Wednesday, December 31, 2008

The New Eds Chime In


Two of our new online editors have posted recently at Gottesdienst Online, one on the question of whether the Lutheran Confessions are descriptive or prescriptive, and the other on the matter of chanting the Verba, and the salutary effect this has on children. Have a look.

Friday, December 26, 2008

White Christmas!

Now that the blogosphere I frequent and to which I occasionally contribute has covered the spiritual side of Christmas, I have to say that there's something pleasing about the other side of it, too.

And since we've all been sufficiently chided for allowing too much Christmas celebrating to go on during Advent, why can't we import some of the cultural stuff into these Twelve Days of Christmas?

So, in the spirit of this exceptionally snowy year, I'd like to say that I'm particularly fond of this, ah, inspiring rendition of "White Christmas" by the Drifters, disguised here as Santa and his reindeer:

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Lessons and Carols Live This Morning

Lessons and Carols live from Kings College Choir may be heard at 9 a.m. CST this morning here. It's likely to be repeated.

OK, call me an Anglophile. Especially when it's time for Christmas carols.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

The Ox and the Ass


In virtually every depiction of the Nativity of our Lord one can find an ox and ass, in fulfillment of the words of the prophet Isaiah, "the ox knows his owner, and the ass his master's crib, but Israel does not know Me, and the people has not regarded Me" (Isaiah 1:3).

Traditionally the ox and ass are symbolic of the Jews and Gentiles, respectively, as Gregory the Great (c600) explained:

“Who is the ox if not the Jewish people whose necks were bowed down by the yoke of the Law? And who is the ass if not the pagan, whom any rustler finds a brute animal without any sense and leads him astray where he will. The ox knows his owner and the ass recognizes the corral of his master, for the Hebrew people found the God whom they had worshipped but not known, while the pagans accepted the forage of the Law which they had not had” (Commentary on Job, I, 16).

Fittingly the ox and ass gaze upon the Savior of the world.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Gift Idea

As Fr. Weedon says on his blog, if you still need a Christmas gift for someone, here's an idea.

Set Sorrow Aside

is a Christmas CD from the Mixed Chorus of our St. Paul's Ev. Lutheran Church, and provides some of what you'll hear live if you come to our Christmas Choral Vespers, an annual event scheduled for January 4, 2009, at 7 p.m. which I'm also unabashedly plugging here. A wine and cheese reception follows.

But if you can't come, you might want to hear a bit of it, as we made this recording last year shortly after the event.

So order yours today: $12.00 + $2.50 s&h. If you order up to five, it's still only $2.50 s&h, though here's another idea. Order as many as you like as a Christmas gift, adding $2.50 per CD for special s&h, and we'll include a little greeting from you to whomever you want us to send it to.

We'll take care of it all, and send you an invoice. Just send me an email. Better hurry, if you want to do it for Christmas. Be sure to put your full name and address, and, if it's a gift, the full name and address of the recipient, with your message (200 words max please).

Monday, December 15, 2008

Remembering Avery Dulles



The passing of Avery Cardinal Dulles (noted at Fr Fenton's blog) has me remembering some of the incisive and salient arguments he has made in favor of the filioque, in numerous publications and, as I recall, at a Symposium on the Lutheran Confessions in Fort Wayne in the mid 1990s (which, quite worth the read, may be accessed here).

I had a brief opportunity to speak with him during the q & a after his lecture, when he was, as I recall, thinking aloud that he could not recall the use of the term ekporeueto (to proceed) being used anywhere Biblically for a double-procession, i.e., for a procession from two sources. As it happened, I had just finished looking at Revelation 22, in which one reads this: "And he shewed me a pure river of water of life, clear as crystal, proceeding (ekpereuontos) out of the throne of God and of the Lamb," and I mentioned that. He brightened and expressed delight at this, er, revelation. Dr. Scaer, the moderator at the time, quipped that perhaps this was a moment of divine inspiration.

I remember feeling quite pleased with myself that day, though I tried to hide my foolish pride to the best of my ability.

I later learned of Cardinal Dulles' exceptional work on the question of the filioque; indeed one might even suggest it is the twentieth-century equivalent of the writing of St. Anselm on the same topic.

His voluminous writing bespeaks what is undeniable: this man had a brilliant theological mind. No wonder he was the first U.S. theologian to be named to the college of Cardinals in the Roman Catholic Church.

Avery Cardinal Dulles, R.I.P.

Another Thing about John the Baptist


It occurred to me yesterday as I was about to preach St. Matthew 11 that there's another thing I hadn't considered before.

The question of how one preaches on John the Baptist in prison may depend on what one thinks about his prenatal state, as Fr Curtis has pointed out at Gottesdienst Online, though then again it may not.

I don't happen to think John was cleansed of original sin while in the womb, as I have my own version of 'pious' speculation on how lots of that sort of that pious speculation has arisen. And yet I have preached on many occasions that John did not ask the doubting question "Are you the Coming One, or do we look for another" not for himself but for his disciples. One does not have to hold he had had his original sin removed in order to think that he did not doubt here; you need not say he could not have doubted in order to say that he did not doubt. After all, he knew full well who Jesus was, and had seen the Spirit descend on him as he baptized him. All he had to do was remember that in order to be sure.

And yet--here's the thing I hadn't considered--in John's role as forerunner, it is his office to teach the Church, not only by what he says, but by example. So therefore, what do you do when you are beset with circumstances which might produce doubt or second-thoughts? You go back to Jesus and ask him: "Are you the Coming One, or do we look for another?"

That little thing provides an excellent opportunity for preaching.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Fr Curtis is First out of the Gate


Rightly deducing that the term Gottesdienst Online is fashioned after the term National Review Online, he has also declared himself to have provided FSPOTB, providing an article on Confessing with the Calendar, which is well worth the read.

Introducing Gottesdienst Online


The newest venture of Gottesdienst has launched.

Over at www.gottesdienst.org, we have added Gottesdienst Online, a new page on which we hope to provide a continual flow of online articles. From the first article there:

We hope to have this a bit better organized shortly, but for now we herewith offer to you, dear Gottesfolks, a series of online columns to tantalize, edify, provoke, please, irritate, or otherwise move you in the same way our print edition has done so for well over a decade.

To this end, we welcome three new editors, whose specific department is this Gottesdienst Online. You may expect to hear from them, therefore, as well as to the other guys here and there, in the days to come.

We are pleased to announce our newest editors:

* Rev Fr Heath Curtis
* Rev Fr Larry Beane
* Rev Fr Richard Stuckwisch


Gottesdienst continues to push ahead, ever seeking to promote and defend the Christian faith as it is expressed in our most holy liturgy.

+ Burnell Eckardt, editor-in-chief

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Sorting out the Immaculate Conception


First off, I'm going to admit that we did not observe the Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary here on Monday. My own default entrenchment in TLH has me at a disadvantage when it comes to any observances and feasts whatsoever that are not found there. It's not that TLH is inerrant, certainly; it's just that it's become the indelible way my own synapses work.

We did celebrate St. Nicholas Mass on Saturday, though, and we will celebrate St. Lucy's next Saturday, so it's not that I can't bring myself to make changes; it's just that each one comes with some difficulty.

In my brain (the one I, the Frankengottesdienst monster, got when Marty Feldman dropped the normal brain and took the one from Abby . . .), there are a number of committees. Each change proposed must go through lots of red tape. During the process it often will sit unattended on a messy desk for extended periods of time. Sometimes there's a veto, or a subcommittee hearing, and the process takes even longer. Let the reader understand: I am a true conservative, in the most rudimentary sense of that term.

So anyhow, the Feasts for the BVM are all at various stages in this mental process of mine. The most recent one to be enacted (which actually means that I got around to celebrating it, really) is the dormition of the Blessed Virgin Mary, August 15th. That one underwent several alterations before becoming, er, law, in Kewanee. It is not called the Assumption, a la Rome, nor is it simply called St. Mary, Mother of our Lord, a la SBH. I must say, the former, notwithstanding its questionable historicity, is truly preferable to the latter, an abominable reversion to Nestorius. (Oh where is St. Leo when you need him?)

So here I am, still sorting out what I ought to think about the Conception BVM. It's certainly historical (I mean, she was conceived), and it certainly has the effect of helping us count her blessed among women.

And yet somehow I admit that I'm dragging my heels a bit on this. I have learned to trust my instincts (which drives my loved ones nuts, particularly when their instincts are at variance).

Maybe it's the whole Immaculate Conception thing that has me troubled. To those of us who are both interested in good tradition and in historical validity--which are usually not at odds with each other--sometimes there is a problem, and when it must be resolved on the side of what's true, we find ourselves troubled that we must set tradition aside.

So it is for me in the case of the Immaculate Conception. One might wryly say that the immaculate conception didn't take place until 1854, when Rome dogmatized it, though it was a popular view for a long time prior to that.

My own take on it is that it is the understandable result of a misunderstanding of Doubting Joseph, on whom a number of medieval hymns have been written. That is to say, it's most likely that that term "immaculate conception" arose in poetry from the angel's words to Joseph in St. Matthew 1: "Fear not to take unto thee Mary thy wife: for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Ghost."

In other words, the immaculate conception does indeed pertain to Mary, but not to her own conception. Rather, it is a reference to her virginal purity: Joseph, do not think ill of your betrothed; that which is conceived in her was conceived immaculately, without sin in her.

So, to return to my original musing, though I haven't researched this, I'm going to guess that the feast observed on December 8th, which is generally called the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, is reserved for the observance of Mary's own conception in the womb of her mother St. Anne. Hence (if this is correct) it is a faulty observance.

I may be quite wrong about this, particularly as I know it is observed also in the East. But even so, there are those tedious committee meetings going on in my brain even as I write, and there doesn't seem to be a resolution in view any time soon.

That said, I really do hate coming down on the side of Nestorians, Calvinists, and clowns who refuse to call Mary blessed, to say nothing of her being the Mother of God.

Perhaps somebody could enlighten me on this, but without even checking I'm going to go out on a limb and guess that the propers for December 8th are not what they should be. If there is going to be a Feast of the Immaculate Conception, it should be the Feast of Doubting Joseph, and the Gospel appointed should be the one from St. Matthew 1; though honestly, the notion of altogether new propers would never see the light of day in those cranial committee meetings of mine.

But if it had been so, then everyone would know, as I suspect it was widely known in Christendom around 900 years ago, when those medieval hymns were written, that the Immaculate Conception is an important thing to emphasize: Joseph, fear not to take unto thee Mary thy wife: for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Ghost.

Monday, December 08, 2008

The Sun, the Moon, and the Stars


As long as I seem to be doing such a good job of being misunderstood (as in the threads found here and here, for instance), I may as well venture forth and ask for more.

How about this one. In yesterday's Gospel, Jesus waxed apocalyptic in his reference to the sun, the moon, and the stars: "There shall be signs in the sun, and in the moon, and in the stars; and upon the earth distress of nations, with perplexity; the sea and the waves roaring; men's hearts failing them for fear, and for looking after those things which are coming on the earth: for the powers of heaven shall be shaken" (St. Luke 21).

And the key, I repeat, is that Jesus is being apocalyptic here. As in, Danielic, Ezekielic, or, well, Apocalyptic (as in, last book of the Bible). He even references Daniel specifically earlier on in the Matthean counterpart to this chapter (St Matthew 24), so it is not at all unreasonable to suggest (here goes):

These are not references to heavenly phenomena like eclipses, falling stars, comets, etc.

How about references to the powers in place over God's people, i.e., the leaders of the nation of Israel, a la Joseph's dream. Remember that Joseph had once referred to the sun, the moon, and the stars as references to his own family? Well, how about here?

Consider: the fall of Jerusalem, referenced in Jesus' prior remarks, is to give way to the utter realignment of the heavenly authority of God, and this will cause men's hearts to fail them for fear and expectation, etc. Indeed, the Matthean version adds "immediately after those days" to this prediction. Now comes the age of the Church, which is something to which even the most devout of Jewish believers would have trouble adjusting. Gentiles qua Gentiles will be grafted in (interestingly, the Epistle for yesterday, from Romans, references that).

And then comes this: "And then shall they see the Son of man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. And when these things begin to come to pass, then look up, and lift up your heads; for your redemption draweth nigh." Note that phrase "begin to come to pass"; in other words, the coming of the Son of man is something that will begin with . . . what?

St Matthew helps us again: "then shall appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven." What sign? He shall send forth his angels, who shall gather the elect.

But the Day of Judgment is a day of separating. What, then, might these gathering angels be? Again, this is apocalyptic language. So, how about angelic messengers? As in, preachers?

In short, the sign that the Son of Man is in heaven would then be the preaching of the Gospel. When you see (i.e. hear) this preaching, you may know that the Son of Man is in heaven (he ascended on the very day he sent the preachers, after all), and that his return in glory is immanent.

I must offer a tip of the hat to Professor Jeff Gibbs for first alerting me, years ago, to the possibility of this interpretation, which I have embraced wholeheartedly.

That said, I'm still going to run for cover. I expect recriminations for this wild and unacceptable interpretation to fly . . .

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Blameless Zacharias

It occurred to me, and I preached accordingly tonight, that the angel's reply to Zacharias in St. Luke 1 ("Behold, thou shalt be dumb, and not able to speak, until the day that these things shall be performed") was not necessarily a rebuke.

I've wondered about this, frankly, for years, ever since I read in Lenski's commentary a rather lame comparison between Zacharias 'disbelief' and the Blessed Virgin's question to the angel, in the same chapter, regarding her virgin conception of Christ. He declared, as I recall, that whereas Zacharias' question indicated unbelief on his part, Mary's question did not, but only an inquiry as to how she ought to expect the angel's word to come true, "seeing I know not a man." Hence, if you follow this line of reasoning, Zacharias was struck dumb, whereas Mary suffered no recrimination or ill consequence from her questioning of the angel.

All this assumes that what befell Zacharias was a punishment of sorts for his disbelief.

What's troubling about this assumption is that it is crystal clear, in the same chapter, that both Zacharias and Elizabeth were "righteous before God, walking in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blameless." We may deduce, I suppose, that suddenly Zacharias slipped up, or that in spite of his faithful blamelessness, he was nevertheless a sinner (which is certainly true, as in the case of all of us whose faith, like Abraham's, God reckons to us for righteousness). But neither of these explanations fits the context of this account.

Thus it occurred to me that the angel's rejoinder to Zacharias may not have been a rebuke at all. Perhaps it was merely an explanation for what followed. Because he did not believe the word of the angel, therefore a sign was given with it, to give him the confidence he otherwise lacked. Because he did not believe on the strength of the angel's word alone, therefore this was added: he was struck dumb.

Imagine it from Zacharias' point of view: first he experiences, and expresses, doubt over whether all this is really so. Then, he is struck dumb. How clearly this must have taught him the utter truthfulness of it all: he could not utter a word! There was the very proof he needed.

Similarly, we need additions to the sheer word of promise. So we are given Holy Sacraments, which are heavenly signs, seals from God, to accompany His promise. For we, like Zacharias, are prone to fickleness of the flesh. Hence God in His inestimable mercy grants to us the support we require, even as He did for this saint.

Monday, December 01, 2008

Want of Honesty


Every time I have to grade term papers (I've been doing a little online teaching on the side), I find evidence of cheating. People lift material from other sources, sometimes without any acknowledgment, or sometimes, while acknowledging the source, failing to indicate that the material is verbatim. The latter is not quite as serious, but in both cases, the student is making an effort to employ the wording, the grammar, the structure, and even the argument of someone else as though it were his own. This is essentially stealing.

This morning, coincidentally, as I was reading and grading essays, a story came up on FOX news saying that some 30% of students are guilty of plagiarism. Well, I thought, I guess I should take heart. My classes are much better than the average.

Of course the evidence of dishonesty is widespread throughout our educational system, as most everyone is aware. I have no data on whether it is on the increase, and even if I did, I suspect it would not give the whole story.

But it stands to reason that in a society in which the family has broken down, and parenting is rapidly becoming a lost art, there should be a corresponding rise in dishonesty.

Honesty must be taught in the home first of all. This, of course, does not merely mean that parents should merely lecture there children: Be honest!

It means, first, that parents should be honest, setting the example. Sit-coms like Everybody Loves Raymond are certainly entertaining, but they don't really help. Their shtick is often the web of lies that keeps growing as the liar tries to stay ahead of being found out. Such things ought never happen in a Christian home. Lies, however small, must be verboten. When children are found to have lied, it is incumbent upon parents (who themselves have presumably been honest) to show the children how devastating, how hurtful, lies can be; even the small ones. When you lie to me, you are taking from me my desire to trust you in the first place. Now, instead, I must be suspicicious, which is a sad thing. Children need to see the ramifications of their lies.

Moreover, parents should raise their children with the expectation that those children will be honest in all their dealings. When I was a child, and I might ask my mother, say, for five dollars, she would say, "Go in my purse and get it." I wanted to show her that all I was taking was the five dollars we agreed upon, but she would refuse, saying, "No need; I believe you." That was a positive lesson well learned. I did not ever want to betray my mother's trust.

Luther declares in the Large Catechism that the world is a large stall full of thieves. It is also full of liars, one might add. God is true, says St. Paul, referring to the Psalm, and every man a liar.

Since this is so, we must also be ready to forgive one another, and to give our children another chance. This is not to be confused with leniency. Infractions must have consequences, of course. But we need to inculcate into our children, especially the dishonest ones, a new desire to gain our trust. Let them know, when they have lied to us, that this will take some doing; but let them also know that we are benevolent parents who are eager to see them learn this lesson.

After all, we have a benevolent Lord Jesus, whose own heart breaks when we lie, but whose mercies are new to us every morning, and who therefore is likewise eager to see us learn the lessons His mercy would have us learn.