Christmas in Lent

Last Sunday was not only the 5th Sunday of Lent; it fell on March 25.  That’s nine months before Christmas.  Thus it’s Annunciation Day.   So just as Lent ramps up into the greater intensity of “Passiontide,” just before Holy Week, we reflect on what we normally associate with Christmas, marking the day that the angel appeared to Mary and she conceived the Son of God.

Our pastor, Rev. Douthwaite, preached a powerful sermon on the occasion, tying together Christ’s Incarnation and His Passion.  Read it all, but here is a sample:

And so to do what you and I could not do, the Son of God became like us in every way. He didn’t just come and assume a full-grown, 30 year old, adult body, but began as a single cell, just like us. He grew in the womb just like us, and was born just like us. He was an infant and then a toddler, a child and then a teenager, and finally an adult, just like us. Except without sin. And so through every stage of life, He offered to God that service that we do not – theologians call it His active obedience – a perfect life, of perfect love, of perfectly reflecting the image of God. A life of mercy and compassion, using His eyes, ears, mouth, hands, mind, and heart – all His body, all His being, in true service to God. And having bound Himself to us in every stage of life, that no matter how old or young you are, pre-born, newborn, or long ago born, Jesus has fulfilled the desire of His Father for you; He fulfilled what all of us, bound in sin, are unable to do. . . .

And so in the body prepared for Him and given this day as it began to grow and develop in the womb of the virgin, He lived our life and died our death. For perfect in every way, He was able to bear not His own sins, but our sins and the sins of the whole world – from the beginning of time to the end of time – on the cross, to atone for them; to be the true sacrifice and offering for them. He became homeless for us homeless and dead for us dead, that we might have His home and rise from death in His life. To live . . . how does the Small Catechism put it? To live before Him in righteousness and purity forever.

And that’s the life you have now begun to live – a life of righteousness and purity. A life where the words of Mary, let it be to me according to your Word, have begun to be fulfilled in you. For when you were baptized, the Word of God came to you and conceived a new life in you, that by water and the Word, physical and spiritual, body and soul, you live a new life. An image of God life. A life of faith and love. No longer the old faith-in-yourself and loving-yourself life, and expecting others to do the same; but now a life of faith toward God and love towards others. As the One who did that perfectly, Jesus, now lives in you. As that life now grows and matures in you, as you drink the living water of God’s Word and Spirit and forgiveness; as you eat the food He has provided to nourish and sustain you – His very body and blood. To sanctify you through the body and blood Jesus offered for you.

And so now those words – let it be to me according to your Word – are not just the words spoken by Mary, but words spoken by you. Words of faith.

via St. Athanasius Lutheran Church: Lent 5 Sermon.

Christ within me, Christ behind me, Christ before me

St. Patrick’s Day is Saturday–a day to honor all missionaries, including the missionaries to the European tribes (like St. Patrick to the Irish, St. Boniface to the Germans, St. Augustine to the English, etc.).  (Those of us of European descent need to remember that our ancestors too were tribal pagan peoples who were brought to faith through missionaries.)

To mark the day and what St. Patrick taught, I offer you a poem/hymn/prayer attributed to him, “St. Patrick’s Breastplate.”  (Some people question the attribution, saying it was written in the 9th century, not the 5th, when St. Patrick was alive.  But the form of the work reflects a Druid incantation for protection, and I’m pretty sure the Druids were gone by the 9th century, whereas they were the ones St. Patrick converted.)

At any rate, this is a wonderful meditation.  (The link will play the haunting melody that hymnwriters have given it.)

I bind unto myself today
The strong Name of the Trinity,
By invocation of the same
The Three in One and One in Three.

I bind this today to me forever
By power of faith, Christ’s incarnation;
His baptism in Jordan river,
His death on Cross for my salvation;
His bursting from the spicèd tomb,
His riding up the heavenly way,
His coming at the day of doom
I bind unto myself today.

I bind unto myself the power
Of the great love of cherubim;
The sweet ‘Well done’ in judgment hour,
The service of the seraphim,
Confessors’ faith, Apostles’ word,
The Patriarchs’ prayers, the prophets’ scrolls,
All good deeds done unto the Lord
And purity of virgin souls.

I bind unto myself today
The virtues of the star lit heaven,
The glorious sun’s life giving ray,
The whiteness of the moon at even,
The flashing of the lightning free,
The whirling wind’s tempestuous shocks,
The stable earth, the deep salt sea
Around the old eternal rocks.

I bind unto myself today
The power of God to hold and lead,
His eye to watch, His might to stay,
His ear to hearken to my need.
The wisdom of my God to teach,
His hand to guide, His shield to ward;
The word of God to give me speech,
His heavenly host to be my guard.

Against the demon snares of sin,
The vice that gives temptation force,
The natural lusts that war within,
The hostile men that mar my course;
Or few or many, far or nigh,
In every place and in all hours,
Against their fierce hostility
I bind to me these holy powers.

Against all Satan’s spells and wiles,
Against false words of heresy,
Against the knowledge that defiles,
Against the heart’s idolatry,
Against the wizard’s evil craft,
Against the death wound and the burning,
The choking wave, the poisoned shaft,
Protect me, Christ, till Thy returning.

Christ be with me, Christ within me,
Christ behind me, Christ before me,
Christ beside me, Christ to win me,
Christ to comfort and restore me.
Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ in quiet, Christ in danger,
Christ in hearts of all that love me,
Christ in mouth of friend and stranger.

I bind unto myself the Name,
The strong Name of the Trinity,
By invocation of the same,
The Three in One and One in Three.
By Whom all nature hath creation,
Eternal Father, Spirit, Word:
Praise to the Lord of my salvation,
Salvation is of Christ the Lord.

via St. Patrick’s Breastplate.

HT:  Zach Simmons

Taking up the beer fast for Lent

The beer fast does not mean giving up beer.  It means giving up everything except beer.  While this may sound Lutheran, it was actually the practice of the monks of Neudeck, who developed Doppelbock for this very purpose.  Last year the beer connoisseur J. Wilson took on this Lenten discipline.  From his account of the 46 days:

According to legend, the 17th century monks of Neudeck ob der Au outside Munich, Germany, developed the rich-and-malty beer to sustain them during Lenten fasts, the traditional 46-day lead-up to Easter.

Unfiltered, the bold elixir was nicknamed “liquid bread” and is packed with carbohydrates, calories and vitamins.

With poor documentation available on the specifics of their fasts, I decided that the only way to know if the story was true would be to test the beer myself. I joined forces with Eric Sorensen, the head brewer at Rock Bottom Restaurant and Brewery in West Des Moines, Iowa, to brew a commercial release of one of my recipes, Illuminator Doppelbock.

I would survive on that beer, supplemented only by water, for 46 days of historical research.

With the blessing of my boss at The Adams County Free Press in Southwest Iowa, I consumed four beers a day during the workweek and five beers on the weekends, when I had fewer obligations. . . .

At the beginning of my fast, I felt hunger for the first two days. My body then switched gears, replaced hunger with focus, and I found myself operating in a tunnel of clarity unlike anything I’d ever experienced.

While hunger subsided quickly, my sense of smell provided persistent temptation for more than a week. But the willpower to carry out my objective brought peace to the “Oh man that cheeseburger smells good” thoughts. Soon, I could see, smell or discuss anything food-related without trouble.

Often, I cooked dinner for my boys, a task that became as simple and trouble-free as tying my shoes.

My fast also underscored for me that there is a difference between wants and needs. I wanted a cheeseburger, but I didn’t need one. I also didn’t need a bag of chips or a midday doughnut. I needed nourishment, and my doppelbock, while lacking the protein that might have provided enough backbone for an even longer fast had I sought one, was enough to keep me strong and alert, despite my caloric deficit.

Though I lost 25.5 pounds, I gained so much more. The benefits of self-discipline can’t be overstated in today’s world of instant gratification. The fast provided a long-overdue tune-up and detox, and I’ve never felt so rejuvenated, physically or mentally.

The experience proved that the origin story of monks fasting on doppelbock was not only possible, but probable. It left me with the realization that the monks must have been keenly aware of their own humanity and imperfections. In order to refocus on God, they engaged this annual practice not only to endure sacrifice, but to stress and rediscover their own shortcomings in an effort to continually refine themselves.

via My Faith: What I learned from my 46-day beer-only fast – CNN Belief Blog – Blogs.

Lent begins

To contemplate Ash Wednesday and the beginning of Lent, those sobering words accompanying the imposition of ashes are a good place to start.  (More personally, “you are dust, and to dust you shall return”!)

This is called a memento mori, a reminder that you are going to die.  How can it be helpful to meditate on that unpleasant fact?  How can that change your perspective on things?   What does that have to do with Lent?

Lenten observances

I love the Lenten season and it always does me good.  I try to discipline myself more–which usually in my case means not eating so much and exercising more–and I usually work through some heavy-duty theological text for my edification.  (I have a couple in mind that I’m anxious to take on.  I’ll probably report on them here in the days ahead.)  I sometimes ramp up my Bible reading.

President Harrison (below) urges us to join him in praying the Litany.

Of course there is no merit in ascetic self-flagellations, but most of us could use some practice in denying ourselves, if only in small ways, and Lent is a good time to do that.  And it intensifies the experience of Easter when I can cast off my self-imposed little laws and enjoy the rush of freedom, an image of the Gospel, which is what Easter is all about.

What do you do, or not do for Lent?

Rev. Harrison on Lent

I am appreciating more and more the ability of Matt Harrison, president of the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod, to witness to our faith in the public square.  Here are his Lenten greetings: