Over the years I have written several "book" or "booklets" and many, many, many newsletter and bulletin articles. Because the book market seeks writings to meet specific needs at specific times, my material has never been accepted. I have a tendency to write what is on my mind and so I am left with self publishing. So, with the encouragement from my wife and others, I am beginning this blog in order to put my "ramblings" "out there"! I hope you enjoy!
Please note that while my intentions are to use good grammar, because of the way in which some of the material presented here is presented (orally) the grammar and syntax might not always be the best English. Also note that good theology is not always presented in the best English so there may be times when the proper grammar rules are purposely broken.
Thursday, December 24, 2015
Worship - Christmas Eve - December 24, 2015 - Text: Luke 4:16-20
This year during the season of Advent and following through to Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and New Years Eve we have been addressing a topic that may not seem too tied to the season of Advent, but as you have heard me say, during the seasons of Advent and Lent, since we do not have any appointed Lectionary readings the Pastor gets to do some topical preaching, so during this Advent season we have been addressing the topic and/or issue of how doctrine and practice relate, that is how we do what we believe. Last week we took up the topic of the building. Does God prescribe how we should build a church building? And what should a church building look like, especially as we keep in mind what we believe, teach and confess and how that should be seen in our church building. This evening we will address the subject of the worship service. Does the Bible speak to us about what our worship service should look like? If so, where and how? And how does that tie in with Christmas?
Does the Bible speak to us about worship? If so, where and how? We begin by defining two words, prescriptive and descriptive. To describe something is to tell what something looks like, for example, I might describe a box as having six sides. To prescribe something it to tell what something must look like when it is completed, for example, I might prescribe that a drawing of a triangle must have a right angle, a thirty degree angle and a sixty degree angle.
With those two definitions then, what we have in the Bible, more often than not, is not a prescription, not a telling us of how something must be, such as worship, rather what we more often have is a description of what is worship. About worship Luke writes, “16And he (Jesus) came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up. And as was his custom, he went to the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and he stood up to read. 17And the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written, 18“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, 19to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” 20And he rolled up the scroll and gave it back to the attendant and sat down. And the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him” (Luke 4:16-20). So, this description of a worship service entails a reading of Holy Scripture and a sermon. And yet, our service has a lot more to it than just those two parts.
In his book, “Christian Liturgy,” author Frank Senn traces our Lutheran liturgy back to the first century A.D., in other words he writes that the Divine Service we use today had its beginning at least back as far as close to Jesus’ day as he could trace it. Personally, I believe that our Divine Service can be traced back to the giving of the sacrificial system of worship in Leviticus. I must admit that I cannot prove my belief, but I believe there is enough evidence to show how this theory might be true. During our upcoming Lenten Season we will look at the parts of our liturgy and see how they may have been a part of the sacrificial system and how, now as they have been fulfilled in Christ, that we have the liturgy we have today.
Oh, and one thing you may have noticed or picked up on, I like to use the name “Divine Service” for our worship service rather than simply calling it “worship” because what we are doing is Divine, that is it is God service. First and foremost we come to be given to by God and then and only then are we moved to respond with songs and prayers and hymns of praise.
So, as we have been discussing aspects of our Christian life, we ask, “How does our worship reflect our beliefs?” You may want to follow along in your hymnal as we see how our liturgy does a wonderful job of teaching what we believe, teach and confess. Because Baptism is important we begin our Divine Service with a remembrance of our Baptism, that is we begin with the invocation. The invocation is just that, an invoking, an inviting of our God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit to come and be a part of our service, to come and give us the gifts He has to give.
Because we believe that forgiveness is important, indeed it is our greatest need, to be forgiven, we follow the invocation with our confession and our hearing the most wonderful words in the world, God’s absolution spoken through the mouth of the Pastor and as we learned and confessed in Luther’s Small Catechism when we hear the word of absolution through the mouth of the Pastor we can be certain that his words are the Words of God and we can be confident that our sins are forgiven. Knowing that our sins are forgiven, which is truly what motivates our confession, indeed we confess before God and each other all our sins in our general confession. Knowing that we do not keep track of our sins and that very often we do not even realizing we are sinning when we do sin, we confess together all our sins, those of thought, word and deed, sins of omission and commission. And, again, then we hear the most beautiful words in the world, the words of Gospel and sins forgiven and we know that our sins are forgiven.
Because the Word of God is important, actually because the Word of God gives the gifts it says it gives and does the things it says it does, gives faith, gives forgiveness, strengthens faith, gives eternal life and so on, because the Word of God is important we hear readings from the Bible, usually an Old Testament Lesson, an Epistle Lesson and a Gospel Lesson and if we are doubly blessed, they all actually relate to one another. And we hear a sermon which should expound on the Word of God which we heard, neither adding to it nor taking from it. Indeed, as we believe, teach and confess that the Lord works through means and in particular the means of His Word, His Word should and does permeate our Divine Service, as a matter of fact, you can find the references for all the responsive liturgical phrases listed beside the phrase, as we say back to God the very Word He has given us to say.
Because our response of faith is important we do respond. We respond by singing hymns, by offering our first fruits, tithes and offerings, and by offering our prayers. We offer prayers in faith that God will answer our prayers according to what He knows we need, according to what He knows is best for us and according to His good and gracious will.
Because the Lord’s Supper is important, indeed another means of grace, another way in which our Lord gives us the gifts He has to give we have the Lord’s Supper. We prepare ourselves and then we come to His table where in, with and under the bread we eat His body thus making His sacrifice a part of us. And in, with and under the wine we drink His Holy Blood, again, making His sacrifice a part of us. Thus, His perfect life becomes our perfect life. His perfect suffering and death become our perfect suffering and death. His perfect resurrection becomes our perfect resurrection and His perfect life eternal becomes our perfect eternal life.
Finally, we conclude with God’s Trinitarian blessing that is the Aaronic benediction, that blessing Aaron put on the children of Israel, which is a fitting blessing because by faith in Jesus we are indeed the new Israel. And so, as one of my professors so well put it, we worship best when we say back to God the very words that He has given us to say and that is exactly what we are doing in the Divine Service.
As we celebrate the birth of the Messiah, we celebrate that our whole Divine Service points us to Jesus whose birth we once again celebrate. From the invocation, inviting Jesus to bless and be with us; to our confession and hearing the words of forgiveness He paid for us; to hearing the Word proclaiming Him as our Savior; to our partaking of His body and blood, given and shed for us; we celebrate His birth, life, suffering, death and resurrection. And remember we are just now beginning our celebration for we do celebrate for twelve days, until Epiphany, which some have called the Gentile Christmas for that is the day we celebrate the first visit of Gentiles to see the new born King. Our whole Divine Service is permeated with that Word of God as well as with His means of grace, all of His means of grace so that through these very means of grace we are given the gifts that God has to give. And we are moved to respond with hymns pointing Jesus and to our faith in Jesus, God in flesh.
As always, our focus is on Jesus, His birth, His life, His suffering, death and resurrection, even His ascension and the sending of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost. We can and we do get it wrong. Human beings have been know to be wrong. But God is never wrong. He never gets it wrong. Thus we get it right when we point to Jesus, when we come to Jesus to be given the gifts He has to give. This evening that means especially celebrating the gift of the birth of Jesus, God in flesh who came to save us from our sins. Our response is simply to say, to Him be the glory, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.