In the once firmly Lutheran nation of Iceland, some residents are erecting a temple to the Norse gods. (more…)

Iceland, a Lutheran country, steps up on an issue hardly anyone else is touching:

The government is considering introducing internet filters, such as those used to block China off form the worldwide web, in order to stop Icelanders downloading or viewing pornography on the internet.

The unprecedented censorship is justified by fears about damaging effects of the internet on children and women. (more…)

The resurrected Jesus was with His disciples for 40 days, and then He returned to His Father.  So on the 40th day after Easter, making it always fall on a Thursday, we celebrate Ascension Day.  Today is that day.

This is one of the most significant and yet strangely neglected observances of the Church Year.  Part of the problem is that it is so misunderstood today.

Christ’s Ascension does not mean that He goes away and is no longer with us.  To the contrary, shortly before that event, Jesus said, “behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age”  (Matthew 28:20).  In His time on earth, Jesus was spatially limited to being in one time and one place.  But now that He is “seated at the right hand” of God the Father (Ephesians 1:20),  the Son of God  “fills all in all” (Ephesians 1:23).

What the Ascension Makes Possible

Because of the Ascension, Jesus can be present with us in a more intimate way than ever before, even those of us who are living thousands of years after He walked the earth.  Now He can dwell in our hearts (Ephesians 3:17).  Now He can be in our midst where two or three are gathered in His name (Matthew 18:20).  Now He can be present in Holy Communion (1 Corinthians 11:23-29).

Because of the Ascension, Jesus can intercede for us continually before the Throne of God.  We can pray to Him, confess our sins to Him, and He can save us.  “We have such a high priest, one who is seated at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in heaven,  a minister in the holy places”  (Hebrews 8:1-2).  Therefore, “he is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them” (Hebrews 7:25).

Because of the Ascension, the Church is created.  Yes, His body was taken up into Heaven.  But His body is also still here, because the Church is His body (1 Corinthians 12: 12-27), made such by our baptisms (1 Corinthians 12:23) and His continual gift of His body in the Lord’s Supper (1 Corinthians 10:16-17). These are not metaphors, but realities.

Because of the Ascension, the Church is empowered.  “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do, because I am going to the Father” (John 14:12).  Jesus healed many, but how many has He healed through the Church, which invented hospitals?  Jesus fed 5000 at one time, but how many has the Church fed?  Jesus preached and taught multitudes, but how many more have heard Christ’s Word through the preaching and teaching of the Church?

The Ascension and the Incarnation

As if all of this were not enough, the Ascension is the fulfillment of the Incarnation.  I have heard it said that the Ascension marks the end of the Incarnation, but nothing could be further from the truth.  Jesus ascended bodily into Heaven.  The incarnate Son of God takes His place in the Trinity.

The Athanasian Creed, unpacking the Trinity and the mystery of the Incarnation, says this of Christ:

Although He is God and man, He is not two, but one Christ: one, however, not by the conversion of the divinity into flesh, but by the assumption of the humanity into God.

Celebrating the Ascension

Ascension Day doesn’t involve buying Ascension presents to put under the Ascension tree, and there is no Ascension Bunny.  So it doesn’t have the traction of Christmas and Easter.  But many of us have been calling for a Christian holiday that is non-commericalized and non-secularized.  We have one.  So why don’t we celebrate it?

Though still a national public holiday in a number of countries, both Catholic and Protestant (specifically, Austria, Belgium, Colombia, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Haiti, Iceland, Indonesia, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Madagascar, Namibia, the Netherlands, Norway, Swaziland, Sweden, Switzerland, and Vanuatu), most American congregations tend to skip over Ascension Day, with some–including Catholics–pushing off the observance to Sunday.

What would be some good ways to celebrate?

Go to church if you can.  If your congregation doesn’t have an Ascension service on Thursday or at least on Sunday, visit one that does.  (Your friendly neighborhood Lutheran church probably will.)

Take advantage of the Ascended Christ’s presence with you.  Ideally, that would include worship and receiving the Sacrament.  But if that isn’t possible, or even if it is, pray to the Ascended Christ as your intercessor, your high priest in the heavenly places

Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.  (Hebrews 4:14-16)

 

Illustration:  Rembrandt’s “The Ascension” (1636),  [Public domain or CC0], from Wikimedia Commons

 

Trisomy_21_-_Down_Syndrome_-_Kennedi_Beahn_-_presented_by_Kraig_Beahn

The headlines read like this:  “Iceland is Becoming Nearly the First Country with no Down Syndrome Births”.  Wonderful, one might think.  What medical breakthrough has Iceland discovered?  Read the story and you find out that it has nothing to do with a medical breakthrough.  Just genetic testing of embryos followed by, in the case of diagnosing Down Syndrome,  a near universal application of abortion.

Here is the original story from CBS News.  It is actually more nuanced than one might think, raising the question, “What kind of world do we want to live in?”  A world without Down Syndrome?  Or a world that aborts those who have it?

Alexandra Desanctis discusses the story from a pro-life perspective in Down Syndrome in Iceland: CBS News’s Disturbing Report | National Review.

Reacting to the story and the backlash it has provoked, sources in Iceland are challenging the CBS piece.  Read this from Iceland Magazine.  Actually, according to that article, women carrying a Down Syndrome baby are not pressured to get an abortion, and the subsequent abortion rate is not close to 100%.  Rather, 15-20% of women choose to keep the baby, and when they do, they are given support and help in caring for their Down child.  (Though the article goes on to explain condescendingly that “Icelanders have a different view of abortions than many on the political right in the US,” namely, that it is OK and a woman’s decision.)

But, in fairness, the once-Lutheran Iceland is an exceedingly tiny country, with a population of only 332,529, about the size of St. Louis.  Which makes it ripe for statistical distortions.

But treating Down Syndrome by abortion is rampant.  In the United Kingdom, according to DeSanctis, 90% of women who receive that diagnosis abort their child.  In Europe as a whole, 92% of such babies are “terminated.”  In the United States, the number is between 67% and 90%.  Compare those numbers to Iceland’s 85-80%, which is actually less than the rate in these other countries.

 

But one of the many things I found disturbing in the CBS story is the way counselors in Iceland–apparently with the complicity of the church–normalize and even sanctify the abortion by means of religious imagery:

Over at Landspitali University Hospital, Helga Sol Olafsdottir counsels women who have a pregnancy with a chromosomal abnormality. They speak to her when deciding whether to continue or end their pregnancies. Olafsdottir tells women who are wrestling with the decision or feelings of guilt: “This is your life — you have the right to choose how your life will look like.”

She showed Quijano [the CBS reporter] a prayer card inscribed with the date and tiny footprints of a fetus that was terminated.

Quijano noted, “In America, I think some people would be confused about people calling this ‘our child,’ saying a prayer or saying goodbye or having a priest come in — because to them abortion is murder.”

A priest comes in to say a prayer?  Saying goodbye?  A memento of the abortion with the dead child’s footprints?  To do such things implies a recognition of the child’s humanity, and yet still the child is killed, though the church makes the parents feel better.

Photo by Himileanmedia (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

 

Simo_hayha_honorary_rifle
Simo Häyhä, the “White Death”

A nation is defined by its history and its people’s common experiences.  That is especially true of nations whose citizens, for the most part, share a specific ethnic identity.  In Finland, where I spent some time recently, history is a living force.

For some 500 years, Finland was part of Sweden, a region in the East where members of the Finnish tribe dwelt.  Finland was Swedish during the 17th century when that kingdom was a world power, as the Swedish kings saved Lutheranism during the Thirty Years’ War and dominated much of Northern Europe.  To this day, Finland has a Swedish-speaking minority.

But then, in 1809, Sweden lost a war with Russia.  Finland, on Russia’s border, was ceded to the Czar, who made it an autonomous Grand Duchy under his authority.  So Finland went into its Russian phase, though it resisted assimilation.

When the Communist Revolution broke out, Finland saw its chance.  It declared independence and established itself as a free republic.  This happened in 1917, so that this year Finland is celebrating its 100th anniversary.

The Communists had their own problems in 1917 so basically let Finland go.  Some Finns, however, were on the Bolshevik side, so the new nation fought a bloody civil war, with the “Whites” defeating the “Reds.”

But in 1939, Stalin resolved to take Finland back.  Soviet troops poured over the Finnish border.  In this conflict, known as the “Winter War,” the Soviets outnumbered the Finns three to one, with 30 times more airplanes and 100 times more tanks.

I was told that the president of Finland then was a devout Christian.  He called upon all Finns to pray.  And they did. (more…)

The United States is no longer in the top 10 of the world’s most free countries.  We are number 15.  However, despite our obesity rates and bad eating habits, we are number 1 when it comes to health.  We are #33 in safety and security.  The United States is #11 in economic strength and overall prosperity.

Scandinavian countries take most of the top spots, with Norway winning the top marks when all of the categories are considered, making it the most prosperous of nations.  All of this is according to the Legatum Prosperity Index.  See details after the jump. (more…)

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