Church

So Much Death

My heart can barely hold the grief.

It leaks out of my eyes as I bow my head in church. I’ve learned to pray with my eyes open, so that the tears drop straight to the floor and not onto my cheeks and clothes in tell-tale streaks.

It shudders from my lungs in seismic waves as Pastor reads the Gospel lesson. I’ve learned to hold my breath until my chest burns, camel-clutching my wayward diaphragm into submission.

It squeezes out of my larynx in pathetic whimpers as I sing, “The hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight.” I’ve learned not to program “O Little Town of Bethlehem” for the Sunday school children lest they witness more sorrow in Advent than their parents want to explain on the drive home.

But my eyes, my lungs, my larynx – all rebels, every one. They get the better of me every Advent, because I know of more children dead than born.

So much death! How can I bear it?

And, as happens every year, I look to the image of my Lord as a tiny baby in the manger, and I remember, “So much life!”

I cannot bear it, so Jesus bears it for me. He is born to conquer death for my sake and for yours. He gives us life everlasting, and He gives it abundantly.

“O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?”

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Being LadyLike

As a writer, one thing I very much enjoy at the end of a long, 1,000-word day is reading the work of someone who writes better than me. The experience always refreshes my vocabulary, stimulates my neuron network, and ups my wordy game to the expert level.

I think that’s why I like Rebekah Curtis’s and Rosie Adle’s LadyLike so much. It’s good writing, and it’s a hoot to boot. These sister-authors are wise where I’m foolish, articulate where I’m tongue-tied, and funny where I’m dull. Their witty, familiar banter put me immediately at ease, so I didn’t mind so much when they pointed out the embarrassing leaks in my woman-britches. Maybe it was because they were so quick to patch up my holes themselves with their needle of truth and thread of understanding.

I especially appreciated their tender attentions given to the barren woman in the essay, “To My Friend Who Has No Babies Today.”

I felt safe in their company, valued even. I think you will, too. Order your copy today.

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Let the Children Come to Me

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In light of the recent, somber anniversary of Roe v. Wade, here is a poignant teaching from the sainted pastor and writer Bo Giertz on the gift of children:

Let the children come to Me; do not hinder them.” Mark 10:14

This was a severe reprimand to the disciples. They thought children should wait until they were able to understand what the sermon was all about. That would be soon enough. But the parents wanted the right thing for their children.

Being a parent is one of the greatest gifts God can give. It’s also one of the greatest tasks you could ever undertake. Having a child together allows parents to share in God’s creative work. We couldn’t live here on earth or be God’s children eternally if the parents of countless generations before us had not labored with their own children and even given their lives for their children. Now it may be our turn to bring life into the world. We cannot take this task lightly. God put us here in an immense generational context. Of course, not everyone is called to be a parents. Not everyone gets married and is gifted with children. But if you get the chance, you can’t deny children their right to live. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothes? You can’t exchange the life of one child as payment for the luxuries you want to provide another. Jesus says, “Let the children come to Me.” It’s awe-inspiring. The first condition for being able to be a child of God and share all the joy that is the meaning of life, now and in eternity, is that there are people on earth who are willing to take upon themselves the task of parenting.

“Let the children come to Me.” Jesus doesn’t share the view of those who say: Let the child grow up first so he can decide for himself. No, Jesus says. It is just these people who need the kingdom of God. It’s for them. Who can bear to grow up in this evil world without clinging to God? People were never meant to struggle through life without God. We can see how hard it is all around us. We really do need Jesus to lay His hands upon us and bless us the way He does in Baptism. And then never let go of His hand.

Dear Lord, You must help us here because it’s hard to see what Your will is. The world seems to be overpopulated. People say it’s not right to bring children into this world. But Your country was also overpopulated, wasn’t it? Still Your Father let You grow up in a large family. Wasn’t there a reason for that? Can it possibly be wrong to give life to a child whom You love and want to be brought before You if that child is laid in Your arms and taught to live with You now, every day and into eternity? Lord, I must thank You because I have received life and wasn’t denied it. Of course, I would never have leaned to know You if I had not seen the light of day on earth. Lord, help us all to see clearly and do what is right in Your eyes.

(From CPH’s To Live with Christ by Bo Giertz, pages 121-22)

The Night Will Soon Be Ending

Sometimes a hymn can express our feelings better than we ever imagined. Here is the text for three stanzas from the Advent hymn “The Night Will Soon Be Ending.” The lyricist Jochen Klepper understands quite clearly the darkness that tries to squelch our hope. However, as he reminds us, “God dwells with us in darkness and makes the night as day.” (Lutheran Service Book 337:5) Come, Lord Jesus. Amen.images

The night will soon be ending; The dawn cannot be far.
Let songs of praise ascending Now greet the Morning Star!
All you whom darkness frightens With guilt or grief or pain,
God’s radiant Star now brightens And bids you sing again.

 Yet nights will bring their sadness And rob our hearts of peace,
And sin in all its madness Around us may increase.
But now one Star is beaming Whose rays have pierced the night:
God comes for our redeeming From sin’s oppressive might. 

God dwells with us in darkness And makes the night as day;
Yet we resist the brightness And turn from God away.
But grace does not forsake us, However far we run.
God claims us still as children Through Mary’s infant Son.

A Thank You Prayer

The Apostles’ Creed with explanation:

THE FIRST ARTICLE

I believe in God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth.

What does this mean?

I believe that God has made me and all creatures; that He has given me my body and soul, eyes, ears and all my members, my reason and all my senses, and still preserves them; that He richly and daily provides me with food and clothing, home and family, property and goods, and all that I need to support this body and life; that He protects me from all danger, guards and keeps me from all evil; and all this purely out of fatherly, divine goodness and mercy, without any merit or worthiness in me; for all which I am in duty bound to thank and praise, to serve and obey Him. This is most certainly true.

No matter how difficult it is to give thanks to God, we are still His children, whom He dearly loves. He made us and still preserves us, despite our sinful condition. More of His gifts are outlined in the explanations to the Second and Third Articles of the Apostles’ Creed.

THE SECOND ARTICLE

I believe in Jesus Christ, His only Son our Lord, Who was conceived by the Holy Spirit; born of the Virgin Mary; suffered under Pontius Pilate; was crucified, died, and was buried; He descended into hell; the third day He rose again from the dead; He ascended into heaven, and is seated at the right hand of God the Father almighty; from there He shall come to judge the living and the dead.

What does this mean?

I believe that Jesus Christ is true God, begotten of the Father from eternity, and also true man, born of the Virgin Mary; and that He is my Lord, Who has redeemed me, a lost and condemned creature, purchased and won me from all sins, from death and from the power of the devil; not with gold or silver, but with His holy, precious blood, and with His innocent suffering and death; in order that I might be His own, live under Him in His kingdom, and serve Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence and blessedness; even as He is risen from the dead, lives and reigns to all eternity. This is most certainly true.

God the Father sent His only Son Jesus to take our punishment for sin. Now the gift of eternal life is ours.

THE THIRD ARTICLE

I believe in the Holy Spirit; the holy Christian Church, the communion of saints; the forgiveness of sins; the resurrection of the body; and the life everlasting. Amen.

What does this mean?

I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him; but the Holy Ghost has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith; just as He calls, gathers, enlightens and sanctifies the whole Christian Church on earth and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one true faith. In this Christian Church He daily and richly forgives me and all believers all our sins; and at the last day He will raise up me and all the dead, and will grant me and all believers in Christ eternal life. This is most certainly true.

We are preserved in our faith through the work of the Holy Spirit. Despite our trials, we continue to receive God’s gifts in Word and Sacrament.

imagesDear God, You know my inmost being, for You formed me. Thank you for sending Your Son to redeem me, and for the gift of the Holy Spirit to keep me in the true faith. Thank you for the gifts that are given to others. Forgive me for coveting those gifts and help me to receive my daily bread with thanksgiving, for it is all truly given by Your grace. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Gift Language in Action

IMG_4866 copyYesterday’s Sunday school lesson was about Abraham’s visitors from heaven, and this conversation went down in my 4th-5th grade class:

Me: God gave Abraham and Sarah the gift of a child, even in their old age. You may have noticed that Pastor and I have not been given the gift of children. Is God going to give us a child?

Tall Girl: Yes!

Reflective Boy: Well…

Me: Think of it this way, why did God give Abraham and Sarah the gift of a child?

Insightful Boy: Because He promised them a child.

Me: Exactly! God gave Abraham and Sarah the gift of Isaac, because God was fulfilling a promise that He made. Has God promised Pastor and me in His Word that He will give us the gift of a child?

(silence; Petite Girl’s mouth hangs open in careful thought)

Tall Girl: Yes, because even if you don’t have a child, you will adopt a baby and get a child that way. That’s how it works.

Me: Adopted children are gifts from God, too. Pastor and I want to adopt children, but God has not given us children that way, either. Neither has He promised us in His Word that He will do so. We are different from Abraham and Sarah that way. But do you want to hear the good news? Whether or not God gives Pastor, me, or you the gift of children someday, we are already blessed. Do you know why? Because when God kept His promise to Abraham and Sarah, He was also keeping His promise to us. Think about it. Isaac was born and then another child in the next generation and then another child in the next generation and on and on until Who was born?

Insightful Boy: Jesus.

Me: Exactly. In keeping His promise to give Abraham and Sarah a child, God was keeping His promise to give all of us the Child Jesus to save us from our sins. That’s why Pastor and I and you can rejoice even if we are never given the gift of another child.