Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Christ's Mass

We are still savoring the richness of a Gift-filled Christ Mass down south of the Magnolia Curtain.

On the eve of His Nativity the children and adult choirs combined to sing the Quempas (LW 54) following the celebration of the Mass. For those unfamiliar with this hymn, four choirs sing station themselves in four corners of the church. The prelude to each verse is sung by these choirs in alternating parts. The choirs rotate throughout the church. This signifies the Gospel being preached throughout the four corners of the earth.

On Christ Mass Day, Christ's Nativity was celebrated with Luther's German Mass (DS 3). Frankincense and myrrh filled the air as we sang "Isaiah, Mighty Seer Of Old" (LW 213). While censing the altar is a means to remind the people of Christ's Real Presence, at Christ Mass it also serves to remind us of the gifts given at Epiphany. Frankincense and myrrh are used at death to prepare bodies for burial. So, as Pr. Sawyer preached, "It is not Jesus' birth which saves."

The smell of incense at the celebration of Christ's birth also directs attention to Good Friday, the day when salvation was accomplished for our sakes as Christ's Body was torn and His Blood was shed. That very Body and Blood was on the altar for us once more. Further, incense recalls the first Easter, for these were most likely the spices the women brought with them when they found the empty tomb of the risen Lord.

To speak of Easter is to remember Good Friday services when we will again see our Christ Mass tree. By then the Epiphany bonfire will have consumed its branches. Its trunk will be formed into a cross. Another Mass will be celebrated that night, during which pastor will carry the cross to the four corners of the church and say, "Behold the life-giving cross on which was hung the Salvation of the whole world!"

Thus, the by Quempas and the carrying of the Christ Mass cross on Good Friday, Christ's birth and death is re-enacted liturgically. One is completed in the other; each is built upon and anticipates what comes before, and after (Eph 1, Rv 13.8). This is not only a "re-presentation." This Christ who comes to us in His Word and Sacrament. This is the very Christ who is seated at the right hand of the Father and lives among us.

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Bearing All

Howie sent me these pictures. He tells me I don't have near the problems I think I have.

He's right. I only have racoons and squirrels.

Saturday, December 24, 2005

Home Again!

He’s home from Iraq!

Home in Mannheim, that is. Still, that is where home is, because that is where Cindy and Emi are.

Another family from our congregation celebrates the return of a husband and father from Iraq.

Tonight Christ's Mass.

Tomorrow Christ Mass.

It is good!

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Nicks 'n Tags

Aw, maaaaaan…! Five random facts about Ste. Em ‘cuz the son of Rusty Britches tagged me…

  1. I prefer Tequila to beer. I take it the way I like my theology: barenekked with no amendments. Salt and lime are for sissies.

  1. I still have all my marbles. They are in a green glass dish on my desk in my study.

  1. I can change out the guts of a toilet and seat a faucet. I can also hang a light fixture, re-wire a lamp, install or change a junction box, and change out a light switch. Then I can knit you a sweater or even crochet you a doily to set that newly re-wired lamp on- but don’t expect it.

  1. I was not raised in this country, at least not entirely. However, I am an American.

  1. We celebrate St. Nick’s Day in my house, and so do my children in their homes. In fact, we now do the same at school. The students hear the story of St. Nicholas, and then leave their shoes out to be filled with gold coin candies and fruit. When my children were growing up they also received a Christmas ornament. This tradition was begun with my mother while we were in Germany. I’d like to take it as far as slapping blatant and unrepentant Arians, but my Bishop is working hard at making a lady out of me and I am (reluctantly) cooperating.

Now, to tag… D’trini, Cholak, Glen, My Watery Cubbies Friend, and Lisa.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Joseph Reveals a Witch

My first class of students was a tough crowd. There were seven of them, four boys, and three girls. All of them had come out of our school system; four of them had known only Carolyn Sawyer as a teacher. Now they had me.

A Carolyn Sawyer I am not. She is the picture of gentle, cheerful patience. She has spent her teaching career around young children. I had spent years around ornery professional and Southeastern Conference tennis players and coaches as a tennis official before certifying as a Deaconess. The approach and style in handling each class of people is markedly different. To say I was out of my element is like putting Tobasco Sauce where tomato juice is expected.

There was no question how much my students liked me, or me them. One loved me because “your legs feel like my granny’s.” (Remind myself to wear slacks from now on.) Another adored me because “your dress smells so wonderful.” (I’ll be sure to buy that softener again.) Still another couldn’t stay off my lap in chapel. (Jiminey! What gorgeous eyes she has.) One grabbed me and hugged me every time I came within two feet of his desk. (Three years later he still sneaks one in when the others aren’t looking.) If I dropped an eraser or marker, I had four boys at my feet grabbing it. (Amazingly, the girls were not so eager to be chivalrous.) However, they had quite a conundrum tossing about in their minds.

While they liked me, what they didn’t appreciate was that I was increasingly getting the way of their way of doing things. I knew some of them were trying to take me for a ride. A fish I am not. Common sense told me that much of what they were trying to tell me as “that’s the way we’ve always done it” was logical only to a seven-year-old trying to get away with something.

It was often comical to see the expressions on their faces when they realized that Mrs. Sawyer and Deaconess Carder actually talked to each other about what is or is not the right and proper way of doing things. A finer set of “Push-me-pull-yous” I’ve never encountered. Too, they were actually in league with each other! What one suggested as proper another would confirm with nary a batted eye. Often after I consulted Carolyn regarding their suggestions, she would give them one look with a tilt of her head and they would melt.

So by Wednesday of my second week of teaching Joseph finally asked the pertinent question.

“Do you even like kids?”

“Sure,” I answered. “Fried.”

They all screamed, and then giggled. “Oh! She’s a witch! Watch out.”

The “witch game” played out for several weeks, even to the point of, “Watch out! Step out of line and you’ll have to come home with me. Those who go home with me never come back.”

This broke the ice as they gained insight into my sense of humor, which Matt eventually rightly called “quirky.”

Joseph wasn’t sure it was only a sense of humor. He thought there might be an element of truth lurking behind the notion I might be a witch. After all, I had a strange taste in food. I ate pimiento-cheese sandwiches. He reckoned that anyone who ate that stuff had to be abnormal.

Finally one day he strode into class, plomped in his desk, crossed his arms, and grinned confidently. “I know you ain’t a witch, and I can prove it.” The gauntlet had been tossed.

“OK,” I replied. I’ve faced Patrick McEnroe on a bad day, and stared down Andre Agassi on a good one. This pint-sized challenger was nothing. I could handle him. This was going to be good. “How do you know that I’m not a witch?”

“Well,” he said, “when witches dress up so they don’t look like witches, they always dress up like young, beautiful women. You aren’t. So you ain’t one.”

Made my day! That year for my birthday I brought a right proper witch’s snack for my crew, sardines and pickled okra. They had cupcakes for dessert. As per the practice of the school, each student sampled the sardines and pickled okra, even if only with the teensiest bite, before moving on to the cupcakes. Two found they even liked the sardines.

Saturday, December 03, 2005

Eve Defense

Then the man said, “The woman whom You gave to be with me, she gave me of the tree, and I ate.” Gen 3.12

They had been instructed to wait, hands to themselves, lips zipped. Three obeyed, two did not. I could tell not only by the giggling that the request had been disobeyed, but also who the culprits were.

“Joseph, Matt... would you like to explain yourselves?”

“Matt started it.”

“Nuh-uuuh! I was minding my own business when he...”

We teach the students to confess their own sins, so I cut them off at the pass. “Wait just a minute there, you two. I don’t want to hear from either one of you what the other guy did. I want to hear from Joseph what Joseph did, and from Matt what Matt did.”

“Well, Matt tickled me first...”

“No, I didn’t! Joseph...”

This was going nowhere fast. “OK. All I can tell from this business is that two boys have sentences to write during recess.” They glared at each other. Knowing the two boys as well as I do and the attendant demeanor of both, I could well surmise exactly who started what. Still, it didn't matter.

Our school building isn't large. Noise carries. The younger class has their story time and takes naps after lunch. We have learned to be quiet passing their room. It is a matter of being considerate for one's neighbor.

The previous year the entire class was lined up after lunch, ready to go back to class. I was called away from the group for a moment or two. When I returned, only Jacob was standing quietly in line. Four boys and two girls were giggling and tickling each other down the hallway. Jacob and I watched them silently, when suddenly one and then another realized we were doing so. There was a mad dash back to the line as they reformed as they were in the first place.

When we returned to the room, a distance of roughly fifteen feet, I quickly wrote six names on the board. How the heavens resounded with pleas for mercy! None was guilty, yet each named the other as fault. “I will not be a follower” was the sentence each wrote, one for each year of age. It became their mantra for reminding themselves to stay away from trouble. If another starts something, the best way to “include yourself out” is to not be a follower. Yet, here were two of the original culprits in that escapade at it again. Par for the course.

Normally an offense involves writing an appropriate sentence plus the First Commandment and whatever other Commandment has been transgressed. The students are accustomed to this procedure, so when I gave Joseph his assignment he was perplexed.

When Joseph completed his assignment, he read them to me.

“Even if others do what is wrong, I will do what is right.”

“And lead us not into temptation.

What does this mean?

God tempts no one. We pray in this petition that God would guard and keep us so that the devil, the world, and our sinful nature may not deceive us or mislead us into false belief, despair, and other great shame and vice. Although we are attacked by these things, we pray that we may finally overcome them and win the victory.”

“Joseph,” I asked, “have you figured out yet why I had you write that section of the Catechism?”


“How did you get into trouble.”

“Well, Matt....”

I cut him short. “Are you still trying to use the Eve defense?”

“The what?”

“The Eve defense. Don’t you remember what Adam said to God when He went looking for Adam and Eve after they ate from the Tree?”

“Sure. Adam said Eve made him do it.”

“Right, Joseph. But he said something else, too. Remember that God said His creation wasn’t good without a woman for the man, so He made Eve and gave her to Adam. Then when Adam and Eve sinned, Adam said, ‘That woman You gave me...’ So who was Adam blaming the first sin on?”

This was a tough question. Joseph had to stare at the ground and draw circles a bit with his toe before he finally said, “Jesus. I mean, God. He was really blaming God. Wishing He hadn’t created Eve.”

“That’s right. So when you blame Matt for something you should have done...”

This time Joseph cut me off short. He rolled his eyes with the dawning of revelation. “Oh man! I gotta apologize to Matt! Hey, Deaconess, I am really sorry!”

“Joseph, Jesus has already forgiven you. Me, too. Go, now, and play in peace.”

We like our excuses and blame-games. They are the familiar trappings we crawl behind when the fig leaves with which we have constructed coverings for ourselves begin to shrivel and crumble. Jesus will have none of that. Instead whenever He shows up He “makes all men sinners,” as Luther would say. But in learning to say, “I am the sinner,” to strip away the fig leaves and the pretensions, to become finally completely naked once more before God and tell Him what He already knows- What? Was He asleep or on vacation as we sinned?- is to at last receive the clothing He would give us: Christ’s righteousness. Jesus takes our sin from us in order to clothe us in Himself. This is what a life in Baptism is.