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The Real War On Christmas (December 2017)

We're all familiar, I'm sure, with the "War on Christmas." Companies instruct their employees to say "Happy holidays" rather than "Merry Christmas." Religious symbols are removed from decorations. Manger scenes filled with the baby Jesus, shepherds, and wise men are replaced with images of the north pole filled with Santa Claus, reindeer, and elves. The battle rages on, year after year, as Christians stubbornly try to "keep Christ in Christmas."

But there is another "War on Christmas" that is rarely reported on and, to all appearances, seems to be one that the church has completly lost. I'm referring to the death of Advent. We complain about Christmas promotions starting earlier and earlier each year but we've lost track of the fact that Christmas is a season that begins on December 25th and doesn't end until Epiphany on January 6. 

Not only won't you hear songs like "Jingle Bells" and "Santa Claus Is Coming to Town" in the church, for those of us who observe the season of Advent, you won't even hear "O Come, All Ye Faithful" or "Hark the Herald Angels Sing" during the months of November and December, you'll hear "O Come, O Come, Emmanuel" and "Hark the Glad Sound, the Savior Comes." You certainly won't hear "Away in a Manger" or "Silent Night." Rather, you'll hear "On Jordan's Bank the Baptist's Cry" and "Savior of the Nations, Come" because that's where our focus will be: waiting and anticipating His coming.

This is no small task, watching and praying. Again and again, as our Lord teaches us about His second coming-- His return on the Last Day to judge the living and the dead-- it is often connected to a warning: "Watch and Pray." Watch and pray so that the day does not catch you by surprise. The people in Noah's day, for example, were going about their lives quite peacefully-- "marrying and giving in marriage"-- right up until the day that the flood came upon them. They were not ready. 

And so we hear again the stories of God's people who, for centuries, waited anxiously/patiently for the Messiah to be born. We hear the voices of people like Mary who were not caught unprepared and people like John the Baptist's father, Zechariah, who were. We hear the message of John the Baptist, himself, who was sent to "prepare the way of the Lord." We hear these stories and we are reminded to watch and we learn to pray with patience as well as anxious anticipation. And, like the saints of 99.9999% of history we pray, "Come quickly, Lord Jesus." 

And then we celebrate. We rejoice along with Mary and Joseph; we join in the songs of the angels; we are reminded, along with the Wise Men. We make the song of Simeon our own, "Lord, now you let your servant depart in peace, according to Your word, for my eyes have seen your salvation which you have prepared before the face of all people." We celebrate, because He comes to us still today-- in baptism, in bread and wine-- and we prepare ourselves for the Final Celebration when He will come and take us to be with Him forever. 

Advent is a season rich in meaning. Whether or not you wait to put up decorations until Christmas eve, as so many Christians have done in the past, don't let Advent become buried under an avalance of lights, ornaments, presents, and ugly sweaters. Observe Advent. Celebrate the season of watching and waiting. And, most importantly, learn to watch and pray.

Advent Blessings,

Pastor Stolarczyk

Beginning or End? (November 2017)

nullAfter two years of preparation, week after week of reviewing Bible verses, Sunday after Sunday of re-learning parts of the catechism, the 500th anniversary of the Reformation has arrived and been celebrated in fine style. What a joy to be able to share this milestone with you!

One question: Was our celebration the end or the beginning?

Like most things in life, I suppose the answer is 'both.' As the saying goes, every end is also a beginning. That's certainly true in this case.

It's the end of the focused time of preparation. It's the end of a particular Bible verse or section of the catechism for a month at a time. It's the end of the circuit-wide Reformation hymns of the month. But, hopefully, it's also the beginning. It certainly was, historically. The event that we've just celebrated wasn't the end of Luther's efforts, but the beginning. To be honest, based on the 95 Theses themselves, Luther wasn't actually quite 'Lutheran' yet. It did, however, mark the beginning of a movement that would have an enormous impact.

I'd like to think that it's also the beginning for us, as well. Think about all that we did to prepare for the day: we reconnected with God's Word, we rediscovered the catechism-- a fantastic presentation of the essential truths of God's Word-- and we reclaimed a bit of our Lutheran heritage by learning a number of hymns. If we allow those things to pass out of our lives, then we have serious problems. Why do we treasure our Lutheran heritage? Because Lutheranism is all about remaining focused completely and solely on Jesus Christ. Why is the catechism such a treasure? Because it so beautifully brings us the core and essence of God's Word: Jesus Christ. Why is God's Word so crucial? Actually, I'm pretty sure I don't need to even answer that question for you. You know very well that God's Word is how the Holy Spirit creates and sustains faith in us.

It's the beginning, in part, because we're not done talking about the Reformation quite yet. But, most importantly, it's a beginning because the things we celebrated are-- and always should be-- at the core of who we are as God's people. 

Finally, let me leave you with one final thought: Only about 10 years until we start preparing for the 500th Anniversary of Luther's Small Catechism! 

-- Pastor Stolarczyk