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

Jesus Heals Ten Lepers

Healing the Ten Lepers

Why did Jesus heal these lepers and how does He heal us?

Luke 17:11-18: 11 Now on his way to Jerusalem, Jesus traveled along the border between Samaria and Galilee. 12 As he was going into a village, ten men who had leprosy met him. They stood at a distance 13 and called out in a loud voice, “Jesus, Master, have pity on us!”

14 When he saw them, he said, “Go, show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went, they were cleansed.

15 One of them, when he saw he was healed, came back, praising God in a loud voice. 16 He threw himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him—and he was a Samaritan.

17 Jesus asked, “Were not all ten cleansed? Where are the other nine? 18 Has no one returned to give praise to God except this foreigner?”

Brooklyn_Museum_-_The_Healing_of_Ten_Lepers_(Guérison_de_dix_lépreux)_-_James_Tissot_-_overallThe Healing of the Ten Lepers by James Tissot (1896) Brooklyn Museum

The watercolor of James Tissot may have taken him ten years to complete. He captures the unworthiness of the lepers and the response of love and mercy by Jesus Christ who hears their cry from the road He was walking along. In 1521 on the 14th Sunday after Trinity Sunday (September) Luther uses the example of the healing of the ten lepers to emphasize how Jesus called them to faith without any conditions and with the example of the leper from Samaria to show how our faith motivates us to show the love and mercy of God in the way we live.

Luther: “These lepers here prove this clearly, who hope for the grace of Christ without the least merit. What good had they ever done to Him before? They had never seen Him, how then could they have served Him? Besides they were lepers, whom he could justly have avoided according to the law, Leviticus 13:1, and kept Himself free from them as was just and right.

For in reality and truth there was unworthiness, and reason why He should have nothing to do with them nor they with Him. For this cause they also stand far off, like those who well knew their unworthiness.

Thus faith also stands far from God, and yet it goes to meet Him and cries out, for it knows itself in the reality of truth to be unworthy of His goodness, and has nothing on which to depend, except His highly renowned and loudly praised goodness. And such a soul also seeks Christ’s favor, while it stands far off and is empty; for it cannot in the least tolerate in its company our merit and work, and comes freely like Christ into this village to the lepers, in order that its praise may be free and pure.

Observe how everything agrees perfectly that God’s love gives its favor freely, does not take nor seek anything for it, and how faith also receives quite freely and pays nothing for it, and thus the rich and the poor meet together, as the Psalms say, To this their words also testify when they say: Have mercy on us! He who seeks mercy of course neither buys nor sells anything, but seeks pure grace and mercy, as one unworthy of it, and evidently having greatly deserved the contrary.

Behold, here is a good, real, living and true example of Christian faith, that sufficiently teaches us how we must be disposed if we would find grace, piety and salvation. Now, in addition to this doctrine follows the incentive or inducement to faith, that we should gladly believe as we are at present taught to believe. This incentive, however, consists in that we observe how such faith never fails, that as it believes so it comes to pass, and that it is certainly heard and answered. For Luke describes how graciously and willingly Christ beheld and heard the lepers, and says:

“And when he saw them, he said unto them, Go and show yourselves unto the priests.”

How very friendly and lovingly the Lord invites all hearts to Himself in this example, and stirs them to believe in Him! For there is no doubt that he desires to do for all what He here does for these lepers, if we only freely surrender ourselves to Him for all His favor and grace. Just as true faith and a Christian heart should do and delight to do; so these lepers also do and teach us to do. For how earnestly the Lord desires that we should joyfully and freely venture to build on His favor before we experience or feel it, He has here sufficiently testified that He hears them willingly, without any hesitation, that He does not first say He will do it, but as though it were already done, he did as they wished.

For He does not say: Yes, I will have mercy on you, ye shall be cleansed; but merely: “Go and show yourselves unto the priests.” As though He would say: There is no use of asking, your faith has already acquired and obtained it, before you began to ask; you were already cleansed in my sight when you began to expect such things of me; it is no longer necessary, only go and show your purity to the priests; as I consider you and as you believe, so you are and shall be. For He would not have sent them to the priests, if He had not considered them clean, and so wished to deal thus with them, as those who had become cleansed.

Now we must also examine the other part of this example of the nature of Christianity, love. The lepers have instructed us how to believe; Christ teaches us to love. Love does to our neighbor as it sees Christ has done to us, as he says in John 13:15: “For I have given you an example, that ye also should do as I have done to you.” And immediately afterwards He says in verse 34: “A new commandment I give unto you, that ye love one another; even as I have loved you, that ye also love one another. By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another.”

What else does this mean than to say: Through me in faith you now have everything that I am and have: I am your own, you are now rich and satisfied through me; for all I do and love I do and love not for my but only for your sake, and I only think how to be useful and helpful to you, and accomplish whatever you need and should have. Therefore consider this example, to do to each other as I have done to you, and only consider how to be useful to your neighbor, and do what is useful and necessary for him. Your faith has enough in my love and grace; so your love shall also give enough to others.”

Comments: hbitten@reverendluther.org

 

Healing the Deaf Man

Time for a checkup?

Are your ears open and is your Facebook post about God’s love?

Mark 7:31-37 31 Then Jesus left the vicinity of Tyre and went through Sidon, down to the Sea of Galilee and into the region of the Decapolis 32 There some people brought to him a man who was deaf and could hardly talk, and they begged Jesus to place his hand on him.

33 After he took him aside, away from the crowd, Jesus put his fingers into the man’s ears. Then he spit and touched the man’s tongue. 34 He looked up to heaven and with a deep sigh said to him, “Ephphatha!” (which means “Be opened!”). 35 At this, the man’s ears were opened, his tongue was loosened and he began to speak plainly.

36 Jesus commanded them not to tell anyone. But the more he did so, the more they kept talking about it. 37 People were overwhelmed with amazement. “He has done everything well,” they said. “He even makes the deaf hear and the mute speak.”

Blind Man-louvre-jesus-guerissant

 The Healing of the Deaf and Dumb Man by the Dutch artist Bartholomew Breenbergh (1599-1657)

Bartholomew Breenbergh illustrates this miraculous healing in a supernatural setting that is more similar to an ancient Roman city of Tivoli than Tyre in northern Israel. (Tyre is about 85 miles north of Tel Aviv in southern Lebanon) Although he takes liberty with the scene, he recounts Mark’s Gospel literally with Jesus taking the man away from the crowd and putting his fingers in his ears and touching his tongue. Breenbergh uses contrasting images of light and darkness to place the deaf man in the spotlight as others ( a boy with a dog, a man with crutches) witness this miracle.

Martin Luther:  In his sermon on Mark 7 in 1533, Martin Luther emphasized the importance of opening our ears and loosening our tongue. We hear God’s Word and confess our sins! Here are selected passages from Martin Luther’s sermon:

“Christ shows us that He opens ears and unbinds tongues. He seeks to perform this work daily in his church. . . . It is a physical fact that God gives sound ears and tongues also to the heathen; but only for Christians is this spiritual fact true, that he opens ears and looses tongues. For we Christians must hear His Word with our ears and confess with our lips.

“This is sure, that we have our salvation alone through the Word of God. What would we otherwise know about God, about our Lord Christ, his sacrifice, and the Holy Spirit? To this day the greatest miracle and mightiest work is giving a person ears that gladly hear God’s Word and a tongue that honors God and does not blaspheme.

“Many people are a thousand times worse off than this poor deaf and dumb man. They have ears that are really stopped up. They hear God’s Word and yet really do not hear it, nor do they want to. But those who hear God’s Word gladly and to whom Christ says, as to the deaf man, ‘Ephphatha (Be opened),’ are helped. . . God has shown us no other way by which we can come into heaven than through his precious Word, the Holy Gospel. Whoever gladly and diligently hears and receives it and who loves and delights in it will be helped.

“God also stirs our tongues and causes us to speak. . . . Through faith in Christ we come to have the forgiveness of sins; confession should also follow. We must not be mute, but speak what we believe in our hearts.”

“Our tongues will not be loosed, our ears opened, faith in our hearts begun, without the outward, oral preaching of the Word and external Sacraments. For parish pastors and preachers are the fingers of our Lord God, the servants and spittle through which he looses our tongues and opens our ears. When you hear them, God says to your heart, as to this deaf man, ‘Ephphatha!’ so that your ears are opened, your tongue unsticks, and you become a hearing, speaking person, no longer deaf and mute.”

“Then they praise God, saying: “He hath done all things well, he has made the deaf to hear and the dumb to speak.” For wherever there is true faith, there the Spirit will not allow you any rest; you will break forth, become a priest, teach other people also, as we read Ps. 116:10: “I believe, for I will speak.” There the heart is full, and the mouth must run over. Then when they are persecuted, they will not care.

But the part of the story, that Christ took the man apart from the others, looks up to heaven, has this meaning: If God do not take me alone to a separate place, and give me the Holy Spirit, so that I cling to the Word which I have heard, then all preaching is in vain. But why does this require so much that he looks up to heaven and makes use of divine power, calling upon God’s grace to come and to act? By this he teaches us that such power must come from heaven, working in the heart of man by divine strength; then help comes to him.

Thus have you learned, from the story and from its spiritual or secret meaning, that we must first hear the Word of God and thus, through the intercession of Christ, obtain a faith of our own, and then we come out, confessing this and praising God forever.”

Comments: hbitten@reverendluther.org

 

 

Calling of Andrew and Peter

The Calling of the Disciples

How does one become filled with the Holy Spirit?

Matthew 4:18-21: 18 While walking by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon (who is called Peter) and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea, for they were fishermen. 19 And he said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.”[a] 20 Immediately they left their nets and followed him. 21 And going on from there he saw two other brothers, James the son of Zebedee and John his brother, in the boat with Zebedee their father, mending their nets, and he called them. 22 Immediately they left the boat and their father and followed him.

Calling of Simon and Andrew-2The Calling of Simon and Andrew by James Tissot (1886-1894)

James Tissot, a French artist sees Simon Peter and Andrew fishing in shallow water and close enough to the shore to hear the voice of Jesus. Tissot visited the Holy Land in 1880 and observed local fishermen wearing nets around their waste.

Calling of Simon and Andrew

The Calling of Saint Peter and Andrew by Bernardo Struzzo but more recently (2006) verified that this was painted by Caravaggio.

In this painting Caravaggio pictures a youthful Jesus without a beard leading two older brothers. Peter is holding a fish in his right hand and Andrew and Peter still appear confused about what they have just experienced regarding the large number of fish they caught after Jesus directed them to fish in the deeper water.

Martin Luther: In Luther’s sermon on Matthew in 1521, he marks the calling of the disciples as the time for grace to be preached throughout the world. The disciples will minister to people in need, preach to the heathen, forgive sinners, be witnesses that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.

In his sermon on the Monday after Easter in 1525 (Luke 24:13-25), Martin Luther describes the disciples as ignorant fishermen who came to know Jesus Christ through the Holy Spirit.

“‘The apostles likewise, being ignorant fishermen, learned to know the Scriptures, not in the schools of the great scribes, but through the revelation by which Christ led them into the Scriptures. Thus they were enabled to understand and to write on the basis of a single passage a book or a sermon the world cannot understand. And if I had the same Spirit Isaiah or Paul had, I could take this passage and develop from it a New Testament, if that were not already written.

 How did St. Peter know, or where is written in Moses that which he says in 1 Peter 10-11: “Concerning which salvation the prophets sought and searched diligently, who prophesied of the grace that should come unto you, searching what time or what manner of time the Spirit of Christ which was in them did point unto?” Who told him that the Spirit of Christ existed and prophesied of Christ, before there were prophets and, above all, before Christ and the Holy Ghost were present? Are these the words of a fisherman, or of a learned, wise scribe? Nay, it is the revelation of the Holy Spirit who had also revealed it to the prophets before.’”

Comments: hbitten@reverendluther.org

 

The Wedding at Cana

How many times has God blessed you more than you expected?

John 2: 1-11: On the third day a wedding took place at Cana in Galilee. Jesus’ mother was there, and Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding. When the wine was gone, Jesus’ mother said to him, “They have no more wine.”

“Woman, why do you involve me?” Jesus replied. “My hour has not yet come.” His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.” Nearby stood six stone water jars, the kind used by the Jews for ceremonial washing, each holding from twenty to thirty gallons.

Jesus said to the servants, “Fill the jars with water”; so they filled them to the brim. Then he told them, “Now draw some out and take it to the master of the banquet.”

They did so, and the master of the banquet tasted the water that had been turned into wine. He did not realize where it had come from, though the servants who had drawn the water knew. Then he called the bridegroom aside 10 and said, “Everyone brings out the choice wine first and then the cheaper wine after the guests have had too much to drink; but you have saved the best till now.”

11 What Jesus did here in Cana of Galilee was the first of the signs through which he revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him.

Marriage-at-Cana-Italian-Renaissance-Tintoretto

The Marriage at Cana by Jacopo Tintoretto (1561)

The wedding at Cana is one of the most popular Biblical stories for artists. This painting emphasizes the culture of a Renaissance wedding with the finest dinnerware and clothing. The use of light and perspective demonstrates Tintoretto’s skill as a master artist. The spiritual importance of the painting is lacking as Jesus just appears as one of the guests and He is not the central theme. The calling of the apostle John is omitted and the presence of Mary, Jesus’ family, and his disciples lacks emphasis.

Luther: Martin Luther analyzed the miracle at Cana in his sermon on the second Sunday in Epiphany in 1525. He took the opportunity to apply the importance of God’s Word, faith, and the responsibility of parents to nurture their children (God’s children) according to God’s command.

“For father and mother are in duty bound, yea, God made them father and mother for this very purpose, not to teach and lead their children to God according to their own notions and devotion, but according to God’s command; as St. Paul declares in Eph 6, 4: “Ye fathers, provoke not your children to wrath: but nurture them in the chastening and admonition of the Lord;” (i. e. teach them God’s command and Word, as you were taught, and not notions of your own.) Thus in this Gospel lesson you see the mother of Christ directing the servants away from herself unto Christ, telling them not: Whatsoever I say unto you, do it; but: “Whatsoever he saith unto you, do it.” To this Word alone you must direct everyone, if You would direct aright; so that this word of Mary (whatsoever he saith, do it) is, and ought to be, a daily saying in Christendom, destroying all doctrines of men and everything not really Christ’s Word. And we ought firmly to believe that what is imposed upon us over and above God’s Word is not, as they boast and lie, the commandment of the church. For Mary says: ‘Whatsoever he saith that, that, that do, (sic) and that alone; for in it there will be enough to do.‘ Here also you see, how faith does not fail, God does not permit that, but gives more abundantly and gloriously than we ask. For here not merely wine is given, but excellent and good wine, and a great quantity of it. By this He again entices and allures us to believe confidently in him, though be a delay. For He is truthful and cannot deny himself; He is good and gracious, that He must of Himself confess and in addition prove it, unless we hinder Him and refuse Him time and place and the means to do so. At last He cannot forsake his work, as little as He can forsake himself–if only we can hold out until His hour comes.”

Comments: hbitten@reverendluther.org