Saturday, December 19, 2009

Gifts and Satan and Candles and Menorahs

Christmas Break is here. I can finally sit back and take a breather myself for a few moments before things get nicely hectic with my children and four grandchildren in Little Rock. My “Second Family” of six children are off with their own families by now. We had a half-day at school yesterday following the annual Christmas Program, party, and gift exchange.

While having all the usual elements of a school Christmas Program, Pastor Sawyer’s sermon makes this rather something closer to a “Lutheran altar call.” He misses no chance to catechize parents in infant baptism, and this year presented a prime opportunity. Three of our students became older siblings recently. One of these infants is headed for Baptism; the other is sadly going to wait until he makes his own decision.

As pastor pointed out yesterday, the one thing that makes a gift a gift is that it is given. It surely can be accepted, rejected, exchanged, or returned, but the one thing a gift must be to be a gift is GIVEN. Even these tiny newborns will be given gifts this Christmas, some even from Santa.

Imagine a note from Santa:

“Dear Baby,

I have a gift for you, but you are too young to accept it or even understand why it is given to you or what it means. So I can’t give it to you until you are older.


Such a “Santa” might soon be known as “Satan.”

God through parents gives babies their first gift ever without them deciding that it should be theirs by accepting it. This is the gift of life. Babies are conceived and born without their permission. Can you imagine the poor mother whose child is slow in understanding what being born is all about or is not ready to accept his place in the world? “Mornin’ ma’am. How long’s it been you’ve rented that womb to your child? Eight years now?”

My Second Family understands this so clearly, primarily because they’ve been catechized every school day in the foundations of the Christian Faith, and by Christian I mean Lutheran. We pray the Catechism; we apply it to our lives in what we say and do. It becomes a part of who we are. By that it is the ABC’s of what we do and be.

The first week of Advent began as always. A young girl lights the menorah. In years when I have only boys, I will lights the candles. We read the passages to explain why we used this practice. In Jewish homes even now, Seder candles are lit by a female.
The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shined, Is 9:2.
God promised His Seed would come through a woman (Ge 3:15), so the darkness would be overcome by that Seed.

The continuity of the Old and New Testaments is made certain by Christ who said, You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, Jn 5:39. So, the Advent candle is lit from the menorah. John 1 identifies the Life who is Light of Men, (4-5); He is Creator (3,10); He is the Word of God(1); He is the Son of God who tabernacled among us(14).

And yet this Gift of God the Father was and is today rejected. John 1 says “the light shines forth and the darkness has not overcome it,” (5). Furthermore, even though He was in the world the world He created, His own creation and creatures “did not know did not recognize their own Creator (10). He came to His own people, and His own people did not receive Him, (11). Jesus spoke to the Jews of His day who claimed to be Children of Abraham doing what Abraham would do. “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life,”(8:11). Jesus told them that Abraham saw His day and rejoiced in it. There are some who have yet to do the same, but still claim to be Abraham’s Children. Others continue to lift up and look to Israel as a place of salvation for the world.

It is Christ who was lifted up for our sins. His Body and Blood is fed to us in the bread and wine He by which gives us Himself, and into our ears through which He comes by way of His words of forgiveness in the Absolution and preaching, and upon our heads in the water and Word. Rejection of God’s gift, or exchanging it for another results in a different way of salvation. “No thanks. No Jesus. I have another way.” Jesus told his hearers that those who rejected Him were of another father (8:44). My Second Family has no trouble at all understanding that anyone who does not have Christ as his Savior cannot have God as His Father; and where God the Father and His Son are, there the Holy Spirit is, too.

That took care of the first week. The second week dawned icon and one of my students asked, “What next? We need more.” So we searched about and one of them looked at the display of icons on the wall and said, “That one! We need to know that one means.” It was the Tree of Jesse icon. Jesse sleeps at the root, the Theotokos and her Son rest in the middle of the tree which springs from him. Twelve prophets sit in four branches, each holding an item identifying himself and his prophesy of Christ.

In the next few days I hope to write for you what was presented to my Second Family. A blessed Advent to you all!