Advent Preparation

“But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.”  1 Peter 2:9

Nathan Ward candle

Photo by Nathan Ward

Advent.  A time to reflect on our need for a Savior.  Do we need saving?  Indeed!  Johann Gerhard, a Lutheran theologian, wrote a collection of Meditations on Divine Mercy.   His writings are helping me this Advent season to dwell on God’s mercy towards all mankind which culminated in the birth, death and resurrection of His Son Jesus Christ.

Pray with me Gerhard’s  prayer– “Thanksgiving for Conversion”

“O gracious God, I give thanks to You that You converted my hardened heart, which did not know how to repent, and that You removed my heart of stone and gave me a heart of flesh (Ezekiel 36:26).  I had the power to fall into sin and guilt.  I did not have the power to rise to repentance.  By my own power, I was able to go astray.  I was able to return to the right path ONLY by Your power.  Just as one who is born crippled cannot be restored with natural remedies but only by divine power, so my soul was born spiritually curved toward sin and earthly things.  No human power could correct it.  Only Your grace was able to restore my soul so it loved You and desired Your heavenly blessings.  I had the power to deform myself by various sins.  You alone were able to reform me.  Just as an Ethiopian cannot change his skin or the leopard his spots (Jeremiah 13:23), so I was not able to do good because I was fully devoted to doing evil.

“You, my God, converted me, and I am converted (Jeremiah 31:18)  After I was converted by You, I repented.  After I came to understand, I struck my breast (Jeremiah 31:19).  I was dead in sin, and You made me alive.  I was able to contribute as much to my conversion as a dead person is able to contribute to his resurrection (John 6:44;  John 11:43).  If You had not drawn me, I would never have come to You.  If you had not awakened me, I would never have watched for You.  If you had not enlightened me, I would never have seen You.  Sins were sweeter to me than honey and honeycomb.  That they are now pungent and bitter, I owe to You, the one who gave me my spiritual taste.  Virtuous works were more bitter to me than gall and aloe.  That they are now pleasing and delightful, I owe only to You, the one who changed my corrupt fleshly judgment by the Spirit.  I went astray as a sheep that was lost (Isaiah 53:6);  I turned to the way of iniquity.  But You, Good Shepherd, sought me and led me back to the flock of the saints.

“Only recently have I recognized You, the true light, because there were great, dark clouds before my vain eyes that prevented me from seeing the light of truth.  Recently, I have recognized You, the true light, because I was blind and loved blindness and walked through the darkness of sin toward the darkness of hell.  But You, my illuminator, sought the one who was not seeking You.  You called the one who was not calling to You.  You converted the one who was not converted to You.  With a voice full of power, You said, “Let there be light in the inner parts of this heart,” and there was light.  I saw Your light and recognized my blindness.  For this immeasurable kindness, I will praise Your name forever.   AMEN.

from Meditations on Divine Mercy:  A Classic Treasury of Devotional Prayers by Johann Gerhard.  Translated by Matthew C. Harrison.  CPH  pp. 75-76.

 

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Reformation Reflections

These quotes by Martin Luther reflect the deep reverence and humble spirit that marked this man of God whose chief desire was to provide all people with the comfort of saving grace through Jesus Christ.  May we who are called by Christ’s name continue to point people to the Truth–of ourselves we have no hope, but in Christ Jesus through His death and Resurrection from the dead we have eternal life!  His promises are sure!

The Lord Alone

Today’s readings:  Isaiah 45:11-48:11; Ephesians 4:1-16; Psalm 68:19-35; Proverbs 24:3-4

“For this is what the Lord says–he who created the heavens, he is God;

he who fashioned and made the earth, he founded it;

he did not create it to be empty, but formed it to be inhabited–

he says:  “I am the Lord, and there is no other.

I have not spoken in secret, from somewhere in a land of darkness;

I, the Lord, speak the truth;  I declare what is right.”  Isaiah 45:18-19

Lord, keep us steadfast in Your Word;  Curb those who by deceit or sword would wrest the kingdom from Your Son and bring to naught all He has done.

Lord Jesus Christ, Your pow’r make known, for You are Lord of lords alone;  defend Your holy Church that we may sing Your praise eternally.

O Comforter of priceless worth, send peace and unity on earth;  support us in our final strife and lead us out of death to life.   ~hymn by Martin Luther, 1483-1546

Whose words do you trust?  In whom do you trust?  In what do you place your trust?

If it is not in Jesus Christ, your trust is in vain.  He alone is Lord of Lords.

Turn our hearts to You and You alone, O Christ.  You have the Words of eternal life!  Amen.

The Voice of the Lord

REUTERS/Richard Carson

REUTERS/Richard Carson

“Ascribe to the Lord, O heavenly beings, ascribe to the Lord glory and strength.

Ascribe to the Lord the glory due his name;  worship the Lord in the splendor of holiness.

The voice of the Lord is over the waters; the God of glory thunders, the Lord, over many waters.

The voice of the Lord is powerful; the voice of the Lord is full of majesty.

The Lord sits enthroned over the flood; the Lord sits enthroned as king forever.

May the Lord give strength to his people!  May the Lord bless his people with peace!

Psalm 29:1-4, 10-11

Hurricane Harvey and the hiddenness of God.  We ask the question “why,” but God on His throne who is beyond our understanding doesn’t give us the answer.  His voice however booms “I am with you always.  I will never leave you nor forsake you!  I will give you strength!  I will give you peace!”

God the Father gave us His Son, Jesus, who stemmed the damning flood of sin in our lives by shedding His blood for us.  And by His almighty power He raised Jesus from the dead. His powerful voice now bids us to call upon Him in the day of trouble–In the midst of deep waters, call to Him, and He will answer!

Lord God, we see the rising flood waters and are afraid.  Please turn our eyes to Jesus who sits at Your right Hand in Heaven.  Help us to trust in Him during these difficult times.  We trust in Your faithfulness to hear our prayer for Jesus’ sake.  Amen.

Running the Race

Graphic by Boaz Crawford

“Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize?  So run that you may obtain it.  Every athlete exercises self-control in all things.  They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable.”  1 Corinthians 9:24-25

Lord, You give my spirit strength to restrain the passion of the flesh.  Whatever is good in me comes from You, the font of all good things, because in me, by nature, there is nothing but sin.  I have to acknowledge that all good works I do–which are nevertheless impure because of the corruption and imperfection of my flesh–are gifts of Your grace.  I will give You thanks forever because of Your immeasurable gift to me.  Amen      ~prayer by Lutheran Theologian,Johann Gerhard, 1582-1637.

In The Lord

Photo by Chris Meirose

“In the Lord I take refuge;

how can you say to my soul,

“Flee like a bird to your mountain,

for behold, the wicked bend the bow;

they have fitted their arrow

to the string to shoot in the dark

at the upright in heart;

if the foundations are destroyed,

what can the righteous do?

The Lord is in his holy temple;

the Lord’s throne is in heaven;

his eyes see, his eyelids test,

the children of man.

Let him rain coals on the wicked;

fire and sulfur and a scorching wind

shall be the portion of their cup.

For the Lord is righteous;

he loves righteous deeds;

the upright shall behold his face.”

Psalm 11

Troubled world, troubled people

striking out blindly but boldly in the name of their cause.

Whether race, economics, politics, or creed

all are in vain for none of them can save.

Only One can save, give peace;

the One who gave His life as a ‘ransom for many’

for you, for me.

Turn away from strife, pride, ego, self-seeking

Turn to Him–Jesus Christ–who makes us new creations

through faith–

New creations capable of loving and forgiving and reconciling

peoples of all races, economics, politics and creed.

In the name of Jesus

Believe.

Lord God Heavenly Father, when we were dead in our sins You came to us and gave us life in Your Name.  Through the Water and the Word you placed your name–Father, Son and Holy Spirit upon us.  We are Yours.  Open our mouths that we might declare your praise in this world where many other voices can be heard.  May Your sweet Gospel ring true above the din.  We pray in Jesus’ name, Amen.

O keep me watchful, then, and humble;

Permit me nevermore to stray.

Uphold me when my feet would stumble,

And keep me on the narrow way.

Fill all my nature with Thy light,

O radiance strong and bright!

~Johann Scheffler, 1624-77

 

 

Let Them Come!

Picture by artist, Frances Hook  “Then children were brought to him that he might lay his hands on them and pray.  The disciples rebuked the people, but Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven.”  And he laid his hands on them and went away.”

Matthew 19:13-15

Lord, you did not ignore the little ones or their parents who brought them to you.  You took time to be with them and touch them.  Your hands, that were later nailed to the Cross, connected children to you.  You continue to connect both young and old to you through the waters of Baptism where you forgive sins and give the Holy Spirit.  Thank you for reaching out to us.  Keep us in the one true faith, for Jesus’ sake, Amen.