Ours Paso

When we lived in California, our kids thought that our house was California. When we moved to Texas, we had to explain that other people also live in Texas, but they have a different number (house number).

Now, Isaiah says that we live in Ours Paso. If you don’t live in El Paso, you live in Yours Paso. We live in Ours Paso.

It’s kind of cute the way a two-year-old tries to express his understanding of places. But even if he doesn’t fully understand it all, he gets this: Ours Paso is the place we call ours, that is, it’s home.

Advent Wreath

About two weeks ago I emailed one of my members and asked if he would be interested in making a stand for an Advent wreath for church. I realized that it was a little late, but I thought I would ask anyway. This morning before 8:00, Kenny dropped off this gorgeous stand. I picked up the wreath at Hobby Lobby yesterday. The candles were ordered from Almy. I think that this piece is a fine addition to our chancel appointments, and that it will serve us well for many years.

Here is an excerpt from a post by Pastor Johnold Strey on the history of the Advent wreath:

I’ve heard from more than one Lutheran source that Martin Luther is assumed to be the “father” or “inventor” of the Advent wreath.  I suppose that makes for a nice story, especially if you’re a Lutheran, but unfortunately that doesn’t seem to be true.  The best theory about the Advent wreath’s origins that I’ve heard came from one of my liturgy classes at Santa Clara University.  The professor suggested that Advent wreaths originated in the colder climates of Northern Europe.   Men would remove the wheels of horse-drawn carriages just before winter set in, when snow and muddy conditions would make such travel difficult.  The wheels were brought inside, and possibly placed up in the rafters of houses.  Eventually the muddy wheels were decorated with evergreen boughs, then candles, and voila — the origins of the Advent wreath at the time of the year just before Christmas.

In time, the use of the Advent wreath became wide spread and moved from the home into the church. The general symbolism of the Advent wreath lies in the growing light of the wreath: each Sunday another candle from the wreath is lighted as we approach the birthday of Jesus, the Light of the world.  Advent wreaths have four candles around the circle, one for each Sunday of the Advent season.  Modern Advent wreaths frequently include a fifth candle, the white “Christ candle” in the center of the wreath, which is first lighted at worship on Christmas Eve.


Below is an article I originally wrote for my previous congregation’s newsletter. The article makes mention of the color blue for Advent. My current congregation still uses the traditional purple for Advent (which I actually prefer).
November 29 marks the beginning of a new church year. The first season of the church year is called Advent. The word advent means “coming.” So during Advent we focus on the coming of Jesus.
Advent primarily directs us to watch for Jesus to come again at the end of the world in power and glory to bring us to heaven. That is the reason our altar and pulpit are clothed in blue during these weeks. We lift up our heads during Advent to watch for our Savior to return “coming on the clouds.” Jesus will come to us!
Advent also points us to another advent of Jesus. This is the one most people have on their minds these days. In a stable in Bethlehem Jesus came to us. He came, not only to be with us and live with us, but to be one of us and to live for us. Jesus came to us!
The lowliness of Jesus’ first coming reminds us of the way he comes to each of us everyday. Just as Jesus came to earth wrapped in human flesh, wrapped in strips of cloths, Jesus comes to you wrapped in simple words—words of peace, joy, forgiveness. He comes in something as simple as water, which together with the Word washes away sin and joins us to our Savior. He comes to us in bread and wine, joined with Jesus’ own body and blood to give us a wondrous gift: the forgiveness of sins. Jesus comes to us!
Even though Jesus comes to us in a variety of ways, the way we celebrate them is the same. We look forward to Christmas in the same way we look forward to each time Jesus comes to us in his Word or in the Sacrament. In this same way we also look forward to Jesus’ coming at the end of the world. We wait with eager expectation for Jesus to come to us. Thus the great Advent prayer: Come, Lord Jesus.
But Advent is not an easy season to celebrate. The world tries to swallow it up with the commercialism and frenzy of “the holidays.” It’s not easy, but this year try to celebrate Advent. Here is one suggestion: pick an Advent hymn from the hymnal. These hymns expertly direct our thoughts to the coming of Jesus. Use this hymn to guide devotions with your family. Then, as a family, sing the hymn together and learn it.
Celebrate Advent. Celebrate Jesus’ coming. If you take the time to celebrate this season, your celebration of Christmas will be sweeter, because once the world has dispensed with Christmas, you can begin to marvel quietly at the most blessed gift of all—a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. Celebrate Christmas. Then don’t be in a rush to leave Christmas behind. Spend a few days pondering and thanking God for the miracle of Christmas itself (the church takes 12 days for this).
And so we begin the cycle again. We heard the story before—the story of salvation, the story of Jesus’ birth, life, suffering, death, and resurrection. We heard how Jesus continues to work in us, his church (in the season of Pentecost). Now we act like little children who have just finished our favorite book. “Read it again,” we say. God’s blessings to you as you celebrate Advent and Christmas. God’s blessings as you hear the story again.

Pastoral Companions

I have mentioned previously that there are two books upon which I rely heavily. They are the Christian Worship: Pastor’s Companion and the Lutheran Service Book: Pastoral Care Companion. Their titles suggest their purpose. These books are meant to go with a pastor as he ministers to his flock, especially the work he does outside the church building. These books regularly go with me to sick and shut-in calls, to home visits with members, outdoor weddings (I’ve had one), and any number of other occasions. Both of the volumes contain prayers, rites, scripture texts, and hymns for all these occasions and more.

You might ask the question, then: why two books? Especially if they basically contain the same material, and have the same purpose? Actually, I usually only carry one of them with me at a time. But i have found that each of the volumes has certain advantages over the other one in different areas.

The CW volume is, in many ways, more valuable because it is a companion volume to our synod’s hymnal. The language is the same as that in our hymnal. It uses the NIV for the Scripture sections. Many of the rites are the same as that in our hymnal. For my regular shut-in visits, I use a mini-booklet that includes a printout of the mini-service that we use to adorn the celebration of the sacrament with someone who is homebound. I would say that in general, this book is my default choice. It has a good selection of rites that would be useful outside of church. It has a good number of prayers, scripture texts, and hymns.

The weakness of the CW volume is found in some of the real strengths of the LSB Companion, by comparison. Here are a few:

  • Pastor’s Prayers of Preparation: There are 11 pages of prayers specifically for the pastor as he prepares to function as Seelsorger in various situations. The CW version also has pastor’s prayers, but they are less specific.There is a Daily Prayer based on the Lord’s Prayer, a couple prayers by Aquinas, and several others, but all of them are much more general than I’m looking for. The LSB version has prayers for preparing for specific pastoral acts, which I find quite useful.
  • Resources for Pastoral Care: This is the largest section of the book, and the section I find the most valuable. It lists resources—psalms, prayers, readings—by the particular situation in which a pastor might find himself and those whom he wishes to serve. It pretty much has every situation you can think of. And some you wouldn’t have, but you would be glad for this book if it ever came up. The CW book has many of these same resources, but they’re spread out in different sections. There is a rite for ministry to the sick and homebound. There is a section for devotions, which are not terribly useful. There is a section for prayers by situation. Then there is the scripture reading section, and the hymn section. If I’m visiting someone who is sick, the CW Companion is not that useful to me. If I already know what I’m going to read with them, and have to dig around for it, I might as well just use my Bible (which I often have anyway). When visiting the sick, the layout of the LSB Companion is much more useful to make use of the resources that are there, and all of the resources for a particular situation are all in one place. This is especially useful when the situation isn’t exactly what you thought it was. Perhaps you call on someone who is sick, but you find that they are really struggling with depression or even despair. Most pastors can probably think on their feet well enough to adjust their conversation and guidance from the Word of God, but it may also be useful to have some help. The LSB Companion is, in my opinion, better designed for this kind of help.
  • Texts in German and Spanish: This strikes me as the kind of thing that is useful in a situation which you weren’t expecting. And while I can function pretty well in German, I would be unable to speak much more than a few memorized hymns and prayers. And my Spanish has a long ways to go at this point. But I can imagine  a few situations where having just a few texts at hand (Lord’s Prayer, Creed, Benediction, etc) in these languages could come in handy.

One of the downsides to the LSB volume is that, like other CPH publications, it uses the ESV. I’ll save an evaluation of the ESV for another time, but the fact is that I have grown so accustomed to the NIV that I struggle to make good use of the ESV sections. Many of the rites are usable, but not those which I use in conjunction with the hymnal. There are hymn stanzas in the companion, but the translation is different often enough to make it awkward.

So what do I do? Lately, I’ve been keeping both books close at hand. In general, I take my CW companion on all regular shut-in calls or any situations when I know what I’m dealing with. But for sick and hospital calls, I like the flexibility of the LSB resources. I feel like I’ll have better luck finding what I’m looking for if I need to quickly thumb through the book to find a good prayer for this or that.

Another way I have used it is to prepare for my calls. I’ll use the LSB book to look up the situation I think I’m dealing with and use that to form my devotions and prayers. In that case, I might not even bring it along. But I probably will, just in case. I’ll probably keep both volumes close at hand, and use each for its advantages.

What I would really love is to have one book which was the best of both worlds (or books). My best chance of that will probably have to at least wait until 2023, when the next WELS hymnal is scheduled to be published. Hopefully we won’t have to wait 11 years after the hymnal this time. (CW was published in 1993, the Pastor’s Companion in 2004.) But I am also hopeful that some of these content and organizational benefits and advantages of the LSB Pastoral Care Companion might somehow be incorporated into a new companion.

Keep watch

Keep watch, dear Lord, with those who watch or work or weep this night, and give your angels charge over those who sleep. Tend the sick, give rest to the weary, pity the afflicted, soothe the suffering, bless the dying–and all for your love’s sake. Amen.

I have used this prayer on many evenings. But I can’t think of another time when I have been able put names and faces on nearly every phrase of the prayer.