Our Redeemer’s Voice

An Online Edition of the Newsletter of Our Redeemer Lutheran Church, Newark, DE

December 2017

 

 

 

The Christmas Gospel

1      In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. 2This was the first registration when Quirinius was governor of Syria. 3And all went to be registered, each to his own town. 4And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the town of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, 5to be registered with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child. 6And while they were there, the time came for her to give birth. 7And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.

8 And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. 9And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear. 10And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. 11For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord (Luke 2:1-11).

Is there any story in the Bible that is better known than Luke’s Christmas account? Be honest now, as you read the above did you hear the voice of Linus in your mind? And yet that very familiarity can work against us. We can lose the impact and meaning as we hear comfortable, seasonally-appropriate words. We can actually miss how the angels, in clear words, proclaim the Gospel.

This Gospel message the angel shares is the very heart and soul of the message the Church has been commissioned to share. The angel says “I bring you good news.” “Good news” is one word in the Greek. It can be translated “glad tidings” or, my favorite, “Gospel.” The angel is telling the shepherds, “I bring you the Gospel.” The Greek word also gives us the English words “evangelist” and “evangelical.” Evangelist literally means one who shares good news, the Gospel. Evangelical literally means a believer in the Gospel, the Gospel proclaimed by the angel.

The angel doesn’t say, “I preach to you” or “I bring you some news,” but “I bring you the Gospel, the Good News, Glad Tidings.” The angel becomes an evangelist.

What does the Gospel consist of? The angel tells us. It is a message of “great joy.” This is a personal joy, for the angel says it is “for you.” What is the Gospel message that brings such joy? Is it a new church sports league? Is it the paying off of a church mortgage? Is it the dedication of a new pipe organ? You know it isn’t. In the words of the angel we hear the Gospel, “For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.” That is it, the joyful proclamation of Christ, our Savior.

He who proclaims Christ correctly, proclaims the Gospel correctly, and its sheer joy. How can there be any better “good news?” God has become a human being to become our Savior, to become your Savior.

I could say that this message is the “Christmas Gospel,” but that is actually too limited. This is the Gospel, period. The Christmas story is the story of how the Father loved us so much that he sent his Son to be born of our flesh in order to be our Savior. All who believe in him inherit eternal life. That is Good News, indeed!

Christmas blessings,

Pastor

 

Digging In<
The Nicene Creed
Introduction, Part 2

The focus of this current series of Digging In articles is the Nicene Creed. This is the third article. I intended to provide background first, but last month I got ahead of myself and wrote about the first article. I’m returning to background this month. To help set the Nicene Creed in its place among the three ecumenical creeds, I provided some background information on the Apostles’ Creed in the first article. This month I’ll provided some background information concerning the Athanasian Creed. We will then conclude this introduction section with background information about the Nicene Creed.

Like the Apostles’ Creed, no one is really sure who wrote the Athanasian Creed. There is even debate as to when and where it was composed. Some hold to the second half of the fourth century, others to the fifth century, and still others to the sixth century. A very few hold to the ninth century, though that is ridiculous, as we have copies of the creed that predate that century. Some believe it was written in or around Alexandria, while others believe it was written in southern Gaul.

This creed is named after St. Athanasius of Alexandria, a staunch defender of the Christian faith in the fourth century and does faithfully express his faith. A medieval account credited Athanasius as the author of the Creed. According to this account, Athanasius composed it during his exile in Rome, and presented it to Pope Julius I as a witness to his orthodoxy (sometime around 340). The Pope, by virtue of the creed, recognizes Athanasius as orthodox. The lateness of this story, along with other issues, makes it difficult to believe.

Just about every “big gun” from the church’s history, from the late fourth through the ninth centuries, has been put forth as the composer of the Athanasian Creed, but all suggestions have a fatal flaw. If some major Church luminary was the author, then surely his name would have immediately been attached to the creed. Think of it this way. We all know who wrote the Gettysburg Address. We know the date and occasion when it was first delivered. That is because Lincoln was president. But what if it had been first written by some civics instructor of a small town and used in a school play? The local newspaper reporter was impressed and put it in the paper, but does not know who actually wrote the words and so leaves them unaccredited. Then other papers gradually pick up the speech until it spreads around the country. People begin to wonder who wrote it. Recognizing the sentiments of Lincoln, the story begins to circulate that Lincoln was indeed the author. The real author is lost. We know who wrote the Gettysburg Address, because Lincoln was a big gun. We do not know who wrote the Athanasian Creed and so he is probably not a prominent figure in Church history.

The fact that it is being referred to by prominent Christian writers by the middle of the fifth century in southern Gaul is more than enough reason to assume it was composed sometime in the latter half of the fourth or early part of the fifth century. It was probably written by an obscure bishop for the congregations under his charge for use in their worship services. Though this bishop never made a name for himself in human history, the creed he wrote is a powerful testimony to the truth that there is no unimportant service (or servants) in Christ’s Kingdom.

Like the Apostles’ Creed, the Athanasian Creed does not receive “official” recognition until the Reformation. It was endorsed by the Lutherans in the Augsburg Confession (1530) and included in the Book of Concord (1580). The Roman Catholic Church endorsed it at the Council of Trent (1545-1563). It was also endorsed by most Protestant branches that sprung up during the Reformation period (Church of England, Reformed confessions, etc.).

The Latin name for the Athanasian Creed is “Quicumque vult,” which are the first two words of the creed in Latin. They translate “Whosoever wishes.” Though its contents appear to focus on teaching to contemporary readers, its opening actually sets out the essential principle that the Christian faith does not consist in the first place in assent to propositions, but “that we worship One God in Trinity, and the Trinity in Unity”. All else in the creed flows from that orientation. The two key elements of true worship in the creed are worship of the Triune God and of Jesus as both fully God and fully man. There are other elements included in the creed, but these two points are clearly the main focus. One key lesson we learn from this, then, is that what we do in worship is VERY important. (This is one of my personal concerns with the new ELCA hymnal. It has an option for Sunday morning worship that makes no reference to the Trinity or the true nature of Jesus. It has only generic terms for God.)

Some are startled, even troubled, by the “damnatory” or “minatory clauses”, in this creed (the penalties which follow the rejection of what is proposed for our worship and belief). In reality, they are but the creedal equivalent of Our Lord’s words: “Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. And this is the judgment: the light has come into

the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil” (John 3:18-19). Clearly these words of Jesus, and the creed, apply only to the culpable and willful rejection of Christ’s words and teachings. In other words, it is rejection of the truth once learned, not ignorance of the truth, that this creed (and Jesus) say are condemned.

This creed, as said above, has always been intended for use in worship. The congregation would either sing or recite it. During the Middle Ages it was used quite often; in some places in Europe, every week. In our age, with theology by sound bite, this rich creed is the most overlooked of the three ecumenical creeds. In some churches, it is never used. We only use it once a year on Trinity Sunday (the first Sunday after Pentecost). If we were wise, we would use it far more.

Blessings in Christ,

Pastor

 

Some Thoughts From LHM: Love Came Down—

In Love Came Down we see how the Heavenly Father spared nothing—not even His own Son—to work out our salvation. Though we had rebelled in our sins and spurned God and His Commandments, He chose us—not for exclusion, but redemption. The Father’s love sought us out in our perilous condition and, in His infinite mercy, bridged the divide to our isolation through Jesus—the one Mediator between God and Man.

“Jesus came to be in our lives, a part of our lives, one of us. He came to be our Savior, and that is not a job someone can do by standing safely at a distance. Instead, He embraced our human nature—He was born, He grew, He lived, worked, and suffered, He died. And then He rose from the dead,” writes author Dr. Kari Vo.

The story of our salvation is a hard-fought victory. What began in a humble manger stall in Bethlehem on Christmas morn reached its zenith when Jesus—child of Mary, Son of God—was crucified, died, and rose from the dead three days later. This is what God did for us; this is what happened when love came down.

What is Advent?

The Church divides the year into different seasons that emphasize the life of Christ and the life of the Church. Beginning on Sunday December 3rd, 2017, we will enter the season of the Church year called Advent. Advent is the season of preparation and anticipation leading up to Christmas, and continuing to

Epiphany, January 6th, 2018

The focus of Advent is two-fold. On the one hand, we prepare to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who came into the world as both God and man so that our sins might be forgiven. On the other hand, we anticipate the day when Jesus will return to Earth and bring an end to this world. Those will be scary days, but we can look forward to the end of the world with hope because through faith in Jesus, the end of this world will mean the beginning of a new life with Christ for eternity.

Advent, then, is a time for us to repent and believe. Knowing that Jesus was born to forgive our sins, we repent (admit our failures to God) and believe that we are forgiven because of the death and resurrection of Jesus on our behalf. Also, knowing that Jesus is coming back, we repent and believe that when He returns, He will give us eternal life.

Postscript

Advent is more than the preparation for Christmas, it is a time to prepare our spiritual lives for the reality of the returning Lord, our Redeemer and focus our lives on His Word to us. 

Arlen D. Besel – Ambassador

 

Through The Worship Window

Our Church Year Begins With Advent:

On December 3 we start the new church year looking for the coming Messiah who will be born to the world as was told in several Old Testament prophecies.  Our Adult Bible Class will study the opening comment of God coming to visit His creation in Isaiah 64.  The Gospel either takes us to Palm Sunday or the Lord’s death on the cross.

Then we are carried to John the Baptist preaching the word of repentance and Isaiah offering comfort through his baptism and message.  The theme of His return is then told as a wedding feast and the presentation of Jesus at the temple and accepted by Simeon.

Our journey continues with the reminder that Christ is the light to all people; an event illustrated by the visit of the Magi on the Christ Child.  Even this early it is clear that the promised salvation is offered to all humans.

In the midst of this the actual birth is told through the words of Paul’s letter to the Galatians with the reminder that we are now heirs of God by the work of the Holy Spirit.

In my view, it is good to step away from the all too well-known words in Luke and look at the Lord’s coming with fresh eyes and hearts.

With Christmas past we are invited to share in the baptism of Jesus as the Epiphany season begins.

Let’s take a look back to see the above times in the eyes of the Epistle Lessons.

Early on we need to be reminded that the life we live is directed toward the day of the Lord; a time when He calls an end to this world and ushers in a new one.

One of the great admonitions of the Word is this; “Be joyful always; pray continually.”  And the reminder that in the Bible all the words we need to assure our knowledge and salvation are provided.

The letter to Hebrews reminds us that Jesus is God’s Son and has no parallel in humankind.  Many of the letters in the Bible speak to this critical truth.

As time passes in the spread of the Gospel, the clear emphasis is that the message is meant to all people and to the Gentiles who were not in favor of the Jews.  We can use this reminder to guide us in our efforts to share the good news of salvation in Christ to everyone we know and meet.  That is our clear commission.

Arlen D. Besel – Worship

 

Being Lutheran, I think that we sometimes forget that the Creeds we learned when we were young were, for the Early Church, confessions of faith to be shared in our everyday lives. Martin Luther, more than a millennium later, understood the richness of faith contained in the Creeds; that is why they are part of his Small Catechism, and why we learned them in confirmation class. The Creeds are still valuable today! In a post-modern world, where truth is considered whatever is true for me personally, our Creeds say so much about the God who loves us! The publishers of The Lutheran Study Bible included a section on how to simply and easily discuss our faith in God using the shortest of the Creeds, the Apostles’ Creed.

Simple Ways to Witness [Taken from The Lutheran Study Bible, page 1425]

A thorough course on evangelism is great for every Christian to take…. But to get started as a witness, all you need to know is the Apostles’ Creed and a few things to say about matters of faith. The creed provides a simple outline.

I Believe in God the Father
Add to your conversations the following (or similar) simple statements:
“God has given us a beautiful day/night.”
“I’ll pray for you.”
“God bless your day.”

These are great ways to start, continue, or end a conversation. People do not take offense when you use such expressions. So share these thoughts with confidence. When you are comfortable doing so, follow up with a question:

“Can we talk about matters of faith?”

For most people, this is a nonthreatening question because it simply invites them to share their thoughts about God and faith. You are not requiring them to know a lot, so they will not feel quizzed. You are not promising to have all the answers, so you do not need to worry that you will say something wrong.

After you have asked this question, just listen. Be cordial and respectful, learning about what they believe and have experienced. Polite conversation allows that, if they share their thoughts about matters of faith and you have listened, you may share your thoughts about matters of faith with them. They will most likely listen. You can talk about your church, praying to God, or how much faith means to you. Most people are quite comfortable with such conversation.

I Believe in Jesus Christ

You have not really borne witness as a Christian until you have spoken with someone about the Lord Jesus Christ. Any religious person might talk about God or a religious upbringing. But Christians believe in and talk about Jesus Christ. Begin this important conversation with a simple question:

“What do you believe about Jesus Christ?”

As before, just listen to the answer. Try to understand where they are coming from and what they know about Jesus. If they seem uncomfortable, apologize for making them uncomfortable and suggest that perhaps you could talk another time. If they seem comfortable, wait for an opportunity to share what you know and believe about Jesus, such as:

“Jesus is my Savior.” Or:
“I pray to Jesus when I’m facing challenges in life.”

Let the conversation develop naturally from there. Once again, you do not have to have all the answers. Just share what you know, what you understand. If they ask questions you cannot answer, say:

“I don’t know about that. I’d like to talk with my pastor/Bible teacher about that. Okay?”

Follow up later.

I Believe in the Holy Spirit and the Holy Christian Church

The Holy Spirit makes people Christians and brings them into the fellowship of the Church through Holy Baptism and God’s Word. Many people today believe they can be Christians without the Church. But Jesus clearly taught that His followers would be part of the Church, and He taught His disciples how to care for one another in a community of faith.

Follow up your conversation by simply inviting them to church, Bible class, Vacation Bible School, or any event that brings them into contact with other Christians. Surprisingly, most people say that they would attend a church service if someone invited them. Pray that the Holy Spirit would strengthen you as a witness and pray for the persons to whom you witness. If they come to church with you, introduce them to others who may share their interests or experiences so that they can bear witness to them as well. It is really that simple.

To grow more confident and comfortable as a witness, read Milton I. Rudnick, How to Share Christ Confidently (St. Louis: Concordia, 2009).

 NEWS & NOTES

Advent Saints and Jesus

Martin Luther once said:

You know the Gospel is nothing else but the proclamation of the one single person who is called Christ. Although at various times many other books have been written and many sermons have been preached about people both heathen and Christians, and, indeed, even on the mother of God, St. Peter, the angels and many other saints, they are not Gospels. That only is the true Gospel which holds up Christ before us and teaches us what good we are to expect from Him.

With such a sentiment spoken by “the first Lutheran,” it might seem amazing that we observe any saint days, but we do. But Luther also gives us a key to remembering the saints in an appropriate and Christian fashion. He went on to write:

At times the Gospel makes mention of John the Baptist, Mary and the apostles. But this is not the Gospel in the strict sense. Mention is made of
these people to point out more fully whence Christ came and what His office is. What we read of John the Baptist and the Virgin Mary in Luke’s Gospel is not written for their sakes, but solely for the sake of the person of Christ. Everything that is found in the Gospel is related to this person
only.

In St. Paul’s epistles nothing is written about the saints; everything concerns Christ alone. The evangelists describe the miracles and wondrous signs that Christ performed. They do not describe a single work of John the Baptist or Mary. They are interested only in what Christ Himself achieved, how He helped people in body and soul, and how people became attached to Him as a result,

So we remember the saints, not so much for their sake, but as they point us to Jesus. That would include the “Advent Saints.” I’m calling the saints whose days fall during the Advent Season “Advent Saints.” This year three of them happen to fall on the three Wednesdays in Advent when we have our mid-week Advent services. The goal of each message will be to understand how each of these saints points us to Jesus.

The dates of those services and titles of the messages are:

December 6 – Nicholas of Myra, Pastor
Sermon: Worship the Real Jesus
December 13 – Lucia, Martyr
Sermon: Jesus is the True Light
December 20 – Katharina von Bora Luther
Sermon: Day by Day with Jesus

Like we did last year, these services will be followed by a time of fellowship and refreshments. The fellowship begins at 7:45 pm and the service begins at 7:00.

As is my custom, I will tell a “story with a point” for the Christmas Eve message. To be honest, I originally got this idea from Jesus, who told so many great parables. Of course, his “stories with a point” are better than mine. The story for Christmas Eve is “A Great and Mighty Wonder”

On Christmas Day we will have a “Service of Carols and Communion.” Instead of a conventional sermon, there will be several short meditations inspired by the carols we sing. The service begins at 10:00 am.

Please plan on joining us as we begin another Church Year in the name of the Lord.

Don’t forget to check us out online. It is a great way to introduce our church to friends and neighbors.

Build-A-Bag Returns

Over the years the ladies of Our Redeemer have made many sleeping bags, which are then given to people who need them. As the weather warmed up earlier this year, the ladies took a break. They will be returning to the loving task beginning Saturday, December 2, at 10:00 am. They will continue for three hours. This is a special meeting time. Starting December 7, the sewers will move to their regular day and time, Thursdays at noon, but will also continue to meet the 1st Saturday of each month, also.

One does not have to be an expert sewer to participate. In fact, a beginner level sewer can help “build a bag.” You don’t have to know what you are doing before you arrive. The experienced build-a-bag sewers will be delighted to guide you on how to construct a sleeping bag. You don’t have to be a member of Our Redeemer. The people who need these bags don’t care who makes them, and neither do we. You don’t have to be a woman to join. Men, with beginning level sewing skills are welcome also. You don’t have to be an adult. Teenagers on Christmas breaks from school are welcome.

So, join the sewers and build-a-bag.

Greening the Church

One of the joys of Christmas is decorating. We decorate our homes. We decorate where we work. Some students even decorate “their” space at their schools.

We decorate our sanctuary also. This will be done Sunday, December 3 following our worship service(those who can help set up the Christmas tree will meet on Saturday, 12/2 so all will be ready for Sunday, 12/3). After we have finished “greening” our church lunch will be served.

The traditional time to take these decorations down is Epiphany (January 6). Epiphany falls on a Saturday this year. That means the decorations “should” be taken down before Sunday, January 7. We will take our decorations down following our worship service on December 31. This, unfortunately, will mean that the decorations will be absent for our New Year’s Eve service. This plan, then, might change and we might wait until after our worship service on January 7. Pastor will be on vacation that Sunday, but that is okay. The final decision will be made at the next Church Council meeting.

Singing Through the Hymnal

If you notice, beginning in Advent, an improvement in hymn selection, you can thank the people who are gathering to “sing through the hymnal.” We began with the first hymns in the hymnal and are simply working through all the hymns. The first hymns travel through the Church Year, beginning with the Advent season. Therefore, all the hymns we will be singing this Advent season have been identified as either “known” or “well-known” by our singers.

We still have a lot of hymns to sing, and when we next meet will begin with hymn 523, the first hymn in the section titled “Redeemer.” This has hymns like “Crown Him with Many Crowns” and “O Word of God Incarnate.” If you join this group, you can help us know which hymns are known and which unknown hymns might be worth learning.

The next gathering of the singers will be Sunday, January 14, following the worship service. There will be no gathering in December, as it is such a busy month already. You don’t have to be a great singer to help. But you will be asked to share whether or not you know the hymn. So, join the singers on Sunday, January 14, and be a blessing to Our Redeemer.

Newsletter Information Date

Please have all information for the newsletter in to the office no later than the 20th of each month to ensure its inclusion. Thanks!

Christmas Blessings from Pastor John & Kitty Rickert!

“And they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in a manger. And when they saw it, they made known the saying that had been told them concerning this child. And all who heard it wondered what the shepherds told them.” Luke 2:16-18