A myHT Fortress

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Happy Holy Days! -- So Close, and yet So Far

Throughout the month of December, a beautiful Candlelight Processional is held in the evening at EPCOT. A large choir from various churches and schools sing various Christmas hymns. Yes! Not secular carols. No “Winter Wonderland” or “Jingle Bells.” The songs are about Jesus’ birth.

Selections from the Scriptures are also read, by guest celebrities. The night my family and I saw it, Broadway star Chita Rivera was the reader. What was spoken and sung was a beautiful witness to Jesus. But what exactly did it witness?

As I pondered more closely what was read, I noticed tiny omissions that had great importance. One reading concluded: “You shall call His name ‘Jesus.’” Hmm…do you remember what follows in the Gospel? He is the Son of the Most High. He will save His people from their sins.

Yes, Jesus was THE reason for this event. That was clear. But why was Jesus being celebrated? Was it simply that He was a great prophet? That He taught love and mercy? Where was the clear and simple statement that Jesus IS God Incarnate, the one and only Savior from sin?

You see, without the purpose of rescuing us from sin, death, and the devil, Jesus simply is reduced to another world religious leader. And then “peace on earth” becomes reduced to a slogan that deals with politics and national relations, rather than the true and lasting peace of a restored relationship with our Father in heaven.

Don’t get me wrong. It was a lovely sacred concert. Nothing was wrong with what was spoken. The failure was in what remained unspoken.

If there is no purpose in the birth of Jesus – no expressly stated delivery from sin and death, then His birth was in vain. Jesus was born to save you from your sin! And He has! And He now delivers that release from sin with every baptism, absolution, preaching, and celebration of the Lord’s Supper. These are part and parcel of the greatest Gift ever given – the Gift of the Newborn Savior in Bethlehem!

Without the rescue from sin, then this is not a unique and life-changing event, it is just another “holiday.” “Happy Holidays!” is the greeting given by employees in most places, including most Disney “cast members.” Only after a guest or customer says, “Merry Christmas!” can most people respond in kind.

Happy Holidays, indeed! “Holiday” comes from shortening the English words “holy” and “day.” Yes. The Twelve Days of Christmas (December 25th through January 5th) are Holy Days for Christians. But given most people’s lack of knowledge about this, we boldly proclaim, “Merry Christmas!”

God bless you richly as you celebrate more than the birth of a man who changed the world. The Lord will bless you as you rejoice a great joy, celebrating the birth of the Only-begotten Son of God, our Savior Jesus, Christ, the LORD!

Happy Holy Days! Merry Christmas!

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Homily for the Funeral of a World War II P.O.W.

Earl Faith was a dear man in our parish who recently suffered from leukemia. Earl was born in 1920, and had served in the Second World War. Not long after boot camp, he was in Northern Africa, on a truck full of ammo. They were ambushed by Germans. Knowing it was too dangerous with the explosive ammo on the truck, the Americans fled to the desert surrounding the road, and dug foxholes. They were found quickly, and taken to a P.O.W. camp that ran a potato farm. Life was harsh there for 2 1/2 years, until the war concluded. What follows is the homily from Earl's funeral.

Isaiah 61:1-3 ESV

The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me, because the LORD has anointed me to bring good news to the poor; he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound; to proclaim the year of the LORD’s favor, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn; to grant to those who mourn in Zion— to give them a beautiful headdress instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the garment of praise instead of a faint spirit; that they may be called oaks of righteousness, the planting of the LORD, that he may be glorified.

Two and a half years may not seem like a long time to many people, but to a prisoner, it can seem like forever. Young Earl had barely begun his service to our country when his unit was ambushed in Northern Africa and he ended up in a German P.O.W. camp.

No one outside of the veterans who have experienced it can understand the oppression. The loss of liberties can be disheartening and depressing. And they will cling to any good news that makes it to them.

Perhaps it was enduring those prison hardships as a P.O.W. that gave Earl all the more focus on those he loved. An adoring husband and loving father, Earl raised a healthy, happy, and fun-loving family. More importantly, he headed a household in faith.

But the prison of hard labor and poor care on the potato farm was nothing compared to the prison of sin that Earl and every one of us were born into. “Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me.” That sin we were conceived in was holding us captive. Not one of us could release ourselves. It was not until our dear Lord came and worked His redeeming work that this changed.

When Jesus preached His first sermon in Nazareth, He read and proclaimed another passage from Isaiah that speaks the same themes. As the Messiah, His mission was about release. Releasing the blind from their darkness; releasing the deaf from their silence; releasing people from bondage to sin, death, and the devil.

When Jesus came and was conceived and born, He began our release. As He came to the cross, and suffered and died on that cross, the release was purchased. As He burst from the prison of His tomb, our release was sealed.

Across the years, the release is delivered through the Holy washing of Baptism. The raging flood of the font breaks the bonds, crushes the chains, bursts the gates of brass and causes those iron fetters to yield.

Earl had the joy of release from the German prison, where Red Cross care packages and an occasional bit of food beyond potatoes and black bread had been the only comforts. After two and a half years, our Savior gave him freedom from his earthly enemies.

But far more joyful was the release from sin and death that Jesus gave through His Holy Baptism, His Holy Gospel, Holy Absolution, and His Holy Supper. In these precious Gifts, Earl was frequently reminded that our Savior released him from these enemies of the soul. In these Gifts, we all have joined Earl in experiencing the thrill of release.

Over recent weeks and months, Earl faced yet another captor: leukemia. The gates of brass and iron fetters did not surround him; instead, they ran through his veins. Yet in the pre-dawn hours of Thursday morning, Earl finally was granted a peaceful release. The Lord had mercy and flung wide the doors of paradise. The confines of this suffering world were opened and he was blessed with liberation beyond our imagination.

As you approach this holy season of Christmas, it will be a challenging and hurtful time. But do not despair. As Jesus brings release to you in the Blessed Sacrament of the Altar, He is bringing you into communion with Earl. Jesus frees you from sin in the very same sacrament that He gives you a foretaste of heaven, and joins you with Earl in celebrating and welcoming the Coming King. Amazing! With every Eucharist, you rejoice with Earl in the bliss of heaven!

Today, the Third Sunday in Advent, has the Latin name Gaudete. It means, “Rejoice.” And so we are reminded by God to rejoice and join Earl in singing with joy in our hearts, “Hark the glad sound! The Savior comes, the Savior promised long; let every heart prepare a throne and ev’ry voice a song.” “He comes the pris’ners to release, in Satan’s bondage held. The gates of brass before Him burst, the iron fetters yield.”

We live in this world awaiting that rejoicing release as well. We continue to suffer in the prison of this earth, fenced in by sin, threatened by death, and guarded by the devil. But our liberating Lord awaits the day when He will gather us with Earl and all who have departed in the faith. He desires to come and gather us home with Him forever, echoing the same words of love that He has just spoken to Earl: “Well done, thou good and faithful servant; enter into the pleasure of My Father’s kingdom.”

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

The Hands of the Blessed Virgin Mother

The Blessed Virgin is another figure who has a typical posture. In Church art, especially the earliest traditions of icons, paintings, and statues, the Blessed Virgin Mary always has one hand directing our attention to the infant in her arms. She motions to Him, and our eyes go from viewing the Handmaiden of the Lord to the Incarnate God on her lap.

Saint John the Baptizer

Saint John the Baptizer -- someone we spend time pondering during Advent. Pastor Mark Buetow pointed out to me a very interesting feature of much art depicting John: the Baptizer is usually pointing. His fingers extended, he directs our attention to Christ, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!

As we continue in this Advent-tide, we follow Saint John's fingers, as they point us to the manger and cross, to the font and chalice.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Sevens: A Holy Number MeMe

My dear wife tagged me, after she was tagged by Glenda Mumme. :-) It's a meme with everything in "sevens."

Seven things I did before (a) child(ren):
1. Stayed up until 1 a.m. watching "Star Trek" or "Travels in Europe with Rick Steves."

2. Spent money more loosely on books and hobbies.

3. Took long walks with my wife at our Fairy Godmother's condo.

4. Bought and displayed Department 56 like there was no tomorrow.

5. Spent two weeks (and put over 1,000 miles on a rental car) in Great Britain with sem buddies.

6. Drove only midsize cars, and didn't THINK about a mini-van.

7. Had one too many "Nazis from hell" at Applebee's near the sem.

Seven Things I Do Now
1. Recognize Hannah Montana songs.

2. Drive a mini-van (and LOVE it.)

3. Share my Star Wars toys with my son.

4. Serve as Cubmaster (and soon to cross over with my son into Boy Scouts.)

5. Watch American Idol, Dancing with the Stars, So You Think You Can Dance, and other "reality shows."

6. Take care of my son's pets.

7. Nag my son about a room that is only as messy as mine was at his age.

Seven Things I Would Like to Do
1. Travel around Europe with my family (same as Kristi and Glenda.)

2. Further my education.

3. Retire to Walt Disney World and work at the "Happiest Place on Earth."

4. Be more faithful in praying the Daily Office.

5. Be more faithful in going to the Y.

6. Have more free time as a couple & family.

7. Be wealthy enough to give like crazy to churches and charities.

Seven Things That Attract Me to My Wife:
1. Her faith & witness.

2. Her sparkling eyes.

3. Her laughter & sense of humor.

4. Her desire to give and help others.

5. Her endless creativity!

6. Her love of Christmas.

7. She's my Cinderella!

Seven Favorite Foods
1. Crab legs

2. Coca Cola (do drinks count?)

3. Coconut Shrimp

4. Coconut-Almond Chicken from the Polynesian (which my dear wife amazingly re-created!)

5. Steak, salad & baked potato

6. Cashew Chicken (Chi Tung's is the best!)

7. Key Lime Pie

Seven Things I Say Most Often

1. "In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit."

2. "Amen."

3. "We're going to Disney!" (Responding to Kristi's daily question: "Guess what?!"

4. "Love you, Lady. buh bye!" (Quoting an Animaniacs episode.)

5. "You need to tie your shoe!" (To Ben, at least twice daily.)

6. "What do you want to do for dinner?"

7. "Do you need anything else before I go?" (To Kristi, as I head over to the church.)

(Knowing that this is lighter fare than some of these bloggers are wont to write)
Seven People I'm Tagging for this:
1. Tyler Best

2. Jon Kohlmeier

3. Randy Asburry

4. Wil Weedon

5. David Juhl

6. Paul Beisel

7. Rick Stuckwisch

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Troops: A Star Wars/Cops Parody

I was sent this by a friend. It provides the "real" story behind Owen and Beru Lars' demise in Star Wars: Episode IV.

Very funny!