The Creation of the World

The Creation of the World

How did God create our world: life, planet, universe, and beyond?

Genesis 2: 4-8: This is the account of the heavens and the earth when they were created, when the Lord God made the earth and the heavens.

Now no shrub had yet appeared on the earth and no plant had yet sprung up, for the Lord God had not sent rain on the earth and there was no one to work the ground, but streams came up from the earth and watered the whole surface of the ground. Then the Lord God formed a man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.

Now the Lord God had planted a garden in the east, in Eden; and there he put the man he had formed.

Genesis 2:19-25:  19 Now the Lord God had formed out of the ground all the wild animals and all the birds in the sky. He brought them to the man to see what he would name them; and whatever the man called each living creature, that was its name. 20 So the man gave names to all the livestock, the birds in the sky and all the wild animals.

But for Adam no suitable helper was found. 21 So the Lord God caused the man to fall into a deep sleep; and while he was sleeping, he took one of the man’s ribs and then closed up the place with flesh. 22 Then the Lord God made a woman from the rib[h] he had taken out of the man, and he brought her to the man.

23 The man said, “This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called ‘woman,’ for she was taken out of man.” 24 That is why a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh. 25 Adam and his wife were both naked, and they felt no shame.

Isaiah 40:25,26: 25 “To whom will you compare me? Or who is my equal?” says the Holy One. 26 Lift up your eyes and look to the heavens: Who created all these? He who brings out the starry host one by one and calls forth each of them by name. Because of his great power and mighty strength, not one of them is missing.

Creation-Michelangelo

The Creation by Michelangelo in the Sistine Chapel

God is depicted as an elderly, yet muscular, man with grey hair and a long beard. This is dramatically different from previous images of God wearing royal garments. Instead of showing God as an all-powerful ruler, Michelangelo shows God in a light tunic in a personal and intimate person.

Adam is depicted as a lounging figure who rather lackadaisically responds to God’s imminent touch.  This touch will not only give life to Adam, but will give life to all mankind.  It is, therefore, the birth of the human race.

Creation_Eve-Michelangelo

The Creation of Eve by Michelangelo, Sistine Chapel

In the panel on the Creation of Eve, God is actively interacting with Eve and depicted as a man of wisdom while Adam continues in a deep sleep and unaware of the miracle taking place or the temptation to sin (a death sentence) that he will experience.  God’s wisdom includes the birth of His Son through another miracle in Mary – a Son who will give us the miracle of grace and the promise of salvation.

The painting is in the center of the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. It is interesting to see how God is larger than the painting as His head does not appear to fit within the frame. For Michelangelo, there is no doubt that God created the earth and the universe.

141203_creationChart.jpg.CROP.promovar-mediumlarge

http://www.slate.com/articles/health_and_science/human_nature/2014/12/creationism_poll_how_many_americans_believe_the_bible_is_literal_inerrant.html

Luther: In Luther’s lectures on the biblical creation account in Genesis 1:1- 2:4, it was not so much the concept of “creation out of nothing,” but the idea of ultimate creation, preservation, and governance by God’s spoken word that formed the main emphasis. Luther gives us his picture of God’s personal nature and caring character in his lectures.

Luther came to understand a personal God through the spoken word of God in the words, “God said.” This is why Luther understood the spoken Word of God to us in the Bible and through sermons and songs shows the creative activity of how God’s Word works in our lives. hat the various creation acts are preceded by the phrase “God said” was a circumstance that Luther regarded as a reference to the creative activity of the Word.

According to Luther, the action verbs—said, made, and saw—were intentionally chosen to assist the reader in understanding more clearly the doctrine of the Trinity. Luther distinguished between an unspoken and a spoken word in God. The unspoken Word was one with God and the spoken Word created all things. God created all things through the uncreated Word by speaking.

Luther sensed that the statement “Let us make man in our image” (Genesis 1:27) was intended to explain the divine mystery that “from eternity there is one God and that there are three separate Persons in one Godhead: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.”9   In this perspective, Luther viewed everything in the account as a revelation of God’s love and grace. The creation of the heavenly bodies, the physical conditions of the Earth, and the plant life reveal God’s character as He prepared “a home and an inn” for Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden and furnished it with every joyful thing for them to enjoy.

In this way God had already taken care of human needs even before He created humans, suggesting that divine providence is far greater than our “anxiety.” The heavenly bodies—Sun, Moon, and stars—were intended for the counting of time in days, months, seasons, and years. Luther emphasized that God repeatedly expressed His satisfaction and delight with the results of His creation. It was perfect!

Comments: hbitten@reverendluther.org

The Wise Men Visit Jesus

The Visit of the Kings

Is God visible or invisible in our lives and world?

Matthew 2:1-12: After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.”

When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him. When he had called together all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Messiah was to be born. “In Bethlehem in Judea,” they replied, “for this is what the prophet has written:

“‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,     are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for out of you will come a ruler     who will shepherd my people Israel.’”

Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. He sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and search carefully for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him.”

After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen when it rose went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. 10 When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. 11 On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. 12 And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route.

Opnamedatum: 2010-02-18

Adoration of the Kings, by Hendrik ter Brugghen (1619)

The richly garbed kings are full of reverence as they offer their gifts with the young toddler, Jesus, grasping at the gifts as all babies do. Brugghen suggests the wise men or kings knew the importance of the birth of Jesus. Jesus will be the savior of all nations and people!

Martin Luther: In his 1522 sermon for Epiphany, Luther used the example of the Magi to emphasize that the priests and educated of Israel knew the Scriptures but failed to understand and assimilate them. Instead they allowed a foreign king, Herod, to cultivate their fear and dismiss this as fake news. Luther ponders that even if they believed God’s Word on the prophecy of a savior as truth, they frustrated it.

Instead, the Magi were prepared to leave their homes and possessions and search for the birthplace of Jesus Christ. They studied the Scriptures and recognized the star. When they arrived in Jerusalem they did not ask for Annas or Caiaphas, priests, or an address. They asked where they would find the King of the Jews! Luther concluded that God works in opposites, He appears in unlikely places, with ordinary people, and hidden from what we might expect. (Robert Kolb. Luther and the Stories of God, p. 129)

“From this we can easily conclude why Christ had to die and rise again in order to rule spiritually to all eternity. For though the passage here proves that He had to become a true natural man, it yet follows that He had to change this bodily life into a spiritual invisible life, as it was impossible for Him to rule bodily as widely and as long as the prophet indicates.

Micah continues and says: “Therefore will he give them up until the time that she which travaileth hath brought forth: then the residue of his brethren shall return unto the children of Israel. And he shall stand and shall feed his flock in the strength of the Lord, in the majesty of the name of the Lord his God: and they shall abide; for now shall he be great unto the ends of the earth.”

From these words it is clear that Christ’s kingdom should be extended to the ends of the earth by preaching and suffering, of which the prophet says that in the majesty of the name of Jehovah He would preach and feed his flock, showing also that He would be persecuted on account of his preaching. Therefore the prophet also says that they should be given a respite as to their temporal existence and government until a new people had been born. The woman in travail represents the little flock of the apostles which during the sufferings of Christ was in the agony of the birth of a new spiritual people for this ruler of Israel, as Christ Himself foretells, John 16:2. “Then Herod privately called the Wise-men, and learned of them exactly what time the star appeared. And he sent them to Bethlehem and said, Go and search out exactly concerning the young child; and when ye have found Him, bring me word, that I also may come and worship Him.”

From this text we learn that the wise men were not kings nor princes, but common, honest people, like the learned and the clergy. Herod does not treat them as belonging to royalty, but sends them to Bethlehem, tells them to attend to their mission, and, as if they were his subjects, commands them to bring him word again. He would not have done this if they had been kings or lords; he would have invited them to his palace, accompanied them on their journey, and treated them with great honor. For all historians agree that Herod was a pompous man, who knew how to treat people royally after the way of the world, and wished to be admired by the people.

As, however, he calls the men privately and without display and parade they must have been of much lower rank than he was.

But why does he call them privately, since the land was his and in his full control? He did it for this reason. He knew quite well that the Jews were his sworn enemies and wished to be rid of him. He was afraid, therefore, that if he called the men publicly and the Jews became aware of it, they would go to the wise men and enjoin them not to acquaint Herod with the true state of affairs, so that the new king may live before his eyes.

When he asks them about the time of the star he does it out of the same anxiety. He was already resolved in his heart to slay the innocent children.

He reasoned thus: If the new king is born the Jews will rejoice, and will secrete him for a while until he is grown up, and then will espouse his cause, put him on the throne and banish me. I must forestall them, therefore, and carefully inquire into the time of His birth; and although He is hidden from me I shall still find Him amongst the people when I slay all the children, and their disguise will avail them nothing. He pursues this plan diligently so that the new king might be made known to him, commands the wise men to bring him word again, and puts on a pious and devout face as if he wished to worship the child also.”

Comments: hbitten@reverendluther.org

Massacre of Innocents PP Rubens 1609-11Massacre of the Innocents by Peter Paul Rubens (1609-1611)

Hymn Parade – Away in a Manger

Hymn Parade – Away in a Manger (1882)

How do you see the face of Jesus – as a baby, man, friend, Savior?

 Luke 2:7 And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn.

Away in a manger, no crib for a bed, the little Lord Jesus laid down His sweet head; the stars in the sky looked down where He lay, the little Lord Jesus, asleep on the hay.

The cattle are lowing, the Baby awakes, but little Lord Jesus, no crying He makes; I love Thee, Lord Jesus! Look down from the sky, and stay by my cradle till morning is nigh.

 Be near me, Lord Jesus, I ask Thee to stay close by me forever, and love me, I pray; bless all the dear children in Thy tender care, and fit us for heaven, to live with Thee there.”

Video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pVSoAM7YrxE

Although many have credited Martin Luther with “Away in a Manager” as his “Cradle Song” it is unlikely that he actually wrote this song since there is no known copy written in German. However, the carol came to America through Lutheran immigrants who settled in Pennsylvania. It was first published in March 1882 in The Christian Cynosure under the heading of “Luther’s Cradle Song” and identified as the song Martin Luther sang to his children. The musical setting is also debated between the most common one composed by William J. Kirkpatrick in 1895 and the one by James Ramsey Murray in 1887.

Christmas became America’s third national holiday (after Independence Day and Thanksgiving Day) in 1870. After the Civil War, Americans looked for a holiday that would unite everyone and the symbols of decorated Christmas trees, wrapped gifts, Santa Claus, cards, carols, nativity pageants, and the theme of the gift of salvation emerged in American culture. There was a strong religious expression in this holiday which united the people in America’s growing cities and rural communities. Away in a Manger is considered to be an American song! The song became very popular in Sunday School and public school programs for Christmas.

Adoration of the Shepheds-1622The Adoration of the Shepherds by Gerard van Honthorst (1622)

The following excerpt is from Martin Luther’s Christmas Day sermon in 1522.

“But the birth itself is still more pitiful. There was no one to take pity on this young wife who was for the first time to give birth to a child; no one to take to heart her condition that she, a stranger, did not have the least thing a mother needs in a birth-night. There she is without any preparation, without either light or fire, alone in the darkness, without any one offering her service as is customary for women to do at such times. Everything is in commotion in the inn, there is a swarming of guests from all parts of the country, no one thinks of this poor woman. It is also possible that she did not expect the event so soon, else she would probably have remained at Nazareth.

Just imagine what kind of swaddling clothes they were in which she wrapped the child. Possibly her veil or some article of her clothing she could spare. But that she should have wrapped him in Joseph’s trousers, which are exhibited at Aix-la-Chapelle, appears entirely too false and frivolous. It is a fable, the like of which there are more in the world. Is it not strange that the birth of Christ occurs in cold winter, in a strange land, and in such a poor and despicable manner?

Some argue as to how this birth took place, as if Jesus was born while Mary was praying and rejoicing, without any pain, and before she was conscious of it. While I do not altogether discard that pious supposition, it was evidently invented for the sake of simple minded people. But we must abide by the Gospel, that he was born of the virgin Mary. There is no deception here, for the Word clearly states that it was an actual birth.”

It is well known what is meant by giving birth. Mary’s experience was not different from that of other women, so that the birth of Christ was a real natural birth, Mary being his natural mother and he being her natural son. Therefore her body performed its functions of giving birth, which naturally belonged to it, except that she brought forth without sin, without shame, without pain and without injury, just as she had conceived without sin. The curse of Eve did not come on her, where God said: “In pain thou shalt bring forth children,” Genesis 3:16; otherwise it was with her in every particular as with every woman who gives birth to a child.

Grace does not interfere with nature and her work, but rather improves and promotes it. Likewise Mary, without doubt, also nourished the child with milk from her breast and not with strange milk, or in a manner different from that which nature provided, as we sing: ubere de coelopleno, from her breast being filled by heaven, without injury or impurity. I mention this that we may be grounded in the faith and know that Jesus was a natural man in every respect Just as we, the only difference being in His relation to sin and grace, He being without a sinful nature. In him and in His mother nature was pure in all the members and in all the operations of those members. No body or member of woman ever performed its natural function without sin, except that of this virgin; here for once God bestowed special honor upon nature and its operations. It is a great comfort to us that Jesus took upon Himself our nature and flesh. Therefore we are not to take away from Him or His mother any thing that is not in conflict with grace, for the text clearly says that she brought him forth, and the angels said, unto you he is born.”

Comments: hbitten@reverendluther.org

Hymn Parade – O Come All ye Faithful

Hymn Parade – O Come all ye Faithful (Adeste Fidelis) by John Francis Wade (1743)

How does this hymn emphasize the importance of this historic event in Bethlehem?

Video: https://vimeo.com/2506973

Luke 2:15-16:  15 When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.” 16 So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger.

O come, all ye faithful, joyful and triumphant, O come ye, O come ye to Bethlehem! Come, and behold Him, born the King of angels!

Refrain: O come, let us adore Him; O come, let us adore Him; O come, let us adore Him, Christ, the Lord!

Sing, choirs of angels; sing in exultation; sing, all ye citizens of heav’n above! Glory to God, all glory in the highest!

Yea, Lord, we greet Thee, born this happy morning; Jesus, to Thee be all glory giv’n! Word of the Father, now in flesh appearing!

The context of this story begins 400 years before with the prophesy in Micah 5:2 that Jesus or Immanuel would be born in Bethlehem.

“But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times.”

For 400 years, God was silent or a 21st century person might think that ‘God was dead.’ But by living and dying in real time on earth, Jesus saved us from our sins. Fact Check: It is documented real news!

We are familiar with the story, but these words in Micah 5:2 give some context about how God prophesied that Jesus would be born in Bethlehem and told to us through His prophet Isaiah that His Son would be named Jesus, sometimes called Immanuel, “because by coming to dwell with us, living and dying among us, He would be able to save us from our sin.” That’s the Christmas story. Jesus came to live among us, not as royalty, but in poverty, “with no place for the Son of Man to lay His head.” 

 Adoration of the Shepheds-1622

The Adoration of the Shepherds (1622), by Gerard van Honthorst

The hymn was composed in Latin and is also named, Adeste Fideles. It was sung regularly at the Portugese Embassy in France during their Christmas services and this is how it came to England about 100 years later. In England Frederick Oakeley translated the hymn from Latin to English. It was published in the hymnal in the Anglican Church in 1852 (during the time of Queen Victoria) in the form we are familiar with today.

The words of the hymn place the singer among the shepherds and in the continuing procession of Christians from the historic event over 2,000 years before. The second stanza, which is not included in all hymnals, reflects the words of the Nicene Creed.

God of God, light of light, Lo, he abhors not the Virgin’s womb;

Very God, begotten, not created:

Martin Luther wrote in his commentary on Matthew 2, “The revelation is itself divided into parts of its own, the first of which is the star; the second, the confession of the Wise Men; the third, the witness of the priests; and the fourth, godless Herod’s admitted fear. By all these things the birth of Christ is preached and revealed – that is, by a mute creature, the star; by foreigners, the Wise Men; by His own people; and by His enemy and persecutor – so that there may be no excuse for anyone not to know that Christ has been born.

 His personal identity is this: from the tribe of Judah, the city of Bethlehem, the true Son of David and true man from the Father in eternity; the true Son of God, true God, as is more fully evident in Micah 5:2. His office is this: the prince of the people of God, but a prince in a different way, not like David and other mortals and their successors. He is unique and He is immortal – without successor – because He is an eternal person, as Micah 5:2 says, ‘His coming forth is from the beginning before the days of the world.’”

Comments: hbitten@reverendluther.org

Hymn Parade – Joy to the World!

 Joy to the World by Isaac Watts (1719)

How is this a song about our future?

Video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tHS7StIz1S8 (National Cathedral, Washington, D.C.)

Video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kLLtnTXxErM (Chris Tomlin)

Psalm 98:4-9    Shout for joy to the Lord, all the earth, burst into jubilant song with music; make music to the Lord with the harp, with the harp and the sound of singing, with trumpets and the blast of the ram’s horn—shout for joy before the Lord, the King.

Let the sea resound, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it. Let the rivers clap their hands, let the mountains sing together for joy; let them sing before the Lord, for he comes to judge the earth. He will judge the world in righteousness   and the peoples with equity.

This favorite Christmas hymn was not written for Christmas, is not based on the birth of Jesus as written in Luke 2, and the familiar tune is pieced together from various sources! The original poem was written in the present tense, “Joy to the world, the Lord is come!” However, it is not uncommon to hear it sung in the past tense, Joy to the world, the Lord has come.

The tune, Antioch, was pieced together from Handel’s Messiah by Lowell Mason, a Boston music teacher, in 1836.

joy to the world

The story of Joy to the World is emphatically written in St. Paul’s letter to the people in the large urban center of Ephesus in Ephesians 2:4-9

God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead through our sins, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved); and raised us up with him, and made us sit with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.  For by grace you have been saved through faith; and this is not your own doing, it is the gift of God!”

Martin Luther wrote in The Freedom of a Christian Man about the everlasting joy that is our greatest gift! Yes, God’s personal love for each of us should be understood as a gift that is equal to or greater than saving Noah’s family from the flood, the exodus of the Hebrews from Egypt to the Promised Land, and the return to Israel from captivity under the Persians in Babylon. God’s gift came to us in the birth of Jesus Christ!

“Should you ask how it happens that faith alone justifies and offers us such a treasure of great benefits without works in view of the fact that so many works, ceremonies, and laws are prescribed in the Scriptures, I answer: First of all, remember what has been said, namely that faith alone, without works justifies, frees and saves; we shall make this clearer later on.  Here we must point out that the entire Scripture of God is divided into two parts: commandments and promises.  Although the commandments teach things that are good, the things taught are not done as soon as they are taught, for the commandments show us what we ought to do but do not give us the power to do it.  …That which is impossible for you to accomplish by trying to fulfill all the works of the law – many and useless as they all are – you will accomplish quickly and easily through faith.  God our Father has made all things depend on faith so that whoever has faith will have everything, and whoever does not have faith will have nothing.  …Thus the promises of God forgive what the commandments of God demand and fulfill what the law prescribes so that all things may be God’s alone, both the commandments and the fulfilling of the commandments.  He alone commands, He alone fulfils.

The third incomparable benefit of faith is that it unites the soul with Christ as a bride is united with her bridegroom.  …Christ is full of grace, life and salvation.  The soul is full of sins, death, and damnation.  Now let faith come between them and sins, death, and damnation will be Christ’s, while grace, life, and salvation will be the soul’s; for if Christ is a bridegroom, He must take upon himself the things which are his bride’s and bestow upon her the things that are His.”

Comments: hbitten@reverendluther.org

 

 

The Shepherds Came to See Jesus

The Shepherds

How did our grandparents and great grandparent, and the people in our families before them understand the meaning of the Christmas story?

Luke 2: 8-14: And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified.

10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. 11 Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. 12 This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”

13 Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,

14 “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”

Adoration-of-Shepherds-Giorgione__National_Gallery_of_Art

Adoration of the Shepherds, Giorgione, 1500

At first glance this painting of the Adoration of the Shepherds seems unexciting with Mary and an older looking Joseph gazing at the newly born Jesus with two shepherds looking at a naked baby. But the landscape to the left of the painting appears more engaging than the humble birth of God’s Son. Perhaps Giorgione is painting how he envisions Jesus in the world or people in the world connecting with Jesus. This painting is 17 years before the Reformation.

Luther: “The Evangelist shows how, when they arrived at Bethlehem, they were the most insignificant and despised, so that they had to make way for others until they were obliged to take refuge in a stable, to share with the cattle, lodging, table, bedchamber and bed, while many a wicked man sat at the head in the hotels and was honored as lord. No one noticed or was conscious of what God was doing in that stable. He lets the large houses and costly apartments remain empty, lets their inhabitants eat, drink and be merry; but this comfort and treasure are hidden from them.

O, what a dark night this was for Bethlehem, that was not conscious of that glorious light! See how God shows that He utterly disregards what the world is, has or desires; and furthermore, that the world shows how little it knows or notices what God is, has and does.

See, this is the first picture with which Christ puts the world to shame and exposes all it does and knows. It shows that the world’s greatest wisdom is foolishness, her best actions are wrong and her greatest treasures are misfortunes.”

Read more at http://www.beliefnet.com/faiths/christianity/protestant/2000/01/the-story-of-jesus-birth-a-sermon-by-martin-luther.aspx#WpkpQTqDHBUJArJ0.99

Comments: hbitten@reverendluther.org

 

Hymn Parade – Silent Night – 199th anniversary in 2017

Hymn Parade – Silent Night by Rev. Joseph Mohr and Franz Gruber (1818)

How does this song inspire your faith in the real news that Jesus Christ lived with us here on earth?

Video: https://vimeo.com/151626980

Video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hbm8IQ_G_-c (Guitar version from St. Nicholas’ Church in Obendorf)

Silent night! holy night! All is calm, all is bright, ‘Round yon virgin mother and Child! Holy Infant, so tender and mild, Sleep in heavenly peace, Sleep in heavenly peace. 

Stille Nacht, heilige Nacht! Alles schläft, einsam wacht nur das traute hochheilige Paar, Holder Knabe mit lockigem Haar, schlaf im himmlischer Ruh. 

This is the 199th anniversary year of the hymn Silent Night, which UNESCO declared as a global cultural icon in 2011. It is the world’s most popular Christmas song and proclaims the historic birth of Jesus Christ. The hymn was first sung in St. Nicholas’ Roman Catholic Church in Oberndorf, a village near Salzburg, Austria in 1818. A group of actors presented a play about the Christmas story in a small home because the organ in the church was not functional.

Silent night, holy night! All are asleep; alone awake only the faithful and most holy pair, Gentle boy with curly hair, sleep in heavenly peace.  (The original poem)

The young priest, Josef Mohr asked Franz Gruber, the organist at St. Nicholas to write a melody and to include the song as part of the Christmas Eve worship. Since the church organ was broken, the song was sung with a guitar. Austria and Europe were rebuilding three years after the defeat of Napoleon in 1815.

It was sometime in January when the organ was repaired by Karl Mauracher that Franz Gruber played the simple melody to test the repairs on the organ. Karl Mauracher took a copy of the music with him and shared it with another family singing group, the Strasser sisters. The hymn did not go viral until 1840 when it was performed for King William IV of Prussia in Berlin. In 1839, the hymn was sung (in German) outside Trinity Church in New York City at the gravesite of Alexander Hamilton. In 1863, the same year that President Lincoln proclaimed Thanksgiving a national holiday following the battle of Gettysburg, Silent Night was translated to English. Today it has been translated into over 300 languages!

rainer     Silent Night at the gravesite of Alexander Hamilton at Trinity Church, NYC

From the Introduction in the sermon Martin Luther preached on the afternoon of December 25, 1530:

“You have heard today the story from the Gospel of St. Luke of how it came to pass that our Lord Christ was born and then also the message of the angel, who announced who the boy was who was born. Now we shall go on and take up the message of the angel. So for today you have heard only that the child was born that he is the Lord and Savior. Thus we spoke of the story, how it unfolded, and who the persons in it were. This article is so high that even today it is believed by only a few. Nevertheless, God has preserved it even through those who have not believed it. For at all times in the monasteries and lectures which dealt with the fact that Christ the Lord, born of Mary, is true man and God. But it went no further than saying and hearing it. But this belief is held by the devil too and Turks and all the godless among the Christians, and is the kind of belief which everybody believes that it is true but would not die for it, as Eck and many others show today. If they had as much from Christ and the teaching of the gospel as from the devil, they would also think as much of Christ. The Turk too admits that Christ was born of the Virgin Mary, that Mary was an immaculate virgin, and that Christ was more than a man; but the Word of God, as it is given in the gospel, he denies, and yet I fear that the Turk believes more of this article than does the pope. Therefore it is a high article to believe that this infant, born of Mary, is true God; for nobody’s reason can ever accept the fact that he who created heaven and earth and is adored by the angels was born of a virgin. That is the article. Nobody believes it except he who also knows this faith, namely, that this child is the Lord and Savior.

But for whom was he born and whose Lord and Savior is he? The angels declare that he was born Lord and Savior. The Turks, the pope, and the scholars say the same thing, but only to the extent that it brings in money and honor. But that anyone could say “to you is born,” as the angel says, this is the faith which we must preach about. But we cannot preach about it as we would like to do.

Indeed, who could ever grasp (the full meaning of) these words of the evangelist: “a Savior, who is the Lord,” and, “to you”! I know well enough how to talk about it and what to believe about it, just as others do. So there are many who have this belief and do not doubt this first belief that Christ is the Lord, the Savior, and the virgin’s Son. This I too have never doubted. But if these words are planted no higher than in my thoughts, then they have no firm roots. We are certain that this was proclaimed by the angel, but the firm faith does not follow. For the reason does not understand both sides of this faith, first that Christ is a man, but also the Savior and Lord or King. This needs to be revealed from heaven. One who really has the first faith also has the other.

Who, then, are those to whom this joyful news is to be proclaimed? Those who are faint-hearted and feel the burden of their sins, like the shepherds, to whom the angels proclaim the message, letting the great lords in Jerusalem, who do not accept it go on sleeping. Beyond the first faith there must be the second faith, that Christ is not only the virgin’s Son, but also the Lord of angels and the Savior of men. The words anyone can understand, anti-sacramentarians, fanatics, sectarians, and Turks; but they do not proceed from the heart, they come only from hearing and go no farther than hearing. This is not faith, however, but only a memory of what has been heard, that one knows that he has heard it. Nobody ventures it, so as to stake goods, life, and honor upon it. And yet we must preach it for the sake of those who are in the multitude to whom the angel preached.

This is our theology, which we preach in order that we may understand what the angel wants. Mary bore the child, took it to her breast and nursed it, and the Father in heaven has his Son, lying in the manger and the mother’s lap. Why did God do all this? Why does Mary guard the child as a mother should? And reason answers: in order that we may make an idol of her, that honor may be paid to the mother. Mary becomes all this without her knowledge and consent, and all the songs and glory and honor are addressed to the mother. And yet the text does not sound forth the honor of the mother, for the angel says, “I bring to you good news of great joy; for to you is born this day the Savior” (Luke 2:10,11). I am to accept the child and his birth and forget the mother, as far as this is possible, although her part cannot be forgotten, for where there is a birth there must also be a mother. Nevertheless, we dare not put our faith in the mother but only in the fact that the child was born. And the angel desired that we should see nothing but the child which is born, just as the angels themselves, as though they were blind, which is born, just as the angels themselves, as though they were blind, saw nothing but the child born of the virgin, and desired that all created things should be as nothing compared with this child, that we should see nothing, be it harps, gold, goods, honor, power, and the like, which we would prefer before their message.

For if I receive even the costliest and best in the world, it still does not have the name of Savior. And if the Turk were ten times stronger than he is, he could not for one moment save me from my infirmity, to say nothing of the peril of death, and even less from the smallest sin or from death itself. In my sin, my death, I must take leave of all created things. No, sun, moon, stars, all creatures, physicians, emperors, kings, wise men and potentates cannot help me. When I die I shall see nothing but black darkness, and yet that light, “To you is born this day the Savior” (Luke 2:11), remains in my eyes and fills all heaven and earth. The Savior will help me when all have forsaken me. And when the heavens and the stars and all creatures stare at me with horrible mien, I see nothing in heaven and earth but this child. So great should that light which declares that He is my Savior become in my eyes….”

(From the Conclusion) “What we have said, then, has been about that second faith, which is not only to believe in Mary’s Son, but rather that he who lies in the virgin’s lap is our Savior, that you accept this and give thanks to God, who so loved you that he gave you a Savior who is yours. And for a sign he sent the angel from heaven to proclaim him, in order that nothing else should be preached except that this child is the Savior and far better than heaven and earth. Him, therefore, we should acknowledge and accept confess him as our Savior in every need, call upon him, and never doubt that he will save us from all misfortune. Amen.”

Comments: hbitten@reverendluther.org

Hymn Parade – Jesus Loves Me

Jesus Loves Me – Anna Bartlett Warner 1862

Why is this short and simple hymn timeless and popular with every culture?

Jesus loves me—this I know, For the Bible tells me so; Little ones to him belong,—They are weak, but he is strong.

Jesus loves me—loves me still, Though I’m very weak and ill; From his shining throne on high, Comes to watch me where I lie.

Jesus loves me—he will stay, Close beside me all the way. Then his little child will take, Up to heaven for his dear sake.

Hymn by William Batchelder Bradbury

Jesus loves me—this I know, For the Bible tells me so; Little ones to Him belong—They are weak, but He is strong.

Refrain: Yes, Jesus loves me! Yes, Jesus loves me! Yes, Jesus loves me! The Bible tells me so.

Jesus loves me—He who died, Heaven’s gate to open wide; He will wash away my sin, Let His little child come in. Jesus loves me—loves me still, Though I’m very weak and ill;

From His shining throne on high, Comes to watch me where I lie. Jesus loves me—He will stay, Close beside me all the way, Then His little child will take, Up to Heaven for His dear sake.

Video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-jABcYKhDrI

Psalm 19: 7, 8     The law of the Lord is perfect, refreshing the soul. The statutes of the Lord are trustworthy making wise the simple. The precepts of the Lord are right, giving joy to the heart. The commands of the Lord are radiant, giving light to the eyes.

The song Jesus Loves Me is timeless. Parents sing this hymn to their children at nap and bedtime, and it has probably been sung in every country since it was published in 1862. The history of the song is about 25 miles from where I live but its history touches all of us.

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The Warner House

Anna and Susan Warner lived on Constitution Island in the Hudson River and many cadets from West Point Military Academy came by rowboat to their cottage to attend their Sunday School classes. (Sunday Schools date back to Brooklyn in 1816 and Rally Day parades began in 1829.)As a result of the economic crisis in 1857, the sisters began to write novels to supplement the family’s income. Anna wrote the verses to Jesus Loves Me as part of the novel about a young boy who was dying with no chance for recovery. In 1862, when a William Bradbury read their novel, Say and Seal, he added the refrain and composed the melody. Bradbury’s company also provided the pianos for the White House, beginning in 1857.

Say and Seal

 

The novel and short hymn became popular in both the north and south during the American Civil War. It was preached in pulpits and sung at funerals. The simplicity of the poem made it easy to memorize. Although the novel, Say and seal was a national best seller in 1860, few have heard of it today. However, the simplistic poem, Jesus Loves Me, is known by almost everyone and two million copies were sold in 1862.

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Psalm 19 reveals to us the love of God! Martin Luther said, “The Bible is alive, it speaks to me. It has feet, it runs after me. It has hands, it lays hold of me.”

The central question in religion is how do we know that God is real or how and where has he revealed Himself to us? The hymn, Jesus Loves Me, answers this essential question emphatically!

Comments: hbitten@reverendluther.org

Constitution Island

Constitution Island in the Hudson River looking towards West Point Military Academy. During the American Revolution, a chain was laid across the river in 1778 to prevent the British ships from advancing north from New York City.

The Good Samaritan

Does this story from Jesus relate to the way we think about refugees or people looking for a safer place to live?

Luke 10:25-37   25 On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

26 “What is written in the Law?” he replied. “How do you read it?”

27 He answered, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”

28 “You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.”

29 But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”

30 In reply Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. 31 A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. 32 So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33 But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. 34 He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. 35 The next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’

36 “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”

37 The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.”

Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.” (one denarii should be considered as a day’s wage)

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The Good Samaritan by Vincent Van Gogh (1890)

Van Gogh painted this while staying in an institution for the mentally ill. It is a mirror copy of an earlier painting by Eugene Delacroix in 1849. When we compare Van Gogh’s painting with the earlier one by Delacroix we observe an obvious difference in the use of light.

The man from Samaria pushes the robbed man onto his horse. In the background to the left, two men can be seen who let the wounded man lay on the road when they passed him by. They were a priest and a man from the house of Levi. This is a deliberate choice by both men and Van Gogh pictures them as lifeless as they walk away lost in their own world of self-interest. Only the Samaritan, (a non-Jewish person or foreigner) helped the wounded man.

As you look to the left of the painting there is an open box with a garment next to it.  Our eye returns frequently to this open box and the painting the eye returns over and over again to this open box and to the blue garment that is next to it. Why? Does this symbolically represent to us the importance of being open and accepting of others, especially strangers or people with needs? To think about this in another way, is the wounded man a stranger or our brother? It makes us think about the words of Jesus Christ about “Love your neighbor as yourself!” (verse 27)

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The Good Samaritan by Edward Delacroix (1890)

Rembrandt-Good Samaritan

The Good Samaritan by Rembrandt (1633)

Rembrandt’s drawing gives us the reality of an every day scene with the dog, and characters of the woman drawing water from a well, someone looking through the window. When we look closely we see the pain of the wounded man who clutches his hands as the “porter” carries him inside the inn as he might a piece of luggage. It is a humble illustration of the Samaritan who risked his life and paid a sum of money for the care of the injured man. To me, Rembrandt’s engraving describes this as “business as usual.”

Martin Luther preached on the parable of the Good Samaritan on the 13th Sunday in Trinity (sometime in September):

This Samaritan of course is our Lord Jesus Christ himself, who has shown his love toward God and his neighbor. Toward God, in that he was obedient to him, came down from heaven and became man, and thus fulfilled the will of His Father; toward his neighbor, in that he immediately after His baptism began to preach, to do wonders, to heal the sick. And in short, He did no work that centered in Himself alone, but all His acts centered in his neighbor. And this He did with all His powers, and thus He became our servant, who could have well remained in heaven and been equal to God, (Philippians 2:6). But all this He did because He knew that this pleased God and was his Father’s will.

When He entered upon that high mission to prove that He loved God with all His heart, He laid down His bodily life with all He had, and said: ‘Father, here you have all, my bodily life, my glory and honor, which I had among the people; all this I give as it is for thy sake, that the world may know how I love thee. My Father, let my wisdom perish, so that the world may look upon me as most foolish. Let me be the most despised, who was heretofore praised by all the world. Now I am the worst murderer, who before was friendly, useful and serviceable to the whole world. Dear Father, all this I despise, only that I may not be disobedient to thee.’

This is the Samaritan who came uninvited, and fulfilled the law with his whole heart. For only he fulfilled the law, and no one can deprive him of this honor. He alone merits it, and well maintains it all alone. Now this would be no special comfort for us; but that he has compassion on the poor wounded man, takes him under his care, binds his wounds, takes him into the inn and waits on him, this avails for us.

The man who here lies half dead, wounded and stripped of his clothing, is Adam and all mankind. The murderers are the devils who robbed and wounded us, and left us lying prostrate half dead. We still struggle a little for life; but there lies horse and man, we cannot help ourselves to our feet, and if we were left thus lying we would have to die by reason of our great anguish and lack of nourishment; maggots would grow in our wounds, followed by great misery and distress.

The parable stands in bold relief, and pictures us perfectly, what we are and can do with our boasted reason and free will. If the poor wounded man had desired to help himself, it would only have been worse for him, he would only have done harm to himself and irritated his wounds, and only prepared more misery and distress for himself. Had he remained lying quiet, he would have had as much suffering. Thus it is when we are left to ourselves. We are always lost, we may lay hold where we will. Hitherto man has always acted thus, he has thought out many ways and methods how we might reform our lives and get to heaven.

One found this way, another that, therefore so many kinds of orders arose: in like manner the letters of indulgence and crusades originated; but they have only made evil worse. Such is the world, and it is thus finely portrayed in this wounded man, it lies in sins over head and ears and cannot help itself.”

Comments: hbitten@reverendluther.org

 

 

 

 

When Sarah Doubted God

Have you ever doubted God’s hidden presence in your life or experienced an “impossible dream” because of God’s love for you?

Genesis 18:1-15 (Sarah’s laugh) 18 The Lord appeared to Abraham near the great trees of Mamre while he was sitting at the entrance to his tent in the heat of the day. Abraham looked up and saw three men standing nearby. When he saw them, he hurried from the entrance of his tent to meet them and bowed low to the ground.

He said, “If I have found favor in your eyes, my lord,[a] do not pass your servant by. Let a little water be brought, and then you may all wash your feet and rest under this tree. Let me get you something to eat, so you can be refreshed and then go on your way—now that you have come to your servant.” “Very well,” they answered, “do as you say.”

So Abraham hurried into the tent to Sarah. “Quick,” he said, “get three seahs of the finest flour and knead it and bake some bread.” Then he ran to the herd and selected a choice, tender calf and gave it to a servant, who hurried to prepare it. He then brought some curds and milk and the calf that had been prepared, and set these before them. While they ate, he stood near them under a tree.

“Where is your wife Sarah?” they asked him. “There, in the tent,” he said. 10 Then one of them said, “I will surely return to you about this time next year, and Sarah your wife will have a son.”

Now Sarah was listening at the entrance to the tent, which was behind him. 11 Abraham and Sarah were already very old, and Sarah was past the age of childbearing. 12 So Sarah laughed to herself as she thought, “After I am worn out and my lord is old, will I now have this pleasure?”

13 Then the Lord said to Abraham, “Why did Sarah laugh and say, ‘Will I really have a child, now that I am old?’ 14 Is anything too hard for the Lord? I will return to you at the appointed time next year, and Sarah will have a son.”

15 Sarah was afraid, so she lied and said, “I did not laugh.” But he said, “Yes, you did laugh.”

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Abraham and the Three Angels by Rembrandt (1646)

Rembrandt is bold in his illustration of this divine encounter when God speaks directly to Abraham and Sarah regarding His promise of a son and His plan for salvation. He uses light and presents God as an angel in a very personal way. We see an elderly Abraham and Sarah (at the door) with expressions of disbelief. Rembrandt thought deeply about God’s interactions with people as told in the book of Genesis.

Martin Luther wrote in his lecture on Genesis 18 in 1539, “Sarah was now eighty-nine years old, and during so many years she ha been hoping for the blessing of the Lord. When she sees that her hope is futile, she submits everything to God. Yet she does not utterly despair. For this reason the Lord puts up with her weakness and is not offended by her laughter, which has its origin in her thinking about something that is impossible. For what further hope could there be for a barren and exhausted woman? Therefore the Lord brings her to faith with a very friendly reproof.

Furthermore, I stated that not only Sarah but also Abraham himself supposed that these guests of his were foreigners and that he had no thought either of angels or of prophets. Therefore when they promise a child, Sarah thought: ‘Who would be telling them this? They are not speaking from the heart; they want to ingratiate themselves, because they suppose that women hear such things with pleasure.’

These were Sarah’s thoughts when she laughed. But after she heard Him who sees and has before Him all things, new thoughts arise n her; for she notices that these are not ordinary men, but they are men full of the Holy Spirit, who sees the secrets of the hearts and reveals them.

Therefore this is a cheerful and friendly reproof. From it Sarah concluded that these were men from God and prophets, because they are aware of her laughter and her thoughts even though she is not in their presence.”

Comments: hbitten@reverendluther.org