Comfort Ye My People

A breathing pace, the music’s tempo matching your anxious heart… and then the tenor’s prophetic voice, bravely crying out. “Comfort ye, comfort ye My people…” The loving and tender words of the Lord, in music, declaring what will be. What is ours now, and what shall remain, in Christ. The serene words, confident, are beauteous and shine undimmed into the dark and troubled soul.

Comfort ye, comfort ye My people, saith your God…

Patient. There it is. The heart stills, and eyes glisten with joy. You realize, again, there is no stopping this Savior. The glory of His love is overwhelming, and you see the pages of the story turning once more, when you — oh, so sophisticated — couldn’t even see how the chapter you’re in would end. You remember that there’s a book, and an Author, and suddenly the hurt and anguish are quenched with an absolutely and unequivocal Word.

Comfort ye, comfort ye My people, saith your God. Speak ye comfortably to
Jerusalem, and cry unto her, that her warfare is accomplished, that her
Iniquity is pardoned. 

4b943-1047I can remember the last time those words arc’d in over the clouds, like a rainbow puncturing the gloom with sweet, innocent defiance. The clarity of truth in a morass of lies and brokenness and guilt. A ray of merciful light piercing the darkness, confounding it with peace. We were under the soaring ceilings of Grace Cathedral in San Francisco, on a chilly and rainy winter evening. The American Bach Soloists were bringing to life Handel’s oratorio, “Messiah,” and the words were surprising. Their audacious lightness contrasted with the labored plodding of a culture burdened with ignorance, weighed down with sin. And the gentle Gospel — not the world’s false promises — looked all that is wrong right in the eye, and smiled. So needed, there and everywhere. People paid that night to hear the word of the Lord preached, and preached it was, right into their ear canals. Light in the dark places, where the oblivious world thought it had all it needed. Those with faith saw the sullen skies part, for these words are true and present, and grief receded as heaven broke in. Old Testament prophecy as authoritative Gospel, even in the wilderness of today.

Comfort ye, comfort ye My people, saith your God. Speak ye comfortably to
Jerusalem, and cry unto her, that her warfare is accomplished, that her
Iniquity is pardoned. The voice of him that crieth in the wilderness,
Prepare ye the way of the Lord. Make straight in the desert a highway for
Our God. (Isaiah 40:1-3)



Advent 101

[This post by Rev. William Cwirla first appeared here, on the Higher Things website.

The church year in the West begins with with a preparatory season called “Advent.”  The word “advent” comes from the Latin word adventus, meaning “appearing” or “coming,” referring to the appearing of a great king or even a god.  In Christian usage, it refers to the appearing of Jesus Christ in two ways – His first appearing as the Child born of the Virgin Mary and His second appearing in glory on the Last Day to judge the living and the dead.  You see, Advent isn’t only about getting ready for Christmas; it’s also about getting ready for Jesus’ final appearing in glory only the Last Day.

We live in the last days, between Christ’s first and second appearances.  He is always present with us, and always has been since the beginning.  His presence is made audible and visible to us by the Spirit through the preached Word and the Sacraments.  Only briefly did the Son of God show His face some 2000 years ago.  Only at the end will we see His face again when He appears in glory.  Until then, we watch and wait for His second advent even as we celebrate His first.

St. Bernard wrote this concerning the coming of Christ:  “In the first coming, Christ comes in the flesh and in weakness; in the second, He comes in Spirit and power; in the third, He comes in glory and majesty; and the second coming is the means whereby we pass from the first to the third.”

The season of Advent has its origins in France and Spain in the 4th and 5th centuries.  As early as 380, the Council of Saragossa urged faithful Christians to attend church every day from December 17 through Epiphany (January 6).  Early calendars in both the East and the West indicated a 40 day period of fasting, beginning on November 14.  The liturgical principle is “fast before feast,” following the pattern of Lent and Easter.  Before a major feast there is a period of fasting – solemn, repentant preparation.  This stands in sharp contrast to our consumerist culture that feasts first and then diets afterward, resolving to “do better” in the new year.  Joyful feasting and disciplined fasting go hand in hand.

Advent has four distinct Sundays themed by the readings from the holy Gospel:

  • The 1st Sunday in Advent focuses on Christ’s appearing in glory with the image of His triumphal ride into Jerusalem as the messianic King.
  • The 2nd Sunday brings John the Baptizer’s prophetic voice calling Israel out to the wilderness to “prepare the way of the Lord.”
  •  The 3rd Sunday again focuses on John the Baptizer, this time on the content of his preaching of repentance and his greatness as the forerunner of the Messiah.
  •  The 4th Sunday emphasizes Jesus’ immaculate conception by the Holy Spirit in the womb of the Virgin Mary.  During the final week of Advent, it is customary to pray the “O Antiphons” from December 17 to December 23, a series of ancient prayers addressed to Christ in terms of Old Testament prophesy.

Advent is a season of quiet anticipation and expectation.  The One who once came in humility by way of Bethlehem’s manger, David’s donkey, and Calvary’s cross, who now comes to us hiddenly in His holy Word and the blessed Sacrament of His body and blood, will soon come visibly in blazing glory to raise the dead and give eternal life to all who call on His Name. The tone of Advent is joyful anticipation, a mixture of holy fear and expectant joy, like that of a mother-to-be awaiting the arrival of her first baby.

Advent is a time of sober patience.  Sadly, our instant gratification culture seems to have had more influence on the Church than the Church has had on the surrounding culture.  Advent has been gobbled up by the frenzy of the “winter holidays,” which now begin after Halloween!  By the time Christmas arrives, most are too weary to worship and too burned out from decking the halls to celebrate the birth of the world’s Savior with any degree of joy much less energy.  Remember, Christmas is a twelve day feast, beginning on December 25th.  In celebrating Advent in all its somber, sober watchfulness, we Christians can give a priceless gift to each other and to the world by showing the patient hope we have in Jesus’ coming.

The season has its own peculiar customs and traditions.  One cherished tradition is the Advent wreath.  This evergreen wreath with four candles is a tradition from northern Europe.  Each candle stands for one of the four Sundays in Advent.  The closed circle is a symbol of God’s eternality.  Like the circle, our Lord is without beginning and without end.  The evergreen branches represent the eternal life that is ours through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, a life that transcends death itself.  Just as the evergreen remains alive and fresh even in the dead of winter, so Jesus fills us with new life even in death.  “I am the Resurrection and the Life.  He who believes in me will live even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die”  (John 11:25-26).

The candles remind us of Jesus Christ, who is the Light of the world, the Light no darkness can overcome.  They also represent all baptized believers in Jesus who reflect His light into the darkness of this world and proclaim Him who called them out of darkness into His marvelous light (1 Peter 2:9-10).  Each successive week in Advent, another candle is lit.  Sometimes smaller candles or little red berries are added to count off the days between Sundays.  At Christmas Eve, the Advent wreath is replaced with a single white Christ candle, signifying the appearing of Christ in the world.

As the candles on the Advent wreath burn ever more brightly with the approach of Christmas, we are reminded of how near is the coming of our Savior Jesus Christ.  Good news indeed!  He comes to judge the world in His righteousness, and the verdict will be “innocent” in His atoning death.  Your faith in Him will not be in vain.  He comes to save!

Other Advent customs include the Advent calendar with its little doors or pockets each concealing a gift or Scripture verse and counting the days to Christmas, and the “Jesse Tree,” depicting the family tree of Jesus as the promised Branch from the stem of Jesse (Isaiah 11:1).  Advent calendars and Jesse Trees make fun family projects during the season of Advent.

The intent of Advent is not to “take the fun” out of Christmas but to restore the joy and celebration to Christmas by having a period of prayerful preparation and to put the holy back into the December “holidays.”  As we celebrate Christ’s first coming by way of the Virgin and the manger, and as we delight in His sacramental coming to us in the Word and Supper, we await His coming in glory at a day and an hour no one knows.


Freedom is needed for self-government, or what will we have then?

Anthony Esolen speaks of everyone who fears those who, in his words, “punish people who hold the wrong views and who dare to express them.” Here is what he observes about the point at which we’ve arrived, this choking fearfulness of liberty:

“And yet we could never have come to this pass had we ourselves preserved a sense that freedom of speech is for the pursuit of truth, and that human beings and human societies are ever prone to error; we can’t see all there is to see; we forget; we choose what to concentrate upon; we ignore what troubles us; we cut reality to fit our thoughts. Each man then can serve as a reminder for the others, or a corrector; and that is true also of whole societies past and present. We see where the Victorians got things wrong, or we think we do; but it’s healthier for us if we allow the Victorians to show us where we get things wrong. But if we adopt the foolish notion that to oppose someone in speech is to wish that he did not exist, we might as well give it up. Self-government is not possible. Let’s all be slaves to the angriest and most irrational among us, whoever they might be and whatever they might want.”

Get off your assumptions (about church and fatherhood)

Admittedly, I have room to grow here, as well… and that’s why I found this comment a friend found in an 90-year-old Lutheran book on catechesis especially convicting:

From Ten Studies in the Catechism by Jacob Tanner, “An appeal to the parents seems a fitting conclusion to these introductory paragraphs. If the parents, especially fathers, do not take an interest in the children’s catechesis in the home it will matter little how steadfastly the pastor labors in his work. The children would learn from their parents this is not important for life and therefore grow up to leave the Church and faith. Parents you must be diligent in your God-given task. Encourage and help your children grow in the faith through catechesis. If you do not have family devotion, begin now. You cannot have a truly Christian home without God’s Word and prayer. A Christian home is a part of the children’s preparation for confirmation and for life.”


Dying and Rising

The pastor at our previous church — where we were members before moving back to California — sent this simple and direct email out to parishioners yesterday. It says what must be said so very well:

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ-

Our Father in heaven sent His only-begotten Son, Jesus Christ, in the flesh to bear our sin on the cross and be raised again the third day to destroy the power of death for all those who believe and our baptized.

We give thanks to our Father that He gave the gift of faith to Adam Behrhorst through Holy Baptism and that Adam’s faith was sustained throughout His earthly life by the Word of God and Christ’s own Body and Blood.  Adam died today in Christ secure in everlasting life and now he awaits the resurrection day, when his body will be made whole and incorruptable.   And it will, just as Christ is raised, so also will Adam be on the last day.

The visitation will be here at the Church on Tuesday, November 28th, from 3pm-9pm, and Wednesday, November 28th, from 9:00am-10:00am.

The Christian Funeral Service will be here at Church on Wednesday, November 29th, at 10:00am.  Following the committal at St. Paul Cemetery, a luncheon will be held in the School Gymnasium.

Remember Marc, Linda and Jack in your prayers, that our Father would comfort them in their sorrow and that that they would mourn with the certainty that Jesus died and rose again for Adam and that there will be a joyous reunion in Christ forever.

Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds,  for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. James 1:2-3

Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His saints.  Psalm 116:15


Whose church is it, anyway?

We aren’t sacerdotalists. We aren’t a sect. We aren’t even groupies, no matter how much we love our pastor. That’s because we are about something different. We are a church. Actually, we are part of the one holy catholic and apostolic Church. Not man-made traditions or sincerely-held views patched together by a common love of beer, but made of Truth. We don’t follow men. And Jesus’ word is what we center on. That means a pastor will resist the popular temptation to catechize or preach with “I think…” or “my own opinion is…” but instead, faithful to his Master, put front and center what we need to hear, which is “Scripture teaches…” or “the Church confesses.” When walking through catechesis, don’t make me trip over your own opinion about something or tell me “how we do it here. ” That’s interesting or possibly wacky — or maybe I love it — but none of that matters. When catechizing me, let’s examine the Confessions and make me understand what the Church believes and why it is Scriptural. Any other approach is just us making it up as we go. Let’s not go off-roading but keep our eyes on the road.