Morgendämmerung, oder, Wie man mit dem Hammer theologirt.
Nescire autem quid ante quam natus sis acciderit id es semper esse puerum.
Orandum est ut sit mens sana in corpore sano.
Homo sum humani nihil a me alienum puto.
Semper idem sed non eodem modo.


Verbum domini manet in aeternum. The word of the Lord endures forever.
1 Peter 1:24-25, quoting Isaiah 40:6,8. Motto of the Lutheran Reformation.

Fayth onely justifieth before God. Robert Barnes, DD The Supplication, fourth essay. London: Daye, 1572.

Lord if Thou straightly mark our iniquity, who is able to abide Thy judgement? Wherefore I trust in no work that I ever did, but only in the death of Jesus Christ. I do not doubt, but through Him to inherit the kingdom of heaven. Robert Barnes, DD, before he was burnt alive for "heresy", 30 July 1540.

What is Luther? The doctrine is not mine, nor have I been crucified for anyone. Martin Luther, Dr. theol. (1522)

For the basics of our faith right here online, or for offline short daily prayer or devotion or study, scroll down to "A Beggar's Daily Portion" on the sidebar. For what that stuff in the banner means, scroll to the bottom of the sidebar.

29 December 2007

The Twelve Days of Christmas

If one tried to abstract it from contemporary American life, one would think Christmas time lasts from the day after Thanksgiving to the day after New Year's. With the warm-up getting longer every year, as the first Christmas stuff and Halloween costumes can be seen in the stores at the same time now. The Christmas shopping and other preparations start in earnest after Thanksgiving, on through December to the Big Day, then hang around for a week to give a festive atmosphere to New Year's Eve and Day, then come down. With Valentine's Day candy in the stores pretty much the next day.

And it fits with the world's Christmas. The church has a little different season going on. December is largely taken up with Advent, and while the idea is preparation there too, it isn't about buying presents and food, it's about repentance in preparation for celebrating the coming in the flesh of God as Jesus who will die to save us from our sins, and for the coming of Jesus again in glory to judge the living and the dead on the Last Day. For which reason the colour of Advent is purple, the colour of royalty and also of repentance. Neither his historical coming nor his return is prepared for by buying stuff.

The celebration for the church begins on Christmas, and then continues, not begins with December and ends with it with New Year's tacked on. Our manger scenes often have the humble station shepherds and the worldly important visitors -- called Magi, Wise Men, or Kings most often -- both there, but as the story reads the Three Kings weren't there at Christmas itself but arrived on the day we celebrate as Epiphany, 6 January. There are twelve days between Christmas and Epiphany, and these are the Twelve Days of Christmas.

Now how did that happen? No-body knows. The thing is, Epiphany is a much older feast than Christmas, and now is largely forgotten by most, lost in the shuffle by many, and celebrated by a few. Now how did THAT happen? Well, to me it looks like this. By the late fourth century after Christ, 6 January as the Epiphany existed. The earliest known reference dates from 361, and in those days the references indicate not just the appearance of the Three Kings -- epiphany is an English form of a Greek word meaning "appearance" or "manifestation" -- but rather the appearance or manifestation, the epiphany, of God, including his birth! No Christmas, this is "Christmas" as well as a celebration all the other events of the young Jesus up to and including his Baptism and his first public miracle at the wedding in Cana. A very big day!

In the Western Church, these events began to be spun off from Epiphany. By the sixth century 25 December had become the celebration of his birth. His baptism began to be celebrated after Epiphany, so Epiphany itself in the West fairly early on assumed a focus on the arrival of the Three Kings (Magi, etc.), who, not being Jews but Gentiles, has the significance of the appearance or manifestation of the Messiah to the Gentiles. This did not happen in the Eastern Church, where it retained its original character much longer, with many places much later adopting 25 December as the feast of his birth but keeping the celebration of his baptism on Epiphany, and in a few places yet keeping the Nativity on this day, with the added complication that 6 January in the older (Julian, as in Julius Caesar) calendar still used liturgically by the Eastern Church is 19 January in the Gregorian (as in Pope Gregory) calendar used in the West and now pretty much world wide as a convention. In the Eastern Church the day is more commonly called the Theophany -- divine appearance or divine manifestation -- and is considered the third most important feast in the church's observance, Easter (Pascha) being first and Pentecost second. There ain't no Twelve Days of Christmas for our brethren in the Eastern Church, it's a Western thing, but on the other hand Theophany is more in line with the original of what we in the West call Epiphany, if we remember it to call it anything at all. And to complicate it further, after a millennium and one half of usage, Rome, ever at the ready to tinker with the very tradition it says it conserves, decided at its last council, in the 1960s (Vatican II, you may have heard of it) to make it a moveable feast as the Sunday after the first Saturday in January, so if you listen to Rome (and if you listen to Rome, quit!) there ain't no Twelve Days of Christmas in the West either! Nice going, guys.

For us confessional Lutherans -- those who seek to hold to the catholic, as distinct from the Catholic, faith and church -- while our latest service book, Lutheran Service Book, is infected with the latest Roman virus (please support research that a cure may be found in our time!) it appears that Epiphany has survived as 6 January.

So we still got 'em, The Twelve Days of Christmas!!

Now here's the deal. NOW is when all the fun and festivities are supposed to happen -- LEAVE those decorations up, right on up through Twelfth Night (that's the night of 5-6 January, in case you weren't counting, and yes, that from which the title of Shakespeare's great play is taken and so far has not been retitled "First Sunday After The First Saturday in January Night" though who knows, sillier revisionism happens all the time), maybe even GIVE A GIFT to someone special for Epiphany (which in some places in the gift giving day, not Christmas) just as God gave himself to us and the Three Kings brought gifts to him, BAKE A CAKE (that's how Kings Cake started and still is done in some places), HAVE FRIENDS OVER -- you get the idea! The appearance or manifestation of God is just too big to contain in one day!!

And therefore the church doesn't but extends the celebration of God's coming among us over twelve days, so don't let the world, or, sadly, some entities called church, take a bit of it away from you!

Side note: I'm of English descent, but I was adopted by people of Irish descent, and my Dad, growing up pre-conciliar RC, always referred to Epiphany as "Little Christmas", an Irish custom from when 6 January in the pre-Gregorian calendar was also Christmas, which in later life I was to find out was one echo of all the stuff I mentioned above. Decorations were always left up until then, and there was one more "Christmas" gift. I do the same in my house now. If plans hold up, I'll post about Los Tres Reyes (Spanish for The Three Kings) on 6 January, having been culturally adopted by the Puerto Rican contingent at university.

Another side note: "Good King Wenceslaus looked out, on the Feast of Stephen". What's that all about? You think Epiphany got lost in the shuffle, what about this feast of Stephen? It's 26 December, the day after Christmas. Why? Because the Stephen remembered on this day is the first recorded martyr for the Christian faith, in the Book of the Acts of the Apostles, and, it being the custom in the church to commemorate someone not on the day of his earthly birth but the day of his birth to eternal life (generally called death in the world), the first person known to have been born to eternal life by martyrdom for his faith is celebrated right after the earthly birth of him who came to make eternal life available to us.

25 December 2007

'Twas the night before Christmas ... Shhh!

I may have come across to such readership as this blog may have as a bit, in terms of the usual nomenclature, conservative and traditional. You know, one of those confessional types, all red hymnal, "historic" (read, the one used for more or less 1,500 years until we all starting acting like Rome still ran the show and jumped on their new one) lectionary, and like that.

Our midnight service is like this. It's written and done by the teen group, yes with pastoral input, but it's theirs. They write it, they do it. There's Christmas hymns, responsive prayer and all, and the feature is a play they write and perform. This year's illustrated how the Christmas story gets kind of warped in our minds with all the hustle and bustle of the world in general and what it makes of Christmas in particular. It had a guy telling the Christmas story, all wrong -- my favourite was when the angel announced the sign would be a brand new Wal-Mart -- with the players enacting the mistelling, someone in the back shouting "That's not what happened", a voice-over correcting it, and the players re-assembling to enact the real thing, throughout the story, then after the play the Luke nativity account was read. No clergy, no liturgy, certainly not the first mass of Christmas and not at midnight but 11pm. It ends with the congregation in a circle with candles, singing Silent Night.

I love it. We go every year. The first time we went, it was the first time we attended the parish and the first time I attended an LCMS church not to be at someone's wedding or funeral but to worship -- which, being an elder in WELS at the time, isn't something I was supposed to do! I went hoping for the first mass of Christmas and maybe even a little German here and there. And got this instead -- and it was just fine. Still is. We started coming back. We joined. I've stayed too, even though typical worship is the LW version of what is now DS1 in LSB and the blasted three-year lectionary is used, wannabe Vatican II For Lutherans. And here on one of the biggest events in the church year, a play by the youth group not the first mass of Christmas. Why, you'd think a guy like me would be livid, or at least ready to rumble at the next voter's meeting! But I'm not. Go every year, rather than to the regular Christmas services we also have. I love it, our teens in the middle of the night telling the story of Christ's birth in this way. But hey, as they used to say where I grew up, don't tella nobody!

And speaking of the Vatican, I don't waste my time watching "Midnight Mass" from the Vatican any more like I used to before God put the Lutheran church in my path, hoping just maybe to find I was wrong and the Catholic Church still is the Catholic Church and everything's OK, only to see once again it isn't and having no idea what to do or where to go except to wait for another, to borrow a phrase. There was a link about it on the start page when I booted up, so I clicked on it. Looks like the birth of Christ who was born to die so that we could die to live was proclaimed so unambiguously that the press went on about the environmental concern that seems to be becoming a characteristic of the current papacy. Yeah, I know, the press doesn't get religion let alone Christianity, and they don't. Still, those Apostles from whom these guys claim to be in succession managed to proclaim that message so unambiguously that they got tossed in the slam for not shutting up about it or saying something else. I read where this year's Vatican nativity scene placed it in Joseph's home in Nazareth rather than a feeding trough -- that's what a manger is -- in a stable in Bethlehem. Roman officials explained this is to show Jesus is born everywhere for everyone.

Nice touch, Roman dudes. He WAS born for everyone -- in Bethlehem in a stable. He IS born in the hearts of believers everywhere -- which is the focus of the second mass of Christmas. How typically Roman. Tinker with the material and say you're making the same point. Guess what, mitred dudes, even when you are making the same point, the point comes with a story that doesn't need to be tinkered with to make the point, a story God chose. Leave it alone. Or rather, tell it. Oh well, I guess that's why there is a Lutheran church, so there can be the real catholic church.

I'll take the Youth Candlelight Service on Christmas Eve any day. Well, any Christmas Eve.

They told the story.

22 December 2007

Merry Christmas / Feliz Navidad / Froehliche Weinachten

No, this is not a post wishing you Merry Christmas and saying I'm taking a break from blogging until after the holidays!

What it is to say, is that in addition to the many other things remarkable about Christmas, it is so rich in significance for the Christian faith that over time the church has evolved, unlike any other feast in the church calendar, three distinct masses at three distinct times to contain it all.

That's exactly what the word Christmas is, a contraction of Christ's Mass. The first appearance of the word in English -- Old English, to be exact -- that survives is from 1038, Cristes maesse, which became Christemasse in Middle English, and now Christmas. 25 December is not Jesus' date of birth; the actual date is unknown, and Scripture does not record it according to any calendar. From which I think it is a safe conclusion to draw that the exact and actual date of Jesus' birth is not important since if it were God would have seen that it got recorded in Scripture.

So why 25 December? Well, in the larger culture around the Hebrews in which Christianity first took hold, the day and the general time of year already had a religious significance. In a world ruled by Rome, there was every year at the time of the winter solstice the Saturnalia. What's a Saturnalia? Originally it was held on 17 December and later expanded to one week. Saturn, known as Cronus to the Greeks, was the son of Heaven, Uranus, and Earth, Gaia. Saturn took power from his father Uranus/Heaven and castrated him. But a prophecy arose that a child of Saturn's would one day overthrow him, so to prevent this Saturn ate his children. That's right, ate his children. But Saturn's wife, Opis, known to the Greeks as Rhea, hid their sixth child Jupiter, known to the Greeks as Zeus, on Crete and gave Saturn a big rock in a blanket instead. Yeah, he ate it. Jupiter/Zeus thus survived and did indeed overthrow Saturn/Cronus and his five brothers and six sisters, all twelve called Titans, in concert with his own five brothers and six sisters, all called Olympians, from their hang out, Mount Olympus. (If you're hearing modern words like Titanic and Olympics in here, you're right.)

Now in the Greek version of this story the losing Titans got sent to Hell, well, Tartarus actually, meaning a deep place. But in the Roman version Saturn escaped the rule of Jupiter/Zeus and the Olympians and went to Rome where he established a rule of perfect peace called the Golden Age. In memory of this perfect age, Romans celebrated Saturnalia, when no war could be fought, no business conducted, slaves ate with their masters, and everybody set aside the usual rules of propriety for eating, drinking, gift giving and even getting naked in public. Par-TAY!

Right after this came Dies Natalis Solis Invicti, The Day of Birth of the Unconquered Sun, celebrated on 25 December, which in the calendar of the time was winter solstice, the day with the shortest daylight hours of the year, demostrating that darkness cannot completely overcome light. A number of the early Christian Fathers, St Cyprian among them, spoke of the parallel that Jesus the Son of God and Light of the World was born on the same day as the physical sun and light of the world, neither to be overcome by the forces of darkness. In addition, other religions in the Roman world had a god's birthday on 25 December, the Babylonian sex goddess Ishtar and the Persian mediator god Mithras, whose mystery cult was popular in the Roman army and carried throughout the Empire, for example. On top of that, the barbarians living to the north of the formal boundaries of the Roman world (sorry, Germanic types) where Winter is harsher had their own winter solstice observances.

So it looks like the whole Christmas thing originates with the Christian Church adopting and adapting familiar material from the world around them, Dies Natalis Solis Invicti, Saturnalia, and the widespread observance of Winter Solstice, to create a time of celebration for the birth of Jesus. What does this mean, a Lutheran might ask. Well, anybody might ask, but I'm trying to get a chuckle out of Lutheran readers, who'll recognise the phrase often used in Luther's Small Catechism to introduce an explanation. Is Christmas and the observances that go with it simply another step in the evolution of stories about the sun and light not going away but coming back, gods getting born and golden ages, another recasting of universal human themes -- maybe just like Christianity itself?

Don't think so. Consider. What did Saturn do? Here's a god who had kids all right -- then ate them to prevent them from doing to him what he did to his own father. In contrast to the stories Man makes up about gods, the story God reveals to Man is just the opposite. Man is a creation, not a child, of God, lost in his own nonsense, that of it encapsulated in mythology and that not but considered the latest of enlightened thinking, who will destroy himself, to avoid which God becomes Man in Jesus, whose body and blood will be given for our salvation on the Cross that we may become children of God, and in the mass as the pledge of that salvation; a child of God who does not overthrow his father but lives in perfect submission to his will;`who does not banish his father's rule but proclaims his kingdom; a God who does not eat his child in fear but gives him to us in love so we could eat his body and blood as the food of eternal life, a real golden age to come; a mother who has to hide her newborn son not from God but Man for his survival. And the imagery of light, not validating all sun gods but demonstrating that even in its fallen and broken state Creation still shows that the Creator will not be overcome no matter how the darkness gathers. These pre-Christian observances are not the real roots and story of Christmas, but rather aspects of God's truth written into both Man and Nature even in its fallen state, which we now see in retrospect point to the truth we could not see in prospect, looking forward and trying to make sense of our situation, so God reveals it to us. Which the liturgy will exactly sum up in the Introit, the introductory Scripture passages, for the first mass of Christmas: Why have the Gentiles raged, and the people devised vain things? -- The Lord has said to me, Thou art my Son, this day have I begotten Thee (Psalm 2:1,7. See below, or with my fellow geeks and wannabes, vide infra).

We call this coming of God into Man's flesh the Incarnation, from the Latin that means exactly that, to become in the flesh. To be born. For which another word is Nativity, from the Latin to be born. Christ comes into Creation, into the flesh, is born into our world, on three levels: his historical birth in the flesh as a human baby, his spiritual birth in the hearts and souls of those justified by faith because of Christ, and his eternal birth or generation from the Father in the Godhead.

Consequently, the church celebrates a mass for each of these three.

The First Mass of Christ's Mass, at midnight.
The Historical Birth in Bethlehem.
Introit Psalm 2:7. Psalm verse 2:1.
O God, Who hast made this most sacred night to shine forth with the brightness of the true Light, grant, we beseech Thee, that we may enjoy His happiness in heaven, the mystery of whose light we have known upon earth.
Epistle Titus 2:11-15. Gospel Luke 2:1-14.

The Second Mass of Christ's Mass, at dawn.
The Spiritual Birth in the Believer.
Introit Isaiah 9:2,6. Psalm verse 92:1 Septuagint, 93:1 Hebrew.
Grant, we beseech Thee, Almighty God, that we, who are filled with the new light of Thy Incarnate Word, may show forth in our works that which by faith shineth in our minds.
Epistle Titus 3:4-7. Gospel Luke 2:15-20.

The Third Mass of Christ's Mass, during the day.
The Eternal Generation in the Trinity.
Introit Isaiah 9:6. Psalm verse 97:1 Septuagint, 98:1 Hebrew.
Grant, we beseech Thee, Almighty God, that the new birth of Thine only begotten Son in the flesh may deliver us who are held by the old bondage under the yoke of sin.
Epistle Hebrews 1:1-12. Gospel John 1:1-14

Maybe I was wrong. Yes, I'm not taking a break from blogging during the holidays. But may I take this opportunity to wish all who visit this blog Merry Christmas, Feliz Navidad, Froehliche Weinachten!

20 December 2007

The Divine Office and Advent

Those who champion the use of the church's traditional hours of prayer, called the Divine Office -- or, for those who labour under Rome's latest adventure in revisionism, The Liturgy of the Hours -- often point out the seven beautiful antiphons in the Vespers service prominent in the immediate run up to Christmas from 17 through 23 December. They are often called the "O" Antiphons, because each begins in Latin with "O", as in the first one, O Wisdom, or O Sapientia in Latin.

You can find some excellent meditations on them on some of the blogs listed in my blogroll, and start with Pastor Weedon's. I'd like to point out that not only do these antiphons, the Vespers of which they are a part, and Advent itself, point to the unfolding history of salvation one of whose decisive moments we are about to celebrate, but in fact the whole Divine Office both points to the unfolding salvation story and is in fact a part of it, a development that did not arise with the Church.

Pre Messiah, there were no particular set times for prayer for hundreds of years. Not that prayer wasn't prayed at set times in various places, but there was nothing normative about it. This originated at the end of the Babylonian Captivity (the one that happened to the Jews, not the Church!) with the return of the Jews to the Holy Land and the reconstruction of the Temple, ie the Second Temple. Ezra and the 120 Men established them in essentially the form they are still used in the synagogue. Established, not originated. These were not new, but were codified into three times of prayer during the day. These times were set to correspond to the three times of sacrifice in the Temple: morning (shaharit), afternoon (minha) and evening (arvit or maariv). On top of that, in Jewish tradition they trace themselves to the times of prayer Scripture records for each of the three great Patriarchs: Abraham in the morning (Gen19:27), Isaac at dusk (Gen24:63) and Jacob in the evening (Gen28:10).

This pattern was adapted by the Church in light of the Christ having come, and is the basis of the three major times of prayer in the Divine Office we know as Matins, Vespers and Compline. Just as in the Divine Service, or mass, we have essentially a Christian synagogue service followed by a Christian seder, a service of the word followed by the sacrament of the altar, so in the Divine Office we have in Matins a Christian shaharit going back through the history of the New Israel the church to the pre-Messianic morning synagogue service which Jesus and the Apostles knew and aligned with morning sacrifice in the Temple and on back to the morning prayer time of Abraham, in Vespers a Christian minha going back through the church to the afternoon synagogue service known to Jesus and the Apostles and aligned with the afternoon sacrifice in the Temple and on back to the afternoon prayer time of Isaac, and in Compline a Christian arvit or maariv going back through the church to the evening synagogue service Jesus and the Apostles knew and aligned with the evening sacrifice in the Temple and on back to the evening prayer time of Jacob.

Absolutely, not commanded by Scripture. But we Lutherans aren't a If it ain't in Scripture we ain't doing it crowd. Our confessions are explicit -- though unfortunately sometimes our parishes aren't -- that we happily accept the observances and ceremonies that those who came before us in faith brought about and hand on to us, rejecting not what isn't in Scripture but only what contradicts it that crept in here and there over time.

And what a great gift has been handed to us! In the Divine Office as in the Divine Service we not only have a magnificent gift from those who came before us, but we take our place with them in the forward motion toward the final fulfillment of the promises of God, and do so in a vehicle that is itself an expression and product of the advent, the coming, the unfolding through all its points leading to that great and final Coming!!

Get a hold of that and you'll say "O" indeed! Join in!!

19 December 2007

It really takes 2GB RAM to run Vista Home Premium

On 6 July I bought a new Toshiba laptop to take over from my old one. That has 256 migs of RAM I expanded from 128 running ME and I've used it since April 2001. The new one came with Vista Home Premium and 1GB RAM, the minimum given by Microsoft. It's minimum indeed -- the old one kicked ME along faster than the new one did Home Premium! So after these months of enjoying the new one but using the old one because it's faster (!) my Christmas present to me arrived to-day, two 1GB memory modules from Toshiba Direct. I popped them in -- it's a dual core set up -- and WHAT A DIFFERENCE!

Yeah, there's a Real Lutherans Use Mac faction out there, and in the best of all possible worlds I concede Mac is better, but in this world I've caved and use IBM compatibles like about 90% of the computing world. Just like I used Netscape until Explorer became unavoidable without compatibility issues. And it's a first for me -- I'm generally at the end of a Microsoft product cycle, running 3.11 well into 95, 95 past 98 to nearly through ME, and ME clean through XP (which we have at work so I do know it). Now I'm at the beginning, and I'm ready. horror stories, updates and all.

But lemme tell ya, if you buy a PC with Home Premium, either make sure it has 2GB RAM or be ready to expand to 2GB, because 1GB will run it like Microsoft says but it's slow, slow, slow, to the point of not even being able to keep up with typing! And for those thinking of Home Basic, a friend of mine at work said his wife got a new computer with that and the Microsoft stated minimum of 512 to run it, and had the same experience until upgrading RAM to a gig. Makes me wonder how much of the reported unpopularity of Vista is due to simply running it with what seem to be the inadequate RAM minimums given by Microsoft.

15 December 2007


We take a break from our usual topics to explore something of truly theological significance. Cars.

I'm 57. In my life to date my name has been on the title of seven cars. My observation is, this is not typical -- I know any number of people much younger than I am who have had more than that. On top of that, I still own three of them, which is less typical yet. Even if we include my first car, which technically was not mine but a second family vehicle (a 1955 Chevrolet Bel Air that had been "the" family car until Dad bought a 1964 Buick Wildcat but kept the Chevy and let me use it once I got my licence) it's still a little apart from the norm.

What does this mean? (There's the Lutheran part!)

It means that my life hasn't been that of your average bear, even when it comes to cars. (To assist my biographers with their footnotes, though I'd prefer endnotes, the "bear" reference is to the popular mid C20 cartoon series Yogi Bear, which name itself is derived from baseball legend Yogi Berra, and baseball being the mind of God at sport the theological connexion is thus established, and which character often used the comparative " xxx ... than your average bear", so there guys, but cite this post if this is part of your dissertation or your adviser will raise a stink about uncited sources.)

After the 1955 Chevrolet, which as we saw really wasn't mine anyway, the list is:
1. 1970 Renault 10.
2. 1971 Renault 16.
3. 1977 Toyota Corolla Deluxe.
4. 1983 Pontiac Fiero SE.
5. 1993 Nissan Sentra XE.
6. 1992 Plymouth Voyager LE.
7. 2006 Chrysler PT Cruiser Limited Edition.

1. The R10 was a magnificent vehicle. Rear engine roomy little sedan, went in all conditions and through anything -- except when I introduced it to a tree trunk while attempting to drive while sleeping in the context of a seriously mis-spent youth. Had my life been more typical and this incident not happened, I would likely be driving it yet to-day in late 2007, 37 years later and enjoying as on the first day, to borrow Goethe's phrase (look that one up biographers, it ain't that far into Faust). But wait, that would render me atypical again! Is this a loop or infinite regress? Lito can help sort that one out.

2. The R16 lasted but a few months. It was front wheel drive before that became the norm. Which contributed to its fate, as it met its end in a roll taken while exploring the limits of high speed cornering with front wheel drive in the context of a seriously mis-spent youth. Insurance being rightly what it is, being under 25, foreign cars, and mis-spent youth factors, I was not able to afford insuring a car for the next five years.

3. Then the 1977 Corolla. A rock solid absolutely otherwise unremarkable sedan I drove for the next 17 years. I loved being able to keep a car on the road more than one year or 10k miles, whichever came first, without an Annual Spring Wreck. I was 27 when I bought it, with both youth and its mis-spentidness (which reminds me, I'm going to blog about universals and the mathematical foundations of philosophy and the philosophical foundations of mathematics here soon) now behind, and 42 when I sold it at 177k miles.

4. In 1988 I bought a 1986 Fiero, still owning the Corolla, a mere 9 years old at the time. I was 38, and widely assumed to be having a mid-life crisis. However, the truth is, when we bought the 1955 Chevrolet from my uncle who was in the car business, he took my Dad and me for a little spin, shall we say, in the then brand new wonder from Chevrolet, the Corvette. Absolutely changed my life, and yeah, I know, three people, two seats, however my Dad and uncle have long since been gathered unto their ancestors, I was a kid so not responsible and the statute of limitations has probably expired anyway this having been the mid 1950s. From that drive on, I knew one day I would have a sports car, and, after seeing the Cinerama movie Grand Prix in the 1960s, which also changed my life and made me a Formula One fan, with the engine behind the driver where it bloody well belongs. It sits in the driveway now, undriveable and probably soon to be sold.

5. Then came the 1993 Nissan Sentra, which, now married, my wife and I bought used off a lease in 1995. It was the first car I ever had with automatic transmission. Nancy had a Sentra before it and going into the marriage, but when it was no longer reliable and left her stranded in a storm one time, she, being quite unsentimental about things, was ready to trade. The Fiero, an attraction in early dating, had become a possible sign of an unstable male seeking to hang on to his youth rather than make adult commitments, like say marriage, so it became my go to work car and the Nissan was both hers and the family car. Though I'll have to say, about a week before our first son was born, she was unable to get into a sedan and we went out on our last pre kids date with her more or less dropping into the passenger seat of the Fiero, quite a contrast from those early dates! I kept the Sentra for a year or two after Nancy died, since by that time there were two kids and one adult, and I was unwilling to apply the mathematics of my Corvette experience to daily life.

6. We had come to want a van and started looking for one, but when she became ill that took a back seat until that played itself out and I re-organised life to go forward. So in the Summer after, 1998, I bought after much looking the 1992 Voyager, top of the line when new and actually owned by a little old lady who didn't drive it much. Finding a good low miles used van isn't easy, since most people buy them to pile in the kids and go everywhere. This is absolutely the best vehicle ever, and if I could get a new one just like it I wouldn't look at anything else. Now that I think of it, Dad said the same about the 1955 Chevy. It now has 144k miles, on its second tranny and runs like a champ, just this morning allowing me to get two kids to two basketball games in different parts of town unfazed at all by the snow we're having and allowing the pleasure of monitoring it on a full six gauge instrument panel, unavailable now on the new ones but more important to me than stow and go seats or a table in the back. It's everything in one -- sports, sedan, utility, whatever you need it to be. It was also the first vehicle I bought on my own, without either a dad or a wife co-signing, just me, which at age 48 is not when this usually happens.

7. But it's a machine too, and during its tranny troubles the idea of having something newer usable for family purposes but fun too became hard to resist, even though I don't like the current vans as well as my Voyager. Then it came, as if it were heard at Sinai -- you already have a van you like, why bother with vans, that '06 top of the line PT they want to unload because the '07s are here is a blast to drive, has a lot of the utility of the van, and the boys love it. So we bought it Thanksgiving week-end 2006, the first new car I ever owned, and typically, at age 56, atypical. It's a terrific little car, just fine in the Winter too, and with the van still around to take the bigger and/or messier hauling chores, just the right choice. If only it came with full instruments (which is: speedometre, tach, gas, oil, water and battery, for those of you for whom driving is just transportation rather than a life event) it would be perfect.

So that's the seven, three of them in the driveway, one driver in the house. Yeah, I know, atypical again. I think it's time to take it down to two, the Voyager and the PT. The kid in the Corvette has found his dream vehicle in a mini-van. Now there's transformation, even without cabbage (biographers, that's a reference to the subtitle of one of my favourite Lutheran blogs, Lutheran Lucciola). Oh wait, there IS cabbage -- trips to Runza!! (vide prior post on Runzas -- vide, biographers, being the correct Latin word in foot or end notes for "see", a solid usage in adacemic succession, so to speak, from the original university dudes, and for jumping Judas Priest's sake say VEE-day, not WEE-day, all of which revisionist usage is surely a sign that the end of times is near, also sprach Herr Dr Maher, and just to not leave that one hanging, a reference to the great work by Nietzsche, the only philosopher worth reading.)

There. A window into my soul.

09 December 2007

Other Religious News, 8 December 2007

Which date is celebrated in the Roman rite as the Feast of the Immaculate Conception.

This year, the Roman church began its celebration on 8 December of the 150th anniversary of the 18 events taken to be apparitions of Mary to Bernadette Soubirous in Lourdes, France, between February and July 1858. So why now, why not February 2008? Because in one of these phenomena the woman referred to herself as the Immaculate Conception, which would confirm the validity of the dogma whose formal definition came just four years earlier. A Catholic, however, is not required to believe these phenomena to be real, and belief in the Immaculate Conception rests on the authority of the papal constitution which defined it, not the phenomena at Lourdes.

What's the Immaculate Conception? It is the idea that Mary, in order to give birth to the Son of God and not pass on to him the stain of original sin, had to be free from original sin from conception herself by a miracle of God. In other words, in order for Jesus to not need a Saviour himself his mother had to be free of original sin. That Mary did not pass on a fallen and sinful human nature to Jesus is held throughout Christianity, but that it happened as a result of her herself being conceived without sin by a miracle of God is a Western opinion. The Eastern Church does not share it, seeing the idea as more deriving from St Augustine's Western theology than God's revelation in Scripture. In the West, the feast was instituted by Pope Sixtus IV in 1476 but the idea behind it was not defined as dogma nor did the Council of Trent (1545 - 1563) so define it as it set a comprehensive definition of the Roman church in response to the Reformation.

The formal definition of the Immaculate Conception as a dogma of faith binding upon Catholics to accept happened 8 December 1854 in Pope Pius IX's constitution Ineffabilis Deus. It is important to understand that this dogma does not place Mary on an equal basis with Jesus her Son. She is as much redeemed by her Son's merits as anyone else, but in advance, as it were, to allow her to bear a sinless from conception son. Rome teaches enough error without imputing to it errors it does not in fact teach.

In Catholic thinking, this is not a case of adding doctrine either, but rather a case where a doctrine long held was not formally defined until later. Which is something God empowers his Church to do, in this case the holding back of the formally defining this doctrine serving the purpose of addressing the appearance of two critical foundations of modern unbelief. Those being the appearance of Charles Darwin's The Origin of the Species in 1859 and of Karl Marx' The Communist Manifesto in 1848. These two establish a philosophical and supposedly scientific basis for the general idea now commonly held that Man is not an essentially fallen creature born in sin and incapable of escaping that condition either individually or collectively, but rather a point in a perfectible progression evolving over time.

Now, recall the original title of Darwin's work: On the Origin of the Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life. Think about that for a while. The shorter title, in which we can conveniently forget about favoured races in the theory that supposedly vindicates the idea that we need no saviour from sin, came with the sixth edition of the work in 1872. Against this view the dogma of the Immaculate Conception asserts that Man IS a fallen creature and CANNOT effect his own salvation individually or collectively, the only human being ever born outside of that condition being the mother of the Saviour Jesus, God born as a man, and that by God's action and not her own merit. Nor then will there be a scientifically determined social progression of such a creature as set out by Marx, or anyone else, either.

These two points in which Christianity addresses modern unbelief -- that all Creation is fallen through sin and Man with it, therefore he is not perfectible individually or socially, and will not experience the former apart from the merits of Christ from his Death and Resurrection in his First Coming in the flesh and the latter in his Second Coming in glory, which two Comings comprise the theme of this season of Advent -- do not require subscription to Catholicism or the dogma of the Immaculate Conception but are clearly taught in Scripture and confessed by the church catholic, which is not the Catholic Church or all churches generally but those who hold and teach the faith of the church catholic's own book, the Bible.

Speaking of which, also on 8 December 2007, the Diocese of San Joaquin (California) of the Episcopal Church USA has voted to leave that denomination, the first ECUSA diocese to so so, and re-align itself with other traditional bodies within the Anglican Communion. The immediate issues are the ordination to priesthood and episcopate of openly practicing homosexuals, the sanction of same sex marriage, and the ordination of women to the priesthood and episcopate, which this diocese has not practised, along with the general doctrinal and liturgical revisionism plaguing all church bodies, all of it seen as a violation of Scripture and the traditional faith and practice of the Christian Church.

The presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church USA, Katharine Jefferts Schori, issued a statement from which the Associated Press quotes: "We deeply regret their unwillingness or inability to live within the historical Anglican understanding of comprehensiveness." No mention of Scripture, doctrine or liturgy. Not so the bishop of the diocese, John-David Schofield, from whose address to the diocesan convention the AP quotes: "It is about freedom to remain who we are in Christ. It is freedom to honor the authority of Scripture. It is freedom to worship with the Prayer Book we know and freedom from innovations and services that are contrary to the Word of God." And you can bet that one part of that "comprehensiveness" the ECUSA ain't a-gonna let go of without a fight is the millions of dollars in real estate.

A confessional Lutheran cannot of course subscribe to all that a traditional Episcopalian or Anglican does, any more than to the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception. But a confessional Lutheran certainly does subscribe to the same Scriptural fidelity on which this diocese has stood with regard to the immediate issues as well as the general background of revisionism. God speed these valiant brothers and sisters in Christ -- in that diocese, the ECUSA, the Anglican Communion, and in all churches who stand in Christian freedom for the Word of God against, to borrow Bishop Schofield's words, innovations and services that are contrary to the Word of God!

8 December 2007. Back to the Immaculate Conception, Bishop Sheen used to say he couldn't understand why anyone would have a problem with the idea that Mary was conceived without sin since these days everyone thinks he is! Which kind of sums it all up.

07 December 2007

Omaha, 5 December 2007

For such readership as this blog may enjoy, you may have heard the horrific news of the mall shooting massacre.

I would ask your prayers for the many families and people impacted, as well as the police, other law enforcement, the firefighters, other emergency medical personnel, store personnel, and all who responded.

UPDATE! For those who are moved to help the victims in a financial way, the Von Maur company, whose store there was the scene of the massacre, has set up a fund through the United Way at First Westroads Bank. Not so much as even one cent will be taken for administrative fees. Make donations to United Way of the Midlands, note the memo line Von Maur Victims Fund, and send to 1805 Harney Street, Omaha NE 68102. Or donate online (links to the same site as the sidebar link):

02 December 2007

Advent 2007

Scripture records the birth of Jesus, but it records no direction to celebrate either it or a preparation for it. But it records no prohibition of doing so either. The Christian Church has evolved various pratices to commemorate one of its most outrageous claims, that God became Man in Jesus, the Incarnation, and considering the magnitude of what is celebrated, a season of preparation for it. These celebrations have taken on various forms in various places, and even various forms over time in the same place. But all of them have the same idea, for Christ's church to celebrate to-gether one of the world and life changing events it proclaims. Which is the idea of all of the church's liturgy.

Advent comes from the Latin adventus, which means a coming, and translates the Greek word parousia, which designates not the coming of Jesus at his birth but his coming again to judge the world on the Last Day. Advent has in fact three comings, or turnings toward, to prepare for, which culminate in the liturgy for Christmas, Christ's Mass, which uniquely in the church year has three distinct liturgies. There is the mass in the night to celebrate the historical coming or birth of Jesus, the mass at dawn to celebrate the coming or birth of Jesus in the heart of believers as evidenced in the shepherds who went to the manger, and the mass during the day which celebrates the eternal generation of the Son in the Trinity in the being of God in which redeemed Man will fully participate after the end of time, which has been the subject of the final Sindays of the church year before Advent.

Advent then precedes Christmas similar to Lent preceding Easter, a time of repentance and preparation. For both seasons, church vestments etc are purple, the colour associated both with penance, our part, and royalty, his part as King of kings. However, the purple is a little different than the Lent purple, darker, the royal purple rather than the Roman purple, as the seasons, while similar, are distinct in that to which they lead. And in the rite of Salisbury, called Sarum in Latin, England, which had a hybrid liturgy of English and French influences following the Norman Conquest in 1066 (William of Normandy appointing its bishop, St Osmund, how's that for apostolic succession!) the Scripture readings and other prayers proper to the day were different than the Roman rite, as was the colour of vestments, which was blue. This use of blue as the colour for Advent has had a more general usage in the West in recent years, though with the Roman propers (or the new Roman ones from its three year cycle from the 1960s, which will not be considered here -- one can look them up and put on a little Simon and Garfunkle or other holdovers of the time if one is so inclined). It is not the first time the Sarum rite has influenced Western usage, generally through its appropriation into the Church of England. The traditional Lutheran practice of counting Sundays in the rest of the church year from Trinity Sunday rather than Pentecost is a Sarum influence too. For that matter, the liturgical colour for Advent in the Eastern churches is generally red! And in the West, from the fourth or fifth century or so Advent was a 40 day time of fasting and penance much like Lent, starting on 11 November, the feast of St Martin of Tours, Martin Luther's namesake (and see my post on 11 November and this feast, "What's An Armistice"), with the day being something like Mardi Gras, Fat Tuesday, in Lent. This "quadragesima sancti Martini", the forty days of St Martin, died out by the late Middle Ages, and Advent as it is generally known in the West took shape and is what we use to-day.

Each Sunday emphasises a different aspect of the preparation and the comings noted above. Following are the Scripture passages used for the Introits and Scripture readings. Roman usage (which they ditched at Vatican II) has the same Introits but varies as noted from ours in the Epistles and Gospels for the Western Advent. I had never understood this variation and mentioned that in the combox on One Lutheran ... Ablog! (see Blogroll on the sidebar). Pastor Benjamin Mayes responded citing Reed, The Lutheran Liturgy, p.438, which states our usage follows the Comes attributed to St Jerome and its final version, The Lectionary of Charlemagne, which Rome later modified to accomodate its new feasts. Comes is a Latin word meaning companion, here a companion book of readings for mass to the rite's service book itself and more commonly called to-day a Lectionary, from the Latin for "readings"; the list of the readings is still often called by its Greek name, pericope, meaning section, here the sections of Scripture appointed to be read. Psalm numbers as given below are the old Roman usage which followed the Septuagint, in which in terms of the Hebrew Bible Psalm numbering generally used now counts Psalms 9 and 10 as one psalm, likewise 114 and 115, and divides both 116 and 147 in two, so between 10 to 148 the numbering is different by one.

The First Sunday of Advent. (Ad te levavi)

Introit Psalms 24:1-3 psalm verse 24:4, Epistle Romans 13:11-15, Gospel Matthew 21:1-9.

Roman usage Gospel Luke 21:25-33 our second Sunday Gospel.

The Second Sunday of Advent. (Populus Sion)

Introit Isaiah 30:30 psalm verse 79:2, Epistle Romans 15:4-13, Gospel Luke 21:25-36.

Roman usage Gospel Matthew 11:2-10, our third Sunday Gospel.

The Third Sunday of Advent. (Gaudete)

Introit Philippians 4:4-6 psalm verse 84:2, Epistle First Corinthians 4:1-5, Gospel Matthew 11:2-10.

Roman usage Epistle Philippians 4:4-7 Gospel John 1:19-28, our fourth Sunday readings.

The Fourth Sunday of Advent. (Rorate coeli)

Introit Isaiah 45:8 psalm verse 18:2, Epistle Philippians 4:4-7, Gospel John 1:19-28.

Roman usage Epistle First Corinthians 4:1-5 Gospel Luke 3:1-6, our third Sunday Epistle, the Luke passage not used by us.

Some final notes. In some places, the traditional main dish for Christmas is goose. In fact, one of my favourite phrases in English, not suitable for reproduction here, derives from this custom, let the reader understand. The Christmas goose may derive from Advent when it was St Martin's Fast. Martin didn't really want to be a bishop, and is said to have hid himself in a flock of geese from those seeking him to persuade him to accept the post, whose noise nonetheless gave his location away. So goose became the main food for St Martin's Day kicking off Advent.

In Latin and Hebrew, the title of a text is usually the first word or two of the text rather than something separate. Accordingly, some of the Sundays of the church year are called from the first word of the first proper text to them, the Introit. This practice has fallen into disuse with many churches following Rome's 1960s revisionism of the lectionary. Or one can as my former synod did abolish Introits altogether! The third Sunday in Advent is known as Gaudete Sunday, from the opening of the Introit from Philippians Rejoice (gaudete, in Latin) in the Lord always and the coming joy of Christmas breaks into the time of preparation. Accordingly, purple is set aside this Sunday, and rose coloured vestments are used and the rose candle in the Advent wreath lit. Rose vestments are used only one other time in the church year, the Fourth Sunday of Lent, called Laetare from its Introit Rejoice (laetare, in Latin) Jerusalem, from Isaiah 66:10, in which the coming Easter joy similarly breaks into the season of preparation. Roman usage repeats the Gaudete passage as Epistle (or used to), whereas our usage will extend this on through Advent using the passage as the Epistle for the next and last Sunday of Advent.

Christmas is a warm time filled with comfort, family, presents, good food, along with our religious sentiments, for many of us. Christmas as in the event we celebrate was nothing like that. It was rough. Joseph wasn't the glowing saint of paintings and icons, he was a working guy with a pregnant wife about to give birth -- I've been there twice and that ain't easy under any circumstances, and my observation would be it ain't easy being the about to deliver wife either -- in town to follow the law and get counted in the census with all the hotels full and no place to put his family up but a stable for animals, and after the baby was born they had to put him in a feeding trough for animals. That's what away in a manger was. A manger is a feeding trough for animals, the word coming into English from the French to eat, in turn from the Latin to chew (mandere). Fact is, our word "munch" has the same root.

So the King of kings is put in a feeding trough for animals in a cold stable. You don't make up this kind of stuff. Humans who are gods in myth are emporers and such, not working class kids born in a barn. Top it all off, this child away in a feeding trough will one day give himself to be the food of eternal life, giving his body and blood for us to eat and drink as the pledge and promise of our salvation through the merits of his death and resurrection at mass. Guess it kind of fits then.

And you know what, for those whose Christmas isn't going to be all warm and cozy and filled with cheer, guess what, you're right in there with those at the first Christmas. That was a little rough too. Born in a stable, a feeding trough for a crib, and pretty soon his family having to high tail it out of town into political exile too. So you're not excluded at all, and can take it right to him, because he knows all about when Christmas isn't so merry. And he also knows all about how merry doesn't really get determined by what happens in this life, on Christmas or any other day!

To Thee have I lifted up my soul, in Thee, O my God, I put my trust. Let me not be ashamed, neither let my enemies laugh at me, for none of those that wait on Thee shall be confounded.

Psalm 24 (or 25, remember?):1-3 as used in the Introit for the First Sunday in Advent.