Year C – Fourth Sunday of Epiphany – Malachi 3:1–4

Mal 3:1–4 NRSV – “See, I am sending my messenger to prepare the way before me, and the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple. The messenger of the covenant in whom you delight—indeed, he is coming, says the LORD of hosts. 2 But who can endure the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appears? For he is like a refiner’s fire and like fullers’ soap; 3 he will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver, and he will purify the descendants of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, until they present offerings to the LORD in righteousness. 4 Then the offering of Judah and Jerusalem will be pleasing to the LORD as in the days of old and as in former years.”

Summary – Malachi was written after the temple had been rebuilt after the exile, probably around 450 B.C. Though some of the people had been restored to the land, there was still corruption, particularly in the priestly family of Levi. This corruption continued into the New Testament. Malachi promises a coming Messenger to prepare the way. From the New Testament we understand this to be John the Baptist. Malachi also speaks of a “Messenger of the Covenant” who will refine and purify God’s people. This was Jesus. The result of this purification will be that the offering of God’s people will be pure and pleasing to the Lord. Verse 5 goes on to explain the nature of their corruption: ; “I will be swift to bear witness against the sorcerers, against the adulterers, against those who swear falsely, against those who oppress the hired workers in their wages, the widow and the orphan, against those who thrust aside the alien, and do not fear me, says the LORD of hosts.”

Insight – I remember melting lead to make fishing weights when I was 10 or 11 years old. Malachi uses this image to speak of Christ’s coming to purify Israel. When metal ore is smelted into a purified form, the heated metal melts and impurities or dross rises to the top. One of the ways the purifier knows the dross is gone is by seeing his own image reflected in the glowing molten mass. This is what the Lord has wanted from the beginning, for people to bear His image. Unfortunately our sinfulness, like the dross and impurities of metal, blur and disfigure His reflection. Christ came so that we would have a final purified offering for all of our sins. By trusting in Jesus we receive Him into our lives and now when the Lord looks into the melted ore of our lives He sees His reflection there through Jesus.

Catechism – Who was Malachi’s messenger of the covenant? Jesus.

Discussion – When your life is heated up, what does the Lord see when He looks in?

Prayer – Heavenly Father we give you thanks for sending Jesus, your messenger of the covenant, for us. We thank you that he became a completely pure sacrifice for our sins and we gladly trust in him and receive him into our lives. Grant that we live in a manner that evermore reflects our trust and obedience to him. In Christ’s name we pray. Amen.

 

Year C – Third Sunday After Epiphany – Nehemiah 8

Neh 8:1–3, 5–6, 8–10 NRSV – “all the people gathered together into the square before the Water Gate. They told the scribe Ezra to bring the book of the law of Moses, which the LORD had given to Israel. 2 Accordingly, the priest Ezra brought the law before the assembly, both men and women and all who could hear with understanding. This was on the first day of the seventh month. 3 He read from it facing the square before the Water Gate from early morning until midday, in the presence of the men and the women and those who could understand; and the ears of all the people were attentive to the book of the law. 5 And Ezra opened the book in the sight of all the people, for he was standing above all the people; and when he opened it, all the people stood up. 6 Then Ezra blessed the LORD, the great God, and all the people answered, “Amen, Amen,” lifting up their hands. Then they bowed their heads and worshiped the LORD with their faces to the ground. 8 So they read from the book, from the law of God, with interpretation. They gave the sense, so that the people understood the reading. 9 And Nehemiah, who was the governor, and Ezra the priest and scribe, and the Levites who taught the people said to all the people, “This day is holy to the LORD your God; do not mourn or weep.” For all the people wept when they heard the words of the law. 10 Then he said to them, “Go your way, eat the fat and drink sweet wine and send portions of them to those for whom nothing is prepared, for this day is holy to our LORD; and do not be grieved, for the joy of the LORD is your strength.”

Summary – Nehemiah served the Lord by working to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem and Ezra was the scholarly priest that led in the reformation of Israel at this time. He led in reading God’s Word to the people. Here selections of Books of Moses (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy) were read for the better part of a day. There may have been as many as 50,000 people listening. Because of changes in language that those in exile had used (Aramaic) compared to the ancient Hebrew texts, it was necessary to read “with interpretation” and give the “sense” of what the words meant. They needed a running translation to understand. Then the leaders of this assembly urged the people to rejoice and not mourn and to share their celebratory food.

Insight – Have you ever been in a context where you were surrounded by those speaking a language you did not know?  It can be unsettling. We have a need to understand what we hear. In our text we see not only the reading of the Word, but the translation of that Word into understandable language. This practice of translating the Bible into understandable language was championed by many of our Reformation era heroes, such as the pre-Reformation, John Wycliffe who first translated the Bible into Middle English (d. 1384) and Martin Luther who provided a German translation. We should especially remember William Tyndale (1492–1536) who was martyred for his work in translating the Bible in English. His words to “give the sense” of the original Greek New Testament are still heard in our English Bibles. Tyndale came up with words like atonement, scapegoat, and passover, and key phrases like “lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil” and “my brother’s keeper.” The people in Ezra’s day were moved as they understood Scripture and so should we, as we remember that the Word of God has come to us in our language through the sacrifices of men like William Tyndale. Tyndale was actually strangled to death, but his voice still speaks.

Catechism – How did Ezra read the Word? He gave the sense, so that the people understood the reading.

Discussion – Are there words in the church service that you do not understand? What are they?

Prayer – Lord, give your people grace to hear and keep your word that, after the example of your servant William Tyndale, we may not only profess your gospel but also be ready to suffer and die for it, to the honor of your name. Amen.

Year C – Third Sunday After the Epiphany – 1 Corinthians 12:12-31a

For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit.

For the body does not consist of one member but of many. If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would be the sense of hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell? But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them,as he chose.  If all were a single member, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, yet one body.

The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” On the contrary, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and on those parts of the body that we think less honorable we bestow the greater honor, and our unpresentable parts are treated with greater modesty, which our more presentable parts do not require. But God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it, that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together.

Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it. And God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healing, helping, administrating, and various kinds of tongues. Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? Do all possess gifts of healing? Do all speak with tongues? Do all interpret? But earnestly desire the higher gifts.

Summary – Paul has already begun his explanation of unity through the Spirit in 1 Cor 12:1-11.  Now he goes on to explain that the unity he speaks of is more than just a bunch of individuals lashed together with a string (the Spirit).  Those individuals are now part of one new individual:  the Body of Christ, and this work is done through the Holy Spirit.  Being part of a “body” comes with it the implication that each person plays a different part.  Everyone is different, nevertheless each is as indispensable as the next.  If everyone in the church were a preacher, there would be no one to preach to!

Insight – Do you ever feel like you’re the “feet” in Christ’s body?  Do you feel like you just get “walked on” all the time?  Wouldn’t it seem nicer to be the brain?  This line of thinking has two problems:  First, God didn’t tell us which gifts equal which part of the body.  So there is no way to know if your gifts are the “lowest” and dwelling on that is not helpful.  But second, does the brain really have it all that easy?  It gets headaches, concussions, and aneurisms!  The Bible tells us that certain gifts in the Body of Christ are not to be entered lightly.  James says that not many should be teachers because they will be “judged with greater strictness” (James  3:1).  But Paul does tell us to “earnestly desire the higher gifts.”  This all teaches us two things:  First, we should with perseverance try with all our might to “be all we can be” for God, and use all our gifts to the best of our ability.  Second, we should be content with where God places us and not worry too much about being at the “top of the pile.”

Child Catechism – Which part of Christ’s Body is the most important?  None of them.  They are all important.

Discussion – What do you think Paul means when he says “earnestly desire the higher gifts”?  Does this imply that someone with one gift is more important than someone with another one?

Prayer – Thank you Lord that you have given us clear pictures in your Word of what your church looks like.  Thank you that in your wisdom, we have diversity amongst ourselves even as we serve you together.  We ask you that our unity in our diversity would beautifully picture the relationship between the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  We pray this in your Triune Name, Amen.

Year C – Third Sunday after Epiphany – Christ is Made the Sure Foundation

Summary–“Christ is Made the Sure Foundation” comes from one of England’s great hymn translators, John Mason Neale (1818-1866).  Although called to serve as a parish priest, chronic illness forced Neale to work as the warden of an almshouse, a charitable residence for the poor.    While serving in this capacity, he translated hundreds of ancient Latin, Greek and Russian texts into hymns for the Church of England.  Today’s text comes from a 7th century Latin poem on Ephesians 2:20-22.

Insight–We live in a world where many church denominations claim that they are the one true church.  Hundreds upon hundreds of churches fight for their particular teachings of the Bible, all claiming there’s as truth.  The Apostle Paul lived in a world of divisions as well.  But his divisions didn’t fall between Presbyterians and Methodists or Roman Catholics and Eastern Orthodox.  The divisions of his day fell between Jews and Gentiles.  Our hymn uses the teachings of Paul to argue against such divisions, both in his day and in ours.   Christ is the foundation, the chief cornerstone of the Church who reconciled the Jew and Gentile into one new and complete man.  The stone laid beneath the two walls which diverge at right angle from each other now binds both together and gives strength and cohesion to the whole.  In fact, by His death, he broke down the middle partition seperating the two walls.  The foundation stone which binds and unites the two walls has been laid.

Our hymn this week uses the picture of a temple, built on the foundation of Christ to exhort us to live together with other Christians as one building; one people of God.  There are so many people who love God but look and act differently than we do.  But if they put their trust in Christ then they are a part of the same building as we are.  They put their weight on Christ, their foundation, and so do we.  They take their direction from the cornerstone, and so do we.  Walls can’t work against each other if they are to remain standing.  We must see that all those who put their faith in Christ, who lean on His strength and follow His word are a part of His temple.  Sing loudly that Christ is our foundation, that He is binding us together as one.  He is doing this for His glory and that we will reign with Him forevermore. 

1 Christ is made the sure foundation,
Christ the head and cornerstone,
Chosen of the Lord and precious,
Binding all the church in one;
Holy Zion’s help forever,
And our confidence alone.

2 To this temple, where we call You,
Come, O Lord of Hosts, today;
With Your wonted lovingkindness
Hear Your people as they pray.
And Your fullest benediction
Shed within its walls alway.

3 Here bestow to all Your servants
What they ask of You to gain,
What they gain from You forever
With the blessèd to retain,
And hereafter in Your glory
Evermore with You to reign.

4 Laud and honor to the Father,
Laud and honor to the Son,
Laud and honor to the Spirit,
Ever Three and ever one;
One in might and one in glory
While unending ages run.

Contributed by Mike Fenimore

Year C – Second Sunday After Epiphany – Is 62:1–5

Is 62:1–5 NRSV – “1 For Zion’s sake I will not keep silent, and for Jerusalem’s sake I will not rest, until her vindication shines out like the dawn, and her salvation like a burning torch. 2 The nations shall see your vindication, and all the kings your glory; and you shall be called by a new name that the mouth of the LORD will give. 3 You shall be a crown of beauty in the hand of the LORD, and a royal diadem in the hand of your God. 4 You shall no more be termed Forsaken, and your land shall no more be termed Desolate; but you shall be called My Delight Is in Her, and your land Married; for the LORD delights in you, and your land shall be married. 5 For as a young man marries a young woman, so shall your builder marry you, and as the bridegroom rejoices over the bride, so shall your God rejoice over you.”

Summary – This prophecy speaks to the time of Israel’s exile and here God promises that the nations will see the vindication of the Lord. Whereas before God sent judgment and Israel was scattered, the Lord promises that Israel will be vindicated or declared to be “in the right.” She will be given a new name. No more forsaken or desolate, Zion will be a “crown of beauty” and “royal diadem” in the hand of the Lord. The Lord delights in Zion and will rejoice over Zion.

Insight – Sometimes in the old movies about cowboys and Indians, a “white man” hero who helps the Indians is given a new name. After going through a terrible ordeal, the Indians recognize his heroism by awarding him an honorary place in their tribe. “Now we call you, Running White Bear.” In the times of the Bible, names related to anticipated or present character. So in this prophecy Jerusalem being given a new name means she will have a vindicated or righteous character. Ultimately this promise is fulfilled in that the Church has become the Bride of Christ. She will be changed and like a glorious crown to the Lord. She will show forth God’s glorious splendor and the LORD delights in her.

Catechism – What should God’s people believe about themselves? That the LORD delights in them.

Discussion – What new name would you like to receive? How would it show your character?

Prayer – Heavenly Father we thank you that you promised to vindicate your people and that happened through what Christ accomplished for us on the cross. Now we rejoice that you delight in us through our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

 

Year C – 2nd Sunday After the Epiphany – Of the Father’s Love Begotten

Summary–This week’s hymn, “Of the Father’s Love Begotten” was written during a time of great controversy in the history of the Christian Church.  In the 4th century, uproar ensued over the nature of Jesus.  Arius, a priest from Alexandria, argued that Jesus was not co-eternal with the father.  In other words,  since Jesus was begotten from the Father, he must have had a beginning.  God can’t have a beginning; therefore, Jesus is not God.  The debate raged across Christendom and grew so heated that the Emperor Constantine himself had to call a council of Church elders together in order to establish once and for all the Church’s official stance on the nature of the Trinity.   The council, held in Nicea, condemned Arius’s teaching, and later summazied Christian orthodoxy in the great Nicene Creed.

Marcus Aurelius C. Prudentius (348-410) respected judge who later became a monastic poet, wrote a series of poetic letters on his understanding of  the Trinity around the time of the Nicean Council.  “Of the Father’s Love Begotten” was translated and formed into a chant and later a metrical hymn from Prudentius’s writings. From the very first line, we sing that Christ is both human and divine, and rather than simply being made by God, he was “begotten” of the very same substance. With each stanza, we both affirm and align our faith with the broader faith of the Church, and we deny any belief that says that Christ is not fully divine. This hymn is thus a hymn of proclamation, calling us to sing out our faith – “every voice in concert ring, evermore and evermore!”

Insight–In a debate, words matter.  But what about individual letters?  The Arian controversy centered on a single little greek letter, the iota.  By removing this letter to the word, “homousious”, the council of Nicea made their point that Christ was not created from a similar substance from God the Father.  No, Christ is eternally begotten, not made and is of the SAME substance with the Father.  Take that letter out of the word and Christ is only a man like you and me.  Keep it in and He is God.  What an impact that a single letter can have.  It was so important that men died fighting to keep that letter in the word.  At one point, the Church leader Athanasius felt that the whole world was against him and his view of that one letter, but he fought on.  Blessed are we to have such leaders fight for that one letter.  Blessed are we to be able to sing with the Church that Christ is the Alpha and Omega, begotten of the Father and the source of all Creation.  Individual letters do matter.  The doctrine of the Trinity stands or falls on it.

1 Of the Father’s love begotten,
Ere the worlds began to be,
He the Alpha and Omega,
He the source, the ending He,
Of the things that are, that have been,
And that future years shall see,
Evermore and evermore!

2 Oh that ever-blessèd birthday,
When the Virgin, full of grace,
By the Holy Ghost conceiving,
Bare the Saviour of our race;
And that Child, the world’s Redeemer,
First displayed His sacred face,
Evermore and evermore!

3 Praise Him, O ye heaven of heavens!
Praise Him, angels in the height!
Every power and every virtue
Sing the praise of God aright:
Let no tongue of man be silent,
Let each heart and voice unite,
Evermore and evermore!

4 Thee let age, and Thee let manhood,
Thee let choirs of infants sing;
Thee the matrons and the virgins,
And the children answering;
Let their guileless song re-echo,
And their heart its praises bring,
Evermore and evermore!

5 Christ, to Thee with God the Father,
And, O Holy Ghost to Thee,
Hymn and chant and high thanksgiving,
And unwearied praises be:
Honor, glory, and dominion,
And eternal victory,
Evermore and evermore!

Contributed by Mike Fenimore

Year C – Second Sunday after the Epiphany – 1 Corinthians 12:1-11

Now concerning spiritual gifts, brothers, I do not want you to be uninformed. You know that when you were pagans you were led astray to mute idols, however you were led. Therefore I want you to understand that no one speaking in the Spirit of God ever says “Jesus is accursed!” and no one can say “Jesus is Lord” except in the Holy Spirit.

Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. For to one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the ability to distinguish between spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. All these are empowered by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as he wills.

Summary – Paul has been dealing, among other things, with issues of unity in the Corinthian church, one of the overarching themes of the book of Corinthians.  In chapter 12, the topic of the Spirit is broached as a primary agent of unity within the church.  The Spirit does certain things, and not other things, Paul says.  It seems clear that someone can say “Jesus is Lord” and yet not truly mean it, but all those who truly believe that Jesus is Lord do so unquestionably because of the Spirit’s work.  Though the individuals of the church have different skills, these differences are not to cause bickering and resent because ultimately they derive from the Spirit.  Nor is Paul’s list of “spiritual gifts” meant to include each and every aspect of the Spirit’s work in the lives of believers: it is an exemplary list meant to illustrate that though Christians are endowed with widely diverse gifts, these are meant to work together for the common good.

Insight – What do flags, windmills, and sailboats have in common?  It would seem like they have nothing in common!  Flags are meant to communicate something, windmills grind grain or produce electricity, and sailboats provide transportation.  Communication, production, and transportation are things that could hardly be more different from each other.  But as you have probably already guessed, they DO have something in common:  they are all powered by the blowing of the wind.  What good would it be for people to argue about whether flags, windmills, or sailboats are better?  Sure, a flag is bad at grinding grain, and windmills don’t float very well, but because they are different things, they can’t really be compared as to which object is better.  Think about the people you know who are Christians.  Are they all exactly the same?  Is everyone as good at preaching as everyone else?  Is each one as wise as everyone else?  Of course not.  Every Christian has different gifts, and every gift comes from the same place:  the Holy Spirit!  When a flag, a windmill, and a sailboat use the power of the wind for a common purpose, they can make flour and ship it across the ocean in a magnificent sailing ship with flags flying in the wind.  Likewise we, instead of arguing about which spiritual gift is better than the others, could accomplish much more by using our Spirit-given gifts for a common purpose!

Child Catechism – Where does every spiritual gift come from?  The Holy Spirit.

Discussion – What gifts or abilities has God blessed you with?  How can you use these for the good of the church?

Prayer – Almighty God, we thank you for the blowing wind of the Spirit who works in the world to inspire the authors of Scripture, move unbelieving hearts to believe, and endow believers with gifts given for the edification of your Body.  We ask that you would continually fill us with the mind of your Son Jesus that we would use our talents to best further your Kingdom.  We ask this in the name of Christ, Amen.

Year C – The Baptism of the Lord – Isaiah 43:1-7

Is 43:1–7 NRSV – “1 But now thus says the LORD, he who created you, O Jacob, he who formed you, O Israel: Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. 2 When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you. 3 For I am the LORD your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior. I give Egypt as your ransom, Ethiopia and Seba in exchange for you. 4 Because you are precious in my sight, and honored, and I love you, I give people in return for you, nations in exchange for your life. 5 Do not fear, for I am with you; I will bring your offspring from the east, and from the west I will gather you; 6 I will say to the north, “Give them up,” and to the south, “Do not withhold; bring my sons from far away and my daughters from the end of the earth— 7 everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory, whom I formed and made.”

Summary – Like much of Isaiah 40-65 this text speaks of the return of Israel to the Land and the blessings that come with these fulfilled promises. God here promises redemption and that they shall pass through the water and fire without harm as their offspring return and are gathered. The words tenderly emphasize that God sees Israel as precious. They were created for the Lord’s glory. One of the interesting parts of this promise is the language of exchange. ” I give Egypt as your ransom, Ethiopia and Seba in exchange for you . . . I give people in return for you, nations in exchange for your life.” This refers to what God gives Cyrus (Is. 44:28) who will make the way for Israel’s return. Cyrus (and son) will conquer these places.

Insight – One of the greatest fears we have is rejection. A slight word of disapproval, an angry look or worse can make us miserable. Personal rejection is much more powerful when it is from someone we truly care about. Israel as a people had fallen into idolatry and immorality and because of this they were exiled. In many ways the people that desired to be faithful to the Lord could have believed that they had been rejected by the Lord forever. Many were tempted to believe that God was no longer their Savior or Redeemer but had cast them off. Yet, this passage is a rich set of promises confirming God’s acceptance of His people, “I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine.” In other words, God makes clear our redemption, call, love, and adoption. This even more evident after Christ has come. We are in Him and Christ is true Israel, therefore we are truly loved and accepted.

Catechism  – Why should we not fear? Because “I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine.”

Discussion – What are some ways that you have experienced rejection? What is the basis for our acceptance before God?

Prayer – Heavenly Father we thank You for these precious promises to Your people that come to us through Jesus Christ. We believe that we are redeemed and called and that we are Yours in Him. Grant now that we so walk in this confidence that we may please You, serve our neighbors and use our gifts for Your glory. In Christ’s name, Amen.

Year C – Baptism of the Lord – Acts 8:14-17

Now when the apostles at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent to them Peter and John, who came down and prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit, for he had not yet fallen on any of them, but they had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. Then they laid their hands on them and they received the Holy Spirit.

Summary – In fulfillment of John the Baptist’s proclamation in Luke 3 that “he who is mightier than I is coming. . . . he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit” (Luke 3:16), Peter and John travel to Samaria to meet with new believers that they might receive the Holy Spirit.  Clear from this episode is that the gift of the Holy Spirit comes along with baptism into Christ.  Galatians 3:27 tells us that as many as have been baptized into Christ “have put on Christ.”  Acts 2:38 has Peter telling his audience, “Repent and be baptized . . . and you will receive the Holy Spirit.”  Through baptism, a believer is clothed in Christ and indwelled by the Holy Spirit.  It seems strange that these people, who surely seemed to be believers, didn’t have the Spirit through their baptism then.  We notice in verse 12, though, that these people “believed Philip” and not necessarily the Gospel.  Next we notice that Simon, who was said to believe just like these others, ends up offering money to the apostles in order to get their power.  Peter’s response to this offer is telling, and he seems to imply that Simon never had a true faith in Christ, but was more taken by the signs and wonders (vs. 13).  So it seems that these baptized believers had not fully placed their trust in Christ yet, and what they needed was true faith–a true first experience of Christ–rather than a 2nd one.

Insight – What do you think of when you say, in the creed, “I believe in the Holy Spirit”?  What is the Holy Spirit?  Is He a ghost?  It can be hard sometimes to grasp what the Holy Spirit is, and to try to understand what it means that He lives inside us.  What we need to learn from this passage in Acts is that the Holy Spirit is a gift that God has graciously given to His followers.  It is a privilege to have the Spirit to help us to live lives that are pleasing to God, because trying to serve God on our own strength will not end well.  Thank the Lord today for not leaving you alone, but sending a Helper (the Spirit) to you.

Child Catechism – Who is the third member of the Trinity?  The Holy Spirit.

Discussion – How do you know if the Holy Spirit is helping you?  How have you seen God’s hand in your life?

Prayer – Father, in this season as we remember your Son’s baptism, we recall your goodness in sending Him to us to bring redemption and life.  Thank you that in Him we can be endowed by your Spirit to overcome our sinful habits.  Work in us by your Spirit to continually mold our lives into conformity with your sovereign will.  We pray in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, Amen.

Year C – Baptism of our Lord – How Lovely Shines the Morning Star

Summary–Today’s hymn was born in a time of great darkness.  Philipp Nicolai (1566-1608) wrote this chorale during a massive plague in the town of Unna, Germany where he served as a Lutheran pastor.  His window overlooked the village cemetery where sometimes as many as thirty burials took place in a single day. It seemed that every home in the town was mourning for a stricken family member. Many questioned if God could be in such a dark place.   But pastor Nicolai kept his attention on His firmly on God who was in control even in such dark times.  Listen to how his faith kept him going.  “There seemed to me nothing more sweet, delightful, and agreeable,” Nicolai wrote, “than the contemplation of the noble, sublime doctrine of Eternal Life obtained through the Blood of Christ. This I allowed to dwell in my heart day and night.” It was in the midst of suffering that Nicolai wrote ‘Wie schon leuchtet der Morgenstern”.

Insight–It is simply amazing how, no matter how dark the situation, even the small sliver of light will pierce a dark room.  Nicolai’s beautiful hymn tells us that we have the brightest light this world has ever known shining as clearly and as powerfully as the morning sun, sweeping away all remains of the night and washing everything in the light of Christ’s presence. We read in the book of Revelation that Jesus Christ is our Morning Star. He came and took upon himself all the darkness and wickedness that we had hidden in ourselves…he bore them on the cross of Calvary, he bore them so that we wouldn’t have to, he bore them because he knew we couldn’t.  How beautiful an act of love, How lovely is that Morning Star!  Equally as amazing is that this light is now so that ‘the nations see and hail afar the light in Judah shining.’ Gone are the days when God’s light only shined on His chosen people of Israel with the greatest promise in the world’s history. Not until the Morning Star appeared on the earth was the message changed from ‘come and see’ to ‘go and tell’ …For the Bridegroom is coming, and soon! He, the King who will judge the world, is coming again soon…so be ready, be pining in your heart for the return of this light.

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.
Lowly, holy, great and glorious,
Thou victorious Prince of graces,
Filling all the heav’nly places.

O highest joy by mortals won,
True Son of God and Mary’s Son,
Thou highborn King of ages!
Thou art my heart’s most beauteous Flower,
And Thy blest Gospel’s saving power
My raptured soul engages.
Thou mine, I Thine; sing hosanna!
Heav’nly manna tasting, eating,
Whilst Thy love in songs repeating.

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.
Sighing, crying, for the savor
Of Thy favor; resting never
Till I rest in Thee forever.

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.

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 life forever;
Nothing me from Him can sever.

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 traveling days be ended.
Sing out, ring out, triumph glorious,
O victorious, chosen nation;
Praise the God of your salvation.

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.
Amen, Amen! Come and meet me!
Quickly greet me! With deep yearning
Lord, I look for Thy returning.

Contributed by Mike Fenimore