26 January 2020

The Epiphany of Christ in the Ministry of His Gospel

The Epiphany of our Lord, that is, the manifestation of divine glory in His Word and in His Flesh, is not a one-time past event but an ongoing grace of God in the Ministry of the Gospel of Christ Jesus, in the preaching of repentance for the forgiveness of sins in His Name, and in the healing power of His Word and Sacraments.  Thus does He enter in with the glory of God in His own flesh and blood, just like yours, with grace, mercy, and peace for your body and soul, now and forever.  For the true God became true Man in order to bear your sins and to live forever as your Savior.

So it is that He comes forth and draws near in the Holy Gospel this morning — not only to those whom He calls to be His first disciples and His Holy Apostles, but so also here and now to you.

St. Matthew writes for those who already know how the story will end — or, better to say, how it continues.  Not only the Cross and Resurrection of Christ Jesus, once for all, but His ongoing Life and Ministry in the Acts of the Apostles.  For the Lord Jesus is actively present in the words and deeds of Peter, Andrew, James, and John; and He likewise continues to guide and govern, to feed and protect His holy Church on earth.  Behold, He is with you always, even to the close of the age.

To be sure, Jesus is not simply going for a leisurely stroll along the Sea of Galilee; nor does He just happen upon the four brothers on the seashore.  St. Matthew indicates that Jesus comes to Galilee of the Gentiles, and that He travels on the “Way of the Sea,” that is, on the trade route to the Mediterranean, in fulfillment of God’s promises, as the true Light shining in the darkness, as the One who breaks the rod of oppression and liberates people from sin, death, the devil, and hell.

What is more, His journey is a purposeful and deliberate walk on the Way of the Cross, whereby He takes all the iniquities, transgressions, and burdens of the world upon Himself, in order to put them to death in His own Body.  Which is also to say that those who follow Him — His disciples — so also, you — are called to bear the Cross and die with Him, in order to live with Him forever.

It is significant that Jesus takes the initiative in choosing and calling His disciples to Himself.  The usual practice was for students to pick and choose the rabbis they would follow.  But as the Lord Jesus also declares in the Gospel of St. John, you do not choose Him, but He has chosen you.

There simply are no “decisions for Jesus.”  By your own reason or strength you are not capable of coming to Christ Jesus or believing in Him.  But He calls you to Himself by the Spirit through the Gospel, enlightens you with His gift of faith, and thereby sanctifies you for the Life everlasting.

Jesus saw those men, Simon, Andrew, James, and John, as they went about their business.  He saw them, and He approached them in His love and mercy toward them.  And so does He see you, as well, as you go about the business of your life.  And what is it that He sees, when He sees you?

Does He see your laziness, your dishonesty, and your wastefulness?  Does He see you gossip and complain?  Does He see you serving yourself instead of others?  Yes, He does see all of that, just as He saw and knew the sins of Simon Peter and his brother and the sons of Zebedee.  There was nothing in them, nor in you, that should have been attractive in His eyes.  But it is in divine love that He sees you and desires you to be His own, and that He glorifies you with His own holiness.

What He saw in those two pairs of brothers were “fishers of men.”  And it is worth noting that, although He called those men away from their nets and boats and families, their new vocation was nevertheless patterned after their old occupations.  In a similar fashion, your own stations in life are sanctified and made brand new by the Word and Spirit of Christ Jesus, by faith in His Word.

Now, to be clear, this Holy Gospel does not say that you must forsake your family and profession in order to be a Christian.  It is true, those first four disciples were called by Christ Jesus to a new vocation — to be Apostles and Ministers of His Gospel.  But you have been called to be and to live as a disciple of the Lord Jesus Christ — not away from your office and station in life, but within that very place and purpose to which God has called you, wherein He sanctifies you by His Word.

By all means, you are called to put Christ Jesus ahead of everything else — including your family and friends and your whole way of life.  You are to fear, love, and trust in Him above all things and all others.  But here again, it is a matter of faith and love within your God-given office and station, not a forsaking or neglecting of those things.  Your Christian life is lived where He has put you.

What, then, does it mean to become a disciple of Jesus, to bear His Cross and follow after Him?

It means a new attitude toward everything, inside and out, and a willingness to sacrifice everything, as needs may be, as you may be called upon to do for the sake of Christ Jesus and His Gospel.

The Lord Jesus calls people to Himself — to learn from Him how to live and who to be.  And such discipleship is perhaps best understood as an apprenticeship or as a kind of boot camp, in which you eat, sleep, breathe, and live your entire life immersed in the Word and work of Christ Jesus, in the Liturgy of His Gospel.  Certainly that was true for those first four disciples, who would go forth as Apostles in the footsteps of their Lord, engaged in fierce combat with the forces of Satan.

It is true for you, as well.  Military images are perhaps not the best for the Christian life in some respects.  But you also are engaged in a daily battle with the devil, the world, and your own flesh.  And your victory is found in that Ministry of Christ Jesus which covers you with His Gospel of forgiveness — and which also guides and governs your life in the pattern of His righteousness.

For those men who are called to the Office of the Holy Ministry in the footsteps of the Apostles, being a Christian disciple means continuing the Word and work of Christ Himself — preaching and teaching and “healing,” granting freedom from sin, death, and the devil through the Gospel — whereby you are called, gathered, enlightened, and sanctified by the Word and Spirit of Christ.

And for you, in turn, being a Christian disciple means speaking and living the Word of the Gospel in your own particular place, just as you have first heard and received it in the Ministry of Christ.

Nowadays, for good or ill, the term “ministry” is often used very loosely, broadly, and casually for any and all types of Christian service in, with, and for the Church on earth.  While not entirely wrong, such a use of the term has been misleading in a way that detracts from the unique authority and significance of the Holy Ministry of the Gospel–Word and Sacraments, while also giving the false impression that only those activities connected in some way or another to the Church are truly a Christian service to the Lord (no matter how contrived they may be).  But this is all wrong!

Better to understand that your “ministry” or Christian service is what you are called and given to do in your office and station as a husband or wife, as a father or mother, son or daughter, student or worker, citizen or soldier, or wherever else in life God has positioned you in relation to your neighbors.  It is there, within that context, by way of those duties and responsibilities that you are entrusted with each day, that your faith and life in Christ Jesus are busy and at work in service to the Lord and to your neighbors, manifesting His divine glory in all your mundane activities.

Such service in everyday life is truly Christian service to the Lord, because you are a Christian, and you are the Lord’s — by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ Jesus alone.

The real key is that, whatever you do, you do it all according to the Word of God.  You look at life, you understand it, and you live it, all according to His Word.  Not according to your own reason or strength, nor on the basis of your own thoughts and feelings, all of which are sinful and will mislead you.  You consider all things in life, and you live, according to the Word of the Lord.

At the Word of Jesus, like Simon Peter, Andrew, James, and John, you are simply called upon to act as He has spoken, to do what He says.  “Follow Me,” He said.  And immediately they followed Him, finally to their death in His Name and for His sake, thus to receive the Crown of Life in Him.

Where His Word to you is a Word of the Law, it is to be obeyed — and blessings will follow that obedience, because His Word to you is Wisdom, Truth, and Light; so, too, there are consequences when you disobey.  But His better Word to you, His “bottom line,” is the Word of His Gospel, along with those words that call you to the Gospel, such as, “follow Me.”  And His Word of the Gospel is not for you to “obey,” but to hear and receive, to believe and trust, that you might have Life in Christ Jesus through His forgiveness of all your sins and His healing of all your infirmities.

In regards to the Ministry of the Gospel, it is in general as Dr. Luther writes in the Small Catechism concerning the Lord’s Supper in particular.  There he poses the question: “What should admonish and incite a Christian to receive this Sacrament frequently?”  And then he provides this threefold answer: “In respect to God, both the command and the promise of Christ the Lord should move [the Christian to do so]; and in respect to himself, the trouble that lies heavy on him, on account of which [need] such command, encouragement, and promise are given.”

Christian discipleship and Christian life are not a checklist of “moral dilemmas” to be solved and “ethical decisions” to be deciphered and done, but a life that is lived in Christ, as Christ Himself lives in you.  He lives and abides in you, not by any means of your own choices and decisions, nor by your own guesswork as to what He might do — but by means of Holy Baptism in His Name, and by means of His Body and Blood, given and poured out for you in remembrance of Him.

Now, to be sure, all of this means that you live under His Cross in this life.  But the Cross that you carry as a disciple of Christ Jesus does not destroy you or put you to death forever.  Rather, by the forgiveness of His Cross, He raises you up in His Resurrection to the everlasting Life of God.

And in the meantime, He feeds you and strengthens you with that very Body and Blood which He has sacrificed for you upon His Cross — so that your own flesh and blood, in turn, no matter what they must bear, serve to the glory of His holy Name and for the benefit of your neighbors.  So does the Word of Jesus which you hear and receive become a word in your own mouth for others.

So, then, as a husband or wife, speak the Word of Jesus to your spouse; and as a father or mother, speak the Word of Jesus to your sons and daughters, that they might live as the children of God.

Likewise, as a child, speak the Word of Jesus to your parents, to your brothers and sisters, and to your friends and playmates.

As an employer, speak the Word of Jesus to those whom you employ; and as an employee, speak the Word of Jesus to your boss, to your coworkers, and to those whom you are given to serve.

As a member of the Lord’s Church, speak the Word of Jesus to your brothers and sisters in Christ, and to your pastors, as well; for one and all of us are called to live by grace through faith in Him.

This life that you live and these Words that you speak — these are not of yourself, but they are the very things which you have received by the grace and charity of Jesus, who has made you His own.

And though you daily sin much in your thoughts, words, and deeds, though you are faced with all your failings, all your hurts and heartaches, troubles and torments, take to heart and take comfort that your dear Lord Jesus continues to come with purpose and with love for you, seeing you in His mercy even when you are blind to Him, calling you to life with God in Himself, and granting you His gracious forgiveness of all your sins and the health and healing of His Cross and Resurrection.

He comes preaching the Kingdom of God in your presence, and He calls you daily to repentance, that in this very place — at this very Altar, on earth as it is in heaven — you might eat His Body and drink His Blood in faith and with thanksgiving, unto the Resurrection of your Body and the Life everlasting of your body and soul in the neverending Epiphany of His divine, eternal Glory.

In the Name + of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

17 January 2020

The 2019 Grampies

It's high time (and past time) for the posting of the 2019 Grampies, identifying the most significant albums of this past year across a wide diversity of musical genres. It was a different year in many ways. Whereas 2018 featured numerous new releases from a great many of my favorite artists, 2019 was predominated by a greater number of less familiar acts. The fact is, I was also more preoccupied with other priorities. By way of example, my three most favorite new releases in 2019, hands down, were my three most-recently-born baby grands, Benedict, Philippa, and Augustin. My father's departure from this vale of tears in 2019 also put the transience of popular music into perspective, especially considering that my Dad also avidly followed and charted music across the years. Now his collection of music sits without its owner, and his many lists and notes will go undeciphered. Even so, for the time that we are given in this body and life on earth, music of all kinds is part and parcel of our Lord's good creation, a beautiful gift of His grace, and a joy that gladdens the hearts of His dear children. And I give thanks for that blessing.

As always, my enjoyment and tracking of music have been aided and abetted by Amazon, Spotify, the St. Joseph County Library, the Rate Your Music and Album Of The Year websites, my good friend and colleague, Rev. Erich Fickel, and my own children. Often as not, I stumble upon great new music almost by accident. (I've concluded that, beginning with this New Year, I'm going to have to limit my exploration of new music and rather stick to my tried and true favorite artists; but here, for now, my focus of attention is on what I discovered and enjoyed in 2019.)

In addition to my "Album Top 40" (across all genres) for the year, I've included lists of the most significant albums within each of seventeen different "genres." Within those categories, I've listed the albums in more-or-less my order of preference (though that is likely to vary from day to day). In many cases, trying to determine the precise genre of a given album is a challenge, and I'm sure there are those who might well quibble with some of my decisions in that regard. So be it. This is all a matter of my own tastes and opinions, obviously, and one and all are free to disagree with me. That's part of the fun in posting such lists, and I welcome friendly discussion and debate. I should note that I have normally not included live albums as contenders in the annual Grampies, but I've made one exception (sort of) for this past year. Especially having had the privilege and pleasure of seeing Joe Bonamassa live in South Bend with my wife and a couple of good friends, I simply could not overlook his "Live at the Sydney Opera House" album, released in October. It is an exquisite album and a joy to listen to. So I've listed it as the first album in the "Guitarists" genre, and as a "Special Honorable Addendum" to my "Album Top 40."

Alright, then. Without any further ado, herewith are awarded the coveted Grampies for 2019:

D. Rick’s Album Top 40 (Across Genres)

1. Alter Bridge - Walk the Sky

2. Sabaton - The Great War

3. The Black Keys - “Let’s Rock”

4. Rob Thomas - Chip Tooth Smile

5. Andy Black - The Ghost of Ohio

6. Cody Jinks - After the Fire / The Wanting

7. Lonerider - Attitude

8. Opeth - In Cauda Venenum

9. The Head and the Heart - Living Mirage

10. Jamestown Revival - San Isabel

11. Avantasia - Moonglow

12. Jimmy Barnes - My Criminal Record

13. Black Star Riders - Another State of Grace

14. Terra Nova - Raise Your Voice

15. Flatland Cavalry - Homeland Insecurity

16. Skillet - Victorious

17. Miranda Lambert - Wildcard

18. Age of Reflection - A New Dawn

19. Kenny Wayne Shepherd - The Traveler

20. Battle Beast - No More Hollywood Endings

21. Scott Stapp - The Space Between the Shadows

22. Metalite - Biomechanicals

23. Inglorious - Ride to Nowhere

24. Switchfoot - Native Tongue

25. Beth Hart - War in My Mind

26. Iron Savior - Kill or Get Killed

27. Dream Theater - Distance Over Time

28. Damon Johnson - Memoirs of an Uprising

29. Volbeat - Rewind, Replay, Rebound

30. The Steel Woods - Old News

31. Taylor Swift - Lover

32. Majestica - Above the Sky

33. The Avett Brothers - Closer Than Together

34. Kiefer Sutherland - Reckless & Me

35. Cyhra - No Halos in Hell

36. Tanya Tucker - While I’m Livin’

37. Rival Sons - Feral Roots

38. Bayside - Interrobang

39. Lady Antebellum - Ocean

40. Rhapsody of Fire - The Eighth Mountain

Special Honorable Addendum: Joe Bonamassa - Live at the Sydney Opera House


Taylor Swift - Lover
Sheryl Crow - Threads
Céline Dion - Courage
James Blunt - Once Upon a Mind
Maggie Rogers - Heard It in a Past Life
Sara Bareilles - Amidst the Chaos
Dean Lewis - A Place We Knew
Walk Off the Earth - Here We Go!
Sabrina Carpenter - Singular Act II
Ingrid Michaelson - Stranger Songs
The Script - Sunsets & Full Moons
Jonas Brothers - Happiness Begins / Music from Chasing Happiness
Backstreet Boys - DNA
Dido - Still on My Mind
Carly Rae Jepsen - Dedicated
Norah Jones - Begin Again
Parachute - Parachute
Andy Grammer - Naive
Camila Cabello - Romance
Zac Brown - The Controversy

Alternative and Progressive Folk

The Head and the Heart - Living Mirage
The Avett Brothers - Closer Than Together
The Highwomen - The Highwomen
Neyla Pekarek - Rattlesnake
The Wild Reeds - Cheers
Joseph - Good Luck, Kid
Jessica Pratt - Quiet Signs
Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds - Ghosteen
Lula Wiles - What Will We Do
Dylan LeBlanc - Renegade
Glen Hansard - The Wild Willing
Drew Holcomb & The Neighbors - Dragons
The Lumineers - III
Bailen - Thrilled to Be Here
Better Oblivion Community Center - Better Oblivion Community Center
Belle & Sebastian - Days of the Bagnold Summer
Shovels & Rope - By Blood
Steve Gunn - The Unseen In Between
Ida Mae - Chasing Lights
Son Volt - Union

Folk and Americana

Jamestown Revival - San Isabel
Flatland Cavalry - Homeland Insecurity
J.S. Ondara - Tales of America
Sister Hazel - Earth / Fire
Allison Moorer - Blood
Molly Tuttle - When You’re Ready
Emily Scott Robinson - Traveling Mercies
Eilen Jewell - Gypsy
Ian Noe - Between the Country
Vince Gill - Okie
Joy Williams - Front Porch
Bruce Springsteen - Western Stars
Carrie Newcomer - The Point of Arrival
Buddy & Julie Miller - Breakdown on 20th Ave. South
Mandolin Orange - Tides of a Teardrop
Patty Griffin - Patty Griffin
Dori Freeman - Every Single Star
Over the Rhine - Love & Revelation
Hayes Carll - What It Is
Kelsey Waldon - White Noise / White Lines
John Paul White - The Hurting Kind
Josh Ritter - Fever Breaks
The HawtThorns - Morning Sun
Joshua Radin - Here, Right Now
Rhiannon Giddens - There Is No Other
Passenger - Sometimes It’s Something, Sometimes It’s Nothing at All
Justin Townes Earle - The Saint of Lost Causes
Andrew Combs - Ideal Man
The Talbott Brothers - Ghost Talker
Leonard Cohen - Thanks for the Dance

Modern Mainline Country

Miranda Lambert - Wildcard
Lady Antebellum - Ocean
Ward Thomas - Restless Minds
Christie Lamb - Broken Lines
Maddie & Tae - One Heart to Another / Everywhere I’m Goin’
Michaela Anne - Desert Dove
Lauren Jenkins - No Saint
Luke Combs - What You See Is What You Get
Brooks & Dunn - Reboot
Jason Aldean - 9
Austin Jenckes - If You Grew Up Like I Did
Clay Walker - Long Live the Cowboy
Hunter Hayes - Wild Blue, Part I
Hootie & The Blowfish - Imperfect Circle
Jon Pardi - Heartache Medication
Justin Moore - Late Nights and Longnecks
Kevin Fowler - Barstool Stories
Jake Owen - Greetings from . . . Jake
Maren Morris - Girl
Brooke White - Calico
Cassadee Pope - Stages
Tracy Lawrence - Made in America
Rodney Atkins - Caught Up in the Country
Thomas Rhett - Center Point Road
Zac Brown Band - The Owl
Sarah Darling - Wonderland
Old Dominion - Old Dominion
Chris Janson - Real Friends
Danny Gokey - Haven’t Seen It Yet
Dean Brody - Black Sheep (EP)

Retro and Traditional Country

Cody Jinks - After the Fire / The Wanting
Tanya Tucker - While I’m Livin’
Kendell Marvel - Solid Gold Sounds
Sunny Leigh Shipley - Out of the Sky
George Strait - Honky Tonk Time Machine
Tyler Childers - Country Squire
Trisha Yearwood - Every Girl
Erin Enderlin - Faulkner County
Randy Rogers Band - Hellbent
Cody Johnson - Ain’t Nothin’ to It
Reba McEntire - Stronger Than the Truth
Yola - Walk Through Fire
Willie Nelson - Ride Me Back Home
Midland - Let It Roll
Mike and the Moonpies - Cheap Silver and Solid Country Gold
Casey Donahew - One Light Town
Ronnie Milsap - The Duets
Dee White - Southern Gentleman

Alternative & Edgy Country & Americana

The Steel Woods - Old News
Kiefer Sutherland - Reckless & Me
Paul Cauthen - Room 41
Pony Bradshaw - Sudden Opera
Adrian - Desert Dwelling Mama
Lukas Nelson & Promise of the Real - Turn Off the News (Build a Garden)
Ryan Bingham - American Love Song
Lillie Mae - Other Girls
Jason Hawk Harris - Love & the Dark
Chris Knight - Almost Daylight
Steve Earle - Guy
Kalie Shorr - Open Book
Aaron Lewis - State I’m In
Brantley Gilbert - Fire & Brimstone
Randy Houser - Magnolia
Frank Turner - No Man’s Land
Montgomery Gentry - Outskirts (EP)
Micky & The Motorcars - Long Time Comin’
Dillon Carmichael - I Do for You (EP)
Jack Ingram - Ridin’ High . . . Again

Pop and Heartland Rock

Rob Thomas - Chip Tooth Smile
Jimmy Barnes - My Criminal Record
Beth Hart - War in My Mind
Keuning - Prismism
The Goo Goo Dolls - Miracle Pill
Avril Lavigne - Head Above Water
Grace Potter - Daylight
Don Felder - American Rock ‘n’ Roll
Wilder Woods - Wilder Woods
The Cranberries - In the End
Jimmy Eat World - Surviving
Bryan Adams - Shine a Light
Electric Light Orchestra (Jeff Lynne’s ELO) - From Out of Nowhere
Kevin Griffin - Anywhere You Go
Fastball - The Help Machine
Ringo Starr - What’s My Name
American Authors - Seasons
Stray Cats - 40
Alan Parsons - The Secret
Allen, Mack, Myers, & Moore - Let It Roll

Classic Rock

The Black Keys - “Let’s Rock”
Lonerider - Attitude
Black Star Riders - Another State of Grace
Inglorious - Ride to Nowhere
Rival Sons - Feral Roots
Tesla - Shock
The Allman Betts Band - Down to the River
The Raconteurs - Help Us Stranger
Thunder - Please Remain Seated
Wolfmother - Rock ‘n’ Roll Baby
Melissa Etheridge - The Medicine Show
The Magpie Salute - High Water II
Tyler Bryant & the Shakedown - Truth and Lies
Whiskey Myers - Whiskey Myers
Laura Cox - Burning Bright
Caleb Johnson - Born from Southern Ground
Black Stone Cherry - Black to Blues, Vol. 2 (EP)
The Who - Who
The Drugstore Gypsies - Easy Access
Reese Wynans and Friends - Sweet Release
The Glorious Sons - A War on Everything
John Mayall - Nobody Told Me

Retro Radio Rock

Terra Nova - Raise Your Voice
Age of Reflection - A New Dawn
The Brink - Nowhere to Run
Trishula - Scared to Breathe
Rob Moratti - Renaissance
Gathering of Kings - First Mission
Restless Spirits - Restless Spirits
The Defiants - Zokusho
Danger Zone - Don’t Count on Heroes
Danny Vaughn - Myths Legends and Lies
Wake the Nations - Heartrock
First Signal - Line of Fire
Work of Art - Exhibits
Find Me - Angels in Blue
DeVicious - Reflections
Viana - Forever Free
Hardline - Life
Cats in Space - Day Trip to Narnia
Toby Hitchcock - Reckoning
Jim Peterik and World Stage - Winds of Change

Modern Rock

Alter Bridge - Walk the Sky
Andy Black - The Ghost of Ohio
Skillet - Victorious
Scott Stapp - The Space Between the Shadows
Volbeat - Rewind, Replay, Rebound
Eclipse - Paradigm
Takida - Sju
Saint Asonia - Flawed Design
Ray Alder - What the Water Wants
The Darker My Horizon - Seize the Day
Buckcherry - Warpaint
Art of Dying - Armageddon
Art Nation - Transition
Torndown - Out of the Darkness
Cold - The Things We Can’t Stop
Puddle of Mudd - Welcome to Galvania

Progressive Rock & Metal

Opeth - In Cauda Venenum
Dream Theater - Distance Over Time
Queensrÿche - The Verdict
Evergrey - The Atlantic
Arch/Matheos - Winter Ethereal
The Neal Morse Band - The Great Adventure / Jesus Christ the Exorcist
Steve Hackett - At the Edge of Light
Insomnium - Heart Like a Grave
Vanden Plas - The Ghost Xperiment - Awakening
Sweet Oblivion - Sweet Oblivion
Darkwater - Human
Hollow Haze - Between Wild Landscapes and Deep Blue Seas
Pattern-Seeking Animals - Pattern-Seeking Animals
Avandra - Descender
Sifting - The Infinite Loop
Teramaze - Are We Soldiers
Lance King - ReProgram
Richard Henshall - The Cocoon
Flying Colors - Third Degree
Jordan Rudess - Wired for Madness
TOOL - Fear Inoculum
Baroness - Gold & Grey

Hard Rock / Heavy Metal

Sabaton - The Great War
Battle Beast - No More Hollywood Endings
Beast in Black - From Hell with Love
Liliac - Chain of Thorns (EP)
Spirits of Fire - Spirits of Fire
The End Machine - The End Machine
Sammy Hagar & The Circle - Space Between
Mind Key - MK III - Aliens in Wonderland
Starbreaker - Dysphoria
Michael Sweet - Ten
Pretty Maids - Undress Your Madness
Alchemy - Dyadic
Lazy Bonez - Kiss of the Night
Whitesnake - Flesh & Blood
Last in Line - II
Blacktop Mojo - Under the Sun
Stargazer - The Sky Is the Limit
KXM - Circle of Dolls
SOTO - Origami
Overkill - The Wings of War

Epic Power Metal

Iron Savior - Kill or Get Killed
Majestica - Above the Sky
Signum Regis - The Seal of a New World
Tanith - In Another Time
Timo Tolkki’s Avalon - Return to Eden
Gloryhammer - Legends from Beyond the Galactic Terrorvortex
The Ferrymen - A New Evil
Eternity’s End - Unyielding
Frozen Crown - Crowned in Frost
Rexoria - Ice Breaker
The Raven Age - Conspiracy
Vision Divine - When All the Heroes Are Dead
Hammerfall - Dominion
Sonata Arctica - Talviyö
DragonForce - Extreme Power Metal
Metal De Facto - Imperium Romanum

Symphonic Metal

Avantasia - Moonglow
Rhapsody of Fire - The Eighth Mountain
Chaos Magic - Furyborn
Turilli / Lione Rhapsody - Zero Gravity (Rebirth and Evolution)
The Dark Element - Songs the Night Sings
Moonlight Haze - De Rerum Natura
Visions of Atlantis - Wanderers
Within Temptation - Resist
Edenbridge - Dynamind
Imperia - Flames of Eternity
Delain - Hunter’s Moon
Blind Guardian Twilight Orchestra - Legacy of the Dark Lands

Alternative Metal

Metalite - Biomechanicals
Cyhra - No Halos in Hell
In Flames - I, The Mask
Of Mice & Men - Earth & Sky
Amon Amarth - Berserker
Lacuna Coil - Black Anima
Rage of Light - Imploder
Freedom Call - M.E.T.A.L.
Killswitch Engage - Atonement
As I Lay Dying - Shaped by Fire
Edge of Paradise - Universe
Starset - Divisions
Myrath - Shehili
Jinjer - Macro / Micro (EP)
Voyager - Colours in the Sun
Nemesea - White Flag

Ambiguous Alternatives

Switchfoot - Native Tongue
Bayside - Interrobang
Collective Soul - Blood
Sleeping with Sirens - How It Feels to Be Lost
Judah & the Lion - Pep Talks
NF - The Search
The Hold Steady - Thrashing Thru the Passion
Weezer - Weezer (Black) / Weezer (Teal)
The Claypool Lennon Delirium - South of Reality
Vampire Weekend - Father of the Bride
Sunset Sons - Blood Rush Déjà Vu
little hurricane - Love Luck
Of Monsters and Men - Fever Dream
Sharon Van Etten - Remind Me Tomorrow
Tegan and Sara - Hey, I’m Just Like You
Alice Merton - Mint
Sturgill Simpson - Sound & Fury
Bastille - Doom Days
blink-182 - Nine
Jenny Lewis - On the Line
Pixies - Beneath the Eyrie
Ed Sheeran - No. 6 Collaborations
James Blake - Assume Form
Swervedriver - Future Ruins


Joe Bonamassa - Live at the Sydney Opera House
Kenny Wayne Shepherd - The Traveler
Damon Johnson - Memoirs of an Uprising
Diana Rein - Queen of My Castle
Michael Schenker Fest - Revelation
Steve Dadaian - Follow the Light
Tommy Emmanuel - Heart Songs
Tedeschi Trucks Band - Signs / High & Mighty (EP)
Joanne Shaw Taylor - Reckless Heart
Gary Clark, Jr. - This Land
Billy Strings - Home
Soren Andersen - Guilty Pleasures
Morano - Incognito
Joe Stump - Symphonic Onslaught
Gary Hoey - Neon Highway Blues
Santana - Africa Speaks
Peter Frampton Band - All Blues
Yngwie Malmsteen - Blue Lightning
Eric Gales - The Bookends
Mark Morton - Anesthetic
John 5 & The Creatures - Invasion

12 January 2020

You Are Baptized and Beloved of God in Christ Jesus

As the Boy Jesus submitted to His earthly parents in obedience and love, so does the same Lord Jesus now submit Himself to St. John the Baptist — to his preaching and baptism of repentance.  And no one is more surprised by that fact than St. John himself, who tries at first to prevent Him.

The people coming to be baptized by St. John come confessing their sins.  But Jesus has no sins of His own to confess, nothing to repent.  He comes, however, confessing your sins and the sins of the world, as though they were His own, as though He had committed all of them Himself.  He confesses all your failures to do what you should do, and all your wickedness in doing what you should not.  He confesses your murder and adultery of thought, word, and deed; your theft and false witness; your gossip and greed; your covetous idolatry and blasphemous speaking and acting.

And for all of these sins, which He takes upon Himself, He repents by way of His Cross, by His sacrificial Death and Resurrection.  That is the work He begins to do in the waters of the Jordan.

He submits to St. John’s Baptism in order to fulfill all righteousness for you and for all sinners, in order to reconcile the world to His God and Father.  To set all things right, as they should be.  To repair what has been broken, to revive and refresh what has been bruised and bent, and to establish a good and right relationship with God, a friendship of faith and love, a true sonship of peace.

In order to accomplish such great things for you, St. John’s fierce and fiery preaching of God’s Law is here set upon Jesus, so that all the righteous wrath and judgment of God against your sins, and all the punishment of your sins, now punishes Him.  At the same time, He also submits Himself to all the just demands of the Law — everything that pertains to faith and love toward God and belonging to love for His neighbors — that He should thereby perfect and establish all things in Himself, in His flesh and blood, in all of His relationships, vocations, and stations in life.  That is what He does for you and all, for your sake and for your benefit, in your stead and on your behalf.

In this way He puts not only His body and life on the line for you, but His divine, eternal Sonship.  In flesh and blood like yours He weathers the curse and consequences of sin and death under the Law, in order to give you His body and life and bestow His divine Sonship upon you by His grace.

All that has been yours becomes His, in order that all that belongs to Him should become yours.

On the one hand, the Law’s fire and brimstone fall upon Him; and on the other hand, the Holy Spirit descends upon Him in bodily form as a dove, anointing Him as the Christ.  Thus, in Him, the fire does not consume you, but purifies you as silver and gold are purified by fire; and likewise, the same Spirit that descends upon Jesus is poured out generously upon you, in order to sanctify you in body and soul, and to give you Life with God in Christ Jesus, both now and ever after.

As Jesus went into the water for you, and He came up out of the water, so do you drown and die to sin in the waters of Holy Baptism, and you emerge and arise from that watery grave to a new life.  By the water, Word, and Spirit of Christ Jesus, you are a new creation.  You are a Christian, anointed by the Spirit of Jesus, the Christ.  You are a beloved and well-pleasing son of the Father.  As He speaks from heaven concerning Christ Jesus, so also of those who are baptized into Him.

Heaven is now opened to you, and it shall not be shut to you again, because all of your sins have been washed away, and thus are you clean.  The righteousness of God in Christ is yours.  Because His Baptism is not only for you; it has been given to you, and so it is yours.  His repentance, His confession and forgiveness are yours.  His Cross and Resurrection are yours, not only once upon a time, but once and for all, for every day of your life on earth, by His grace through faith in Him, by His Word and Spirit, until your Baptism shall be completed in the death of your mortal flesh and in the resurrection of your body to the Life everlasting, immortal, imperishable, and glorious.

Your Baptism is the beginning of that good work in you, which the Lord has already accomplished and completed for you by His Incarnation — by His Nativity and Holy Baptism, by His Life and Ministry, by His Cross and Passion, and by His Resurrection and Ascension.  That is the good work that He is bringing to completion in you by His preaching of repentance and by His daily forgiveness of your sins, unto the day of His glorious appearing for the final Judgment.  Then the righteousness which is already yours by faith in Him shall be openly declared before the face of all the nations, in the presence of all your enemies, in defiance of sin, death, the devil, and hell.

Just as surely as Jesus came up out of the water and out of the tomb, so surely are you justified and sanctified in Him.  And it is just as true and sure and certain that you shall be raised from the dead at the last and live forever and ever in your body and soul with Christ Jesus and all the faithful.

It is true that every day your sins are putting you back into the ground, returning you to the dust of the earth from which your first father was taken.  With every covetous and hateful thought, with every false and hurtful word, with every selfish and abusive act, old Adam buries you again.

But your sins do not bury Christ Jesus or put Him back into the ground.  Having died once for all, and having risen from the dead, He will never die again.  Death no longer has any mastery over Him.  Nor does death have any lasting hold or power over you, since you have already died with Christ in your Baptism, and sharing His death you also share His Resurrection.  The life He lives, He lives for you in the presence of God in all righteousness, innocence, blessedness, and purity.

As often as the old Adam in you, with all your sinful lusts and desires, puts you to death and buries you in the tomb, so often and even more decisively does Jesus Christ, the New Man, put your old Adam to death and raise you to newness of life in Himself, in peace and reconciliation with His God and Father in heaven.  His Voice and Spirit descend to where you are, even to the depths of Sheol, in order to raise you up and make you brand new through His forgiveness of all your sins.

Your sins put you to death because they separate you from God, but the Father has reconciled you to Himself in Christ Jesus, the beloved Son, and He has anointed you with His Spirit, adopted you as a child and heir by His grace, and bound Himself to you, and you to Him, with His own Name.

Your sins are deadly, but they cannot destroy you in Christ.  Death is brutal and devastating, but it does not have the last word concerning you, and it is not permitted to keep you.  The devil is cunning and powerful, but he has been robbed of all his weapons against you — for Christ has fulfilled and satisfied the Law, atoned for all your sins, and overcome your death; He has risen from the dead for your justification and ascended to the right hand of the Father for your glory.

This same Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God and St. Mary’s Son, crucified and risen in the flesh, has been baptized for you.  Therefore, your Baptism into Him avails for you at all times and in all places.  What this means for you is that even sin and death must serve the purposes of God and not of the devil; they drive you to repentance — from idolatry and unbelief to faith in Christ Jesus.

And so it is that the death of your body in this wilderness of tears does not mean the end of your life with God, but only the end of sin and every evil in your flesh.  Until then — though you daily sin much and surely deserve nothing but punishment — the Jordan River of Holy Baptism is constantly washing away your sins and preserving you with Jesus Christ in the one true faith.

His mercies are new every morning, and from the waters of your Baptism, day by day throughout your life, He makes of you a new creation.  The same waters that drown and destroy your sin and death, lift you up and save you aboard the Holy Ark of Christendom.  They stand as a mighty wall against your enemies, a tidal wave drowning proud Pharaoh with all his chariots and horsemen, keeping them at bay, while opening up the way out of Egypt before you — through the Cross and Resurrection of Christ Jesus — into the good Land that God has promised and given to you in His dearly-beloved and well-pleasing Son.   Holy Baptism thus stands for you at the foothills of the Lord’s Holy Mountain, on the cusp of the wilderness, and at the threshold of Paradise.

The new and better Joshua has entered those waters ahead of you, in order to open up the way for you and for all; and He has established Himself in the midst of the Jordan until you and all His chosen people have passed through those waters into Canaan.  He shall not be moved.

The waters that would have dashed you against the rocks and swept you away have swept over Him and swallowed Him up.  But just when it seems as though He has been drowned and died forever, His body never to be recovered, He rises from the water and lives.  And in that sacred bath, in that washing of Jesus in the Jordan River, which you share with Him by the washing of water with His Word — in that Baptism is your repentance, forgiveness, faith, and resurrection.

And here is the reason why: When Jesus, the unblemished Lamb of God, came to St. John, the son of a priest and more than a prophet, and submitted to his baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, He was humbling Himself before God, putting Himself under the Law, and obeying His Father in perfect faith and love by submitting Himself to the suffering and death of the Cross.

So, then, already in His Baptism the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ began putting Him to death for the sins of the world — for all of your sins — until this Baptism which He undergoes for you would be fully kindled in the fire of His Passion and finished in His atoning Sacrifice.

God put Him to death for your sins.  And God raised Him up again, the very One who died for you.  That is your Absolution, your righteousness and holiness, and your resurrection, now and forever.

So, then, as you have died with Christ by your Baptism into His death, and as you are risen with Him by faith in His Resurrection, your life in both body and soul is safe and sound — hidden with Christ in God by the Holy Spirit, who lives and abides in you by the Ministry of the Gospel.

Set your heart and mind, therefore, on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God the Father almighty.  Set your sights on Him and on His sacred and eternal things, and do not cling to the perishing and temporal things of this dying world.  Do not invest yourself in those things which do not last and cannot give you life, but fear, love, and trust in the Lord Jesus Christ.

That is not to say that you neglect or ignore your body and life in this world.  On the contrary, it is by faith in Christ that you live your life here and now, and love your neighbor as yourself, and do the work that God has given you to do, and bear the Cross in the hope of the Resurrection.  As Israel proceeded from the Red Sea to the Jordan, and as Christ Jesus proceeded from the Jordan to His Cross and Passion, so do you live and work in the wilderness on your sojourn to the Land that God has promised — from the waters of your Holy Baptism to the resurrection of your body.

Whether you are an officer and leader of our congregation, a father or mother, a husband or wife, a brother or sister, or whatever your callings and stations in life may be, your labors of faith and love are not in vain.  For you are baptized into Christ Jesus, and though you die, yet shall you live.  So shall He guard your body and soul in His righteousness throughout your pilgrimage on earth, and so shall He preserve you steadfast in His Word and Holy Spirit unto the Life everlasting.

In the Name + of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

06 January 2020

The Manifestation of God in the Flesh of His Word

The visit of the Magi is the perfect hinge between the Christmas and Epiphany Seasons, because it indicates the right response to the Nativity of our Lord.  In seeking Him out, entering the House where He is found, and worshiping Him with their bodies and their gifts, the Magi exemplify the confession of Christ Jesus and the life of faith and love to which you and all the nations are called.

It is clear that St. Matthew has recorded this story, by inspiration of the Holy Spirit, in a way that proclaims Christ Jesus in the light of the Holy Scriptures.  Dr. Luther, for example, was pleased to see these Magi from the East as a fulfillment of the Prophecy we have heard this evening from Isaiah — in which case we know more about these foreign visitors from the Old Testament than the New.  Also suggestive are parallels with the visit by the Queen of Sheba to the earlier son of David, King Solomon; and Jesus Himself will actually call attention to that narrative at some point later in the Gospel According to St. Matthew.  But the One greater than King Solomon is here.

Indeed, the almighty and eternal Son of the Living God is here present in the human flesh and blood of Jesus.  The fact that the Magi come to worship Him as such demonstrates their faith in His Divinity.  “For you shall worship the Lord your God, and Him only shall you serve.”  But notice how carefully St. Matthew describes the object of their worship as “the young Child with His Mother.”  It is the true-God-in-the-Flesh to whom they pay homage, the Child born of Mary.

Let us give the Magi credit for such astute theological insight.  They did not have the benefit of Nativity scenes and Christmas pageants to guide their steps; there was no script for them to follow.  Their prostrate worship in the presence of a poor little infant is an astounding confession of faith.  Would that we, with all our Bibles and theology, had less pride and more reverent humility in the presence of the Lord Jesus Christ, who is here with you in and with His Word and with His Flesh.

For the Word became Flesh and tabernacles with us.  Only in this way do we behold His Glory, the Glory of the one and only Son.  Only in this way does He reveal God the Father to us.

But there is more to it than even this astonishing revelation of the one true God in human Flesh.  In contrast to the sincere and faithful worship of the Magi, you already know what Herod really has in mind for the Christ Child, and how he will slaughter the Holy Innocents in his vain attempt to destroy the newborn King of the Jews.  And even though Christ Jesus Himself will be delivered from that menace, you see and hear His Holy Cross and Passion foreshadowed in those events.

He came to His own, but His own did not receive Him.  He was in the world, and the world was made by Him, but the world did not know Him.  He was under attack from the beginning, and the Epiphany of His Divine Glory was manifested under persecution, suffering, and the pain of death.  It’s all foolishness to the world.  But for you, by faith, it is the grace and power of salvation.

Even the description of Christ as the “King of the Jews” foreshadows the epitaph on His Cross.  Indeed, it is precisely there on the Cross that He will conquer the kingdoms of this world and take His throne as the everlasting King of Jews and Gentiles alike: the Lamb once slain for sinful men.

Christians from at least the second century onward saw all of this revealed in the gifts presented to Christ by the Magi.  So also Martin Luther, for example, who interpreted the gifts in this way:

“The sacrifice of gold signifies the confession of the Magi that Christ is a King; the frankincense, that He is a Priest between God and man; the myrrh, that He died and was buried.  These three aspects apply to the humanity of Christ, but in such a way that He is God and that all of this happened to Him in mortal flesh because of His Divinity.

“He could not be the King over all things for our good, if He had not first reconciled God with us and quieted our conscience, so that He might rule and do His work within us in peace and quiet, as in His own Kingdom.  Therefore He also had to be our Priest.  But if He was to be a Priest and reconcile us with God, He had to satisfy God’s righteousness for us.  But no other satisfaction was possible than for Him to offer Himself and die and in His own Person conquer sin together with death.  In dying He became our Priest, and through His Priesthood He received the Kingdom.”

All of this our dear Lord Jesus Christ has suffered and achieved for you and all people.  In Him, “God became Man, so that man might (by grace) become divine (in Christ).”  He became like you in every way, save only without any sins of His own.  He lived your human life on your behalf, under the Law, and under the burden of your sin; and by His sacrificial death He destroyed forever the power that death and the devil held over you.  Therefore, also, by His bodily Resurrection from the dead, and by His Ascension into heaven as the One who remains the true Man now and forever, He has raised you up with Himself to the everlasting Life and Salvation of the Holy Triune God.

This is the great “Mystery” of the Christian faith, as described by St. Paul, that is, the forgiveness, life, and salvation of Christ, especially in His revelation of the true Divine Glory in His own Flesh and Blood.  Not only in His conception and birth of St. Mary and in His Cross and Resurrection, but so also in His Church on earth, in the preaching of His Gospel and in His Holy Sacraments.

The “Mystery of Christ” has thus been revealed to His New Testament Apostles and Prophets, including St. Paul; and these men, in turn, have made known the Mystery of Christ to His Church.

Such is the grace and mercy given by the Spirit of Christ to His Ministers of Preaching and the Sacraments down to our own day, as well.  And this is no small thing, that the human proclamation of the Gospel is in fact a bodily manifestation of the full Divine Glory in Christ; that the pastoral administration of such earthly things as water, bread, and wine — with nothing but a few simple Words — is a very real participation in the unsearchable riches of Christ.

However foolish and humble all of this might seem to human sight and sense, it is a demonstration in the Church of Divine Wisdom, which makes the principalities and powers sit up and take notice.  For in Christ, you have access to the heights of Divine Glory, beyond even that of the holy angels.

But now, as one who is thus given to follow in the footsteps of Christ, the incarnate Son of God, you should also understand that to share in His Divine Glory here on earth means that you are also counted worthy to share in His Cross and suffering.  For now, your participation in His glory is not “in spite of” the Cross; it is rather in the Cross itself, in bearing the Cross in repentance, faith, and love for God and your neighbors.  Precisely such as these — the Cross and sacrifice — are the true glory of Christ and the manifestation of His full divinity as the only-begotten Son of the Father.

Consider the example of the Magi.  Though they saw nothing but a rundown shack and a poor young Mother with her poor little Babe — not much of a king; more pitiful than one of their own servants — still, they did not falter.  With a great, strong faith they cast out all the misgivings of common sense, and, following nothing but the Word of a Prophet and the witness of a star, they accepted Him for a King; they fell on their knees, worshiped Him, and presented their treasures.

Do not be offended, therefore, by the lowly estate of your neighbors and of the Church on earth, but rather see Christ in them.  For the everlasting Kingdom of Christ is found among the lowly and despised, in persecution and misery, and under the Cross.  Those who look for Christ elsewhere do not find Him.  The Magi discovered Him — not at Herod’s court, not with the high priests, not in the great city of Jerusalem — but in that little town of Bethlehem, with lowly folk, with Mary and Joseph.  In a word, they found Him where no one in the world would ever have expected.

Like the Magi, you are able to recognize the true Divine Glory in the Cross of Christ and in His humble flesh and blood solely by the revelation of His Word, by faith in His Word.  For though the star attracted the attention of the Magi, it was nevertheless the Word of God concerning that Star of Jacob (the Prophecy of Balaam in Numbers 24) that set them on their way to Jerusalem.  And it was not the star at all, but the Prophecy of Micah, that sent them to the Child in Bethlehem.

Thus, aside from the historical fact of the star in the heavens, let us be far more attentive to the theological implications contained in the words of St. Matthew and the Magi.  The real “Star” of the story (pardon the pun) — the Star of true significance — is the Morning Star now rising in your heart by the grace of God.  It was the Child, after all, and not the star, which the Magi sought and worshiped.  In Him alone are the Prophecies of Balaam and Micah fulfilled and made more sure.

Hence the startling contrast in this Holy Gospel.  The chief priests and scribes know where the Christ is born; and they ought to know better than foreign Magi who and what the Christ will be.  And yet, they are content with their knowledge, content to remain at home in Jerusalem with their Bibles, while the very Christ of God tabernacles in the flesh less than ten miles away.

The Magi, on the other hand, receive the Word of God as it is meant to be received, and so it drives them and compels them to seek out the Christ, their Savior and their God-in-the-flesh, to find Him and worship Him.  The Magi rely on the Word, to be sure, but they are not content with Scripture for its own sake.  They cling to it solely for the sake of the Christ, to whom it points and leads.

Those in our own day who think it sufficient or even preferable to stay at home with their Bibles and to forsake the Divine Service of Christ in His Church have missed the whole point.  They may search the Scriptures, because they suppose that in them they have eternal life; but they do not find it, because they do not allow themselves to be led by the Word of God to His Word-made-Flesh.

But, no — like the Magi, follow the guidance and direction of the Word to the place where Christ is present for you.  Enter the House of Christ, and see Him cradled in the bosom of His Church.  And here in this Bethlehem, in this House of Bread, receive His holy presence with thanksgiving.

It is not simply a matter of architecture, but surely a theological proclamation of Divine grace, when St. Matthew writes that the Magi “entered the House and saw.”  Called by the Word and Spirit of God into the House of the Lord, they are enlightened by His grace and grafted into the true house and lineage of Abraham.  Their lives are fundamentally changed.  They henceforth return to their earthly homes by an entirely different way — having been called away from the false belief and treachery of Herod (who is, by the way, no longer described as “the king”).

No longer are these Magi guided by an astral phenomenon, but rather by the Star who has risen for them in the flesh here on earth.  They came to worship Him and offer gifts, but He has blessed them with the richest Gift of all — a participation in His own Divine Life.  Sacrificing themselves by repentance and faith, they have received all things in heaven and on earth from Christ the King.

So also for you.  Your too-frequent failure to believe the Word, to follow the Star, to worship the Lord as you should — your tendency to live far more like Herod than the Magi — is resolved and forgiven, not by greater efforts or “New Year’s” resolutions on your part, but by the Epiphany of God in the Flesh, who has given Himself for you, even unto death upon the Cross, and who gives Himself to you here within His Church on earth, in the Sacrament of His own Body and Blood.

God grant you His grace, that by His Word and Holy Spirit you may follow the example of the Magi in receiving these gifts, confessing the Divine Kingship of Christ Jesus, your Savior, Lord, and God-in-the-Flesh, and so also praising His goodness with your lips, your body, and your life.

In the Name + of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

05 January 2020

Seek the Lord Where He May Be Found

We have only this one story from the time of our dear Lord’s childhood between His Holy Nativity and His Holy Baptism.  But if it is at all typical of those years, then we must agree with Dr. Luther that rearing the sinless Son of God was a Cross for St. Mary and St. Joseph to bear!  So is it often the case that your greatest honor and blessing can also be among your heaviest burdens, as well.

On this occasion St. Mary is reminded that her precious and precocious young Son belongs not to her but to His Father in heaven.  That is uniquely true in the case of her Son, to be sure.  But do you not also pray that it would be so for your children, as well, that they should be the Lord’s.  And yet, you must also be prepared, along with dear St. Mary, for the burden of that blessing, which is indeed granted to you and your children through Jesus Christ, the Son of God and Mary’s Son.

Today, as you can well imagine, there is the Cross in Mary’s sorrow and anxiety over her missing twelve-year-old Boy.  In the first place, there is the normal anxiety of any parent over a lost child.  For those three days of anxious searching, increasingly fearing the worst, it is as though He were dead — until He is finally “raised again” for Mary and Joseph when they find Him in the Temple.

They find Him on “the Third Day,” which is by no means a minor detail of chronology, nor merely a coincidence.  In the Holy Gospels, “the Third Day” is always the Day of the Resurrection.  But there is first of all the Cross and the tomb.  It is likewise often the case that God allows you to wait and “hunger” for a while, before He reveals and gives Himself to you within His Church of the Gospel-Word and Sacraments.  And then it is for you the Resurrection of Christ Jesus from the death of His Cross — and it is your own resurrection from the dead in Him — on the Third Day!

In the specific case of this Holy Gospel, there is also the additional anxiety that St. Mary must have felt in view of her responsibility for the very Son of God, her Lord, the Messiah.  Salvation itself — not only for St. Mary, but for all the world — suddenly seemed to be at stake and in jeopardy, all because of her failure to keep the Lord Jesus in her sights and to hang on to Him.  And it is certain that, if salvation really did depend upon St. Mary, or any of us, then all would be lost!

Adding insult to injury, there is the guilt that descends upon you and accuses your conscience when things go wrong, because you know that you have failed in your duties and responsibilities, and that you have failed to keep the Lord Jesus in your sights and to hang on to Him for dear life.

Like Mary and Joseph then, you may suppose you know where Jesus is.  In the hustle and bustle of a your hectic life, you simply assume that He is there, too, in the midst of all your busyness.  And so long as things appear to be going smoothly, you see no reason to worry.  But when you turn your back and leave the Church and the Word of God behind, you are not with Christ Jesus, and you do not know where He is.  Yet, at first, you may not even realize that you are without Him.

When you are then confronted with the reality of your situation — perhaps by some tragedy, or sadness, or hardship, or sin — perhaps by the fear and panic of a lost or missing child — then, because your fallen and perishing flesh is subject to the accusation and condemnation of the Law, and you are prone to evaluate your place on the basis of your own works and achievements, you wonder if God has now written you off and given up on you.  Along the same lines, St. Mary also may have wondered — as she frantically searched for her Jesus — whether God the Father would now decide that she was no longer worthy or responsible enough to care for His incarnate Son.

That is what your guilt and shame will do to you.  It is one of Satan’s most powerful and effective tools, leading you away from faith and confidence in the gracious mercy and forgiveness of your dear Lord Jesus Christ to the doubt and despair of your own works and your own righteousness — which is to be cast upon the hopeless misery of sin, death, and hell.  And at that point, because you are already set upon the wrong track, you go about looking for Jesus in all the wrong ways.

That is what happened with Mary and Joseph, when they finally discovered His absence and set about trying to find Him.  They started out looking for Jesus in all the wrong places.  They sought Him in what was already comfortable and familiar to them.  They expected to locate Him among their family and friends.  But in all of that, they kept on coming up empty.  And so also for you.  Those are not the places where Christ Jesus is present for you.  That is not where He is to be found.  But how often don’t you attempt to find the Lord Jesus in all the “wrong places” of your own life?

In fact, the answer to St. Mary’s sorrow, anxiety, and guilt is not discovered in her own striving, no matter how earnest and well-intentioned it might be.  The answer is found only in Christ Jesus.  There is no peace or rest at all without Him.  And He is found only in the Temple of His Church, in the hearing of His Word — where you are likewise granted to seek and to find the Lord Jesus.

“Why is it that you are seeking Me?”  That is the question that Jesus poses this morning.  But it is a rhetorical question.  To whom else shall you go?  The Lord Jesus alone has the Word of Life!

To begin with, today there is the example of Jesus Himself — living your life in the flesh, as you must live in Him — remaining in the Temple of His Church, even when His nearest and dearest kin have left.  So must you remain and abide with Him, even if everyone else might go away.

There is also the lesson to be learned and taken to heart, that St. Mary and St. Joseph find the Lord Jesus, and they find all of their answers in Him, only when they have returned to His Church in Jerusalem and look for Him there, that is, in His Temple, in the speaking and hearing of His Word.

To reiterate this absolutely crucial point, the Lord Jesus is not found among the relatives and acquaintances, but in the Temple, in the Lord’s House, in the City of God.  For you now, in the New Testament, it is Christ Jesus Himself who has actually become the new, divine, and eternal Temple of God in His own Body, crucified and risen.  He is found, therefore, in the Temple of His Church on earth, in the preaching of His Word and the administration of His Flesh and Blood.

So it is that you are here called to follow the example of the sinless, almighty, all-knowing Son of God, who humbled Himself to sit at the feet of His teachers and pastors, in order to hear and learn His own Word from them.  He likewise submitted Himself in obedience to His earthly parents, to His Mother Mary and His Guardian Joseph.  He kept the Third and Fourth Commandments in holy faith and holy love.  And you no less are also called to humble yourself and submit to those authorities whom God the Lord has placed over you in this body and life on earth, and to hear and learn His Word from those teachers and pastors whom He has placed over you within His Church.

Now, it will always be the case that those who hear the Word of Christ Jesus — who seek and find Him in His Church — must be astonished and amazed by Him and His Word.  For the Lord is so very different from all the standards and expectations of the world and your own sinful reason.  Truth be told, His divine and holy Wisdom is foolishness to you and all the world around you.

So, then, what is it that you hear and receive from the Word of the Lord in this Holy Gospel?

First of all, you are taught to know the Lord Jesus Christ, who He is and what He does for you.  And then you are also taught what this means for you and your children in living the Christian life.

Every Pastor is asked, just as St. John the Baptist, Christ Jesus, and the Holy Apostles were asked, “What should we do?”  Certainly, as a Christian you know that you ought to be doing something to serve the Lord, His Church, and your neighbors in the world.  And the answer to the question is once more found in Jesus.  Indeed, you have His own example here for you and your children.

Simply put, you have the example of the Lord’s own obedience to the Ten Commandments — to the First, Third, and Fourth, in particular, which bid you to hear and heed the Word of God from both your pastors and your parents, and to fear, love, and trust in the Lord above everything else.

In this light, therefore, the first and most important answer to the question, “What should we do?” is one that contradicts the inclinations of your sinful heart, which otherwise assumes that you must do something for God or give something to Him in order to obtain His favor.  But, no, in absolute contrast to such reasoning, the answer is that you must listen to His Word and hear what He has to say; that you are to seek and pray for all things from Him, by grace alone, through faith in His Word; and that you are to receive His good and gracious gifts with thanksgiving.  It’s not what you do or give or say to Him that matters, first of all, but what He does and gives and says to you.

All of which is to say (as Christ Jesus Himself demonstrates for you today) that the most essential thing you are given to be doing as a child of God is to be in His House, hearing His Word, and receiving the Holy Sacrament of His incarnate Son.  That is where and how you will find Him and all the answers that you need — in the Holy Temple of His Church, in His own flesh and blood.

As Jesus says, “Do you not know that it is divinely necessary for Me to be in My Father’s House?”  Or, as some English translations legitimately put it, “to be about My Father’s business.”

Here again is the implicit recognition, first of all, that you and your children belong to God.  And as such, there is a divine necessity that you and your children must also be about the business of your Father in heaven — that is, to be in His House, in His Word, in the Body of His Son.

To parents is thus given the additional responsibility, not only to hear and heed the Word of the Lord for themselves, but also to bring their children to the Temple of His Church, where they too may hear and learn His Word and receive His gifts.  And as the Temple in Jerusalem has been replaced by the flesh and blood of Jesus Christ, and His Body is the Holy Church, parents bring their children to the Temple first of all through Holy Baptism — wherein they are buried with Christ in His death and raised in His Resurrection.  In this way parents “lose” their children in the Temple, they entrust them to their own God and Father in heaven.  Of course, parents still have the responsibility to rear their children in the fear and faith of God, to feed and clothe and otherwise care for them in wisdom and stature.  But they must also leave them in the Temple to be about their Father’s business — which is to say, to be hearing His Word and receiving His Word-made-Flesh.

In this alone is found their forgiveness and life and salvation — because of the divine necessity that Jesus Christ from Nazareth, in particular, had to be about His Father’s business, that is, to give Himself over completely to God on behalf of sinners, and to humble Himself as a Servant even unto the death of His Cross.  In those divine works, you are not called to follow His example but simply to receive, along with your children, the gifts and benefits of His Cross and Resurrection.

And from His Cross and Resurrection, you may best follow the example of the Blessed Virgin Mary in faith and love, as St. Luke has portrayed her in his Holy Gospel.  For by the grace of God she sought and found the dear Lord Jesus in the Temple, in His Word.  And having thus received Him in and with His Word, she kept Him close to her and pondered His Word as a treasure in her heart.  You also are given His Word — the Word of His Gospel, and the Word-made-Flesh in the Feast of His Body and Blood.  For Christ, our true Passover, has been sacrificed.  He is your Temple and your great High Priest, in whom you have all peace and joy and the Life everlasting.

In the Name + of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

01 January 2020

The Books I Most Enjoyed Reading in 2019

As always, I did a lot of reading over this past year, both for myself and with my children.  And as I've done over the past many years now, I've compiled a list of the books (or series of books) I most enjoyed over the course of the year (in this case, A.D. 2019). Most of these books were not published in 2019, but they are among the many that I've read in the Year of Our Lord 2019.

Two points of special significance to note: First, having begun the Realm of the Elderlings series in the final couple of months of 2018, I read through the remainder of the series in 2019. All told, those sixteen books took me from November 2018 until August 2019. They had been on my "to-read" list for well over a decade, and I'm sorry I didn't get to them sooner, but they were worth the wait and well worth the investment of time and energy in reading them.

Second, I set out to read the books of Lloyd Alexander with a couple of my youngest children, not even knowing that, before the year was over, my son and daughter-in-law would name their second daughter in part after one of Lloyd Alexander's most famous heroines. That inspired me to look more closely at the author, only to discover quite a few books that I had not previously been aware of. By the time it was all said and done, I managed to read pretty much all of Lloyd Alexander's books in 2019 (there's one that I read in 2018, and there are a couple of children's biographies I did not read).

All that being said, I've taken a slightly different approach in this case than I have in past years.  In addition to my regular list, I've also included a list of my favorite Lloyd Alexander books, and then a short third list with the non-fiction books I most enjoyed in 2019.

The Books I Most Enjoyed Reading in 2019

1. The Realm of the Elderlings (series) - Robin Hobb

2. The Green Ember (series) - S.D. Smith

3. The Extraordinary Adventures of Ordinary Boy (series) - William Boniface

4. The Unlikely Escape of Uriah Heep - H.G. Parry

5. The Mad Scientists' Club (series) - Bertrand Brinley

6. The Reckoners (series) - Brandon Sanderson

7. Last Things - Jacqueline West

8. The Cat of Bubastes - G.A. Henty

9. The Wingfeather Saga (series) - Andrew Peterson

10. The Lost Girl - Anne Ursu

11. The Rithmatist - Brandon Sanderson

12. The Alchemist’s Apprentice, and The Family Pride (Zero Enigma V, VI) - Christopher Nuttall

13. Second Hand Curses - Drew Hayes

14. Good Dog - Dan Gemeinhart

15. Siege Tactics (Spells, Swords, & Stealth #4) - Drew Hayes

16. Cursed, and Mirror Image (Schooled in Magic #17–18) - Christopher Nuttall

17. The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane - Kate DiCamillo

18. The Inquisitor’s Apprentice (series) - Chris Moriarty

19. The Mortality Doctrine (series) - James Dashner

20. The Poe Estate - Polly Shulman

The Lloyd Alexander Books I Most Enjoyed in 2019

1. The Chronicles of Prydain (series) - Lloyd Alexander

2. My Love Affair with Music - Lloyd Alexander

3. Westmark (series) - Lloyd Alexander

4. The Marvelous Misadventures of Sebastian - Lloyd Alexander (read in 2018)

5. Vesper Holly (series) - Lloyd Alexander

6. Janine Is French - Lloyd Alexander

7. Gawgon and the Boy - Lloyd Alexander

8. The Gypsy Rizka - Lloyd Alexander

9. The King’s Fountain (children's picture book) - Lloyd Alexander

10. The Town Cats and other Tales - Lloyd Alexander

11. The First Two Lives of Lukas-Kasha - Lloyd Alexander

12. And Let the Credit Go - Lloyd Alexander

13. The Fortune Tellers (children's picture book) - Lloyd Alexander

14. The Golden Dream of Carlo Chuchio - Lloyd Alexander

15. The Iron Ring - Lloyd Alexander

The Non-Fiction Books I Most Enjoyed in 2019

Thank, Praise, Serve, and Obey - William Weedon

Defending Boyhood - Anthony Esolen

Liturgy of the Ordinary - Tish Harrison Warren

The Quotidian Mysteries, and Acedia & Me - Kathleen Norris

You Are What You Love - James K.A. Smith