Church Year Devotions

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.



This Lent I have been reading a book of Lenten sermons in my devotions. It is a collection of 18 sermons on the Passion History of our Lord. Actually, it’s just the first half. There must be a second volume. The sermons are by George Stöckhardt (1842–1913), a Lutheran pastor and professor who is often considered the greatest exegete in American Lutheranism. These sermons, much like so many of Stöckhardt’s sermons, are magnificent. I’m just amazed at the depth of insight and careful consideration of each word of the text. With 18 sermons on just half of the Passion History, each sermon is focused on just a sliver of the history, each just considers one aspect of the account. The one I’m reading right now is on Jesus’ prayer in the garden of Gethsemane. [The image below is from the cover of the book.]

Let me share with you part of the introduction to this series. This is a very rough translation (the book is in German and I don’t have a dictionary with me). [The image to the right is from the cover of the book.]

Passionpredigten"The Passion History makes the best Passion sermon. The entire Gospel is a preaching of the
crucified Christ, the Word of Atonement. In particular, the history of the suffering and death of Jesus Christ, as the Holy Spirit has given it to the holy Evangelists, the great Word of Atonement, is the core and substance of the gospel. And they are great, serious, powerful and at the same time highly comforting words, which are reported in this history. These words are clear and concise and they impress themselves on the heart and conscience. Whoever sees in them the calling of the Holy Spirit to his eyes, his soul, receives and enjoys the fruit of the passion of Jesus. Because these words are so great, so rich and deep, we approach them with care and correctness when we aim to preach and interpret them. We will get the right benefit from this interpretation, when we pay close attention to each individual phrase of the holy evangelists, and search out their sense and content. So we want to slowly, step by step, follow in the way of suffering marked out for our Lord and Savior in the passion history.

And on each step of the way of suffering, at each section of the passion history we want to mainly observe the following eight points."

Then he continues to list these eight points he says are critical to all "Christian preaching, and therefore all passion-preaching." Such preaching must also be a preaching of

  1. repentance
  2. faith
  3. sanctification
  4. love
  5. patience
  6. wisdom
  7. power
  8. comfort (for our life, suffering, and death)

Interspersed in this list he quotes several hymn stanzas, from some of the same hymns we sing today.

Reading these sermons have been terrifically helpful to me for my personal devotion this Lenten season. How about yours? What helps you the most to set the love of your Savior before your eyes and your heart during the Lenten season? If you wish, share your thoughts in the comments.


Rest in God Alone

It is customary for youth confirmands to receive their own “confirmation verse.” Sometimes the student choses their own passage; other times it is chosen for them. In any case, I think the passage is supposed to be a passage for the individual to make special application to their lives of faith as they make their confirmation vows and as they walk through life. When I was confirmed, we didn’t get to pick ours. We were told that they were chosen with each individual in mind. But I could never figure out why I got the one I did. It wasn’t a passage that I was very familiar with. It wasn’t one that seemed to obviously apply to me. (By 8th grade I already knew pretty well that I wanted to become a pastor. Maybe I was looking one more specific.)

I was assigned Psalm 62:1,2: “My soul finds rest in God alone; my salvation comes from him. He alone is my rock and my salvation; he is my fortress, I will never be shaken.”

It’s a wonderful passage, but it just didn’t jump out at me. It’s no Revelation 2:10 or Romans 8:28. And so I really didn’t latch on to it. If you asked me in high school, I probably wouldn’t have been able to tell you what my confirmation verse was (without looking it up in my Bible where it was highlighted).

This evening I was reading the section on Psalm 62 in the Psalms Devotional Commentary that I’m working through. And I thought to myself that this passage has become so much more dear to me now than it used to be. As I have grown more attached to the psalms and as I have grown a little older with just a few more experiences, I have found these words to be priceless: “My soul finds rest in God alone.”

There have been many times that some situation in life and ministry is really weighing on my mind and heart. Maybe it’s something a member is going through or said to me. Maybe it’s some issue at church or school that needs to be resolved somehow. Or maybe it’s some big project or task that’s coming up—either it’s behind schedule or it’s becoming harder than it seemed at first. All of these kind of things take their place in my heart and soul. I can’t simply leave them behind “at work” as though my work were just a job. When these kinds of things weigh heavy, it’s hard to shake them. It’s hard be relaxed, comfortable. These things can even hang on long into the night.

“My soul finds rest in God alone.” If I can come before God at the end of each day, and through Jesus Christ, find a welcome in his arms—does anything else really matter? Yes, those things all need to be dealt with and thought about and worked on, but in God—I need nothing. I don’t need to work to be with him. I don’t need to convince him to let me come. I don’t need to think about the right way to approach him. Only rest. And only in God. Only in Jesus.

So I now appreciate my confirmation verse. Now I add it to my ever-growing list of favorite psalms. And, interestingly enough, very often it’s the psalms to which I turn when I want to “find rest in God alone.”


Advent Wreaths

In my newsletter article this month I wrote about Advent wreaths and how they can be helpful for families as they prepare for Christmas. I thought I would point you to a few places you can purchase advent wreaths for yourself. Most local Christian bookstores that carry gifts and art will probably have them at this time of year, but if you’re inclined to look online…


Concordia Publishing House
Northwestern Publishing House


<A HREF=""> Widgets</A>