Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
The calendar year 2016 is now rapidly coming to an end; soon we will enter the year of our Lord 2017 which will be marked by two anniversaries. With Lutherans throughout the world we will be celebrating the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, and here at Our Saviour Church will be celebrating the 125th anniversary of the founding of this congregation. Both anniversaries call us to remember, repent, and give thanks: to remember all God’s innumerable blessings, to repent of our indifference and ingratitude for those blessings, and to give thanks that God’s mercies are new to us every morning and that through His dear Son Jesus Christ our Lord He daily forgives our sins, sustains us by His Holy Spirit, and promises the light and joy of the world to come. Needless to say, we are beginning to make plans for the celebration of both anniversaries.
Now we find ourselves in the holy season of Advent, a time of self-examination and repentance, as we prepare for the celebration of our Saviour’s first coming in great humility as the Child of the Blessed Virgin Mary and also prepare for His coming again in glory to judge both the living and the dead. I suspect that we are all very much conscious of the devastating effects of human sin together with the wiles of the devil and of the despair which plagues countless human beings. In the light of those realities we Christians know that the hope which never puts to shame is found in the Saviour whose blood cleanses from all sin and through whose death and resurrection the door of heaven again stands open to all who place their trust in Him.
By way of contrast with the Roman Catholic Church the Lutheran Church does not require her members explicitly to confess their sins in the presence of the pastor. But the Lutheran Church does provide opportunity for the blessing of private confession and absolution. We learned in the Catechism: “Confession embraces two parts: one is that we confess our sins; the other, that we receive absolution, or forgiveness, from the pastor as from God Himself, and in no wise doubt, but firmly believe that by it our sins are forgiven before God in heaven. Which sins should we confess? Before God we should plead guilty of all sins, even of those which we do not know as we do in the Lord’s Prayer; but before the pastor we should confess those sins only which we know and feel in our hearts” (Luther’s Small Catechism) And we read in the Augsburg Confession: “It is taught among us that private absolution should be retained and not allowed to fall into disuse. However, in confession it is not necessary to enumerate all trespasses and sins, for this is impossible. Ps.19:12 ‘Who can discern his errors?'” (Augsburg Confession, Article XI). Dr. Luther himself regularly went to confession and said that without it the devil would easily have overcome him. The great blessing of private confession is the individual word of absolution. Consciences burdened with the memory of sin find release, peace, and hope. i am always available to hear confession. Since we now have a prayer desk with crucifix in the study we now have a place where confessions can be heard in strict privacy. If you have any questions about confession, do be in touch with me (firstname.lastname@example.org, 410.554.9994). To prepare for confession one can examine one’s conscience by reflecting on the Ten Commandments and their meaning as found in the Catechism.
At the November Voters Meeting it was decided upon the recommendation of the Church Council that Our Saviour apply for Historic Designation from our City’s Commission for Historical and Architectural Preservation. The application process will take a number of months but will almost certainly be complete before the end of the 125th Anniversary year.
Also at the Voters Meeting the Congregation accepted the Church Council’s recommendation for our Christmas services. Because Christmas Day and New Year’s Day come on Sunday this year there will as usual be Divine Service at 11:00 A.M. on both days, but the Adult Class and Sunday School will not meet. The Holy Night Communion of Christmas Eve will be celebrated this year at 7:30 P.M. The New Year’s Eve service will be omitted this year. And Christmastide will close with the Feast of the Epiphany of our Lord, Friday, January 6th; there will be a Festival Divine Service at 7:30 P.M. to which all the churches in our Circuit are invited. A reception will follow. There is a practical benefit in having Divine Service on Christmas morning and New Year’s morning. Some people are understandably reluctant to come out at night, so these daytime services provide them with an opportunity for worship. It surely goes without saying that every Christian who is able will wish to be at the Divine Service on the day of our Saviour’s birth: the Saviour once found wrapped in swaddling clothes now comes in the lowly bread and wine of His Sacrament.
Here are two passages from Christmas sermons of Dr. Luther.
“O thou boy, lying in the manger, thou art truly God who hast created me, and thou wilt not be wrathful with me because thou comest to me in this loving way – more loving cannot be imagined.”
“If you would truly love, let him be this way in your heart. If you regard the boy according to the flesh, he means nothing to you’ but much if this little Jesus is your God and Savior.”
Ponder these words of Dr. Luther as you prepare for your Christmas Communion and then come with joy to the Lord’s altar on the day of His birth.
Let us pray for one another, for the whole church, and for the whole world Christ came to save.
Affectionately in our Lord,