Help, Lord; for the godly man ceaseth;
for the faithful fail from among the children of men. (Psalm 12,2)
Then said Jesus unto the twelve, Will ye also go away? Then Simon Peter answered him, Lord, to whom shall we go? thou hast the words of eternal life.
Today is the 1st Sunday after Epiphany. The Orthodox Church of the East celebrated Christmas this week. I am happy that even the Moscow Times has pictures of Russians celebrating this high and holy holiday of the Christian Church commemorating the Incarnation of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. There were pictures of President Putin, but also of children, families and entire congregations. What a change by the grace of God! It’s not so long ago that Russia (at that time called UDSSR – Sowjet Union – centre of bolshevik communism) was seen as the extreme bastion of atheism, godlessness and all sorts of evil. Probably quite a few of the faithful worldwide had serious doubts whether they were already past the point of no return, hopeless cases and written off. And now Christmas is celebrated not just as a commercial highlight to save a dismal year at the cashier and materialistic orgy, but as a high and holy Holiday of the Christ’s birth – he the Lord and saviour of the world. Hallelujah +
God helps and does incredible miracles and wonders even in our time and world. No doubt about that! He lives and reigns and does everything very well. We can just marvel at this and praise his holy name for he doesn’t cease to rule and reign. His goodness, mercy and love faileth never. On the contrary, whatever he has predestined and resolved, he carries out with unfailing purpose and trustworthiness. He’s true beyond fault. He is the source and goal of life. Sharing words of wisdom, truth and eternal salvation. Even today from countless pulpits throughout the world – in high and lowly places. Blessing, forgiving, vitalizing and encouraging people in the most unlikely venues, where he abides with his holy Word and most precious Sacraments. Granting peace, hope and love to people sitting in darkness and shadow of death – shedding light on their miserable existence, granting new life where people had failed again and again, were dejected and had already given up. He gives sanctuary and anchors our rocking boat even when the storms rage and the enemies are plentiful.
The Holy Spirit gathers and unites people from all corners of the world, from all spheres of society and from the most diverse and even opposing tribes and nations around Jesus Christ, in whom the trust and who has united them in himself – through efficacious Baptism and the proclamation of his holy will and vital promises. Not just kings from afar and from high and mighty thrones, but even lowly shepherds, pariahs, dalits and basarwa (outcasts, untouchables & non-people) and gathers them around his manger and around his cross and around his altar/font. They all look to him, expecting life and salvation from him, who is the Lord and God of all.
Yes, Herod doesn’t play along. Pilate stays aloof. Greeks scoff, Jews are furious, gentiles pre-occupied and atheists off-track. Many are offended at his exclusive demand: “Then Jesus said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink his blood, ye have no life in you.” (Joh 6:53ff) Yet, still the Son of God does not put an end to it all. He doesn’t just switch off the lights and departs in peace. No, he continues to invite: “Come to me all of you, who are burdened and heavily laden. I will give you rest!” And they come from the ends of the world – Caspar, Melchior and Balthasar – John, Peter, Paul, Carl, Ivan and Khumalo – Susan, Beauty and Mafikile, Kagiso and Netshiombo – and they all worship the baby in the manger, the child in the temple, the young man baptised by St. John at the Jordan, the preacher on the Mount, the special guest at the wedding of Cana, the healer, the bread giver, the Messiah, the suffering servant, the crucified and risen Lord + Marking his words of life, trusting his gospel promises, holding on to them as the foundation and goal of their life. And because he is faithful and does, what he says, therefore we will never be put to shame, but rather come to see, what we have here believed on account of his words of life. We will see, experience and live the life everlasting, which he has already granted us through his very words of forgiveness, grace and favour. Amen.
1 How lovely shines the Morning Star!
The nations see and hail afar
The light in Judah shining.
Thou David’s Son of Jacob’s race,
My Bridegroom and my King of Grace,
For Thee my heart is pining.
Great and glorious, Thou victorious
Prince of graces,
Filling all the heav’nly places.
2 O highest joy by mortals won,
True Son of God and Mary’s Son,
Thou high-born King of ages!
Thou art my heart’s most beauteous Flow’r,
And Thy blest Gospel’s saving pow’r
My raptured soul engages.
Thou mine, I Thine;
Sing hosanna! Heav’nly manna
Whilst Thy love in songs repeating.
3 Now richly to my waiting heart,
O Thou, my God, deign to impart
The grace of love undying.
In Thy blest body let me be,
E’en as the branch is in the tree,
Thy life my life supplying.
For the savor Of Thy favor;
Till I rest in Thee forever.
4 A pledge of peace from God I see
When Thy pure eyes are turned to me
To show me Thy good pleasure.
Jesus, Thy Spirit and Thy Word,
Thy body and Thy blood, afford
My soul its dearest treasure.
Keep me Kindly
In Thy favor, O my Savior!
Thou wilt cheer me;
Thy Word calls me to draw near Thee.
5 Thou, mighty Father, in Thy Son
Didst love me ere Thou hadst begun
This ancient world’s foundation.
Thy Son hath made a friend of me,
And when in spirit Him I see,
I joy in tribulation.
What bliss Is this!
He that liveth To me giveth
Nothing me from Him can sever.
6 Lift up the voice and strike the string.
Let all glad sounds of music ring
In God’s high praises blended.
Christ will be with me all the way,
Today, tomorrow, every day,
Till trav’ling days be ended.
Sing out, Ring out
Triumph glorious, O victorious,
Praise the God of your salvation.
7 Oh, joy to know that Thou, my Friend,
Art Lord, Beginning without end,
The First and Last, Eternal!
And Thou at length–O glorious grace!–
Wilt take me to that holy place,
The home of joys supernal.
Come and meet me! Quickly greet me!
With deep yearning,
Lord, I look for Thy returning.
Philipp Nicolai 1556-1608