The Season of Epiphany begins with the magi. The epiphany (or manifestation) of Christ to them through the appearance of the star is the first in a series of manifestations which unfold the next few weeks in the life of the Church. Unfortunately, the biblical account concerning the Magi (Matt. 2:1-12) has been so mythologized that the actual message of Epiphany has become obscured. They did not crowd around the manager on Christmas night, together with the shepherds, angels, all manner of farm animals, and a drummer-boy or two. We’re not told they were kings; we don’t know that there were three of them. It is unlikely that they travelled from the orient (at least not as we understand it). Even the appearance of the star has been elaborated over the years. The idea of a guiding light proceeding just a head of them, leading them step by step all the way from the east past “field and fountain, moor and mountain” doesn’t really fit the biblical picture.
In actual fact, we know very little about these “eastern sages”. There has been much scholarly speculation about them, some of it more helpful than others. But in the end, what we do know about them is enough. What has tremendous significance for each of us is not so much who they were or where they came from, but what they did in Bethlehem: they recognised Christ and responded in worship and faith. What St. Matthew does for us in their story is to bid us to do the same—we who are from much further away and who would certainly have been an even stranger appearance in Bethlehem. We are called by the Spirit to recognize who this Jesus is, and respond in worship and faith.
“O Morning Star”—one of the greatest Lutheran chorales ever written—gets it right. Every stanza is about Christ and his manifestation among us in mercy, in grace, through the word and sacraments, amid every station or season or situation in life. May we be made wise through the Spirit, not to be who the magi were, but to do as they did. And may his epiphany shine in our hearts to bring forth music, worship and praise until we are brought to “that happy place beyond all tears and sinning!”
O Morning Star, How Fair and Bright
Lutheran Service Book 395
O Morning Star, how fair and bright!
You shine with God’s own truth and light,
Aglow with grace and mercy!
Of Jacob’s race, King David’s son,
Our Lord and master, You have won
Our hearts to serve You only!
Great and glorious,
Rich in blessing!
Rule and might o’er all possessing!
Come, heavenly Bridegroom, Light divine,
and deep within our hearts now shine;
There light a flame undying!
In Your one body let us be
As living branches of a tree,
Your life our lives supplying.
Now, though daily
Earth’s deep sadness
May perplex us
And distress us,
Yet with heavenly joy You bless us.
Lord, when You look on us in love,
At once there falls from God above
A ray of purest pleasure.
Your Word and Spirit, flesh and blood
Refresh our souls with heavenly food.
You are our dearest treasure!
Let Your mercy
Warm and cheer us!
O draw near us!
For You teach us
God’s own love through You has reached us.
Almighty Father, in Your Son
You loved us when not yet begun
Was this old earth’s foundation!
Your Son has ransomed us in love
To live in Him here and above;
This is Your great salvation.
Christ the living,
To us giving
Keeps us Yours and fails us never!
O let the harps break forth in sound!
Our joy be all with music crowned,
Our voices gladly blending!
For Christ goes with us all the way—
Today, tomorrow, every day!
His love is never ending!
Sing out! Ring out!
Tell the story!
Great is He, the King of Glory!
What joy to know, when life is past,
The Lord we love is first and last,
The end and the beginning!
He will one day, oh, glorious grace,
Transport us to that happy place
Beyond all tears and sinning!
Come, Lord Jesus!
Crown of gladness!
We are yearning
For the day of Your returning!
Text: Philipp Nicolai, 1556-1608; tr. Lutheran Book of Worship, 1978, alt.
Tune: Philipp Nicolai, 1556-1608
Setting: Choralbuch zum Evangelischen Kirchensangbuch, Berlin, 1955
WIE SCHÖN LEUCHTET
Text: © 1978 Lutheran Book of Worship
Tune: Public domain; setting: © 1955 Verlag Merseburger
John the Baptist is a strangely counter-cultural figure for our world this time of year. While the shopping malls feature elves, reindeer and Santas, we’re stuck with a crazed prophet who wears camel-skins and eats bugs, all the while bellowing from the wilderness, “Repent!” Not the best marketing strategy, most would say. He’s not quite the church’s version of “Bah, humbug!”, but he sure feels like it sometimes.
But we can’t get to the baby Jesus unless we get through John. The course of Advent takes us near the Jordan for good reason. John stands as a reminder of the sin from which the Christ child saves us; of the darkness which His light dispels; of the bondage from which we are freed. John’s message of repentance and preparation means an honest acknowledgment of the brokenness of our lives and of our world. Without an acknowledgement of sin—without a realization of the many ways we have fallen short—the Christmas message deteriorates into just one more competing sentimentality at the shopping mall (i.e., “our Christmas image is more endearing than yours!”)
But amid John’s call of making our hearts, our lives, our world “straight” the Church passes through repentance to faith: He was named Jesus because he would save his people from their sin. In the body of this little babe, God Himself descends into our tangled lives of ill-repair and brings freedom, life, light and healing. This is precisely why the hymn writer can say that Christ’s “Advent sets thy people free”—there is freedom in both the acknowledgment of sin, as well as the knowledge that it has been forgiven.
Rev. Dr. Jeffrey Leininger, Campus Pastor
“On Jordan’s Bank the Baptist’s Cry” Lutheran Service Book #344
1 On Jordan's bank the Baptist's cry
Announces that the Lord is nigh;
Awake and hearken, for he brings
Glad tidings of the King of kings!
2 Then cleansed be ev'ry life from sin;
Make straight the way for God within,
And let us all our hearts prepare
For Christ to come and enter there.
3 We hail Thee as our Savior, Lord,
Our refuge and our great reward;
Without Thy grace we waste away
Like flow'rs that wither and decay.
4 Lay on the sick Thy healing hand
And make the fallen strong to stand;
Show us the glory of Thy face
Till beauty springs in ev'ry place.
5 All praise, eternal Son, to Thee
Whose advent sets Thy people free,
Whom with the Father we adore
And Holy Spirit evermore.
Text. Charles Coffin, 1676-1749; tr. composite
Tune: adapt. Michael Praetorius, 1571-1621; setting George R. Woodward, 1848-1934
Text and music: Public domain
It is a strange feature of Advent that the Church continues to ask God for that which He has already given us. For example, the first line of the ancient hymn, “Savior of the Nations, Come” prays that God would fulfill His promises in sending the Messiah to be born of the Virgin—an event which has obviously already occurred. The hymn-text is attributed to Ambrose of Milan, the Christian Bishop who lived over three centuries after the birth of Christ. Certainly St. Ambrose was aware that God had already sent Jesus into the world! Yet, he places this sung-prayer on our lips in order to help us understand one of the great mysteries of the Faith: though Christ has already come, yet he is coming again; though he’s here, he’s still arriving.
In the season of Advent the Church steps- back for a few weeks to a time of waiting. We stand with those of the Old Covenant who looked to the coming of the Messiah in hopeful expectation—those who relied on the promise that God would one day break-though the darkness of this world in the Light of Christ. Yet, we also simultaneously stand on our own shore, longing for the time when Christ will finally come as judge and ruler of all things, at the consummation of the age.
Perhaps even more importantly, the promises of God always remain “now and not-yet”, so long as we are in this world. We believe in confidence that God intervened in this world through the incarnation, death and resurrection of His son, Jesus. And yet, we pray that He would continue to intervene in our lives through His word and sacraments, revealing Himself anew and “arriving” again in His promise-filled presence in the life of the Church. This is what it means to be “Advent” people: all God has to give has already been given in Christ; yet we pray that He would continue to give through His Spirit, in new ways, in new circumstances, in His newly remade people. That’s why the Church will always pray, “Come Lord Jesus.”
Rev. Dr. Jeffrey Leininger, Campus Pastor
“Savior of the Nations, Come”
Lutheran Service Book #332
1. Savior of the nations, come,
Virgin's Son, make here Your home!|
Marvel now, O heaven and earth,
That the Lord chose such a birth.
2. Not by human flesh and blood,
By the Spirit of our God,
Was the Word of God made flesh--
Woman's Offspring, pure and fresh.
3. Here a maid was found with child,
Yet remained a virgin mild.
In her womb this truth was shown:
God was there upon His throne.
4. Then stepped forth the Lord of all
From His pure and kingly hall;
God of God, yet fully man,
His heroic course began.
5. God the Father was His source,
Back to God He ran His course.
Into hell His road went down.
Back then to His throne and crown.
6. For You are the Father’s Son
Who in flesh the vict’ry won.
By Your mighty pow’r make whole
All our ills of flesh and soul.
7. From the manger newborn light
Shines in glory through the night.
Darkness there no more resides;
In this light faith now abides.
8. Glory to the Father sing,
Glory to the Son, our King,
Glory to the Spirit be
Now and through eternity.
Text: attr. Ambrose of Milan, 340-397; German version, Martin Luther, 1483-1546;
tr. William M. Reynolds, 1812-76, sts. 1-2; tr. Lutheran Service Book, 2006, sts. 3, 6; tr. Samuel Janzow, 1913-2001, sts. 4-5, 8; tr. Gifford A. Grobien, b. 1973, st. 7
Tune: Geystliche gesangk Buchleyn, Wittenberg, 1524, ed. Johann Walter; setting: Lutheran Service Book, 2006
Text (sts. 1-2) and tune: Public domain; (sts. 4-5, 8): © 1978 Concordia Publishing House
Text (sts. 3, 6-7) and setting: © 2006 Concordia Publishing House
NUN KOMM DER HEIDEN HEILAND