ARE YOU READY FOR CHRISTMAS?
Editor’s Note: This Lightstock image used for this post is described as a “Fresco painting of the Nativity, from the chapel of the Shepherd’s Field in Beit Sahour (a suburb of Bethlehem), the traditional site of the angelic annunciation to the shepherds.”
Are you ready for Christmas? By that I do not mean, Do you have the tree up, all your shopping done, the presents wrapped, and the cards sent? Rather I am asking, Are you really ready for Christmas? Are you prepared for the arrival of God’s Son?
Luke 1: 5-7 tell about an old Jewish priest by the name of Zechariah and his wife Elizabeth. It says that they were “righteous before God, but they had no children, because Elizabeth was barren, and both were getting on in years.” They had no children, and the days for their hoping for a child were long gone.
In those days people believed that God would close the womb of a woman if He was mad at her. So a barren woman was a disgraced woman. Elizabeth was forced to live her life as though she had a sign hung around her neck that said, “God is mad at me.” And even though Zechariah did not have quite the same kind of social stigma to have to deal with, still he had to live with the deep disappointment of having no child to carry on the family name.
Do you feel like Elizabeth? Is there something in your life that makes you feel ashamed or inadequate? Do you feel like Zechariah? Are you facing some deep sorrow or disappointment?
Well Luke tells us that while Zechariah was performing his priestly service in Jerusalem, he was chosen by lot to enter into the Holy Place in the Temple and burn incense there. This was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. While he was in the Holy Place, the angel Gabriel appeared to him and said, “Your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you will name him John.” (verse 13)
What do you mean, “Your prayer has been heard?” What prayer? If it was a prayer for a son, Zechariah had probably stopped praying that prayer a long time ago. Zechariah might have even forgotten about that prayer. But God had not forgotten. What prayer were you praying a long time ago? Maybe you have even forgotten about that prayer, but God has not forgotten.
In verse 18 Zechariah responds, “How will I know this is so? For I am an old man, and my wife is getting on in years.” Well the angel Gabriel did not like that response, and so he said, “Because you did not believe my words, which will be fulfilled in their time, you will become mute, unable to speak, until the day these things occur.” (verse 20) Zechariah comes out of the Temple unable to speak. A few days later he returns home.
Verses 24-25 tell us, “After those days Elizabeth conceived and for five months remained in seclusion.” She said, “This is what the Lord has done for me when He looked favorably on me and took away the disgrace I have endured among my people.”
So here is Zechariah, a priest, a righteous man who knows God and who serves God. But Zechariah has some spiritual growing to do. When God gave him a wonderful promise, he did not believe that promise. He doubted and underestimated God. Zechariah is a prime example of a person who has known God for a long, long time. He goes to church. He is involved in church. He does all the right things at all the right times in all the right ways. But when God comes along and challenges him to grow to a new level of faith, he is not ready.
In contrast there is Elizabeth. Zechariah cannot speak. Elizabeth can speak, and when she does speak, she speaks about God’s grace and mercy to her and of how He has taken away her shame and disgrace. She did not become bitter. Rather she kept on serving and praising God. Elizabeth was far more ready for Christmas than Zechariah.
Zechariah was not ready for Christmas because he did not believe that God could step into his life and answer some long-forgotten prayer in a totally unexpected way. How many of us are like Zechariah? If we were to be honest, we would have to admit that deep down inside we are deeply disappointed with God. And so, like old Zechariah, we keep on doing what we are supposed to be doing, but we really do not believe that God could and would step into our lives and do something that would bless us in unimaginable ways.
If that is you – if you no longer believe that God could and would step into your life and work in your life in an amazing way to bless you, then like Zechariah you are not ready for Christmas.
But the same God who sent an angel to Zechariah. The same God who sent a heavenly host to startle some shepherds and tell them about the birth of a Savior. And the same God who put a wonder in the sky to catch the attention of some star gazers, that same God has some very interesting and wonderful and amazing ways of getting through to you.
God has a way of sending you a word of hope to remind you that life is stronger than death, light is more powerful than darkness, good will prevail over evil, and joy is deeper than disappointment. All of which is at the heart of the message of Christmas.
The question is, Are we prepared for all that? Do you believe that God can work in your life in ways that you would never imagine to take away everything that is negative and disappointing in your life? If you do, then you are ready for Christmas.
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COMMISSION FOR A RENEWED LUTHERAN CHURCH:
A DISASTER IN THE MAKING
In my August 2022 letter from the director, which I entitled “The Revisionists Have Completely Taken Over,” I wrote an evaluation of the ELCA’s 2022 Churchwide Assembly. A link to that letter can be found here. Among the most significant of the actions taken was a resolution which directed the Church Council “to establish a Commission for a Renewed Lutheran Church” which would be “particularly attentive to our shared commitment to dismantle racism” and which would “present its findings and recommendations to the 2025 Churchwide Assembly in preparation for a possible reconstituting convention.” We noted that the resolution seemed to make dismantling racism the main mission of the church. We also observed that once you know the makeup of the commission, you will know the outcome.
In light of that fact, we have been watching carefully for any official word from the ELCA regarding progress in creating that commission. The official word came in a November 16 news release reporting on the November 10-13 meeting of the Church Council. A link to that news release can be found here.
Before I comment on the makeup of the commission, which is the subject of the third paragraph of the news release, I would like to make a few comments regarding a very interesting statement from Presiding Bishop Elizabeth Eaton in the second paragraph. There Bishop Eaton is quoted as challenging the ELCA to “try as best as we can and as faithfully as we can to remain true to the gospel, but somehow find a way to speak and act in the cultural vernacular.” If you cannot do both equally well, which one prevails – remaining true to the gospel or speaking and acting in the cultural vernacular? With the way Bishop Eaton phrases it, speaking and acting in the cultural vernacular seems to prevail. She then makes reference to Martin Luther’s translating the Bible into German so that “people could receive it in their own language.” I cannot imagine that for Martin Luther speaking and acting in the cultural vernacular would take precedence over remaining true to the gospel.
In the third paragraph it states that “the commission will consist of up to 35 voting members, to include at least 25 % people of color or whose primary language is other than English and a goal of at least 20 % youth or young adults.” At least that is better than the position of many who had been driving this process and who did not want this whole matter to be minimized or buried by being referred to the Church Council. Those people have made it very clear that they do not want any white male over the age of sixty to be allowed to have anything to do with the process.
At least this is better than that, but think about it. At least 25% of thirty-five would be nine, and at least 20% of thirty-five would be seven. Nine plus seven is sixteen. At least sixteen out of the thirty-five members of the commission (just two short of a majority) will be people of color, people whose language is other than English, or people under the age of twenty-five or thirty (depending upon how you define young adults). How representative of the ELCA is that? There is no concern expressed for Biblical and theological awareness and no concern for whether these people would understand what it takes to create and run an organization the size and complexity of the ELCA.
What would happen if your congregation’s council were to decide that a commission that would develop recommendations for totally redoing the structure and mission of your congregation were to be at least 45% people who do not represent the vast majority of your congregation?
As one member of our board said, What would have happened if the Council of Nicaea had been made up according to the requirements of these quotas? Would we have had such a profound theological decision that defined and preserved orthodoxy? Or what would have happened if the Jerusalem Council in Acts 15 had been comprised according to these quotas? Would we have had a decision which resolved the issue at hand and advanced the mission of the church?
The third paragraph states that “nominations will be received from synod councils or synod executive committees as well as through an open nomination process” and “the Church Council’s executive committee will present a slate of nominees at the council’s April 2023 meeting.” But I have a feeling that a lot of the decision has already been made in regard to who will be the people of color and people whose language is other than English who will be on this commission.
The third paragraph ends by stating, “The council also referred to the commission the question of changing the denomination’s name.” There are many who would like to see the word “Evangelical” removed from the name of this newly reconstituted church. The claim is that the word “evangelical” is associated in the minds of many people with right-wing, racist, white-supremacy fundamentalists.
We will keep you posted. One can only hope, when this new church is reconstituted, that congregations will be given an opportunity for an “easy exit” because this new church will not be what they had signed up for in 1988.
I also want to comment on two of the bullet points in the section which begins, “In other actions.” Under the second bullet point it says that the ELCA Church Council “scheduled for 2024 the initiation of a task force for reconsideration of the social statement Human Sexuality: Gift and Trust.” Ever since that social statement was approved in 2009 we have known what would eventually happen. Sooner or later the ELCA would renounce its promise to recognize as legitimate and valid traditional views of human sexuality. It would only be a matter of time until the ELCA would renounce its commitment to provide a place of dignity and respect for those who hold traditional views. No one should be surprised. What is interesting is that the ELCA is minimizing the significance of this massive breach of trust by not even beginning the process of creating a task force until 2024, one year before the next Churchwide Assembly. What the ELCA values it gives abundant time and energy to. For something it considers to be of minimal significance, it does the opposite.
And then under the sixth bullet point it says that the Church Council “adopted a continuing resolution establishing council advisory members to include . . . a representative of Reconciling Works.” The use of the word “include” as well as the fact that the Church Council “also approved revisions to the ELCA Church Council Governance Policy Manual to include reference to advisory members,” would seem to allow for the possibility of additional “advisory members.” I will be writing to the Vice President of the ELCA to ask how it was decided that a representative from Reconciling Works would be an advisory member and whether there will be any consideration given to a provision for a representative from a group with traditional views, such as Lutheran CORE, to be one of the advisory members. In the January 2023 issue of our newsletter CORE Voice I will give a copy of my letter to the vice president and let you know whether I have heard anything.
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Each month we feature two videos – the most recent addition to our video book reviews, and a recent addition to our CORE Convictions videos. The CORE Convictions series is designed particularly for those who wish to grow in their knowledge of Biblical teaching and Christian living as well as for those who want to know more about how Lutherans understand the Bible. We also want to provide this resource for those who do not have the opportunity or the option of attending a church where the preaching and teaching is Biblical, orthodox, and confessional.
Here is a link to our You Tube channel. In the top row you will find recordings from both sets of videos – in the order in which they were posted, beginning with the most recent. In the second row you will find links to the Playlists for both sets of videos. We now have seven videos in our CORE Convictions series. Many thanks to Dr. Robert Benne for his video on “Martin Luther on Vocation.” His video will be featured in February 2023.
This month we want to feature a video book review by Kim Smith and a CORE Convictions video by Pastor James Hoefer.
“THE AWE-FULL PRIVILEGE: THIS THING CALLED PARENTING”
Many thanks to Kim Smith for her review of the book, “The Awe-full Privilege: This Thing Called Parenting” by K. Craig Moorman. Kim hails from Maryland and is completing her third and final term on the board of Lutheran CORE. A link to her video can be found here.
Pastor K. Craig Moorman is a Lutheran pastor in the NALC and is also on the board of Lutheran CORE. He lives in Mt. Airy, MD. He is a mission developer and is married with five children all of whom are now adults in their 20s and 30s. One of the most remarkable things about Craig and his wife, Nancy, is that allfive of their children are Christians and have a deep and abiding relationship with Christ. In his book, Craig writes that in claiming a “deep and abiding relationship with Christ, we are telling the rest of the world that we will build our lives on this reality.”
This book covers parenting from soup to nuts–from marriage to the culture wars impacting our lives, to the need to stand in the gap and be the gatekeeper—protecting the hearts of our children. He has chapters on parenting, chaos, managing time and things, being wonderfully made, what home should be, and the critical components that are key to serving the Lord with integrity and faithfulness. He also writes about wisdom and where to look for it. And he writes of the need to persevere and hold your family together at all costs. He boldly discusses our societal ills and how to combat them. And he ends with challenges that will help us start a Christ-centered revolution in our own homes.
Craig’s book will go a long way in helping you raise your children to be Christians—in more than name only.
“THE PERSON AND WORK OF THE HOLY SPIRIT?”
Many thanks to AALC pastor James Hoefer for his very clear and complete explanation of the work of the Third Person of the Holy Trinity. A link to his video can be found here.
Just before His ascension Jesus told His disciples, “Don’t do anything until you receive the Holy Spirit.” There was a good reason for that. Without the Holy Spirit we cannot believe, we cannot love as God wants us to love, we cannot experience the freedom of being the person God wants us to be, and we cannot live the abundant life God wants us to live.
James expands on the five verbs that Martin Luther uses in his explanation of the Third Article of the Apostles Creed to describe the work of the Holy Spirit.
First, CALLS. The Holy Spirit calls us through the Word of God, the voice of Jesus. We experience true freedom not when we make choices, but when we realize that we have been chosen.
Second, GATHERS. The Holy Spirit gathers us into the church. It is not that we join a church. Rather it is the Holy Spirit who adds us to the Church. The Holy Spirit gathers us into groups of believers and into the Kingdom of God, which is bigger than any one denomination.
Third, ENLIGHTENS. The Holy Spirit uses the means of grace to do His work in our lives – baptism, the Lord’s Supper, the Bible as the Word of God. This is a process that goes on throughout our lives.
Fourth, SANCTIFIES. Like a dentist who will not stop until every problem has been found and fixed, so the Holy Spirit finds and fixes everything in our lives that needs to change. Using another image of our day, the Holy Spirit upgrades us with a whole new operating system. We begin to see the Fruit of the Spirit develop in our lives as the natural result of being continually filled with the Holy Spirit.
Fifth, KEEPS. The Holy Spirit guards and protects us with all the spiritual armor of Christ.
Pastor James then concludes this video with a prayer for the Holy Spirit’s anointing power and new operating system. He prays that God will empower our lives with His Word, His gifts, and the very life of Christ inside of us.
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May God bless you with all the hope, love, joy, and peace of this Advent and Christmas season.
Dennis D. Nelson
Executive Director of Lutheran CORE