The May Epistle: From Death to Life

The recent bombings in Sri Lanka are fresh on our minds.  The awful news was heard by many in America as we prepared to attend Easter services.  The Christian victims of the bombings died for their faith in Jesus. It seems like a senseless act that targeted innocent people.  Was it meant in retaliation? Did it seek to instill fear as a terrorist act? Who was involved and are there more attacks to come? Investigators from many countries including our own FBI are on the ground in Sri Lanka trying to find those answers.  We pray for the families of the victims, for the perpetrators, and for the country of Sri Lanka.

Another death that is still in our thoughts today is the death of our Lord Jesus, which we remembered on Good Friday.  The death of Christ has a different feel for us. It did not seek to instill fear, and it was not a senseless death. It was a death with a purpose, and that purpose was to bring life – specifically, to bring life to people who were dead in their trespasses and sins.  St. Paul writes, “But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved” (Ephesians 2:4-5).

Jesus’ death brings life.  We see him agonizing and suffering on the cross.  We are spectators as Joseph and Nicodemus work to get the body down from the cross before the Sabbath begins, laying it hastily to rest in Joseph’s own, new tomb.  We smile inwardly as we listen to those who triumphed over Jesus ask Pilate for soldiers to guard the tomb. And we break into joyful song as we look with the women past the stone and into the empty tomb and hear the angel pronounce the good news that our Lord is risen from the dead!

We like to read a book or watch a movie where the protagonist triumphs over adversity.  I suppose we enjoy it so much because we somehow get to live the story. As we do, we vicariously experience the pain and hardship of the character, even feeling the same emotions if the story is well-told.  What brings us such joy in the Easter story is not just that it is well-told by the eyewitnesses. What excites us and delights us is that it’s our story.  The death that Jesus died he died for you and for me.  “But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed.” (Isaiah 53:5).  And the resurrection of our Lord proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that the sacrifice for our sins and the payment for our guilt was complete. “As far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us” (Psalm 103:12) and “There is, therefore, now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1).

The same cry of “Christ is risen! He is risen indeed!” that we cry on Easter and throughout the year has sounded from the lips of Christians over the centuries.  It was as they were singing the praises of our risen Lord that the earthly lives of the worshipers in Sri Lanka were taken from them. But, as Paul says, “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword?  As it is written,

“For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.”  No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:35-39).

This life is transitory and fading away for all of us.  But “Our citizenship is in heaven” (Philippians 3:20). Jesus said, “I am the resurrection and the life.  Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die” (John 11:35-36).  And then he himself rose from the dead.  What he said is true.  The joy of Easter is that, because he is the resurrection and the life, because death could not hold Him, death will not hold us.  The joy of Easter is the joy of our own resurrection to eternal life. And in this we have peace and in this we have real and sure hope.  And nothing, and no one, can take that from us.

Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed! Alleluia!

- Pastor

The April Epistle: Wonderful Love

Imagine with me that you had a dream.  Now, you may have to work at it, but I want you to think of the times that you’ve had a really vivid, realistic dream, the kind that you think is so real that you wake up with your heart pounding and beads of sweat on your forehead.

In your dream, you’re walking down a very long, very dark, corridor, with open doors on either side.  You are compelled to walk this corridor and look into each room that presents itself, first on the left, then on the right.  As you slowly pass each room you can barely make out a set of rails, like for a roller coaster. In each case these rails disappear into a black hole in the floor.  You approach the next doorway and reluctantly peer into the dimly lit interior. In the blackness of this room you can just make out that on the rails sits what looks like a small roller coaster car with one seat.  Above the car you notice a placard with writing on it. You’re filled with a sense of foreboding as your eyes strain to make out the letters in the darkness. As you take a step further into the room, you realize that it’s your name that appears on the placard.  Underneath your name are printed the words “Destination: Hell”.  Your blood freezes in your veins and the hairs stand out on your arms.  You mouth the word, “No”, but no sound comes out. You find that you’ve taken another step toward the car, and you make an attempt to walk backward toward the door, but your legs will not move.  Suddenly, your eyes are drawn to a movement in the darkness to the right of the car—and you become aware of a figure in a black robe facing you. Your heart begins to race as fear grips you. This figure and another one to your left now move slowly toward you, one hand pointing to the car, and the other reaching out to take hold of you.  Though you try, you cannot make your legs move. You open your mouth but no sound comes out. In the reality of your dream your mind desperately fights the thought that you are about to spend eternity in hell.

Then, as often happens in frightening dreams, you wake up.  Your heart is pounding. Your breathing is rapid. It all seemed so real!  The relief you feel is overwhelming.

During our season of Lent we contemplate Christ’s passion.  Martin Luther writes that we should view his suffering and death with terror-stricken hearts and despairing conscience, recognizing that it is our sins which have put him on the cross.  Lent is a time set aside in the church year to look into that black and gaping hole that leads to hell and God’s eternal punishment and know that, rightfully, this should be our fate. The placard above the car is correct.  Our destination as one who is a sinner should be hell. Luther quotes from St. Bernard (born 1090 A.D.) who says, “I regarded myself secure; I was not aware of the eternal sentence that had been passed on me in heaven until I saw that God’s only Son had compassion upon me and offered to bear this sentence for me.  Alas, if the situation is that serious, I should not make light of it or feel secure.”

Lent leads us to Passion Week and Good Friday, where we see the seriousness of our sin resulting in nails and wood, thorns and blood, and the precious Son of God bearing God’s wrath in our place.  Because Jesus bore our sin, God has changed the placard. In place of our names, God has written Jesus’ name. The sentence of condemnation passed on us has been transferred to Jesus. The punishment that was due us has been placed on him, so that Isaiah writes that, “[Jesus] was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his stripes we are healed” (Isaiah 53).

Contemplating Christ’s passion and the sacrificial substitution that God made for us brings us also to a better understanding of  and appreciation for Easter and what it means that God raised Jesus from the dead. As baptized and forgiven children of God, we stand in awe as we contemplate also what it means that Christ “Died for our sin and rose for our justification” (Rom. 4:25).  The relief that we have in waking up from a bad dream and realizing it was not real is completely eclipsed by the joy we have in knowing that the condemnation that was rightly ours has been removed from us and borne by another. All that Jesus was and did and said, culminating in his final cry, “It is finished!”, was affirmed by God the Father when he raised Jesus from the dead.  You and I are justified before God by the precious blood of God’s own Son, who suffered our punishment in our stead. Had his sacrifice not been sufficient, God would not have raised him from the dead. But Christ is raised! All glory be to God the Father and to the Lamb!

May your journey through Holy Week bring you to a new and clearer understanding of the love that God has for you, demonstrated in the cross and the empty tomb, and may you rejoice more and more as you bask in the reality of that wonderful love.

- Pastor

The March Epistle: Praise God From Whom All Blessings Flow

We are all familiar with the words of the “Doxology”:

Praise God, from whom all blessings flow;  Praise Him, all creatures here below; Praise Him above, ye heavenly host:  Praise Father, Son and Holy Ghost! Amen!

The word, “Doxology” comes from two Greek words – doxa, meaning “glory”, and logia, meaning “saying”, or “speaking”.  In this hymn we sing praise to our triune God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  In Isaiah chapter 6 we hear of the call of Isaiah to be a prophet. He’s caught up into the throne room of heaven and witnesses the glory of Yahweh: “I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and the train of his robe filled the temple…And one (seraphim) called to another and said: “Holy, holy, holy is the [Yahweh] of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!”  When we sing the doxology we join with the angels in heaven, and with the creation itself in glorifying God, our creator and redeemer.

God alone, Father, Son and Holy Spirit (notice the three “holies” above), is worthy of praise.  Our sinful flesh would like to elevate ourselves. We would like to be seen by others as “high and lifted up”.  We cringe when we do something that lowers us in others’ eyes. We walk tall and proud when we hear the praise of others for some good thing that we’ve done.  Then God’s Word comes to us and says, “As for man, his days are like grass; he flourishes like a flower of the field; for the wind passes over it, and it is gone, and its place knows it no more” (Psalm 103).  The Law cuts to our marrow saying, “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23), and, “The wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23).

Although in our sinful flesh we would seek our own glory, like Adam and Eve in the garden, still, God loves us.  In fact, each of the above passages goes on to speak of that love. Psalm 103 says that man is here today and gone tomorrow, “But the steadfast love of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting on those who fear him!”  Romans 3:23 tells us that all mankind has sinned and fallen short, but that we are “Justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus!” Romans 6:23 makes clear that “The wages of sin is death,” then finishes by saying, “But the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord!”

Isaiah saw the glory of God and said “Woe is me! For I am lost!”  God, in his justice, demands the payment for sin. And God, in his wonderful love for us, makes the payment for that sin himself, with the blood of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.  We look at the cross and see Jesus hanging there, suffering for our sins, bearing our punishment, appeasing God’s wrath, and we say, “What wondrous love is this, O my soul, O my soul?”  No wonder the Psalms are full of calls to worship God and praise his holy name!

I will extol you, my God and King, and bless your name forever and ever.  Every day I will bless you and praise your name forever and ever.   Great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised! (Psalm 145)

This month we will be vacating our current sanctuary.  Our sister congregation, Christ Lutheran (2695 S. Franklin St., Denver), has graciously offered the use of their building as a temporary home for our congregation.  We thank God that his Church is not a building, but a people. We are called out of the world to gather together as the body of Christ to give God our thanks and praise, to grow daily in our faith, and to spread the good news of his wondrous love for sinners.

It is fitting that the final Psalm of the Bible is a call to praise:

Praise the Lord!

Praise God in his sanctuary; praise him in his mighty heavens! Praise him for his mighty deeds; praise him according to his excellent greatness! Praise him with trumpet sound; praise him with lute and harp! Praise him with tambourine and dance; praise him with strings and pipe!  Praise him with sounding cymbals; praise him with loud clashing cymbals!
Let everything that has breath praise the Lord! Praise the Lord!

As we go forward, we go in the name of the Lord of hosts, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  We go where he leads, we walk the paths that he lays out for us, and we go with his praise on our lips.

- Pastor

Building Update: New Meeting Times and Location

As we make our way through the church year we prepare to leave the Epiphany season and enter into Lent.  Epiphany is a time when we celebrate the revealing of our Savior Jesus, from the angels and star that herald his birth to shepherds and wise men, to the Mount of Transfiguration, where Peter, James and John see Moses and Elijah standing with Jesus in all his glory.  As Jesus and his disciples leave the mountain, he sets his face toward Jerusalem, the cross and the revelation of God’s infinite love that we see there in His own Son, the Lamb of sacrifice, laying down his life for the world.

As we leave Epiphany and enter into Lent, we, as the congregation of University Hills Lutheran Church, are leaving the sanctuary where we have worshiped for over thirty years.  Due to the sale of the west property to the Rise School of Denver, March 10th will be our final worship service in the “multi-purpose building.”  We joyfully invite everyone to join us that Sunday as we worship our Lord and give him thanks and praise for the great gift our sanctuary and child-care have been, not only to us who worship here today, but also to the many who have encountered here the Word of God’s forgiveness and love within these walls throughout the years.

Our congregation is still exploring options for remodeling/replacing the original sanctuary on the east campus. Until we are able to move into that building, we will be worshiping at Christ Lutheran Church, located west of us at 2695 S. Franklin St., Denver, CO 80210 (corner of Yale and Franklin).  The members of Christ Lutheran have graciously offered to share their fellowship/Bible class/Sunday School hour from 10:15am to 11:30am. We will then have our own service at noon.

There will be a few exceptions to this routine as there are events scheduled from time to time at Christ Lutheran during the noon hour.  On these occasions we will worship together with Christ’s congregation at 9:00am, with Bible class/Sunday School following. During the Lenten season and Easter week there will be other instances when U-Hills will join Christ for their regularly scheduled evening services.  Please see the calendar for up-to-date worship times.

A few logistical notes:

  • There is parking on the east side of Franklin, with access from the alley only.  

  • There is no parking allowed immediately in front of the church to allow for disabled drop off and pick up.

  • When we worship together with Christ we will use offering envelopes.  An usher will hand them out to our members as we enter for worship.

As we make this transition to a new routine, remember that there is One who does not change.  God’s love for us is steadfast, eternal, and revealed in Christ Jesus’ sacrifice for mankind. Regardless of where we worship, we worship the triune God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and we offer our praise and thanksgiving for the Good Friday death and Easter resurrection of our Redeemer and Lord.

In the name of Jesus,

Pastor Vanderhyde

The Season of Lent

Wednesday March 6, Christians across the world will mark their foreheads with a black ash cross and begin the liturgical season of Lent. At the start of this special day of worship, we are reminded that “from ancient times the season of Lent has been kept as a time of special devotion, self-denial, and humble repentance born of a faithful heart that dwells confidently on His Word and draws from it life and hope” (Ash Wednesday rite in the Lutheran Service Book). As we lead up to the most significant observances of the church year, Good Friday and Easter Sunday, we remember our sins, repent of them, and thank God for his saving gift of grace won for us by Christ’s death on the cross.

The season of Lent has been observed since the time of the early Church. It was traditionally a time to intensively teach new catechumen (new believers) about the life of Jesus and teachings of scripture before being baptized on Easter. The 40 days of Lent parallel the 40 days Jesus spent in the wilderness at the start of his ministry. Likewise, the followers of Christ also enter into a time of prayer, fasting, and contemplation. In case you’re counting, these 40 days do not include Sundays, which are like “mini-Easters” reminding us of the good news to come.

Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of Lent. On this day, Christians gather to receive the sign of the cross on their foreheads with ashes (usually burned palm branches from the previous Palm Sunday) as the pastor speaks, “From dust you are and to dust you will return.” This ancient practice is “a gesture of repentance and a powerful reminder about the meaning of the day. Ashes symbolize dust-to-dustness and remind worshipers of the need for cleansing, scrubbing and purifying. If they are applied during an act of kneeling, the very posture of defeat and submission expresses humility before God" (Lutheran Worship: History and Practice).

Throughout the season of Lent, other historic practices serve as vivid symbols of the themes of Lent. The color purple is used to represent penitence and quietude. The word “Alleluia,” meaning praise the Lord, is omitted during worship as we wait for the joyful exclamations of Easter Sunday.  From ancient times, the church has also practiced types of fasting or self-denial. Historically, these included going without meals or simply abstaining from meat or other animal products. While it is not required to “give something up” for Lent, self-denial can be a helpful exercise and good reminder to focus our hearts on prayer, scripture, and serving our neighbor.

As we begin this season of special devotion, please consider joining us.  Ash Wednesday on March 6th will be celebrated at our current location (4949 E Eastman Ave, Denver) with a potluck soup supper at 6:00pm and a service of the imposition of ashes and Holy Communion at 7:00pm.  For the remaining Wednesdays in Lent, join us for a 5:30pm potluck supper and 7:00pm Lenten service at Christ Lutheran Church (2695 S. Franklin St, Denver).

Additional Resources

Daily Lenten Devotions from the Lutheran Hour

The Season of Lent podcast from Issues Etc.

The February Epistle: All is Well

Marcus Aurelius was a Roman emperor who ruled from 161 to 180 A.D.  He was the last of the rulers traditionally known as the five good emperors.  He came to power near the end of the Pax Romana, an age of relative peace and stability in the empire.

Marcus was something of a philosopher, and wrote what are known as his “Meditations”.  These are musings seem to be for his own consumption, talks that he might have with himself.  Many of them describe ways to deal with circumstances and people, and the daily stresses that come even to an emperor.  In one passage Marcus writes, “Consider when you are much vexed or grieved, that man’s life is only a moment, and after a short time we are all laid out dead.”  His encouragement to himself is that when trouble comes, put it into perspective. Life, really, is short. What does this one vexing thing really matter in the end?

The musings of Marcus Aurelius sound rather similar to those of Solomon, the writer of Ecclesiastes.  Solomon wrote, “A wise man's heart inclines him to the right, but a fool's heart to the left” (Ecc 10:2).  The “wise man” for Solomon is the one who trusts in the Lord. The “fool” is the one who does not know or fear God.  Marcus was not a Christian. Rome had a pantheon of gods. Even so, another of Marcus’ thoughts was, “If there is a god, all is well; and if chance rules, do not thou be governed by it.”  In other words, if there is an all-powerful God (and I think here he also means One who is predisposed to be good and gracious), then we are in his hands, and all will be well in the end. If there is no God, then we are ruled by chance, but order your life so that you are not governed by it (chance).  The gods for Marcus, though there were many available, were distant and unconcerned with his welfare. He says, in effect, “I don’t know if there really is a God or not.” Solomon, who knew God, writes, “The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man” (Ecc 12:13).  

The right context for all that vexes or grieves us in this life actually is to put everything in perspective.  But whose perspective? What perspective? Solomon has it right. Fear Yahweh and keep his commandments. How does Solomon know Yahweh and Marcus does not?  The answer? Revelation. Solomon in all his wisdom could not divine on his own what he knows of the God of the Bible. God had to reveal it. And during this Epiphany (revealing) season, we meditate on who Jesus is and what he has come to do.

Each of our lives has its highs and lows, its ups and its downs.  So what wisdom do we have for the times of vexation or grief? I would tweak Marcus’ words just a little.  Because there is a God, all is well. Don’t look within yourself to find peace in troubled times. Look up!  Look to the God who made you, who knew every one of your days before one of them was written (Psalm 139). Trust in God who himself took on flesh to deal with the problem of sin, the cause of every vexation, who journeyed to the cross to take on death itself.  Only with our eyes on Jesus can there be real peace in this grievous and vexing life.

The hymn by Horatio Spafford puts it well:  

When peace, like a river, attendeth my way; When sorrows, like sea billows, roll; Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say, it is well, it is well with my soul.

And, Lord, haste the day when our faith shall be sight, the clouds be rolled back as a scroll, the trumpet shall sound and the Lord shall descend; even so it is well with my soul.  

He lives – oh, the bliss of this glorious thought; My sin, not in part, but the whole, is nailed to His cross, and I bear it no more. Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O my soul!

It is well, with my soul, it is well, it is well with my soul.

May God’s peace be yours, even in vexing and grieving times, because of the deep love that God has demonstrated toward each one of us in the great epiphany of Jesus Christ our Savior, our friend, and our Lord.  Amen!

- Pastor

January is The Sanctity of Human Life Month

It’s easy to get lost in the slew of national celebrations.  In January alone, one could recognize National Hobby Month, National Kazoo Day, or the domestic season of Home Re-organization. However, a much more consequential issue demands our attention. January is the Sanctity of Human Life Month, during which we remember that all people are made in the image of God and deserving of protection. Centered around the anniversary of the Supreme Court’s January 22, 1973 Roe v. Wade decision which legalized abortion, we take this month to educate ourselves on the issues, confess the sanctity of life, and uphold the existence of every person.

We live in a time in which death has been allowed, even heralded, as the solution to many a problem in society. It’s the answer to women’s every hurdle to success, security, and happiness. It’s the response to a wasting disease or painful situation near life’s natural end. Death has become a goal, a business, and a rallying cry to so many in America.  As LCMS President Matthew Harrison recently stated:

Life, not death, is the goal of humanity. History testifies that death is never the means through which justice and human rights prevail. We do not advance on the graves of our children. Germany, which sought eugenics as the solution to problems, now has strict abortion laws. To defend and support life is the goal of every just government, and the right to life is the hallmark of a good society.

Since the Supreme Court ruled in favor of legalizing abortion in 1973, over 61 million young lives have been lost under these laws. And while there have been legislative achievements since then, new laws passed this very month in New York and Illinois have pushed the bounds of legalized abortion even further, right up to the baby’s due date.  In addition, at the other end of life, seven states and the District of Columbia now allow physician assisted suicide.       

Armed with a solid understanding of the issues, much can be done to stand up for life. Each year near the anniversary of Roe v. Wade hundreds of thousands gather for the March for Life in Washington DC and at satellite marches around the country. Since legislation is critical to  changing the landscape of legalized forms of death, it is important to communicate the pro-life message to our state and local representatives. As Rev. Harrison said,

“We cannot stand silent when people elected to positions in which they are to protect citizens continue to pass laws and advocate for legislation that undermines the sanctity of human life. Our conscience is bound by both the Word of God and reason to speak for life as a precious gift of God and to speak against any and all who promote the killing of unborn children. We cannot hide the evil of these laws under the banner of “rights” or “privilege.” Children’s lives are at stake. They cannot speak for themselves. We will speak for them, and we will work to protect their lives.”

Finally, as Christians called to love our neighbors and share Christ’s saving gospel, we can reach out to those most affected by these issues. There are many local and national organizations working to support women and families in crisis, as well as those who have had abortions, without compromising the lives of the unborn. And as society trumpets “Women’s health” and “the right to choose,” we can be a public witness for the sanctity of each life, created in God’s own image. We can confess the truths of scripture as the psalmist writes,

For you formed my inward parts;
   you knitted me together in my mother's womb.
I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.[a]
Wonderful are your works;
   my soul knows it very well.
My frame was not hidden from you,
when I was being made in secret,
   intricately woven in the depths of the earth.
Your eyes saw my unformed substance;
in your book were written, every one of them,
   the days that were formed for me,
   when as yet there was none of them. (Psalm 139:13-16)

Let us continue to pray to our Heavenly Father, who creates and sustains all life, that the light of the Gospel may be known in the world and comfort those who are in need.

If you’d like to learn more about Life Issues and ways to get involved, check out these links below.

Read LCMS President Harrison’s recent full statement.

Learn how local organizations make a difference, like Alternatives Pregnancy Center and Focus on the Family’s Options Program.   

Join the efforts of national groups working toward change, like the National Right to Life and Lutherans for Life.

The January Epistle: Happy New Year

Did you celebrate the new year?  Did you sip some bubbly or blow a noisemaker or whoop it up in some other way along with millions across the nation and around the world?  If so, why?

We watched thousands in Times Square on New Year’s Eve standing together in the rain with friends and family watching carefully the count-down clock and anticipating with great excitement the drop of the 12,000 lb crystal ball signaling the end of 2018 and the beginning of 2019.  Why? Why did they make that trip and stand there expectantly in the rain? For that matter, why did we watch?

We celebrate with people everywhere the coming of a new year.  Is it because we have high hopes for the good things that may happen in the future?  Is it because there are events that have happened in the past year that we’d like to forget?   I’m sure that, to some extent, both are true.

And in this time of looking back and looking ahead, in the in-between, comes Epiphany, the revelation, the revealing of God in the flesh, for you and for me.  Our first Gospel reading in the new year is the visit of the wise men from the east. We heard of the shepherds who were stunned by the opening of the heavens and the angel speaking to them in the night sky surrounded by a multitude of the heavenly host.  His words reveal just who this little baby born in Bethlehem is. Mary and Joseph and who knows how many others heard their amazing tale after they worshiped the baby. And now, a little while later, as Mary is pondering all of these things in heart, there’s a knock at the door of the house, and outside is some sort of entourage of wealthy, learned men, rich gifts in their hands, asking about the King of the Jews.  And as they share their story and worship the young child, again his identity is revealed, that the kingdom of this child king will extend even to the Gentiles, to you and to me.

As we move into the new year, we might picture ourselves with our backs to the past, bravely facing the future, chin up and full of hope.  The Jewish way of looking at it is a little different. For them, we move into the future by backing into it, facing the known past. I like that a lot.  It means that the glimpses that we have of our future lie behind us. We see there a baby in a manger – angels, shepherds, a Christmas star, and wise men seeking the “One born King of the Jews.”  We see the Lamb of God, climbing the hill to Calvary, carrying his cross and the sins of the world. We peer back 2000 years and see an empty tomb, and a scene of disciples gazing into the sky, and two angels again, assuring them that Jesus will return again from heaven.

There might be more than a few things that occurred in this past year that we’d like to forget, maybe things we’ve said or done that we’d like to escape.  But as we swap out a new calendar for the old one, remember that these are not the things that define us. Rather, what defines us, what lifts us up on eagles’ wings (Isaiah 40:31) is His eternal love for us.  The apostle John writes, “In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.” As we look back on our own shortcomings we can rejoice that each one is taken care of, each sin is forgiven.  His loving purpose is revealed in the baby in the manger, the sinless lamb “born to raise the sons of earth, born to give them second birth.” His love brought Gentiles to worship the Christ child then, and His love has brought you to worship Him today.

Because of His love, you are a child of God.  That’s something to remember each day as we back into this new year.  Keep your eyes on the manger, on the cross, on the empty tomb, and even on the skies.  Perhaps 2019 will be the year of His glorious return!

Happy New Year!

- Pastor

The December Epistle: Something to Sing About

I’m looking forward to Christmas Carols.  I like to sing them. I like to hear them sung.  They always bring to my mind Christmas images, like the picture of Mary and Joseph, peering down at the miracle child in her arms.  There are a few animals nearby, some also gazing peacefully at the Christ child.

Other images that come to mind when I hear Christmas carols are like Christmas cards – hillsides of leafless trees, the ground covered in snow, and a sleigh gliding easily along, the only sound a bell jingling and the muffled clop of the horse’s hooves.  Peaceful scenes.

Have you noticed the definite trend away from meaningful Christmas carols in the stores these last years?  I used to enjoy hearing the carols over the speakers and humming along and thinking about peaceful things while we shopped.  But it’s hard to be peaceful while “rockin’ round the clock” to Jingle Bell Rock (over and over, I might add).  

The devil, of course, is quite pleased with the slow slide toward the complete secularization of Christmas (“Christ-mass”).  He would be thrilled if the holiday (“holy-day”) became completely “Christ-less”. Don’t play Christian carols, as they might offend someone.  Stop displaying the manger scene at City Hall and put up something inoffensive, like Santa’s workshop. Don’t have a baby Jesus Christmas pageant in school, or sing Silent Night, or any other song that describes the true meaning of Christmas.  And so, little by little, Christ is taken out of Christmas.

But the devil will be sorely disappointed in the end.  As long as the Christian church exists, it will celebrate the humble birth of our Savior in Bethlehem.  And that church will always exist, because Christmas itself is God’s doing. All of history led up to and looked forward to the coming of the Christ child.  What that child would do in his life, death and resurrection for our redemption, would change the future for all who put their trust in him. Kingdoms may crumble, and one tyrant after another may come to power, but the words the angel choir sang to the startled shepherds on the hills outside Bethlehem that sacred night will continue to be sung.  The story of the angels’ words to Mary and Joseph, their travel to Bethlehem, the visits of the shepherds and the wise men and other details of the Christmas story will continue to warm the hearts of Christians until the angels herald the Christ’s return in glory.

It’s ironic that the child whose birth was wrapped in joy and peace would die in the opposite manner, amid shouting and mocking, beaten and whipped and nailed to a Roman cross like a criminal.  “But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed” (Isaiah 53:5). The Wise Men came seeking one born king of the Jews, and Pilate placed this exact placard above Jesus’ head on the cross.

Jesus is our King, and he has brought us peace – peace between God and man, the peace that comes from sins forgiven and our broken relationship with God restored.  So sing those Christmas carols and tell the blessed story of the birth of our Savior in the stable in Bethlehem that starry night so long ago.  YOU are part of that story, as one for whom Jesus died and rose. This is YOUR story, since YOU are who he loved and reason for his coming. His death and resurrection are for YOU, bring forgiveness and life and a restored relationship with God to YOU.  YOU have eternal life in his name, and that’s something to sing about!

For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

O holy night! the stars are brightly shining;
It is the night of our dear Savior's birth.
Long lay the world in sin and error pining,
Till He appeared and the soul felt its worth.

A thrill of hope- the weary world rejoices,
For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn!
Fall on your knees! O hear the angels' voices!
O night divine, O night when Christ was born!

O holy night O night divine!

Have a blessed and peace-filled Advent and Christmas season!

- Pastor Vanderhyde