut up apples and oranges and mix them together, but they are still separate entities. One might even puree them beyond recognition, seemingly combining them into one solid blend, but each is still separate. It is still possible to micro-analyze the mixture and separate apple from orange.

Not so with Christ. Christ is both 100% man and 100% God, but this is no mere mixture, and the natures are not separable. He is not two Persons - one Man, and one God - in the appearance of one. He has the two natures, God and man, each retaining its own character and distinct properties, but inseparably united in one Person. The Church has used the term “Hypostatic Union” to describe this blessed reality.

The Solid Declaration of the Formula of Concord treats this topic well when it says: “We believe, teach, and confess also that now, since the incarnation, each nature in Christ does not so subsist of itself that each is or constitutes a separate person, but that they are so united that they constitute one single person, in which the divine and the assumed human nature are and subsist at the same time, so that now, since the incarnation, there belongs to the entire person of Christ personally, not only His divine, but also His assumed human nature; and that, as without His divinity, so also without His humanity, the person of Christ or Filii Dei incarnati (of the incarnate Son of God), that is, of the Son of God who has assumed flesh and become man, is not entire. Hence Christ is not two distinct persons, but one single person, notwithstanding that two distinct natures are found in Him, unconfused in their natural essence and properties” (VIII:11).

The Church Fathers (and our Confessions) have likened the "Sacramental union" of the Blessed Sacrament of the Altar to this "Hypostatic Union" of the Incarnation.  While the analogy isn't perfect, 
"many eminent ancient teachers, Justin, Cyprian, Augustine, Leo, Gelasius, Chrysostom and others, use this simile concerning the words of Christ's testament: This is My body, that just as in Christ two distinct, unchanged natures are inseparably united, so in the Holy Supper the two substances, the natural bread and the true natural body of Christ, are present together here upon earth in the appointed administration of the Sacrament" (SD:VII:37).

The Incarnation, then, is an important reminder that God is both the fullness of humanity and Deity.  Without this important truth, the truth of the Gospel is lost.  In our fallen condition, we are incapable of restoring ourselves, much less others and the universe.  When we think of Christ as anything less than fully human and fully God, we deny His ability to do what we can not.

In this light, the Nativity is all about recognizing the reality of a condescending God.  A God Who has done all things necessary to "bring back man who was lost," as one of the Responsory texts at Christmas Matins reminds us.  We celebrate a God Who sought not - and seeks not! - to be served, but to serve, and to take on mortal life that it might be sacrificially extinguished as a ransom for many. A God who did not spurn the cruelest of curses - for cursed is the one who hangs on a tree - but willingly went to slaughter without opening His mouth.  With the whole company of the heavenly army, we stand in exultant awe as the One Who holds all things in the palm of His hand lies helpless where cattle feed - the very same One Who lies humbly on an Altar to be fed upon by His sheep.  The Creator Who brought all things into existence with “Let there be” takes on our flesh that He might bear all our woes, suffer our trials, carry our Cross, and secure all things necessary for our salvation with three more Words, “It is finished," providing that finished work in His Body once-slain and Blood outpoured for our forgiveness in the Supper.   Yes, this very Word-Made-Flesh is the One and Only, Who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.

In a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, He will come again in glory with that heavenly army, which He now leads in spiritual warfare against all the forces of evil in the heavenly realms, and with three more words, “It is done,” will herald the recreation of the universe and its restoration to Edenic glory. By virtue of His incarnation and vicarious life on behalf of Man, He will raise all men and give them bodies that will never fade or decay. By virtue of His immortal perfection taking on our mortal imperfection, our frail humanity becomes like unto the very Son of God. God With Us.  God with us then at Bethlehem, on Calvary, and God-With-Us now on the Altar.  God comes to us that all whose names are written in His book of life might dwell with Him eternally.

I will end this post with the words of a good friend, Mr. Jonathan Cariveau, who summarizes these thoughts with exceedingly great words of wisdom:

"Today is brought forth in the flesh the Creator of the flesh; today He who bears all is borne in a womb; today the One who is everywhere present and fills all things is born to be present anew unto men! Rejoice, O cosmos, sing aloud, O angelic powers, shout for joy, O hosts of Heaven, for the One to whom no novelty is possible has inaugurated a new thing; He has deigned to descend and take upon Himself the dust of the earth, renewing all things in Himself. Today, the corruption of the tomb is transfigured into glory, and the Resurrection is present in the birth. From a sealed womb and a sealed tomb united into one has the Eternal sprung, trampling down death by death, and to those in the grave giving life.

Today, love has transcended sin, communion has overcome separation, and weakness has been demolished by strength; Prayer Personified has united mankind in one song to a Father of all harmony. No sooner has the Almighty's face shown upon his mother, than has His mother seen Him suspended on the Cross, for His very being is sacrificial love, and His coming among us, an offering of peace. The Kingdom has been established, the victory has been realized, and the conquest has begun, and the Light has shined on those in darkness. May the Prince of Peace, the King of all, the Savior of the world be with each and every one of you today, and may His reign of reconciliation and His throne of power extend over all the world, that the Spirit of mercy and justice may wash away our imperfections, and transfigure us in love."

Amen! This is most certainly true.

Monday, December 17, 2012

First Vespers of Christmas and the Divine Offices

As pointed out in a previous post, this coming Saturday, December 22nd, at 7:00 P.M., St. John’s Evangelical Lutheran Church in Milwaukee, Wisconsin is hosting a pan-Confessional Christmas Eve Service. I have the great privilege of playing the organ for this Divine Service, which will follow the traditional liturgy for the First Vespers of Christmas. Since many of our readers are probably unfamiliar with the idea of a “First Vespers,” I thought it might be useful to consider the meaning and historical development of the occassion.

Before the Reformation, churches and monastic orders observed the Divine Offices on a daily basis. The Divine Offices are also known as the “canonical hours,” or liturgical prayer Services (as distinct from the Chief Divine Service which is centered on the Blessed Sacrament). The Divine Offices roughly corroborate with the “prayer hours” referenced in Sacred Scripture (cf. Luke 1:10; Acts 3:1, 10:9, etc.). In these pre-Reformation times, there were a plethora of Offices, including Matins, Prime, Terce, Sext, None, Vespers, and Compline. While the Reformation sought to limit the legalistic observance of these Offices that the Papists forced on burdened consciences (indeed, the Blessed Reformer called it “the unprofitable and burdensome babbling of the Seven Canonical Hours” in his Large Catechism), in practice the Lutheran Church never abandoned the use of the Divine Offices.  Rather, the essentially repetitive seven offices were typically reduced from seven to two, three, or four Offices, which are still observed (though some sources, like the Lutheran Brotherhood Prayer Book, offer resources for all seven Offices). Of these, Matins (morning) and Vespers (evening) are the most prominent.

The point of this historical treatise is to highlight the fact that Vespers is the evening Office of the Church. But there is only one Vesperal Office. Where, then, does this “First Vespers” business come from?

In the ancient Church (borrowing from Jewish precedence), on particular solemnities (solemnities being defined as Sundays and Feasts) it was the custom to begin the observance of the feast at hand during the evening of the preceding day. Looking at Christmas, one of the most prominent examples, this would mean that “Christmas Day,” as far as the Church is concerned, actually begins Christmas Eve’s evening. Since Vespers is the Church’s evening office, what would otherwise be Christmas Eve’s Vespers actually marks the liturgical beginning of Christmas Day. However, since there is also a Vespers on the 25th of December, which is still considered Christmas Day, the Vespers on the 24th of December is considered the “First Vespers.”

All of this may seem like a lot of hyper-liturgical gobledy-gook, but in the context of the actual liturgy of First Vespers, it makes a whole lot of sense. For example, consider the proper Responsory: “This day you shall know that the Lord cometh. And in the morning, then you shall see His glory.” The symbolism is stark enough, but it is especially powerful in light of the emphatic Law-Gospel reading from Titus 3 that it follows: “For we ourselves were also once foolish, disobedient, deceived, serving various lusts and pleasures, living in malice and envy, hateful and hating one another. But when the kindness and the love of God our Savior toward man appeared, not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Savior, that having been justified by His grace we should become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.”

So too, the proper Hymn of the Day, St. Ambrose’s beautiful “Christe, Redémptor Ómnium,” is another wonderful expression of the day’s liturgical meaning. It is not used as the Office Hymn throughout Advent, but is instead retained until the First Vespers.

All this to say, I hope you will consider joining us as we celebrate the traditional First Vespers of Christmas.  The Service is scheduled for the 22nd to prevent attendees from missing out on any of the special Services that their home parishes may be offering. As such, this is a wonderful opportunity for Confessional fellowship and for celebrating the high Feast of Christmas with your Lutheran brothers and sisters from the greater Milwaukee area. Hope to see you there!

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Four Components of Justification

The Solid Declaration of the Formula of Concord tells us:

To the article of justification [. . .] belong and are necessary only the grace of God, the merit of Christ, and faith, which receives this in the promise of the Gospel, whereby the righteousness of Christ is imputed to us, whence we receive and have forgiveness of sins, reconciliation with God, sonship, and heirship of eternal life.”

If one examines this citation carefully, he will note four key components which are necessary (and only necessary) to the article of justification:

  1. The grace of God.
  2. The merit of Christ.
  3. The promise of the Gospel.
  4. Faith.
Put another way, without any one of these four components, there is no justification.  This is not to say, of course, that all four of these items are dependent on each other for existence.  The grace of God exists independent of the merits of Christ; the merits of Christ exist whether or not the Gospel is proclaimed.  And all of these exist regardless of faith.  But, by way of analogy, just because eggs, flour, and sugar exist independent of one another, if they are not combined and baked, they are not a cake.  So too, without faith, neither the grace of God, nor the merit of Christ, nor the promise of the Gospel are justification, though they are certainly realities independent of each other.

Consequently, while faith does not bring the merits of Christ or the grace of God into existence, it does receive the Gospel promises that they empower, thus constituting the totality of the justification article.  

The result of these four components working in tandem is also expressed by the above quote:  “The righteousness of Christ is imputed to us, whence we receive and have forgiveness of sins, reconciliation with God, sonship, and heirship of eternal life.”

Faith does not bring the righteousness of Christ into existence any more than it brings the grace of God and the Gospel promises into existence.  But without faith, one does not receive imputation of righteousness, forgiveness, reconciliation, sonship, and heirship to eternal life.  These all certainly exist and are the merits of Christ whether or not there is faith to receive them, but they are not the property of the individual regardless of faith.  They are simply what the article of justification says:  the merits of Christ.  They become the property of the individual when he becomes one with Christ in the Holy Laver.  But until one is clothed with Christ in those waters of life, "the 
wrath of God abides on him" and he is “condemned already” as the third chapter of St. John tells us.  A lack of faith means the opposite of justification; it means condemnation.

In light of this, it seems apparent that all men are neither justified nor righteous in God's sight without faith; how could they be, since they have never had faith and remain under God's wrath and condemnation?  

Thus it is evident that faith justifies and is imputed for righteousness.  And yet, we cannot by our own thinking or choosing believe in Jesus Christ, our Lord, much less come to Him.  This is because faith is the gift of God.  The Holy Spirit comes to us in the Blessed Means of Grace - the Holy Gospel - and works faith in our hearts.  This faith is not something we do, but is something God does in us.  It saves not because we choose Christ, but because He chose us.   Thanks be to God!

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Advent: A Follow-Up

In my previous post, "The Advent of Our King," I endeavored to show the traditional meaning of Adventide, specifically focusing on the "Three Advents" of Christ as expressed in the traditional Proper of the Mass for the four Sundays of Advent.  Although I briefly mentioned it in the previous article, I want to use this post to expand on the history of the Advent wreath.  At the end of this post will be a listing of the traditional Propers of the Mass and Lectionary readings.

The Advent Wreath

 The Advent wreath is an important part of the season for many of us, but the liturgical significance of its four candles is lost on most people. While many churches ascribe a specific theme to each candle (e.g. Prophecy, Bethlehem, Shepherds, and Angels), such usage is of contemporary (and largely sectarian) origin. However, a wreath with four candles is much more ancient. The lighting of four candles on a wreath likely predates Christian use as a symbol of perseverance during the harshness of winter.  A wreath of evergreen leaves has long symbolized eternal life, both by virtue of the “ever green” leaves and geometric circle.  Candle light, too, has symbolic associations with the same themes. Viewing Christ as the “Light that lightens the Gentiles,” churches adopted the use of the wreath for Advent.  While there is dispute, most sources seem to agree that the use began in Germany around the time of (or shortly prior to) the Blessed Reformation.  Its four candles represent a sort of "count down" to the Feast of Christmas, which some wreaths represent by a larger candle in the center.
 Because violet - symbolizing the subdued penitence of the Advent fast - is the liturgical color for the season, the candles used are this color as well.  The exception to this is the rose-colored candle lit on the third Sunday, which is associated with Gaudete (meaning “Rejoice”) Sunday.  It exists as a mixture of the Advent and Christmastide liturgical colors - violet and white. The idea behind this liturgical color is to remind us that even in the midst of a somber season like Advent, we must remember to “rejoice in the Lord always.”  Gaudete (and its Lenten counterpart, Laetare) is often called "Refreshment Sunday" due to its nature as a "break" during the longer Advent fast.
 Incidentally, when the Vatican II-inspired blue is used in place of the traditional violet, the use of the rose on Gaudete seems out of place (at least in its historical context as a mixture of violet and white).  Coupled with the fact that most parishes don’t use rose paraments and vestments at all these days, it would seem more logical to just use four blue candles in such circumstances.  Alternatively, we could go back to the more traditional violet usage, as has been done at the parishes I am playing for this Advent season.

The Proper of the Mass (with Lectionary readings):

For more information about the use of these texts, see my previous post, "Using the Propers is Proper!"


Ps. 25:1-3a; 25:4 
To You, O Lord, I lift up my soul.
O my God, I trust in You;
Let me not be ashamed;
Let not my enemies triumph over me.
Indeed, let no one who waits on You be ashamed.
Show me Your ways, O Lord; teach me Your paths.
Gloria Patri:
Glory be to the Father, and to the Son ✠, and to the Holy Spirit,
As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be: world without end.
Repeat Antiphon

Romans 13:11-14 
And do this, knowing the time, that now it is high time to awake out of sleep; for now our salvation is nearer than when we first believed.  The night is far spent, the day is at hand. Therefore let us cast off the works of darkness, and let us put on the armor of light.  Let us walk properly, as in the day, not in revelry and drunkenness, not in lewdness and lust, not in strife and envy.  But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to fulfill its lusts.

Ps. 25:3a, 4 
Let no one who waits on You be ashamed.
Show me Your ways, O Lord; teach me Your paths.

Psalm 85:7
Alleluia. Alleluia.
Show us Your mercy, Lord,
And grant us Your salvation. Alleluia.

St. Luke 21:25-33
“And there will be signs in the sun, in the moon, and in the stars; and on the earth distress of nations, with perplexity, the sea and the waves roaring; men’s hearts failing them from fear and the expectation of those things which are coming on the earth, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken.  Then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory.  Now when these things begin to happen, look up and lift up your heads, because your redemption draws near.”
 Then He spoke to them a parable: “Look at the fig tree, and all the trees.  When they are already budding, you see and know for yourselves that summer is now near.  So you also, when you see these things happening, know that the kingdom of God is near.  Assuredly, I say to you, this generation will by no means pass away till all things take place.  Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will by no means pass away.

Ps. 25:1-3a
To You, O Lord, I lift up my soul.
O my God, I trust in You;
Let me not be ashamed;
Let not my enemies triumph over me.
Indeed, let no one who waits on You be ashamed.

Psalm 85:12
Yes, the Lord will give what is good;
And our land will yield its increase.


Isaiah 30:19a, 30a, 29; Psalm 80:1a 
People of Zion, behold:
The Lord will come to save the nations;
The Lord will cause His glorious voice to be heard,
and you shall have gladness of heart.
Give ear, O Shepherd of Israel,
You who lead Joseph like a flock.
Gloria Patri:
Glory be to the Father, and to the Son ✠, and to the Holy Spirit,
As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be: world without end.
Repeat Antiphon

Romans 15:4-13
For whatever things were written before were written for our learning, that we through the patience and comfort of the Scriptures might have hope.  Now may the God of patience and comfort grant you to be like-minded toward one another, according to Christ Jesus, that you may with one mind and one mouth glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Therefore receive one another, just as Christ also received us, to the glory of God.  Now I say that Jesus Christ has become a servant to the circumcision for the truth of God, to confirm the promises made to the fathers, and that the Gentiles might glorify God for His mercy, as it is written:
“For this reason I will confess to You among the Gentiles,
And sing to Your name.”
And again he says:
“Rejoice, O Gentiles, with His people!”
And again:
“Praise the Lord, all you Gentiles!
Laud Him, all you peoples!
And again, Isaiah says:
“There shall be a root of Jesse;
And He who shall rise to reign over the Gentiles,In Him the Gentiles shall hope.”
Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.

Psalm 50:2-3a, 5
Out of Zion, the perfection of beauty,
God will shine forth. Our God shall come.
“Gather My saints together to Me,
those who have made a covenant with Me by sacrifice.”

Psalm 122:1
Alleluia. Alleluia.
I was glad when they said to me,
“Let us go into the house of the Lord.” Alleluia.

St. Matthew 11:2-10
And when John had heard in prison about the works of Christ, he sent two of his disciples and said to Him, “Are You the Coming One, or do we look for another?” Jesus answered and said to them, “Go and tell John the things which you hear and see: The blind see and the lame walk; the lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear; the dead are raised up and the poor have the gospel preached to them.  And blessed is he who is not offended because of Me.” As they departed, Jesus began to say to the multitudes concerning John: “What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A reed shaken by the wind?  But what did you go out to see? A man clothed in soft garments? Indeed, those who wear soft clothing are in kings’ houses.  But what did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I say to you, and more than a prophet.  For this is he of whom it is written:
‘Behold, I send My messenger before Your face,
Who will prepare Your way before You.’”

Psalm 85:6-7
Will You not revive us again,
That Your people may rejoice in You?
Show us Your mercy, Lord,
And grant us Your salvation.

Baruch 5:5, 4:36
Arise, Jerusalem, stand on the heights,
And see the joy that is coming to you from God.


Philippians 4:4-6; Psalm 85:1 
Rejoice in the Lord always. Again I will say, rejoice! Let your gentleness be known to all men. The Lord is at hand. Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God.
Lord, You have been favorable to Your land;
You have brought back the captivity of Jacob.
Gloria Patri:
Glory be to the Father, and to the Son ✠, and to the Holy Spirit,
As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be: world without end.
Repeat Antiphon

Philippians 4:4-7
Rejoice in the Lord always. Again I will say, rejoice! Let your gentleness be known to all men. The Lord is at hand. Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.

Psalm 80:1b, 2a, 1a
You who dwell between the cherubim,
Stir up Your strength, and come!
Give ear, O Shepherd of Israel,
You who lead Joseph like a flock.

Psalm 80:2b
Alleluia. Alleluia.
Stir up Your strength,
And come and save us!  Alleluia.

St. John 1:19-28
Now this is the testimony of John, when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, “Who are you?” He confessed, and did not deny, but confessed, “I am not the Christ.” And they asked him, “What then? Are you Elijah?”
He said, “I am not.”
“Are you the Prophet?”And he answered, “No.”
Then they said to him, “Who are you, that we may give an answer to those who sent us? What do you say about yourself?”
He said: “I am
‘The voice of one crying in the wilderness:
“Make straight the way of the Lord,”’
as the prophet Isaiah said.”
Now those who were sent were from the Pharisees.  And they asked him, saying, “Why then do you baptize if you are not the Christ, nor Elijah, nor the Prophet?” John answered them, saying, “I baptize with water, but there stands One among you whom you do not know.  It is He who, coming after me, is preferred before me, whose sandal strap I am not worthy to loose.” These things were done in Bethabara beyond the Jordan, where John was baptizing.

Psalm 85:1-2
Lord, You have been favorable to Your land;
You have brought back the captivity of Jacob.
You have forgiven the iniquity of Your people;
You have covered all their sin.

Isaiah 35:4
Say to those who are fearful-hearted,“Be strong, do not fear!
Behold, our God will come and save us."


Isaiah 45:8; Psalm 19:1 
Rain down, you heavens, from above,
And let the skies pour down Righteousness;
Let the earth open, let them bring forth Salvation [a Savior].
The heavens declare the glory of God;
And the firmament shows His handiwork.
Gloria Patri:
Glory be to the Father, and to the Son ✠, and to the Holy Spirit,
As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be: world without end.
Repeat Antiphon

1 Corinthians 4:1-5
Let a man so consider us, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God.  Moreover it is required in stewards that one be found faithful.  But with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged by you or by a human court. In fact, I do not even judge myself.  For I know of nothing against myself, yet I am not justified by this; but He who judges me is the Lord.  Therefore judge nothing before the time, until the Lord comes, who will both bring to light the hidden things of darkness and reveal the counsels of the hearts. Then each one’s praise will come from God.

Psalm 145:18, 21
The Lord is near to all who call upon Him,
To all who call upon Him in truth.
My mouth shall speak the praise of the Lord,
And all flesh shall bless His holy name.

1 Kings 8:34
Alleluia, Alleluia.
Come, O Lord,
and forgive the sins of Your people Israel.  Alleluia.

St. Luke 3:1-6
Now in the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, Pontius Pilate being governor of Judea, Herod being tetrarch of Galilee, his brother Philip tetrarch of Iturea and the region of Trachonitis, and Lysanias tetrarch of Abilene, while Annas and Caiaphas were high priests, the word of God came to John the son of Zacharias in the wilderness.  And he went into all the region around the Jordan, preaching a baptism of repentance for the remission of sins, as it is written in the book of the words of Isaiah the prophet, saying:
“The voice of one crying in the wilderness:
‘Prepare the way of the Lord;
Make His paths straight.
 Every valley shall be filled
And every mountain and hill brought low;
The crooked places shall be made straight
And the rough ways smooth;
 And all flesh shall see the salvation of God.’”

St. Luke 1:28, 42
"Hail, Mary, full of grace,
the Lord is with you.
Blessed are you among women,
and blessed is the fruit of your womb, Jesus Christ!"

Isaiah 7:14
The Virgin shall conceive and bear a Son,
and shall call His name Immanuel.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

The Advent of Our King

In a world where the celebration of holidays seems to begin earlier and earlier, the season of Advent is easily overshadowed by the high Feast of Christmas.  It is often looked at as a sort of “build up” to or part of Christmas, rather than a season in its own right.  But Advent is more than just a convenient way to count down the days until the Feast of the Nativity.   Historically speaking, Adventide is about preparing for ALL of Christ's Advents.

The English word “advent” is borrowed from the Latin adventus, which simply means “a coming, approach, arrival.”  Understanding Christ’s Nativity as His “First Advent” helps us understand why the season has become so integrally connected with Christmas.  This connection can be clearly seen by looking at the propers prescribed in the historic Lectionary, such as the Communio ("The virgin shall conceive and bear a Son, and shall call His name Immanuel" [Isaiah 7:14]) and Offertory (“Hail, [Mary], highly favored one, the Lord is with you; blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb, [Jesus Christ]” [St. Luke 1:28, 42]) for Rorate Coeli, Advent's Fourth Sunday.   Another subtle reference can be seen in the Introit Antiphon of the same Sunday, where the "Righteousness" and "Salvation" referenced are Christ (these nouns are actually capitalized in the traditional missal, to indicate their reference to the Divine).  When you read it in that context: “You heavens above, rain down Righteousness; let the clouds shower It down.  Let the earth open wide, let Salvation spring up" (Isaiah 45:8); you can see that it's talking about Christ's Incarnation.  In fact, I believe the wonderful Advent hymn, "O Savior, Rend the Heavens Wide," is directly referencing this Antiphon and theme.

  Interestingly enough, Christ "rending the heavens wide" can have a dual meaning, that being His Second Advent (or the Parousia [Παρουσία], a Greek word that, incidentally, is translated into Latin as adventus), which is one of the primary causes of our preparation in Advent.  Indeed, the historic Roman Gospel reading for Ad Te Levavi, the First Sunday in Advent, reminds us that we “will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory”  (St. Luke 21:27).  In this context, Adventide is about preparing for Christ’s Second Coming - it reminds us to be vigilant like wise virgins (tying into the traditional Hymn of the Day for Ad Te Levavi, “The Bridegroom Soon Will Call Us”).  This also explains the penitential aspects of the season.  Christ’s Second Advent is a somber occassion - one of joy for the believer, to be sure, but one that must be tempered by vigilance and repentance (“watch and pray, so that you do not fall into temptation”).  This is why we omit the Gloria in Excelsis during this season.  It also helps make sense of the other reading on the first Sunday.  The Epistle tells us to "put off the deeds of darkness" because "the day is almost here" (putting off the deeds of darkness is expressed throughout much of Advent hymnody); as pointed out above, the Gospel makes clear what Day that is:  The Coming of the Son of Man on clouds of Glory.

The Adventide bridge between Christ's First and Second Coming is the Third Sunday, Gaudete, which means "Rejoice."  The "rejoice" theme is repeated throughout the propers on the Third Sunday.  In fact, St. Paul's famous Philippians passage, "rejoice in the Lord always," constitutes the historic Introit Antiphon AND Epistle reading.  The emphasis of this theme stems from the day's liturgical nature as a sort of break from the fast of the Advent season.  The parament color is rose, a combination of the penitential violet of Advent and the jubilant white of Christmas.  This highlights why I view it as a "bridge" between the aforementioned Advents; while it isn't a full celebration of Christmas, it is a time for rejoicing!

But we've still only focused on two of Christ's Advents.  What I like to call the "third" Advent is none other than Christ's Present Advent in the Holy Supper.  Luther's little Catechism highlights the preparedness we should have for Christ's Advent in the Sacrament, which is really the same preparation that we should have for Christ's other Advents:  Repentance and faith that believes His promises.  This is why many of the propers throughout the season, like Populus Sion (the Second Sunday)'s Communio and Gradual, tell us to "behold the joy and salvation that come to us;" that God will come to save His people and "gather His holy ones to Himself" (Psalm 50:5).  He has already and will continue to do this, in the Blessed Means of Grace.  In the Holy Supper He comes to us and abides with us, not by our choice or by human means, but - just as in His other two Advents - by the power of God.

Advent is all about being prepared for the coming of Christ.  It is no wonder that St. John the Baptist occupies so much of the focus in the historic Gospel readings ("Prepare the Way of the Lord").  May we all take heed of that voice in the wilderness crying and be cognizant of Christ's First Advent in Bethlehem, His Present Advent in the Holy Eucharist, all as a foretaste of His glorious return.  May we all be prepared for that Second Advent when He shall come on the clouds of heaven with all the Holy Angels to restore the cosmos by the power of His mighty hand, that we whose names are written in His Book of Life may live and reign with Him forever where sorrow is no more.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Musings on Election and Universal Justification

Consider this excerpt from Nicolaus Hunnius' Epitome Credendorum:

321. e. God has, therefore, in the act of election, considered no other circumstance, but that of the Lord Jesus having been received along with his merits, and righteousness, into the hearts of some men. And these men having been entirely reconciled to Him, God has elected them unto eternal life. —Whilst on the other hand He considered that, with some men no faith would be found, who must accordingly be said to have rejected the Lord Jesus in unbelief, — that they would not partake of his righteousness and his merits, and therefore still remain in their sins and under the burden of the divine wrath, — for all these reasons they have been found without Christ, and have therefore not been elected to eternal life. 
322. This it is that constitutes the difference between those, whom God has elected, and those whom He has rejected, viz : that some have been found in Christ, which has not been the case with the rest; just as the same qualities serve to constitute the distinction between those, who have been saved, and those who have been damned. „He that believeth on him (the Son) is not condemned: but he that believeth not is condemned already, — he that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life and he that believeth not the Son shall not see life; but the wrath of God abideth on him," John. 8, 18, 36. 
323. f. Thus God, in that He has elected the believing of mankind, and rejected the unbelieving from among them — has been considering especially man's faith. — This is not to be understood as if this faith could, by itself, give unto any man such a worth and value, by the considering of which God might be induced to the work of mercy, and thereupon to elect this individual: no, faith is only to be considered as a means, by the exercise of which the Lord Jesus Christ is united with man, and in consequence of which union, Christ's innocence, righteousness and merits (which we have shown to be the only qualities, which are considered in the act of election) are applied and appropriated unto man. Which means nothing else, than that we are justified before, and saved by God, not for the sake of man's faith and his good qualities alone , but for the sake of that faith, which has laid hold of the merits and the righteousness of the Lord Jesus, and by which man desires to be justified and saved. (Hunnius, Nicolaus. "Ch. XIV: On the Election of Grace." Epitome Credendorum: Containing a Concise and Popular View of the Doctrines of the Lutheran Church. Trans. Paul Edward Gottheil. Nuremberg: U.E. Sebald, 1847. 90-91. Print.)

What N. Hunnius is saying here is that we are elected in view of our faith. Yes, in view of our Spirit-worked faith (which lays hold of the merits of Christ).

What does this mean in terms of universal justification? Well, I propose that one falls into error when saying that the whole world is justified regardless of faith; that is, that those are justified who never have nor will have faith.  If the whole world is justified regardless of faith, then it should hold true that the whole world is part of the elect. But we wouldn't say that the whole world is numbered among the elect, right? If we mess up justification then we surely mess up election. My favorite Scripture when it comes to election and justification is Romans 8:30. It is so succinct, clear, and dogmatic: 

And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.

If God has justified all men, then all men have been called and given faith (which alone justifies; Ap IV: 67 and 78) in the Gospel; if they have been justified then they have been predestined to eternal life. Now, have all men been predestined to eternal life? Have all men even heard the Gospel (been called)? Surely no Lutheran would say such absurdities. Likewise, I contend that it's erroneous to say that all men have been justified by God. If one does make such a claim, then he also has to say that all have been elected to eternal life by God. And nothing can change our election, God's will, right? If all are justified, then all are predestined, and finally all are heaven bound -- that's the logical conclusion. This is what happens when we go overboard trying to combat limited atonement.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Sacrifice and Eucharistic Prayers

At the outset, let me make the preliminary statement that, as a general rule, I am not in favor of Eucharistic Prayers in the Lutheran tradition - at least not the American Lutheran tradition.  This is because the Eucharistic Prayer has been replaced by the General Prayer in our Common Service, which is rather beautiful in its own right and, in my opinion, an example of the natural evolution inherent to the Liturgy.  That being said, perhaps some regions never abandoned the practice of Eucharistic prayers.  Perhaps some pastors have good reason for utilizing the practice as a matter of confession, conscience, or for some other pastoral reason.  Who am I to judge such things? 

One Eucharistic Prayer that is currently used by a Lutheran parish recently came to my attention.  I personally find no theological problem with this prayer.  However, it seems that a plethora of Lutheran pastors find the prayer to be highly problematic.  One of the primary objections seems to be that it uses sacrificial terminology.  However, the Eucharistic Prayer of the Eastern Rite is lauded by our Confessions, particularly where it speaks in sacrificial terms:
The Greek canon says also many things concerning the offering, but it shows plainly that it is not speaking properly of the body and blood of the Lord, but of the whole service, of prayers and thanksgivings. For it says thus: ((greek)). When this is rightly understood, it gives no offense. For it prays that we be made worthy to offer prayers and supplications and bloodless sacrifices for the people. For he calls even prayers bloodless sacrifices. Just as also a little afterward: [((greek)), We offer, he says, this reasonable and bloodless service. For they explain this inaptly who would rather interpret this of a reasonable sacrifice, and transfer it to the very body of Christ, although the canon speaks of the entire worship, and in opposition to the opus operatum Paul has spoken of logike latreia (Rom 12:1) [reasonable service], namely, of the worship of the mind, of fear, of faith, of prayer, of thanksgiving, etc.
The Lutheran Church has never rejected the notion that the Mass is a eucharistic sacrifice; that is, one of prayer, praise, and thanksgiving.  Rather, she rejects the papal teaching that the Mass is a propitiatory sacrifice, or one that merits forgiveness or reconciliation on account of our offerings or actions.  The Lutheran Church confesses that Christ's one-time sacrifice on Calvary made complete satisfaction for all sins and that the benefits of this satisfaction are communicated to us in the Divine Service.  The Lutheran parish's Eucharistic Prayer in question only references "our sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving" as a sacrifice that comes from man; in contrast, the propitiatory sacrifice it references is denoted as the following: "Almighty God, our heavenly Father, from Your tender mercy You gave Your only Son, Jesus Christ, to suffer death upon the cross for our redemption. By the one oblation of Himself, once offered, He made there a full, perfect and sufficient sacrifice, oblation and satisfaction for the sins of the whole world."  That hardly seems to be the papist error to me.

As such, I want to reproduce here the full Eucharistic Prayer in question to solicit further commentary.  I am not looking for opinions concerning whether or not Eucharistic Prayers are a wise practice or appropriate for the Lutheran tradition (though such comments are certainly welcome); rather, I would like to know if this prayer is theologically orthodox.  I contend that it is:

P: Almighty God, our heavenly Father, from Your tender mercy You gave Your only Son, Jesus Christ, to suffer death upon the cross for our redemption. By the one oblation of Himself, once offered, He made there a full, perfect and sufficient sacrifice, oblation and satisfaction for the sins of the whole world. And in His Holy Gospel, He instituted and commanded us to celebrate a perpetual remembrance of His precious death until He comes again.
The Pastor then chants:
For our Lord Jesus Christ, on the night he was betrayed, took bread, and when He had given thanks, He broke it and gave it to His disciples and said: “Take, eat; this is My body, which is given for you. This do in remembrance of Me.” The Pastor genuflects, then elevates the Host, after which he genuflects a second time.
In the same way also He took the cup after supper, and when He had given thanks, He gave it to them saying: “Drink of it, all of you; this cup is the new testament in My blood, which is shed for you for the forgiveness of sins. This do, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me.” The Pastor genuflects, then elevates the Cup, after which he genuflects a second time.

Therefore, O Lord and heavenly Father, according to the institution of Your dearly beloved Son, our Savior Jesus Christ, we Your humble servants celebrate and make here, before Your divine majesty, with these Your holy gifts, the commemoration Your Son has willed us to make. Remembering His blessed Passion, mighty Resurrection and glorious Ascension, we give You most hearty thanks for the innumerable benefits which He has procured for us.
And of Your almighty goodness we most humbly beseech You, O merciful Father, to hear us. And send down Your Holy Spirit upon us and upon Your gifts of bread and wine, and bless them and hallow them; and show that this bread is the precious Body of our Lord and God and Savior Jesus Christ; and this cup is the precious Blood of our Lord and God and Savior Jesus Christ, which was shed for the life of the world.
Earnestly desiring Your fatherly goodness, mercifully to accept this our sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving: we most humbly beseech You to grant that, by the merits and death of Your Son Jesus Christ, and through faith in His Blood, we and Your whole Church may obtain remission of our sins and all other benefits of His Passion.
And here we offer and present to You, O Lord, ourselves, our souls and bodies, to be a reasonable, holy, and lively sacrifice unto You. We humbly beseech You that all who partake of this Holy Communion may worthily receive the most precious Body and Blood of Your Son Jesus Christ, and be filled with Your grace and heavenly benediction, and being made one body with Him, may dwell in Him, even as He dwells in them.
And although we are unworthy, because of our many sins, to offer You any sacrifice; yet we beseech You to accept this our bounden duty and service. And command that our prayers and supplications, by the ministry of Your holy angels, may be brought to Your holy tabernacle before the sight of Your divine majesty, not weighing our merits but pardoning our offenses through Christ our Lord. Amen.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Lay Preachers?

"Of Ecclesiastical Order they teach that no one should publicly teach in the Church or administer the Sacraments unless he be regularly called." -Augsburg Confession XIV

Why do I see and hear about lay preachers and teachers in the church when our Confessions agree with Scripture in stating that the practice is not correct? Why do laymen teach the Bible class on Sunday mornings? Who called them to do that? Why do students in high school through seminary teach and preach without a call and ordination? There are many situations that I could share, but allow me to share my own.

When I was a senior in high school at Luther Preparatory School (WELS' worker training prep school), the male, senior students could volunteer to preach during an evening chapel service in the Spring semester. We were given a Scripture text and assigned a tutor (dorm supervisors who were either ordained pastors or are just school teachers [perhaps more on that subject in a different post]). I chose a pastor to help me with mine rather than the school teacher on my floor. So we met with these tutors and they helped us figure out what to preach about concerning the text - then we would go write it. My text was Isaiah 52:7-9. After I brought my draft to the tutor, he said it was good to go (surprisingly, because I was expecting some revisions like everyone else). I went to the library and checked out a Prayers and Collects book so I could actually have a structured prayer rather than freestylin' it. The day I had to preach was very nerve racking; after that afternoon, it got even worse when I was told that I wouldn't just be preaching to the student body, but to a multitude of grade school students and their chaperones. I eventually preached it of course, a nervous wreck with my voice cracking and nailing the lectern microphone with my hand while making the sign of the cross in blessing over the congregation. I got compliments from some tutors and the dean (maybe out of pity haha) and all was well.*  Overall, it was a great experience, especially having the chapel so filled.  And the next day the sun did in fact rise, to my great surprise.

But if I admit that lay preaching is a fantastic experience for those considering or preparing for the ministry, then what's my beef with this type of stuff? After reading the Lutheran Confessions I was awakened to a lot of doctrine and practice that I was comfortable with, but which the Confessions indicate are not correct. What gave me the right to stand up there and preach? What gave me the right to make the sign of the cross and bless the congregation? Could the justification have been my "desire" to serve in the public ministry? I think that could be fitted to Martin Luther College (WELS' college level ministerial training school) and the Seminary even more so -- a desire and some training in theology. Or perhaps it's more that we are a royal priesthood: all believers are to share the Gospel with all nations, even in a pulpit without a call. But are these theologically correct and valid explanations? Allow me to conclude with a lengthy quote from Father Chemnitz who, aside from the Scriptures and Confessions, can help answer and explain some of these questions:

But they [C.S. - the Sacramentarians] object (1) that Paul in 1 Tim. 3:1 very strongly praises the man who desires the office of an overseer. The reply: To desire the office of overseer does not mean that one injects himself without a lawful call into ecclesiastical functions. But he who understands the fundamentals of heavenly doctrine and has been equipped with the gift for teaching well, when he offers his work to God and the church, seeks nothing else than that God through some lawful call would declare whether, when, and where God wills to use his service in His church... 
They also object (2): But Christ has made all the faithful [to be] priests, Rev. 1:6; 5:10; 1 Peter 2:9. But the work of the priests, among other things was to teach the church, Lev. 10:10-11; Mal. 2:7. I reply: Paul in 1 Corinthians 12:7-9 and 29 expressly writes that God did not give to all the gifts of explaining the Scriptures, but He bestows the gifts of His Spirit variously for the benefit and upbuilding of the church (cf. Eph. 4:11-12). And Peter explains himself: All Christians are priests -- not that all should carry out the function of the ministry promiscuously  without a particular call, but that they should "offer up spiritual sacrifices" [1 Peter 2:5], which are described in Rom. 12:1; He. 13:15-16. 
They object (3): Peter says that all the faithful are priests because they are to "proclaim the virtues of God," 1 Peter 2:9. And the heads of households have the general charge to instruct the members of their families, Deut. 6:20ff.; 1 Cor. 14:35. I reply: This is indeed a general call, common to all Christians, to speak among themselves about the Word of God, Eph. 5:19, to comfort one another with the Word of God, 1 Thess. 4:18, and to confess the Gospel, Rom. 10:9, and this is enjoined on heads of households by individual command. But to administer those things which pertain to the public ministry of the Word and the sacraments is not commanded to all Christians in general, as the two passages from 1 Cor. 12 and Eph. 4, cited above, teach clearly enough. Nor does the general calling which all receive in Baptism suffice to give a person the office of the ministry, but there is required a special call, as has been shown in the preceding testimonies, cf. James 3:1. (Chemnitz, Loci Theologici, p. 1313-1314)

*Although when I re-read it a year or two later, I noticed that I was very heavy on the Law: "go evangelize, why aren't we evangelizing?";  "why aren't we going out there and converting people?"; etc., etc. I'm disappointed that I wasn't corrected on that.

This post deals specifically with the WELS because that has been my experience for the past 20 years. I have heard stories of the same sort of things happening in the LCMS, but haven't experienced it (they tend to have a much better grasp on the Ministry). I don't know about the ELS, but I'm pretty sure the pre-Sem students at Bethany Lutheran College (or any student) don't preach at chapel. I can't confirm though.