Friends in the Hymnal

2014-03-19 12.31.16When I was a kid, I used to page through the hymnal in church—often while sitting with my mom during choir practices. I remember looking for hymns written by men named Johann. It was noteworthy, then, when I came across a hymn whose text and tune were both written by men who shared a name with me. Until I was older, I had never met anyone else who had the same name I did. But I had friends in the hymnal. And as I have grown older, I have realized that I share much more with these men than a name.

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Advent Preaching by Cantata

By the end of December, I will have prepared and delivered fifteen sermons or devotions for services during this month. These are for our Sunday Divine Service, as well as Matins and Vespers services for Advent and Christmas.

But in the midst of a month of near constant preparation to preach, a preacher needs a few sermons, too. I have been able to find those in the church cantatas of Johann Sebastian Bach. I have become particularly attached to two cantatas for Advent, Nun komm, der Heiden Heiland (Savior of the Nations, Come) BWV 61 and Bereitet die Wege, bereitet die Bahn! BWV 132. The librettos for these works, one by Erdmann Neumeister (God’s Own Child I Gladly Say it) and the other by Salomo Franck are just incredible.

Both cantatas are on volume 7 of the collection of church cantatas by the Bach Collegium Japan. I highly recommend these recordings of all of Bach’s cantatas. [If I can figure it out, I'll add a widget to this post that will allow you to preview this album.]

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Of Course

It is, of course, by Jesus’ command that I was baptized.

–Bo Giertz, To Live with Christ

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Advent Dawn

I took this photo after getting to church on the morning of the first Sunday in Advent.

IMG_1107He comes to judge the nations,
A terror to his foes,
A light of consolations,
And blessed hope to those
Who love the Lord’s appearing.
O glorious Sun, now come,
Send forth your beams most cheering,
And guide us safely home.
(O Lord, How Shall I Meet You, CW 18, st 5)

The photo doesn’t capture the reds that colored the morning sky over El Paso. This is the other hymn that came to mind:

O’er the distant mountains breaking
Comes the redd’ning dawn of day.
Rise, my soul, from sleep awaking;
Rise and sing and watch and pray.
‘Tis your Savior, ‘Tis your Savior,
On his bright returning way.
(CW 220, st 1)

 

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It’s not Christmas yet! Why can’t they wait?

On my way home from church today I saw a Christmas tree in the window of one of the homes on our street. People who listen to the radio have told me that local stations have started playing Christmas music. Certainly, the marketing machine for the holiday shopping season is revved up and ready to move. The more patient among us wait until the Thanksgiving Turkey is carved to begin with all things Christmas—though December is not really Christmas. Neither, by the way, is Advent. Why is it that no one can wait for Christmas? Hermann Sasse once wrote:

The world cannot wait. It is in a hurry because its time is nearing its end. It must always immediately have it all, otherwise it is too late. The church can wait. She has learned to do so in the course of nineteen centuries (The Lonely Way I, p. 432).

Yes, perhaps that’s it.

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Latin and Ditches

I came across this little clip in an 1891 Yearbook for the Christian Home.

AdamsLatin and Ditches

John Adams, the second President of our land, used to relate the following anecdote:

“When I was still a boy, I had to learn the Latin Grammar, but I was lazy and hated the thing. My father wished to send me to college, and therefore I studied the Grammar, until I could no longer bear it. Then I went to my father and said to him that I had no desire to study, and asked him to direct me to another occupation. It was against his wishes but he was ready with an answer. “Well John,” he said, “if Latin Grammar does not suit you, you can try digging ditches, perhaps that will be better; my pasture over there needs a ditch, and you can set aside the Latin and try that.”

This seemed a delightful change, and off to the meadow I went. But I soon learned that ditch-digging is harder than Latin, and the first morning was the longest I ever experienced. That day I ate the bread of hard work, and I was glad when evening came. That night I made some comparison between Latin Grammar and ditch-digging, but didn’t say a word about it. I dug the next morning, and wanted to return to Latin by noon, but it was humiliating, and I couldn’t bear that. By the second night, weariness conquered my pride; and though it was the hardest test I had ever undergone, I finally brought myself to say to my father, that if he chose, I would go back to Latin Grammar. He was glad of it, and if I have since gained any distinction in the world, I owe it all to the two days of labor in that abominable ditch.”

 

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Should Parents Advise Children to Postpone Marriage?

A Facebook friend recently posted a link to an old Issues, etc. segment in which this question was discussed. It is no secret that the age at which people get married has risen dramatically in the last several decades. (See Pew Research Study.) It is also no secret that the entire institution of marriage is under attack.

But the question was specifically raised whether Christian parents should advise their children to postpone marriage—until they’re done with school, established in a career, had the chance to date more people, or simply until a more appropriate age. Follow the link and listen to the segment. Hearing this reminded me of a few quotes I ran across in Part III of Martin Chemnitz’ Examination of the Council of Trent. In this volume he addresses Chastity, Celibacy, and Virginity.

Satan seeks to attack marriage in every age.

Behold, however, with how much contention, with what tricks and traps the enemy of marriage labored in early times to introduce the superstitious opinion of celibacy into the church! (151)

Living under a vow of celibacy was viewed as superior to marriage. But the reformers pointed out that not everyone is able to live celibate, because it is a gift not given to everyone (Mt 19:11). In addition, many vows were made by force and at an early age. In this section, Chemnitz considers the process of deliberating whether to take a vow or to be married.

“Therefore also [St. Paul] does not entrust the deliberation to people of youthful age, a time when counsel, wisdom, circumspection, earnestness, and constancy are lacking, but wants it left and communicated to the parents or to wiser adults, who are able to judge this matter more correctly, maturely, and diligently. Nevertheless Paul limits the power of parents to this extent, that children cannot be destined either for marriage or for celibacy against their own feeling, will, and ability by command of their parents, but he states that the deliberation of the father is to be moderated and directed according to the intellect, will, ability, and inclination, or, as the Greek translators speak, the opinion and impulse of the daughter…

Furthermore, in this deliberation Paul also wants the age taken into consideration…Before the prime, when the bodies are still growing, and passions and secretions are not yet complete, and have not yet reached their high point, purity can be preserved with moderate diligence by the help of God. And to this diligence the young are to be exhorted…Parents should indeed guard a virgin until she is of age and teach her what is better. (83)

But what about when the body is grown, when it becomes apparent this person does not have a gift to remain unmarried, and wishes to be married?

Paul does not give parents tyrannical power so that they are able to forbid their children marriage and drive them into celibacy against their nature and will, regardless of whether they have the gift of continence or not. (141)

I wonder if the advice (or the culture’s conventional wisdom) to postpone marriage until education and career are established, presents a kind of modern day forced celibacy. Except it’s usually not by force. And in many cases, they’re not really celibate. And that causes problems.

The vow of continence drives nuns to horrible sins, such as the killing of aborted infants, the destruction of nature by medicines, lust toward one another, and other unmentionable acts. (205)

Chemnitz uses the same argument for marriage as the Augsburg Confession: “‘because of the temptation to sexual immorality, each man should have his own wife’ and ‘It is better to marry than to be aflame with passion’ (1 Corinthians 7:2, 9b). Second, Christ says, ‘Not everyone can receive this saying’ (Matthew 19:11), where He teaches that not everyone is able to lead a single life…Therefore, those who are not able to lead a single life ought to marry. No human law, no vow, can destroy God’s commandment and ordinance.” (AC XXIII)

Chemnitz and the reformers repeatedly claim that vows or rules or churchly customs do not supersede the ordinance of God in creation and God’s desire for his gifts to be used within marriage. It seems that a question for today might be whether cultural norms, higher education, or career aspirations now trump the words of our Lord and his Apostle?

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Matins

IMG_0870

Every Wednesday morning, we gather at church for Matins (Morning Praise). It’s usually a small group, and now in the summer it’s just been my kids. But we sing, listen, and pray. We use a recording for the music. We follow the order for Morning Praise from the hymnal. We use the readings and prayers from Treasury of Daily Prayer.

This morning’s Old Testament reading was from Proverbs 22, and included the famous verse: “Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it.” It’s quoted often and regularly printed on wall hangings and Christian artwork. But what does it actually look like? I suppose people have all kinds of ideas about what it means to bring up a child in the way of the Lord. But I, at least, hope that it looks like this: we sing, we listen, we pray. Morning hymn, Venite, Psalm, Lesson, Te Deum, Prayer. Certainly this is not all there is to raising children. But it’s a good way to start the day.

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The Way of the Baptized

A Christian is a person who begins to tread the way from this life to heaven the moment he is baptized, in the faith that Christ is henceforth the Way, the Truth, and the Life. And he holds to this way until his end. He is always found on this way and is led into the truth to obtain life, as one who already sees the shore where he is to land. He is prepared at all times, whether death comes today, tomorrow, or in one, two, or ten years; for in Christ he has already been transported to the other side. We cannot be safe from death for a minute; in Baptism all Christians begin to die, and they continue to die until they reach the grave.

–Martin Luther, on John 14:6 (LW 24, p. 51)

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Daily Prayer

Today I am reminded another reason why we have our school students begin every school day with this prayer.

I thank you, my heavenly Father, through Jesus Christ, your dear Son, that you have kept me this night harm and danger. Keep me this day also from sin and every evil, that all my doings and life may please you. Into your hands I commend my body and soul and all things. Let your holy angel be with me, that the wicked foe may have no power over me. Amen.

And when we say its evening counterpart at home before bed each night, I usually don’t dwell on the possible harm or danger that may come upon my loved ones—in the morning or evening. But I know there is evil, and harm, and danger which threatens them every day. I’m aware of that some days more than others. And I commend them into another’s hands. I cannot stop every evil. I cannot watch them at all times. But He can. And does.

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