Seminary President Attends International Conference Addressing the Challenges of “Post-Christian” Society

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Thanks to the Canadian Lutheran for the following story.

Following an invitation from the Commission on Theology (CT) of the Independent Evangelical Lutheran Church in Germany (SELK), representatives of various commissions on theology from Lutheran churches in Europe and North America met in Oberursel, Germany March 4-5, 2015. This meeting served the purpose of exchanging information about the proceedings and results of theological endeavours facing the challenges in—for the most part—post-Christian societies in the North Atlantic part of the world.

“Despite our very close ties to The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod, we in Canada are faced with a society and church culture that is much closer to the ‘post-Christian’ situation of northern Europe,” Lutheran Church–Canada’s (LCC) Rev. Dr. Thomas Winger explained. Dr. Winger, who was present for the Germany meetings, is President of Concordia Lutheran Seminary and a member of LCC’s Commission on Theology and Church Relations. “It’s in meetings like these, with our brothers and sisters who have already faced these challenges, that we can learn to be prepared for where we’re heading. And certainly we can pray together and support each other as we face them under the guidance of God’s holy Word.”

The first day of the conference was filled with reports delivered by the participants, who hold a confessional Lutheran position. In the evening the conference participated in the Lenten service held at St. John’s church in Oberursel.

On the second day Bishop Hans-Jörg Voigt (SELK) led Matins. It was followed by a presentation on “The Relationship of Church and State as Reflected in the Understanding of Marriage,” given by Dr. Werner Klän, professor of systematic theology at Lutheran Theological Seminary in Oberursel. Based on preparatory papers and a document only recently issued by the SELK Commission on Theology, Klän addressed the biblical and confessional understanding of marriage and the church wedding, especially with regard to the German situation since the 19th century. He pointed out that, if the state would revoke the privilege and precedence of marriage currently guaranteed in the constitution of the Federal Republic of Germany, compared to other forms of living together, then churches would have to restate the basic biblical assumptions underlying matrimony, the question of establishing ecclesial jurisdiction concerning marriage, and so forth.

The discussion following the presentation identified similarities and differences for Lutherans in other nations. All agreed that the classical biblical, Lutheran understanding of marriage is being challenged in many ways, and that solutions to these challenges cannot be found easily. The topic of same-sex marriage legislation was of particular discussion, with emphases placed on the crisis of gender identity as well as the status and function of the legal protection of matrimony.

Participants in the conference agreed that the meeting contributed to discovering the common confessional grounds shared by the various church bodies, the similarity of challenges confronting them, and the diversity of contexts in which these churches exist. Participants decided to share as many theological documents as possible from their respective church bodies with the others, in order to communicate the results of theological research addressing the crucial questions of our time and day from a Lutheran point of view.

“The encouragement to share documents written by our various commissions on theology was particularly welcome,” Dr. Winger noted. “We can all benefit from hearing a different perspective on our shared concerns.”

Participants at the 2015 meeting included representatives from the Independent Evangelical Lutheran Church in Germany (SELK), the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Baden (ELKib), the Mission Province in Sweden, the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Latvia (LELB), the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Ingria (ELCI), the Silesian Evangelical Lutheran Church of the Augsburg Confession (SCEAV), the Evangelical Lutheran Mission Diocese of Finland, the Evangelical Lutheran Church of England (ELCE), Lutheran Church–Canada (LCC), and The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS).

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Easter Drama at Concordia

On TuVisitatioesday, 7 April, our seminary will host a special Easter drama produced jointly by the Brock University Centre for Medieval and Renaissance Studies, the Department of Dramatic Arts, and the Department of Music.

The Visitatio Sepulchri (“Visit to the Sepulchre”) is a mediaeval Christian liturgical drama portraying the visit of the women to the tomb of Christ on Easter morning.

Dr Brian Power (music director) will give a pre-concert talk at 7pm, after which the musical drama will be performed at 7.30pm.  Prof. Virginia Reh is the stage director.

This particular version is based on a 12th century play. The seminary performance is a special preview before the drama is performed at the University of Toronto for three nights in June.

Make this a part of your Easter celebration and join us in the seminary’s chapel on the evening of Easter Tuesday!

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The Annunciation of Our Lord (Sermon)

annunciation: Alessio BaldovinettiThe following sermon was preached by Dr John Stephenson in the seminary’s Martin Luther Chapel for the divine service observing the Festival of the Annunciation, 25 March 2015. The text is Luke 1:26-38.

The way Mary and Gabriel conducted themselves prompts me to ask you some searching questions: What role does reverence play in your life, how deeply is it rooted in your heart, and in what way does it spill over into your words and deeds?

Reverence has taken a nose dive almost everywhere you care to look, and hardly anyone even raises an eyebrow over the fact that standard dictionaries nowadays define the proper noun Jesus as an interjection, that is to say, as a cuss word.

Yet reverence is in order even before you open a Bible, set foot in church, or think a single thought about your Maker. Every human being ever conceived is made in the image of God. We’re speaking of a stained, tarnished, defaced image, I grant you, but this image cries out for proper honour, nonetheless. Once you realise that reverence is called for in your dealings with every human person, no matter their sex, race, mental or bodily gifts or social status, you start to get why it’s so horrific to abort babies, ‘euthanize’ the sick or elderly or disabled, exploit the poor or withhold wages from labourers. Refuse reverence to the images of God you regularly encounter through your five senses, and it follows that you’ll have not a spark of reverence for God Himself and all that pertains to Him.

Gabriel’s encounter with Mary is an object lesson in three-way reverence. There’s not an ounce of familiarity or flippancy or sarcasm in the greeting, “Rejoice, begraced one!” Compare that with the way conversations routinely open today, even among Christian people. And Mary immediately performs a double genuflection of the heart before the Holy One of Israel who is in, with, and under this angel sent as His messenger. Which of the two was more awestruck to meet the other, Mary to see a leading member of the heavenly court, or Gabriel to behold the Woman predicted by Moses and Isaiah?

Reverence dictated that for just over three decades the way in which God took flesh and came to dwell among us was the topmost of all top secrets. Even if today’s social media had stood at her disposal, Mary wouldn’t have tweeted or emailed what transpired between Gabriel and herself, and she certainly wouldn’t have thrown an emotional extravaganza about it on the Oprah show. Reverence made her leave it to God to have an angel inform Joseph about the unique conception of the Child that he did not father. It’s an open question whether Mary shared with Zechariah and Elizabeth every detail of her dialogue with Gabriel, but it fits that she did so: the old priest had met the same angel; all three major participants in the Visitation had the charism of prophecy; when Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, she knew that the ark of the covenant had walked through the door on two legs, with enfleshed God in her womb; and if Zechariah was so fully in the picture that he could cry out that, “The Dayspring from on high hath visited us,” then he and his wife may well have gone to their graves knowing the article of the creed “conceived by the Holy Ghost of the Virgin Mary.”

Now the utmost discretion and reserve is called for with respect to the intimate bodily details of any decent woman, with the result that a male gynaecologist needs an even greater supply of reverence than other men. We don’t know when Mary divulged the fact that was hidden for so long from James and his siblings and from the gossiping residents of Nazareth, but it makes good sense to suppose that she did so in the upper room between Ascension and Pentecost, imparting to Peter and the Apostles and perhaps to others of the 120 brethren a holy fact that they could not possibly have taken on board before they had witnessed the glorification of Jesus with their eyes. And Luke surely never forgot the personal interview with Mary that stands behind the first two chapters of his Gospel.

Once it passed into the apostolic proclamation and got written down by Matthew and Luke, the virginal conception of our Lord ceased to be a secret. From that point on it entered the public domain, and you might even say that it went viral. It became a bitterly contested claim, of course, with irreverent unbelief saying the nastiest things. And for all who believe, yesterday’s secret has become today’s and tomorrow’s mystery, a mystery that has shed none of its lustre over twenty centuries, a mystery that will still evoke cascades of awe from all sanctified hearts when, as a popular hymn says, we’ve been there a thousand years.

We face the unfinished and in this life unfinishable task of letting the reverence nurtured by this mystery fill every waking and even sleeping moment of our lives. Be careful how you treat a Bible, where you place it, and how you handle it; it’s not just another book, and so we need to think twice before we print out the readings on sheets of paper and then consign them to the waste bin after the service. The altar is the symbolic throne of Christ, even in an empty chapel; be careful with your body language as you approach it and when you pass it. Never, never, never speak flippantly of Jesus our Lord in any context, and never even think of cracking a joke of which He is the subject.

When he spoke to the faculty before last August’s retreat, my elder brother in the Lord, John Kleinig, drew my attention to the helpful distinction between a secret and a mystery, the first of which dissipates in a moment, while the second abides forever; and in one of his great writings in defence of the sacrament of the altar our father in Christ, Dr Luther, helps me to set before you the vital link between the Annunciation and this and every celebration of Holy Communion. By the mercies of God, Blessed Martin was spared all awareness of test-tube babies and surrogate mothers, but as he was trying to put Zwingli right on the real presence, Luther pointed out that Jesus did not come from Mary as Eve was built from the rib of the sleeping Adam. Because she believed the word of Gabriel and reverently accepted what God gave her through him, Mary was pregnant twice over, says the Reformer, “spiritually and physically, and yet with a single Fruit” (AE 37:90). And so it is or should be with us. To take the Lord’s body and blood into our bodies without contrition and faith would expose us to great danger, but to partake of these holy things in contrition and faith is to receive them aright; it is, to use terminology that our confessions adopt from Peter Lombard, to allow a sacramental to flower into a spiritual communion.

And so, not only in principle but also in very truth, we may share through this Blessed Sacrament in the holiness of the young woman who crossed the threshold of Zechariah’s house to the great joy of Elizabeth who pronounced her blessed. Blessed are you also when you commune according to the will of Christ. May our Lord who comes to you on the altar this day renew your perception of the mystery of His incarnation, which happened when Mary embraced Gabriel’s word in faith; and may He invigorate your reverence for everything that is holy, God first, Jesus obviously as fully God and fully Man, everything to do with the Church, and even the least of those Christ’s brethren, your fellow men and women already inside and still outside of Holy Christendom.

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St Joseph, Guardian of Jesus

JosephThe following sermon was preached by Dr Thomas Winger in the seminary’s Martin Luther Chapel for the divine service commemorating St Joseph, Guardian of Jesus, 19 March 2015. The text was Mt. 2:13-23.

Dear brothers and sisters of our Lord Jesus Christ: Last Sunday the historic church celebrated Mothering Sunday. Prompted by the old epistle from Galatians 4 that proclaimed the heavenly Jerusalem to be our mother (Gal. 4:26)—in other words, the Church—Christians who had moved away from home traditionally returned to the place of their Baptism, where through water and the Word they’d received a new birth and a new mother. And if along the way they happened to stop to pick some flowers to take in love to their earthly mother, who could blame them, for she was a gift of God as well. Falling closely on its heels is the Church’s way of doing Father’s Day. Joseph’s feast day came into the Western calendar in 1479, a few centuries after the golden era of Mary’s cult began; in 1870 Pius IX declared Joseph “Patron of the Universal Church”. A patron is a special kind of father. Joseph is father to us all. It took the LCMS till 2006 to get him onto our calendar, though ironically it may have been the great respect for the Virgin Mary that delayed recognition of Jesus’ earthly patron. But today we set that right.

Joseph perhaps plays little more than a bit part in the Gospel story, and mainly in Matthew’s account. He “struts and frets his hour upon the stage, and then is heard no more.” His disappearance from the Gospels after the childhood narratives has given rise to much speculation. Was he an old man who had died by the time Jesus reached adulthood? This might be supported by the fact that Jesus from the cross commends Mary into John’s care. It’s consistent with the maturity he shows in Matthew 1 when faced with the revelation that his betrothed is already pregnant. If Joseph brought children from a previous marriage into his custodial care of Mary, it may explain why Jesus’ “brothers” disbelieved and despised Him. But in the present narrative, Joseph is far more than a bit player destined to disappear quickly from the stage. He’s the central instrument of God’s care for His Son. If ever there was a text that portrayed God’s use of “masks”—as Luther described it—this would be it. Nothing in the story is attributed directly to God; it’s always His servants who act. Or, to put it another way, when Joseph acts, God acts. God puts on this earthly father like a mask. Rather than scooping Jesus out of danger with a whirlwind and a fiery chariot, rather than striking Herod dead in defence of the holy family, God sends His humble servant Joseph to lead mother and child through the dusty distance to their Egyptian refuge.

Flight into Egypt - GiottoWhile Joseph knew this journey was the will of God, thanks to the constant direction of the Lord’s angel, it took monumental faith to undertake it. Perhaps Joseph had travelled from village to village in Galilee plying his builder’s trade. He had, of course, already made the somewhat difficult journey from Galilee up to Bethlehem and Jerusalem for Jesus’ birth, circumcision, and presentation. But a trip to Egypt, the realm of Israel’s historic mortal enemy, was of an entirely different order for this simple man. It was as if, on the edge of a great storm, he were directed into the eye of the hurricane; only extraordinary trust in the person who gave him such apparently ludicrous guidance could lead him to the safety of its calm. But Joseph, against all his earthly wisdom and instinct as an experienced man, father, and husband, followed the Word of the Lord as the angel had directed him. Through the perils of the wilderness road, at the mercy of robbers and wild beasts and hunger and thirst, he led Mary and Jesus to safety in the land of his forefather and namesake Joseph.

Those of us who’ve experienced such faithful fathers—or even partly faithful fathers— ought to pause and give thanks that God gives us, too, such gifts. It pleases Him to work through means. This is the way He comes down to care for us: by placing us into homes where He can wear our fathers as His earthly face. But this Gospel story isn’t truly about our fathers, and it isn’t really even about Joseph. It’s about the Word of the Lord, the Word that His angel or messenger kept bringing to Joseph in a dream. Five times in Matthew’s Gospel—and nowhere else in the NT—an angel appears in a dream to tell someone what to do, and every appearance is to Joseph. He wasn’t left alone with this monumental charge to care for the Son of God and the Blessed Virgin. His faith was in the spoken Word, and it was supported and vindicated at every step of the way. The overwhelming message of this story is that everything happens just as God would have it, and that we can trust Him to fulfil His promises.

And so the Word of God punctuates this story three times to show that everything happens according to prophecy. Firstly, Matthew writes, Joseph, Mary, and Jesus travelled to Egypt “in order that what was spoken by the Lord through the prophet might be fulfilled saying, ‘Out of Egypt I have called My Son’ ” (Mt. 2:15). Now, if you read Hosea 11, it’s not at all clear that the text is a prophecy that the coming Messiah will be taken down to Egypt and returned to Nazareth. It’s part of God’s lament over His children Israel whom He loved and protected and rescued, but who responded with desertion and rebellion. “Out of Egypt I have called My son” is talking about the Exodus. So what’s it got to do with Jesus—or for that matter, with us? If this prophetic Word can be applied to Israel and to Jesus, it can only mean one thing: that Israel was wrapped up in Jesus, that in a remarkable inversion of God’s use of earthly masks, Israel for once was hidden behind and inside God. For now, finally, God had set aside His usual use of messengers and instruments, and took human flesh Himself. He acted in person, in the person of Jesus the Messiah. Where Israel, even with God’s saving hand and mighty Word, had failed, the Messiah would succeed. Jesus took up Israel in Himself and walked the road they had first trod. He went down to Egypt and returned, called back home by His Loving Father. While Israel grumbled against and rejected God’s servant Moses, Jesus subordinated Himself willingly to His father Joseph, who had led Him out of the land of Egypt and brought Him back to the Promised Land. Israel succumbed to temptation and rebelled in the wilderness; Jesus remained faithful to God’s Word and defeated the devil’s attacks. Where Israel failed to follow, Jesus picked them up and carried them back to God in His person.

There’s no glory in it for Jesus, any more than there was glory in fatherhood for Joseph. It’s nothing but servanthood. In accord with the prophets who first were scorned and rejected by Israel, Jesus would suffer to be known as “the Nazarene”—a term of derision and spite. But Jesus embraces it as defining the very essence of His mission, not to win victory by power and strength but by humble submission to the consequences of taking on our every burden. Even in His resurrected glory, as Jesus continues to suffer in and with His children on earth, He wants to be known as the rejected one, declaring to Paul on the Damascus road, “I am Jesus of Nazareth whom you are persecuting” (Acts 22:8). It’s as if He were saying, “I’m the one who began My life with the shedding of blood, and with kings seeking My life, and fleeing to the land of My people’s enemies, and being scorned by the people of My own home, the people I created—all this I did because of you and for you.” The Holy Innocents who lost their lives to Herod’s great anger, who led the mothers of Bethlehem like ancient Rachel to weep for their children, were embraced by that same suffering Messiah, dying with Him long before the thief on the cross. They became like Him. And so when God looked on them He saw only Jesus, the truly Innocent One, the divine mask that hides our suffering under His blood.

Today and here the Suffering Servant of Nazareth, Son of Joseph the builder, embraces us. He understands how it is for us to feel despised, ignored, trodden upon, dirty, worthless, failures, and He embraces us. He covers all that with His blood at this altar, and enters into us with His body, so that we can be what He already is, so that the Father may look down on us and say, “Out of Egypt I have called you”. For we are His sons. He not only serves us through our fathers and like a father; He makes us His children. He loves as His Son because He has hidden us inside His Son. And so by rescuing His Son Jesus from every earthly peril, from the devil’s attacks, even from death itself, He has rescued us. And to us who’ve been redeemed from Egypt He promises that we never, never, never shall be slaves again. Amen.

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Lenten Appeal 2015

Christ the True Vine icon (Athens, 16th century)Rev. Cameron Schnarr, pastor of Beautiful Savior Lutheran Church, Winnipeg, a 2010 graduate of this seminary, and a current member of its Board of Regents, has written our Lenten Appeal Letter. (Printed copies will be sent to every LCC congregation for distribution, but you can read it sooner here!) Pastor Schnarr calls upon our church to value our “roots in the past” and prepare the ground for “fruit in the future” by making a thank offering to the seminary. As part of your Lenten discipline please consider this appeal. Although our historic debt has been retired, it is still vital for the church to support our ongoing operating costs so that we may prepare pastors to preach the saving Gospel. We pledge that we will be frugal and faithful with your gifts. You may Donate online, and/or sign up for a monthly pre-authorised contribution (Support Us).

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Looking Forward to a Visiting Scholar: Rev. Esko Murto

Murto, EskoWe are pleased to announce that our seminary community will shortly be enhanced by a visiting scholar from Helsinki, Finland. Rev. Esko Murto will spend the 2015-16 academic year in St. Catharines.

This is the third in a sequence of very successful similar arrangements. Rev. Juhana Pohjola of Helsinki was in residence at our seminary from January 2011 to June 2012 while completing his doctoral dissertation. He contributed greatly to the community through his preaching and occasional teaching. Rev. Wilhelm Torgerson, a Canadian-German well-known to members of LCC, entered our midst in August 2011 and continues to teach a full load of classes. His first two years were supported by a grant from the Marvin M. Schwan charitable foundation.

Rev. Esko Murto is a young pastor from the Evangelical Lutheran Mission Diocese of Finland. This group comprises 30 congregations founded since 1999 in reaction to the unfaithfulness of the Lutheran state church in Finland. ForLHPK - Suomen evankelisluterilainen lähetyshiippakunta more than a decade it has proved impossible for any candidate to be ordained in the state church if he opposes the ordination of women. The state church’s increasing openness towards homosexual “marriages” has made the exodus more urgent. Faithful pastors have been bullied and defrocked.

It is important that we offer brotherly support within the Lutheran community to those who struggle to confess the truth in such circumstances. Rev. Murto’s time in Canada will give him crucial insights into the inner workings of an independent confessional Lutheran church body and seminary that he can bring back to Finland. LCC President Robert Bugbee is delighted to approve Rev. Murto’s Canadian sojourn to the mutual benefit of our churches.

The decision to call the new group a “mission” diocese was quite deliberate. The congregations do not withdraw from the world as a result of their faithfulness to Scripture, but reach out with the Gospel, seeking those who are looking for a closer relationship to God.

As a result of this experience, Rev. Murto will bring to the seminary unique insights into how to spread the Gospel in the increasingly “post-Christian” north Atlantic culture that we in Canada share with our Nordic cousins. Rev. Murto brings other specialisations. His Master of Theology thesis (University of Helsinki) was on the theology of C. S. Lewis. He also holds a Master of Sacred Theology from Concordia Theological Seminary, Ft. Wayne, where he wrote his thesis on Martin Luther’s view of the devil.

Rev. Murto will teach the seminary’s Confessions, dogmatics, and missions courses in the 2015-16 academic year, in the wake of Dr William Mundt’s retirement. This allows the seminary to delay the calling of a new faculty member for one year, which was desirable for a number of reasons. We look forward to Esko’s arrival!

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Dead Sea Scrolls Brought to Life

Eileen Schuller (McMaster University): Dead Sea Scrolls ConvocationOne of the mysteries surrounding the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls, explained Sister Eileen Schuller, professor in McMaster University’s Department of Religious Studies, to students, faculty and area clergy in a convocation on 10 February, was that no one really knew what they were or what to do with them. Subsequently, many first ended up in private hands and remained unseen for years, some even appearing in “Miscellaneous for sale” ads in The New York Times! Dr Schuller, recently elected to the Royal Society of Canada, was one of only a few international researchers responsible for the Scrolls’ initial decipherment and publication and is considered Canada’s preeminent scholar of the Dead Sea Scrolls. A lot has changed in how the scrolls are now housed and handled, she explained.

During this luncheon convocation she went on to explain the different kinds of writings Eileen Schuller (McMaster University): Dead Sea Scrolls Convocationdiscovered and how they provide insights and context for Christ’s life and ministry. In some cases the copies of biblical books clarify formerly mildly-confusing passages. Others provide insight into the life and rituals of the Qumran community. Some fragments are too small or incomplete to decipher (initially, some gathering the fragments broke up larger pieces because they were getting paid per fragment!)

Over the years portions of the scrolls have been purchased by Israel and the rest are intrusted to its care and housed in the Shrine of the Book in Jerusalem.

Dr Schuller was invited to speak at the seminary by student Paul Luth, who heard her lectures in Hamilton.

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Sermon for the Presentation of Our Lord 2015

Presentation of our Lord - RublevThe following sermon was preached by Rev. Dr Wilhelm Torgerson in the seminary’s Martin Luther Chapel for the Feast of the Purification of Mary and the Presentation of our Lord (observed 3 February 2015).

St Luke 2:22-35

A newspaper reported that at the new Apple Store in Peking people had started to line up in mid-afternoon, and they stayed through the night. The reason: They wanted to be among the first to purchase the new Iphone 4 that was to be sold starting the next morning. More than a thousand people waited for the store to open. But they didn’t have that many Iphones to begin with, and so the management decided not to open the store at all to prevent uncontrollable chaos. And that really made people angry: waiting all night, and all for nothing!

And that is rather disappointing, isn’t it: waiting and waiting, and at the end to find out that it was all for naught. It seems to be a general truth: we don’t like to wait. Whatever we want, we want it as soon as possible and without too much trouble. It is rare that we consider waiting as something pleasant, except maybe the time before Christmas. That season is ending today, on the second of February, forty days after the birth of Christ.

We’re usually willing to wait for Christmas because we know exactly when it will take place and how we plan to observe it. But to wait for others to fulfill their promises, for them to do what they had said they would do, well, that’s an entirely different matter. It often leads to frustration and disappointment.

Today’s Gospel talks about someone who is waiting. He is not alone in his expectation, so the verses immediately following inform us; many others are waiting like him. They’re waiting not just for a few hours, not only through the night; they have been waiting for many, many years—and they’re still waiting. But they’re not waiting for the newest technical gadget appearing on the market. Rather they wait for something absolutely decisive, so significant for their life that they’re unwilling to leave the whole thing be after the disappointment of a few hours.

What are they waiting for? St Luke says: “Looking for the consolation of Israel”, or just a few verses after that: “Looking for the redemption of Jerusalem”. In other words, they’re waiting for God to keep his promise to send the Messiah, the Saviour of his people, who will not only rule over Israel, but lead the whole world to believe in the God of Israel.

I can well understand the people’s longing for Israel’s Messiah. It was a time of Roman oppression, when God seemed to keep silent. Their wait had seemed so futile! How long had it been that the people of Israel hoped and waited—and he still had not appeared. And all those who in the past had claimed to be the Messiah had proven to be bigmouthed fakes.

But had God not promised in his word that the Messiah would come? And so the pious ones in the land waited—they did not call for a revolt against the Romans, but they relied on God to do the right thing and the right time. And waited.

Now it is the old man Simeon that commands Luke’s special attention. Do you recall what was said about him? Simeon was not only waiting like all the other believers in Israel; but we are told that God the Holy Spirit gave him a firm personal promise: the Messiah will come not only in some undisclosed future, no, he will appear during your lifetime, Simeon! And more than that: Simeon would get to see his Saviour with his own eyes!

And holding fast to this promise Simeon waited; for how many months or years, I do not know. And I also do not know whether I—or you—would have relied on that promise for such a long time. Did we just image that, with that special promise? Did we make it up? Would we have been that patient?

Well, Simeon was; he kept waiting and didn’t doubt that God would keep his promise. And then finally, the day is at hand: the Holy Spirit urges him to be in the Temple on a specific day in order that the promise might be seen to be fulfilled. And so Simeon rushes up to Temple Hill.

What does he see there? Not a charismatic star with obvious leadership qualities; not a great orator to entertain the crowds. It’s just—a little baby. A baby that is presented to God in the Temple forty days after his birth; something that had been going on in Israel for more than a thousand years. Nor was the baby’s head surrounded by a halo, and his young parents looked just like the other happy parents that came to the Temple that day.

So how did Simeon saw what only one other person, old Hannah the prophetess, saw on that day? The Holy Spirit opened his eyes, the eyes of faith, and Simeon is able to recognize: this is He! This baby is the one I’ve been waiting for all my life, together with many others, as we relied on and believed God’s word of promise. And Simeon takes the child—surprise, Mary and Joseph!—and starts his beautiful hymn of praise:

“Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, according to thy word;
for mine eyes have seen thy salvation”
(v. 29+30)

My waiting paid off; now I can die in peace, because Christ is the supreme and most beautiful fulfilment I can imagine for my life.

Simeon holding the Christ child in his arms—that’s the exact opposite of those disappointed yuppies in front of the Apple Store in Beijing. These guys were waiting for a status symbol they could show around—and an Iphone really does not serve well as life’s fulfilment. Surely there must be more to life than possessing the latest trendy mobile phone or some other new electronic gadget.

Simeon was not waiting for a status symbol. He awaited the One who gave his life hope and meaning and a future—and he was not disappointed. He is carrying in his arms the greatest blessing of his life.

But what does this story have to do with us? I think a whole lot. We are actually mentioned in Simeon’s hymn: He praises Christ as “the light for revelation to the gentiles.” Gentiles, people not of Israel, that’s you and me. This story teaches us how God, in and through this baby which Simeon holds in his arms, how God begins to extend his salvation, his redemptive work, to all people everywhere, even here in St. Catharines.

We celebrate this festival because we marvel at the fact that the light which this child spreads, no, which this child is, that this light shines into the darkness of our land and of our city, indeed, into the darkness of our own heart.

And what happens in our service today is just as unfathomable. As Simeon way back then took into his arms a seemingly helpless infant and praised it as his Saviour, so we will kneel at the altar, before what seems to be merely a piece of bread and some wine—and yet because of the word spoken with the eyes of faith we recognize in these elements the same Lord that moved Simeon to such worship and praise. We, too, have Jesus with us, in us, as he unites himself in his body and blood with all who partake. Such is the power which shines in this “light for revelation to the gentiles, and for the consolation of Israel” and Saviour of the world.

God fulfils his word—often in a manner quite different than we expect, and yet often much more wonderful than we thought possible. That’s the message of today’s Gospel!

And that, my Friends, leads us back to the waiting Simeon. For him and many before him it had been a long wait. At the same time he knew: After the arrival of the Messiah, those coming after us will not necessarily have an easier time of it. The child which Mary presented in the Temple will become “a sign that is spoken against”. And he says so to the young mother.

And that’s the way it is to this day: People will consider it sheer nonsense to believe in this child, or in the adult which it will grow up to be, or to put their trust in him. A great divide will pass through Israel, indeed, through humankind, a divide that separates those, like Simeon, who find in this child the fulfilment of their life, and those who completely disregard this Jesus because they couldn’t care less.

What is this child to you, my Sisters and Brothers? And I’m asking that question in view of the many Chinese who had gathered in front of the Apple Store just to get hold of some technical gadget they thought might change their lives. What is this child for you?

If we consider this child to be really important for us and our life, then we, like Simeon, will have come to this temple to meet the Saviour, here and now. Someone has carried the promised Messiah into this place this morning. This is where we meet up with the “the light of the gentiles” as his word is proclaimed and his sacred gifts of body and blood are distributed. What could there be legitimately keeping us away from God’s house?

As for your waiting, it’ll never be for nothing; you’ll never be disappointed. Christ himself comes to meet you here; he speaks life-giving words to you; he distributes life-sustaining food, spiritual medicine for living and for dying. So we join in Simeon’s joy:

Lord, now lettest thou they servant depart in peace, according to thy word;
for mine eyes have seen thy salvation.”

What else is there to wait for? Amen.

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Joint Boards Meet in St. Catharines

“So now come and let us take counsel together.” (Nehemiah 6:7)

“Isn’t it amazing how applicable Bible verses taken out of context can be for the circumstances in which we find ourselves? I suppose it is not always bad when one considers the sentiment involved and does not press for details or doctrines”—comments Dr William Mundt, who also serves as CLTS Director of Development.

Joint Board of Regents meeting, 26 January 2015Taking counsel together is exactly what the two LCC Seminaries do annually in a joint Board of Regents meeting. The latest one was held Monday, 26 January, at Concordia Lutheran Theological Seminary in St. Catharines. The similar size and challenges provide opportunities for its Regents and those from Concordia Lutheran Seminary in Edmonton to learn from one another.

Long before the Memorandum of Understanding (2011) was formally adopted, such co-operation between the institutions took place through joint faculty meetings, faculty exchanges, and co-operative efforts on various levels. Shared goals and values means resource sharing is possible and desirable as regents discuss such concerns as faculty calls, recruitment, distance education, funding, and accreditation. With both seminaries needing to replace retiring faculty members in the coming year, and with the whole synod facing a financial crisis, joint counsel is wise and welcome. On this occasion, the group benefited from a board development session led by CLS President James Gimbel.

The two boards joined with the students for a divine service in commemoration of St Titus,Joint Board of Regents meeting, 26 January 2015 Pastor and Confessor—most appropriate for a seminary gathering. Rev. Rudy Pastucha, visiting with the Edmonton Board of Regents, preached to the gathered community. There was also an opportunity to get acquainted with the students and staff over lunch.

On Tuesday, 27 January, each Board of Regents met separately to ensure that individual issues are addressed.

The “Continuation Committee” comprising representatives of the two seminaries and the LCC Board of Directors met on Wednesday, 28 January, for ongoing review of the Memorandum of Understanding. A separate news story will shortly be issued concerning that committee’s important work.

 

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Book Donations the “Spine” of the Seminary Library

Luther's WorksOver the years, the seminary’s Martin Chemnitz Memorial Library has been expanded and enhanced by the generosity of donors who regularly contribute used books and journals to the collection.

In the last four years alone, we have received well over 5 000 donated books, though only 1 500 of those were suitable to be added to our library collection. The value of items added to our library since 2010 through donations topped $46 000.

Clearly, we would never be able to acquire that volume of material if we relied solely on our rather meagre library acquisitions budget. We are very thankful to all our supporters who have made these generous gifts.

Jeff Swords at work in the libraryWhile we continue to welcome your donations, we are finding it increasingly difficult to “rehome” donated books that are not needed because we already have them in our library. For this reason, we are encouraging donors to send us a quick email (concordia@brocku.ca) or to call the seminary at 905-688-2362, ext. 32, before bringing donations to the library. That way, we can save donors the time and effort of travelling to the seminary with boxes of items we are unable to use.

A reminder about the process we use for library donations:

  • First, we establish if the book is already in our collection.
  • If not, the Director of the Library reviews the item and determines if it meets a set of criteria that would make it appropriate for our library collection. Is the book relevant to the curriculum at the seminary? Does it have academic or research value? Is it in good physical condition? Books chosen for the collection are then assessed average retail values based on the used book market. Donors are issued a Canadian tax receipt for that amount.
  • Duplicate donations, or those deemed unsuitable for the library collection, are sold or otherwise disposed of and no tax receipt is issued.

TMW140507-33-4x6We value your book donations and look forward to hearing from you if you have items you feel would benefit our library. Please ensure that boxes of used books brought to the library include contact information—a donor’s name, address, phone number, and e-mail—and indicate whether a tax receipt is requested.

Thank-you to our past donors, and also to those who are considering us as the future recipient of their personal library collections. With your help, the Martin Chemnitz Memorial Library will continue to be a valuable resource to our students and the broader community.

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