EPIPHANEIA

After the twelve days of Christmas have concluded, the Church celebrates Epiphany (a Greek word, transliterated above, which means “manifestation”).  It is a major festival in the Church Year, which unfortunately, often falls by the wayside after the excitement of Christmas.  The celebration of Epiphany covers the events that follow the birth of Christ, namely the visit of the Magi (wisemen from the East, at least two but probably more, who brought royal gifts and worshipped at the feet of the one true King).  They followed a God-given and created star that led them (probably from the area of Babylon, the East, which should make you recall the Captivity of God’s people, both the Northern and Southern Kingdom, as well as faithful wisemen such as Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego).  While they are often included in our Christmas Nativity sets and Manger scenes, they probably didn’t arrive in Bethlehem until some time after Christ’s actual birth, which is when the star appeared!  Regardless, Epiphany reminds us that Christ has come for all people and that the Gospel is to be shared with the whole world.

“For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek (Gentiles! Or you and me . . . the whole world).  For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith TO faith, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith.”  Romans 1:16-17

While Christmas emphasizes our Lord’s humanity (incarnation = God taking on human flesh), Epiphany serves to manifest His divinity, including the kingly adoration of the Magi, Jesus’ Baptism and His first miracles (most notably changing water into wine at Cana in Galilee).  Thus, the Church Year is a representation of the life of Christ.  Historically, these observances are known as “Major Festivals”.  Here is the list: 

  • The Nativity of Our Lord (December 25th), 
  • The Epiphany of Our Lord (January 6th), 
  • Ash Wednesday, 
  • Palm Sunday,
  • Holy Week [Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Holy (Maundy Thursday),
  • Good Friday,
  • Holy Saturday (Vigil)],
  • The Resurrection of Our Lord,
  • The Ascension of Our Lord,
  • The Day of Pentecost and 
  • The Holy Trinity.  

As you read through the list, you can easily see why the Church celebrates and observes such festivals:  it’s all about Jesus, the life of the world.  Truly, we are not to be ashamed of the Gospel!

In almost two decades of serving the Church, I have often lamented how The Epiphany of Our Lord gets moved around and unwittingly ignored.  While Christmas ALWAYS falls on December 25th, Epiphany seems to be relegated to the closest Sunday that doesn’t interfere.  Christmas decorations are often removed and God’s people are left waiting for Lent and Easter!  Historically, there is much evidence to show that the early Church actually emphasized and celebrated January 6th (Epiphany) over and above Christmas!  Can you imagine? 

Let’s bring Epiphany back! 

This year, I will be asking our Altar Guild to leave our Christmas decorations up just a little bit longer (we’ll take everything down AFTER Epiphany) AND we will have a special Epiphany service ON JANUARY 6th!  I know it’s a week night and not everyone will be able to attend (my boys will probably be at basketball practices or games), but for those that are able, Pastor Grady and I will be here to observe this MAJOR FESTIVAL and share the Lord’s gifts with you in the Divine Service.  On that note, we will also add TWO more MAJOR FESTIVALS this year (also occurring on days other than Sunday):  Holy Saturday (the night before Easter, where we will gather outside by a bonfire and prepare for His Resurrection – we’ll even have S’mores afterwards for the kids) and The Ascension of Our Lord (always on a Thursday, 40 days after Easter).    

And so we move, live and have our being, as saints at Advent, following the life of Christ in a wonderfully liturgical progression.  Faith to faith, we are given, regularly and often, all that supports our body and life – namely forgiveness of sins, life and salvation. 
 
Let us thus follow the Star as it leads us to the One who has come . . . for you.
 
Merry Christmas!  Happy Epiphany!  And a blessed New Year,
Pr. Mackay   


Behold the Child!

Dear Saints of Advent,
 
Advent is soon upon us. What a glorious time of year as we prepare for the coming (advent) of God in the flesh made manifest! A devotional booklet has been placed in your member mailbox, for you (& your family) to use. Our pastoral prayer is that such devotions and study further unite us as a faith family here at Advent Evangelical Lutheran Church. Please also plan your upcoming weeks accordingly, as we will now have a family meal and a special worship service during these Wednesdays in Advent. In the midst of the holiday bustle, let us take but a brief pause each week to be filled with the light and strength of God’s mercy and grace. May the Lord bless and keep you and your family as we prepare for the coming of the Messiah…behold the Child!

Pr. Mackay

Behold the ChildBehold the Child!

      God’s own Son is born a child . . . ;
      God the Father is reconciled.
 
What peace is found in those words. As the Church draws nigh to the Nativity of Our Lord, many also draw nigh to the harsh reality of broken families and friendships. The sting of estrangement intensifies in this season as many delight in family gatherings—a delight that is glaringly absent for others.

We long for reconciliation—a marriage healed, the return of a prodigal child, the open arms of a formerly harsh parent. Advent is just the season for reconciliation. It is a penitential season, calling us to examine ourselves, acknowledge our sin with contrition, and trust that our sin is forgiven for the sake of Christ. Such self-examination reveals that the fault for our broken relationships is not one-sided. The sin visited upon me by another has driven a wedge between us, but so has my sin. Part of the distance between me and others is due to my sinful actions—my sinful refusal to forgive, my sinful pride that will not admit my fault, my sinful contentment with a cold shoulder.

Advent calls us to repent of our divisions. Advent calls us to rejoice in reconciliation. Though you can forgive another even when he refuses to acknowledge his fault, reconciliation is found when both parties are willing to admit their culpability, seek forgiveness, and amend their ways. That can seem so difficult. It is hard enough for one sinner to confess his sin and trust that the Lord purges it from his life. How much more challenging it is for two sinners to do so. Yet that is exactly what Christ works among and within us. He grants us confidence in His forgiveness so that we forgive one another, receive one another’s forgiveness, and are thus reconciled.

Reconciliation with some remains ever elusive. We hunger for it; we pray for it. Yet the distance remains. When a parent apologizes to a child so that they embrace for the first time in decades, we rightly rejoice. When our longing is not realized, sorrow results.

The only consolation amid such sorrow is the certainty of your reconciliation to the Father. It is certain because it is not dependent upon sinners humbling themselves in repentance. It is certain because it is dependent upon the sinless Son of God humbling Himself to take on human flesh and be born of a virgin.

That is the glorious, biblical proclamation found in “The Quempas Carol.” We are blessed to hear therein the refrain, “God’s own Son is born a child . . . ; God the Father is reconciled.” This is not wishful thinking driven by our longings. It is reality driven by Christ.

You are reconciled to the Father. Each stanza of “The Quempas Carol” announces our reconciliation to the Father in Christ. Wednesday of the first week in Advent will greet us with the first stanza, in which the angel of the Lord makes known that reconciliation is had because Christ has come “For You and All the World.” The second stanza will serve us on Wednesday of the second week in Advent as we hear that Jesus reconciles us to the Father “To Set You Free from All Your Sorrow.” Then, our ears will be filled with the promise that we are reconciled to the Father because Christ comes “For You, to Bear Your Flesh in Weakness.” Our joy will find its climax at the Nativity of Our Lord, when we hear the fourth stanza’s message that Jesus’ birth is the Lord’s visitation of “All the World with His Free Grace Supplying.”
 
Behind it all is the Word of God that the Spirit might quicken in us faith to trust these promises.


A New Translation

Dear blessed saints at Advent,

A dear friend of mine, and fellow LCMS pastor, Rev. Ryan Loeslie, recently translated a mini-article that was included in the September 10th, 1907 issue of “Der Lutheraner” under the title Warum ich auch bei Regenwetter in die Kirche gehe.  This magazine was the forerunner of the “Lutheran Witness”.  I share it with you, as he has, for “timeless encouragement to be in God’s house when Sunday morning comes.” 

Peace be with you,
Pastor Mackay

Why I Also Go To Church When It’s Raining

  1. Because God sanctifies every Sunday through his Word and makes no exceptions just because it is raining.
  2. Because I expect that our pastor will be tending to his duties, and I would be very astounded if he remained at home
        because of the weather.
  3. Because my presence will be all the more necessary at church, the less the attendance unfortunately is on such days.
  4. Because my example will have an influence on others under all circumstances, whether I attend worship or stay away.
  5. Because I see that the unchurched people, even the weakest among them, do not abstain from their amusements just
        because it is raining.
  6. Because the life to which a Christian is called may never be dependent on the change of the barometer, and because
        my behavior towards God’s Word is a measurement of my love towards him.
  7. Because I make the observation: those who use the excuse not to go to church because of the cold, heat, or because
        it is raining – these also make excuses when the weather is beautiful.
  8. Because the man who shrinks away because of such small difficulties may finally fear hindrances which are only
        figments of his imagination. Whoever follows the Lord from afar, as Peter did on the night of Holy Thursday, he easily
        is in danger of denying him completely.
  9. Because it can be, that according to God’s will, a special blessing awaits me in church on a rainy day.
  10. Because I do not know how many Sundays I have left on this earth.

This article may also be found at https://steadfastlutherans.org/2019/10/why-i-also-go-to-church-when-its-raining/



What is worship?

Pastor Marcus MackayThe next few newsletter articles will tackle the subject of “worship.”  For now, let’s start with what was heard at a popular local Christian church not very far away . . .

 “when you go to a Justin Timberlake concert…you are worshipping:  showing love, admiration, affection…Lucas Oil stadium…same thing…the question isn’t whether but what you will worship?”

“your church experience will only be as good as what you bring to it”

“you were made to worship…you were made to love and show admiration and affection”

“God is worthy of the WOW that is already in your heart”

“aim the WOW in your heart toward the one that is only worthy of it”

“you are already worshipping so direct it to Him”

“aim your worship…to God”

“life is hard and challenging….worship your way through it”

The underlying premise of this “sermon” is that true worship is standing, dancing, clapping, praising, exactly how you see done at a concert or football game.  The pastor even went so far as to say that God commands such worship and that humans beings are created to do just that.

Let’s start with John 6:28-29, Then they asked him, “What must we do to do the works God requires?” Jesus answered, “The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent.”

The highest form of worship is FAITH.  Not what you do or how you do it, but belief in Jesus Christ, the Son of God, crucified and risen for your sins and the sins of the whole world. 

The local pastor went on to claim that “you were made to worship” and that you are doing just that at a Colts game or Justin Timberlake concert.  Since this is worship, you merely need to “aim your worship at God.”  This is also false on many levels:

  1. Man is spiritually dead in his trespasses and sin.  He is not made to worship, he is so infected by sin that even Jesus says in John 8:44 You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires.There are many passages that speak to our inability to worship God or that we can control or aim anything.  Here is another from 1 Corinthians 2:14 The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.  
  2. Many Christians assume that the word “worship” is the same as the word “praise.”  This is why many churches, even Lutheran, have a “Praise Service” or a “Praise Team”.   The first word for worship that occurs in Genesis actually means “bow down.”  This is quite different from the definition of worship I shared above.  Bowing down is quiet and reverent and submissive.  I suggest we start a “Bowing Service” and a “Bowing Team”!  😊Just joking.
  3. God commands that we only worship Him, so if what we do at a Colts game or Timberlake concert is the same thing, then following the logic from this popular local Christian church, it would be sinful according to Scripture! Consider these passages where God commands worship of Him only:  Luke 4:8 And Jesus answered him, “It is written, “‘You shall worship the Lord your God, and him only shall you serve.’”  Deuteronomy 6:13 It is the Lord your God you shall fear. Him you shall serve and by his name you shall swear.

So we see that the definition of “worship” from this big box church is incorrect, from Scripture.  Furthermore, how do you deal with sin in your life?  This church falsely tells you to “worship your way through it”.  This puts ALL the work on you! 

Our Divine Services as Lutheran-Christians focus on two things:  humbling ourselves before the almighty God with reverence and awe, but an awe that bows down before Him, which is so different from the way the world worships.  We don’t worship God like we do the Colts or Timberlake, because we have nothing to offer Him.  We are sinners.  Thus, the Divine Service is not about us coming to God, but rather God coming to us.  Forgiving us.  Which reminds me, Jesus commands (mandates) the Apostles’ and the church that follows them John 20:19-23, On the evening of that day, the first day of the week, the doors being locked where the disciples were for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.”  When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord.  Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.”  And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit.  If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.”

I watched the entire service of this local church.  Never once did I hear the pastors speak these life-giving words of Jesus: I FORGIVE YOU.  Why don’t they do that?  Jesus commands it. 

Luke 24:46-47 Jesus said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance for the forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.

Forgiveness of sins was mentioned once or twice, but it was not the main thing in the “sermon”.  They never mentioned the Gospel in terms of what Jesus did by living a perfect life, dying a death as the once for all sacrifice upon the cross, and rising to new life in His resurrection.  This church is trying to get you and others to believe a false gospel, that you can and should worship God in a certain way.  This is all Law.  I am saddened to hear such drivel and fear for those who may be led astray.

And if we are going to talk about what God commands, what about Jesus also commanding the Lord’s Supper?  We do it every Sunday.  And not just because He commands (mandates) it, but because we also need it and desire what He forgives:  forgiveness of sins, life and salvation.  I did not see nor hear this emphasis at this local church.  Luke 22:19-20 And he took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.”  And likewise the cup after they had eaten, saying, “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood.

Lastly, disciples are NOT made by teaching them to worship or aiming their worship at the right person or place.  Hear again the words of Jesus, Matthew 28:18-20, And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.  Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

Disciples are made first by baptizing, not worshipping.  Which is one of the reasons we baptize our infants.  They, as sinners, receive God’s grace and mercy.  They do nothing, He does everything.  Then we teach.  We catechize.  I did not hear this emphasis from Scripture, at this local and popular “Christian” church.  They are preaching a false gospel and twisting God’s word to appeal to you and others, leading them away from the gifts of Christ.    

The crux of this first newsletter article on worship is this:  we have nothing to offer Him, but He gives everything to us through Jesus Christ, through His Word, through His Sacraments.  It is not sinful to celebrate at a Colts game or Timberlake concert.  True worship is faith and quiet submission, which should bring to mind the story of Mary and Martha.  Martha is busy working and doing things for Jesus.  Mary is sitting quietly, at Jesus’ feet, listening, learning and receiving.  Jesus commends Mary’s faith and actions, not Martha’s.  Let us first receive His gifts of Word and Sacrament and then get busy with all that needs to be done this side of heaven.  How we worship, what we say and do, does matter.  More to come in the next newsletter article.

Forgiveness of sins, life and salvation are freely yours through Jesus Christ your Savior!

Peace be with you,

Pr. Mackay



Encouragement for the Scared Father

As we begin a new school season and one in which we will be focusing on our youth during our new Wednesday night prayer and confirmation class, please enjoy the following article by a wonderful Lutheran layman, Mr. T.R. Halvorson, a member at Trinity Lutheran Church (LCMS) in Sidney, Montana.  Encouragement for the Scared Father
 
May the Lord so grant our prayers for faithful parents in teaching and nurturing our youth!
 
Pr. Mackay


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