Friday, December 25, 2015


When the angel came in unto Mary, she was troubled: she thought that something was wrong. And why shouldn’t she? Who has ever seen an angel? Not many. In all the history of the world, not many. And who has ever heard an angel speak? Only few. And why should this humble maiden in her little dark-corner room in the little-known northern town of Nazareth be one of them? Does it not seem as though something is out of place here? As though something is not right? So Mary was troubled. She thought something was wrong.

But the angel said unto her, Fear not. As if to say, No, Mary, nothing is wrong. Everything is right. Nothing is darkness. Everything is light.

For you shall conceive in your womb and bear a son, and shall his name Jesus. He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Most High. What seems to you to be so troubling and what is actually the case are not the same thing. Do not be deceived. You are troubled, but you should not be troubled. Fear not, Mary.

When Mary and Joseph then came to Bethlehem and found no room in the inn, and were therefore constrained to choose a rude stall for the birth of her son, they were both likely very troubled: they likely thought that something was terribly wrong. And why shouldn’t they think that? The decree from Caesar Augustus came at the worst possible time for them, when she was due to deliver her Child, and was in no condition to travel down to Bethlehem. And when they arrived, they found that there was no room for them in the inn, no doubt because there were many that were of the house and lineage of David who also had to come to Bethlehem. The village and its one-horse inn would not be sufficient to handle so many visitors, to say nothing of an expectant mother about to be delivered of her child. So it was on that dark and frantic night, that everything seemed so very wrong.

But no, Mary and Joseph, the truth is that nothing is wrong. Everything is right. Nothing is darkness. Everything is light. 

For this is the story of your salvation, and of the salvation of all the world. So it was that Mary gave birth to her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger. What seems to be an occasion so worthy of dread and foreboding is actually an occasion for the welling up of abiding and eternal joy. O Mary! O Joseph! If you are troubled this night, your fears are unfounded. For God is with you. Immanuel has come.  And he has come in exactly the way he meant to come, shrouded in humility and meekness, so that he might share with us in all our troubles and turn them all for good. Do not be deceived about this. Fear not, Mary and Joseph.

When the shepherds saw the angel of the Lord come upon them, and the glory of the Lord shining round about them, they were sore afraid: they, too, thought that something was wrong. For in this case, it was not only the appearance of an angel that was startling, but the glory of the Lord God Almighty shining round about them. Who ever sees such things? They were sore afraid! Who wouldn’t be? But the angel said unto them, Fear not. For behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which shall be to all people; for unto you is born this day in the city of David a savior, which is Christ the Lord.

As if to say, No, dear shepherds, nothing is wrong. Everything is right. Nothing is darkness. Everything is light.

For the glory of the Lord is revealed this day for you, for your salvation and rescue. Today is not a day to be afraid, but a day to rejoice. You, simple and ordinary shepherds, who might be able to defend your sheep against natural predators, but who have no means of defense against the glory of God, need not, nevertheless, be afraid: do not be deceived by what see here, for this angel comes not to condemn or punish, but with good news, tremendous news, overwhelmingly marvelous news: your Savior has arrived, your Defender and Shield, your Rock and your Buckler, and the Horn of your salvation. God rest ye merry, gentlemen, let nothing you dismay! Fear not, good shepherds!

When those shepherds then heard and saw a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men, they were likely even more troubled, confused, and still at least somewhat afraid, notwithstanding the angel’s comforting reassurance that they need not fear. They, seeing this countryside of heavenly troops all ready for battle—for that is what a host is--they likely thought that something was dreadfully wrong. Who sees such things? Who is witness to such majesty? Who can abide the day of his coming? For he is like a refiner’s fire, and like fuller’s soap. Our God is a consuming fire. And here, before these poor simple shepherds was a multitude of the heavenly army of angels, all standing before them.

But the angels’ words to them were as if to say unto them, No, dear shepherds, nothing is wrong. Everything is right. Nothing is darkness. Everything is light.

For the meaning of this Child’s birth to you, o shepherds, is this: the highest and greatest glory of God is his coming, here and now, to rescue his poor people from sin, death, and hell. There is no enmity between God and man today, there is no need for these heavenly soldiers to fight (and who could stand a chance to survive against them?); the heavenly armies are not here to make war today, but to announce peace! Peace! Good will toward men! Be not deceived! Heaven does not fight you today! Heaven embraces you!

So therefore, dearly beloved in the Christ-Child, whenever you are troubled, whenever there is sorrow, or darkness, or fretting, or dread, or worry, or regret, or the weight of sin and guilt, or the awareness of mortality, or the approach of death, or whatever may becloud your mind: whenever you are troubled, you will also think that something is wrong. And why shouldn’t you? You can surely recite all the things in your life that you could wish otherwise, the things that are and that should not be, the things that for so many people can so easily be said to bring to ruin this time of year—Christmas—that is supposed to be so happy. Should you not be troubled?

But the angel says also unto you, this day: Fear not. As if to say, No, my dear ones, nothing is wrong. Everything is right. Nothing is darkness. Everything is light.

For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior which is Christ the Lord. Behold this tiny Child. Consider the manner of his coming: as a newborn infant, so very small, who today has such tiny hands and feet, who today requires the bosom of his mother for comfort, and the swaddling of her wrap for warmth. Consider this wondrous coming: it seemed at first to be so full of fear and foreboding for his mother, for Joseph, and for the shepherds, but it was—o joy!—nothing of the kind. For how can such a tiny child be frightening to anyone? See him in the manger, beloved:  see, there is nothing to fear here.

For the people of the Gospel this was a time to rejoice and be exceeding glad. So learn from this today, his dear children: learn to lay aside your fears, and your dread, and your worry, and even your sorrow and regret. Learn from this not to trust what you sense, or fear, or dread. Do not let the devil’s tricks deceive you into worry, that would rob you of rejoicing and gladness. Whoever you are, whatever your circumstances, your Christmas has not been ruined. Your Christmas cannot be ruined, not now, not ever.

For nothing is wrong. Everything is right. Nothing is darkness. Everything is light. For Christ, the Savior of the world, is born for you this night.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Offensive to Satanists

By Larry Beane

Someone was complaining about a cartoon that featured the devil. It was "offensive to Satanists."

Being always eager to help, I put forth the following proposal:

To bring Satanists into the 'offended narrative' we really need some better marketing. We should refer to them as "Satanist Americans" and they need an acronym. I'm thinking something like the "Satanic, Diabolical, Trans-Demonic, and Evil-Questioning community" (SDTE).

Now next, we need a hashtag campaign. We could go with a classic motif: #SympathyForTheDevil, although Millennials may not get the Rolling Stones cultural reference. I kind of like #EvilIsGood, as it works as a kind of neo-Orwellian play on a "War is peace, freedom is slavery, ignorance is strength" kind of vibe.

That should do it. ;-)

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Out of the barn

The Christmas issue of Gottesdienst is coming to a mailbox near you; unless, that is, you have not subscribed. If that is the case, you should correct the matter at once, so we can send you  this stellar issue.

Friday, December 4, 2015

Should Women Fight?

The D.O.D.'s sad announcement yesterday reminded me that the CTCR of the LCMS is considering the question of whether or not it is immoral for a government to place women into combat. It clearly is immoral even though there isn't a single Bible passage that spells it out in black and white. It is clearly immoral and confusing of the order of creation even though  sometimes women must do what men fail to do (Jael, Deborah, Zipporah) or refuse to do. A woman may have to fight to defend her home and children. That is not the question that should be put the CTCR. In emergencies women may be forced to fight. But that is not what the D.O.D. is advocating. The D.O.D. has said there will be no restrictions for women anywhere in the military. They will be asked to suffer and die for the sake of their fathers, brothers, and sons. That is wrong.  This action also further erodes our ability to recognize what is unique and glorious about femininity. Men aren't being forced to act as women. Women are being forced to act like men. I think our entire military and culture is becoming androgynous to our peril. What is lost is the good and necessary female side of culture and society and I suspect that we will degrade past the point of Sodom very soon if we haven't already. 

The Bible makes the distinction between men and women based on the simple reality that God made us male and female. The distinct duties of husband and wife as laid out by St. Paul also help us see the difference. 

This reminded me of an excellent response a few months ago by Pastor Paul Harris (who apparently boasts a ranger tab!) of Trinity Lutheran Church in Austin. I am copying the whole thing below, but here is a link to his blog so that you can find more: St. Antony's Cave

“These are Men Who Jump and Die”

For weeks, maybe months, in 1966 while my mom was shopping for groceries I was at the soda fountain in the Muir’s drug store with my father listening as Barry Saddler sang the “Ballad of the Green Berets.” One of the lines is “These are men who jump and die.” But the times are a changing. Now you have to sing, “These are men and women who jump and die.”
Have you noticed that how since the First Gulf War everyone from politicians to pundits to journalists go out of their way to refer to the men and women who are fighting for us?
The gross “unfairness” that only men get to sacrifice their body, health, and life to defend their country – never mind that only women get to do the same in regard to raising up the next generation – was first addressed in the 80s when President Reagan changed the physical fitness standards. The military adopted a double standard for men and for women. This changed somewhat in 2012. There would be one standard for combat arms units and if women could meet that they could serve in most areas. Now this past week 2 women graduated from U.S. Army Ranger School.
Thirty-nine years ago this week, I graduated from Ranger School. I would like to think that it was harder than and no women could have done it. But in my class 98/208 (47%) were awarded the Ranger tab. In last week’s graduating class 94/381 men (25%) received it, and 2/19 women (10%). So perhaps their class was harder. Mine was longer 67 days; theirs 62 days. However, the 2 women took 4 months to finish being “recycled” several times. Don’t think that makes them wimps. Everyone in my Ranger class dreaded the thought of being recycled. I failed a patrol by 3/10 of a percent and could have been recycled through the Mountain Phase, but was allowed to go on to the Jungle Phase.
But the issue is not whether or not a woman can do all the requirements. The issue is should they? When my son wrestled in high school, I told him he should not and would not wrestle a girl even if that meant forfeiting and his team losing. It was not that he might lose to a girl, but that he might win, and something much bigger would have been lost.
Ashley’s War is a 2015 book about the U.S. Army’s secret program in 2010 to place female soldiers with Ranger and Special Forces units to talk and search Muslim women and children. I took away two things from this book. First, even today, a woman dying unnerves everyone more than a man dying does, and this is a good thing. Second, and here I paint with a very wide brush, the millennial male thinks it’s a matter of fairness and so believes he is championing the oppressed when he encourages women to go into combat roles. They equate being able to do something with the right to do it.
ISIS (and the Viet Cong before them and the Nazis before them) enlists children to fight. Some are very good. Just because they can doesn’t mean they should. The millennials – at least in this book – think they are forward thinking when they cheer their wife, their girlfriend, their sister on to sweat, suffer, and sacrifice like a man. I think they are being backward.  A mark of an advanced society is women and children NOT going to war. The mark of an oppressive, domineering, and desperate society is sending them.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Unintended Consequences

By Larry Beane

I don't know if this article from the Twin Cities Pioneer Press ("Concordia student loses ministry post over lesbian relationship") is true or not.

I've learned to be skeptical of the press, having had many friends misquoted and misrepresented by the mainstream media over the years.  So, I hope that what this article says concerning the campus pastor and university president is untrue.  And that truly is the best construction.

It seems that a Concordia University - St. Paul student, Nikki Hagan - according to her own website - was asked to resign from the "908 Chapel Board", a "student group on campus that leads worship service on Wednesday nights" because she "was dating a female."

According to the Pioneer Press piece, the campus pastor, the Rev. Tom Gundermann (LCMS) "advised the 908 president to take a wait-and-see response and to take no action" and that "he did not want her removed."  Also according to the article, the university president, the Rev. Dr. Thomas Ries (LCMS) "said she should not have had to leave her position."

Per Miss Hagan's website:
"We asked for a public apology and clarification and received nothing. We asked for policy changes, and it was brushed to the side. We asked for an LGBT group on campus, a group for queer students and allies to feel comfortable and converse. The President suggested that instead we start a group that is open to everyone and that we should have an advisor who is 'for same sex relationships' and an advisor who is 'against same sex relationships.' We were not too happy about that response."
Again, I hope this is a misunderstanding, and that Dr. Ries never said anything of the sort.  I am very skeptical, as this just doesn't sound like something an LCMS clergyman would recommend: an advisor to counsel students who favors what Holy Scripture deems sinful - under the auspices of an institution of the Church.  

The Pioneer Press adds: 
"Hagan wants sexual preference included in the university's nondiscrimination policy.... Ries said he supports the idea, but he's uncertain about the legal implications of such a move and said it would require input from the church.... Ries said he wants to establish a student support group for LGBT people and their allies."
I would imagine Dr. Ries is about to get some "input from the Church."

Miss Hagan writes:
"We are now at the point that we are taking it into our own hands. With the help of many students, faculty, and staff at CSP we are ready to start taking the steps to gain positive change in the University."
If her characterization of Dr. Ries's response is in fact correct, this will not likely end well for him, even as the lukewarm University of Missouri president was hoist by his own petard in trying to appease the increasingly strident, intolerant, and outrageous demands of politically-correct students. President Ries and the administration will have to choose whether to stand with Christ and the Church, or stand with what is popular in the eyes of the world.

Once again, I am skeptical of Miss Hagan's report (perhaps she is honestly mistaken), because LCMS pastors are bound by their ordination vows to scripture and to the Lutheran confessions - neither of which support the currently-popular secular ethics concerning human sexuality.

In fact, the best construction placed upon this entire episode is the Law of Unintended Consequences.  I don't believe that the Reverends Gundermann and Ries have decided to turn their backs on Christ, the scriptures, and their ordination vows. I pray there is a reasonable explanation that will vindicate them, because the implications of this report being accurate are disturbing.  However, the fact that students are involved in planning and/or leading worship services (a common practice in LCMS universities and high schools) is something that has now come back to bite them.

Jesus established the vocation of pastor to (among other things) lead public worship. Article 14 of the Augsburg Confession is very clear about the role of the ordained clergy in worship.  Just as God has provided specialized vocations in many human endeavors, such as administration, medical care, security, and teaching, He has given us men to lead worship, to preach, teach, and administer sacraments. Does President Ries cede his important administrative duties to undergraduates on certain days of the week?  Does the CSP Board of Directors allow students to write critical policies and set budgets?  Are students allowed to perform urgent medical procedures on some occasions?  Represent the university in delicate court cases?  Police the campus?  Chair the English Department?  But it seems that schools are ever eager to recruit students to ply the pastor's vocation (the one and only one office established by our Lord Himself, a vocation with eternal ramifications) by conducting worship services.

And in the current climate on college campuses that opposes Christianity and seeks to overturn the authority of scripture, is allowing students to oversee ceremonies - the chief purpose of which is to "teach the people" (AC 24:3) - wise?  Is it prudent or responsible to allow a teenager to carry out this vocation by managing worship - especially given that her understanding sexuality is admittedly at odds from that which taught and confessed by the Church and the Synod?  If the article is correct, the majority of lay people in our synod's churches also hold a different opinion than the Bible and the Confessions in matters of sexuality:
"Synod members are divided on sexuality issues. According to surveys by the Pew Research Center last year, 56 percent said homosexuality should be accepted, while 31 percent said it should be discouraged. Forty-five percent said they support same-sex marriage, while 48 percent said they oppose it."
If this is indeed the case, why would pastors hand over responsibility for worship to the laity, let alone to students who are barely out of high school, who are the demographic most opposed to the Church's confession by virtue of the popular culture?  Our blessed Lord exhorts us to be wise as serpents and innocent as doves, not vice versa.

For who is more equipped to proclaim Law and Gospel to a lost generation?  Who better to call all of us poor, miserable sinners to repentance, and to forgive us when we do in response to the rightly-divided Word of God?  Who better to stand as steadfast catechists and loving heralds of a More Excellent Way than the men whom the Holy Spirit has explicitly called to do just that - especially in these confused and confusing postmodern times?  If nothing else, shouldn't an institution of higher learning at least acknowledge the pastors' Master's degrees and seminary training to be of value in the endeavor of spiritual care and theology?

Just what exactly is wrong with the pastor leading chapel services?

If it is simply too much work, why not have ordained staff rotate the worship responsibilities?  Do the ordained clergy on campus show spiritual leadership by wearing the uniform of their holy office as a confession of their faith and testimony to their calling, or do they just try to blend in comfortably with everyone else?

Why have ordained clergy in these roles at all if they are not going to be shepherds?

Why have we shot ourselves in the foot this way, squandering the Holy Spirit's gifts?  Is it possible that there is value in holding to tradition, that "democracy of the dead", even when we think our radical new ideas are better?  Are we that afraid to stand in contrast to the world?  How will our schools and institutions fare when they are forced to choose between being institutions of the world, with all its benefits, prestige, and money, versus being institutions of the Church, while being scorned, marginalized, and hated?

In our tragic human sojourn in this fallen world, have we not yet learned the unintended consequences of asking "Did God actually say...?"