A Very HOLY Week!
A Very HOLY Week!

Eric Gawura • April 11, 2022

The Church’s life flows from, and in everything is centered on, her Savior and Lord, Jesus Christ. That is true for corporate worship, too. The worship life of the church follows a yearly cycle in which we hear, in Word, song, and prayer, the life of Jesus. The Church year begins with Advent and Christmas, where we hear about the birth of Jesus. Epiphany focuses on the events and earthly ministry of Jesus where He begins to reveal in word and deed who He is and why He has come into the world. The season of Lent prepares us to revisit the events observed during Holy Week, where the events that secured the forgiveness of our sins and our salvation took place. Holy week is the high point of the church’s year of worship for obvious reasons.

Each of the Gospels contain the account of Jesus’s life – his birth, life, and ministry. But each of the Gospels devotes at least a third of their total length to the events of Holy Week, starting on Palm Sunday. It is evident, then, that this week of Jesus’s life hold a very special focus for the Church!

On Palm Sunday Jesus triumphantly entered Israel’s capital city, Jerusalem, being welcomed by a huge throng of people waving palm branches and shouting out hosannas. Both the palm branches, a nationalistic symbol for an independent Israel, and the shouts of “hosanna,” an acclamation used to greet kings, indicate the political expectations that the crowds had for Jesus. They expected him to throw off Roman rule and to establish a new Kingdom of Israel. While Jesus accepts their acclamations as a King, it will become obvious in the coming days that His vision of his kingship was radically at odds with their expectations.

On Holy Monday Jesus cleanses the Temple of the money changers. The Temple was a pilgrimage site for Jews of the entire Roman Empire, who would want to purchase animals to offer as a sacrifice to the Lord. Money changers allowed them to exchange their territorial money for the money accepted in Israel, allowing them to purchase their sacrifices. But through the years the money-changers began charging a fee for their services, and because human greed knows no bounds the once useful service of exchanging money became a lucrative money-making business. It was in response to what money-changing had become in the holy Temple that Jesus angrily flipped over the exchanging tables and drove the money-changers out. He reminded people that people were not to make themselves rich by religion.

On Holy Tuesday Jesus once again went to the Temple. Waiting for him there were the religious leaders, who were upset at Jesus for establishing himself as a religious authority even above themselves. They ambushed him with the intent of discrediting Him in front of the crowds and arresting him. But Jesus avoided their traps and pronounced hard judgement on them. In the afternoon Jesus went to the Mount of Olives with his disciples and taught. That period of teaching is often referred to as the Olivet Discourse. In it Jesus prophesied about the destruction of Jerusalem and the end of the world, including His Second Coming. After a full day Jesus and his disciples returned to Bethany for the night. It was also on this Tuesday that Judas Iscariot entered into negotiations with the religious leaders to betray Jesus.

The Bible is silent about Jesus’ activity on Holy Wednesday. Perhaps Jesus and the disciples used it as a day of rest after a busy first-half of the week, and preparing for the excitement of the imminent Passover celebration.

On Holy Thursday, a.k.a. Maundy Thursday, Jesus sent two disciples from Bethany to Jerusalem to prepare the room and food for their Passover feast. In the evening as they are gathered in an upper room Jesus washes the disciples’ feet, teaches them about the obligation to love one another, and institutes the Sacrament of Holy Communion.

Sometime late in the evening when their meal was finished Jesus and his friends went to the Garden of Gethsemane. There Jesus prayed, was betrayed by Judas with a kiss, and was arrested by the Jewish authorities. Early in the morning hours he would be taken to the home of the High Priest, tried before the Sanhedrin (the governing body of Israel), and receive the death penalty for engaging in blaspheme.

The Roman government of the Empire let conquered territories keep their government and allowed them to make and enforce laws. But in regard to criminal law it reserved capital punishment to itself. The Jewish Sanhedrin, though it had pronounced the death penalty over Jesus, was unable to enforce that judgment. If it were to be carried out the Roman governor of the province would have to be convinced to “see it their way” regarding Jesus. So as morning was breaking Jesus was presented before Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor of Judea.

Good Friday began with Jesus’s second trail, this one in the Roman judicial system. Pilate served as judge and jury. Though the Gospels indicate that Pilate privately wanted to let Jesus live, he finally gave in to the political pressure being applied by the Jewish authorities, and ordered that Jesus be crucified.

Jesus was crucified at about 9:00 a.m. on Friday. Somewhere around 3:00 p.m. he “breathed his last.” While on the cross Jesus spoke seven statements that have come to be known as his Seven Words from the Cross, beginning with his prayer on behalf of his executioners (“Father, forgiven them, for they do not know what they do”) and ending with his last words (“Father, into your hands I commit my spirit”).

Around 6:00 p.m. Joseph of Arimathea – a Pharisee and secret follower of Jesus -- took Jesus’ body down from the cross, having received permission from Pontius Pilate himself to do so. Together with Nicodemus, another Pharisee and secret Jesus follower, he laid Jesus's body in his own newly hewn tomb. The crucifixion took place in, or near, an abandoned rock quarry just outside of the walls of Jerusalem, and the tomb had been cut into the rocky wall of the quarry, not far from the cross. The men hastily performed a shortened burial ceremony with spices, bought by Joseph, because the day was almost over and the Passover Sabbath would soon be beginning.

On Holy Saturday the body of Jesus lay in that tomb, guarded by a cohort of soldiers placed there by the Jewish authorities who were at least somewhat acquainted with Jesus’s claims that He would be resurrected. The guards were to make sure that none of Jesus’s disciples would steal the body and then claim that Jesus had been resurrected. And so throughout the day on Saturday and through the night the guards stood watch over the closed, sealed tomb.

And so comes to an end the events of Holy Week. It began in joy, but ended in sorrow. It began with people expecting Jesus to be enthroned as King, an expectation that Jesus doesn't reject. But as the week went on He revealed just what kind of a King he had come to be -- not a King demanding praises and homage; not a King that would liberate the people from Roman, their supposed enemy, but a King who would liberate them from their truest enemies (sin, death, and the Devil) by giving up His own life ensure their life.

With Jesus’s suffering, death, and placement in a tomb the penalty for our sin was paid. “The wages of sin is death” (Rom. 6:23) says God’s word. But Jesus stepped in to receive those wages in our place as our substituted. Being fully human He could pay the penalty of death with his body. Being fully God His death could be credited to an infinite number of sinners. Peter summarizes all of this in his first letter when he writes, “For you know that God paid a ransom to save you from the empty life you inherited from your ancestors. And the ransom he paid was not mere gold or silver. He paid for you with the precious lifeblood of Christ, the sinless, spotless Lamb of God." (1 Peter 1:18-19, NLT).

However, the work of humanity’s salvation wasn’t complete with just the penalty of sin being paid. The punishment for sin – death itself – also had to be overcome if sin and its consequences were to be completely eradicated. And so the events of Holy Week, ending as they do with Jesus’ body in a tomb, aren’t done quite yet. Easter Sunday is right around the corner. That’ll be the topic for our next post!

A very blessed Holy Week to all!

Pastor Eric Gawura

Read more
Makin' a List, Checkin' It Twice? Gonna Find Out Who's Naughty and Nice
Makin' a List, Checkin' It Twice? Gonna Find Out Who's Naughty and Nice

Eric Gawura • December 25, 2021

For Christmas Day I share a Christmas Sermon from my files. May it point you to the knowledge that Jesus reveals a God whom we need not fear, a God who loves and saves!

John 1:14 “And the Word became

flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only

begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.”

    If you haven't done so already, when you get home from this morning's service you'll get to open your Christmas gifts. Funny how priorities change over time. Remember when you were a child and how it was sooooooooo hard to get to sleep on Christmas Eve because you knew that Santa would be coming and that there’d be presents to open in the morning. 

In my household morning never came so early as on Christmas Day. My sister and I would wake up at about 5:00 a.m., run to the tree to see how many presents Santa had left for us, and then run upstairs to wake Mom and Dad up. Mom and Dad, poor tired souls that they were, would tell us to go downstairs and wait for another hour. And so we would slink back downstairs and sit on the bottom step looking upstairs, as if by sheer willpower we could drive Mom and Dad into their robes and slippers.

    That only lasted a total of fifteen seconds or so, though, and then we were back at the tree lifting presents, shaking presents, trying to see through the wrapping paper. And when we couldn’t take it anymore, when the anticipation was just too much to take, one of us would run upstairs to fetch Mom and Dad. And they’d

kick us back downstairs. Finally, after what seemed like an eternity, we’d

hear Mom and Dad coming down the steps and we knew that it was time to open our gifts. With the sound of their footsteps it was as if someone had sounded

a horn and announced, “Let the gift-wrapping tearing fest begin!”

    And year after year Santa never disappointed. And from what kids tell me today Santa still never disappoints. I suppose that’s why we love Santa so much. He’s the one guy we can count on to give us what we want with no strings attached. Oh,

sure, there’s the poem that tells us that Santa’s “keepin’ a list, checkin’ it twice, gonna find out who’s naughty and nice.” Santa must be a pretty bad bookkeeper, though, because I don’t know of anyone who’s gotten a lump of coal from Santa. Everyone always gets presents.

    Wouldn’t it be interesting, though, if that poem were actually accurate; if Santa did keep a list and rewarded everyone according to what he or she had done. I wonder if our pictures of Santa would be the same. I can virtually guarantee that the image of Santa being a “jolly old elf” would disappear pretty quickly. No one would like a Santa who actually rewards us based on whether we’ve been naughty or nice. And the reason why we wouldn’t like a Santa like that is because deep in our hearts we all know that we’ve been naughty way more than we’ve been nice throughout the year.

    And I suspect that in the end that’s why so many people don’t like to give much heed to God. Through poor examples at home, through poor education and instruction at church, and through buying into wrongly cast stereo-types there are an awful lot of people who’s image of God is a guy who keeps a record of our rights and our wrongs and who rewards us accordingly.

    Nothing terrifies the heart of a sinner more than the idea that God will reward us according to what we have done, according to what we deserve. Nothing! Sinners can’t bear the thought that they’ll get what they deserve. Because in their heart of hearts they know what they ultimately deserve. And what they have deserved isn’t pretty. For many, many people it’s simply easier to forget about God or to ignore Him altogether rather than to reflect upon His system of rewards and merits. Thinking too long about God rewarding us based on what we have done or not done will drive a person to despair and depression pretty quickly. Much better to enjoy the image of Santa Claus–a guy who gives us presents with no strings attached, then to think about a God who keeps a record of rights and wrongs. We welcome a visit from Santa, but shun the idea of a visit from God.

    That is, until we hear the words recorded for us by the Apostle John: “And the Word became flesh...” With these words the stereo-type of God as a stern judge and beancounter, who keeps meticulous books recording our every deed is put to the lie. Oh, certainly God does keep books and, unlike Santa, God does know who’s been naughty and nice. But this is not a full and complete picture of God. A God dressed in a judge’s robe is an inaccurate picture of God. The Bible presents us with that picture of God sometimes, but it doesn’t stop there. So we must listen to everything that the Bible says about God in order to keep a clear and correct picture of what kind of a God He is.

    Our text this morning proclaims to us that our God is a God of love, who “became flesh.” He is a God who wants to be close to us, so close to us that He deigns to leave His throne in heaven and to become a man. He doesn’t become one of us in order to judge us, or to reward us according to what we have done. He doesn’t come in a blaze of fire and brimstone, of full divine majesty and glory. He doesn’t come to destroy the world or anyone in it. The proof of that lies in the way in which He comes. He could have appeared as a full grown man–with flesh and bones, all fully developed. But He wants us to be certain that He doesn’t come in judgement. And so He comes in the least threatening form of all–that of a newborn Baby. And He doesn’t come into this world to inhabit a palace, to be surrounded by wealth and by armies. Instead, he comes as a baby born to an obscure and poor peasant girl, who has to lay her newborn boy in a manger. A newborn baby laying in a manger. Not much threatening in that picture. Which is the whole point. Jesus Himself says in John chapter twelve, “I did not come to judge the world, but to save it.” He comes as a baby to make us certain of that.

    What Jesus brings is different from what an inaccurate stereotype would suggest. He doesn’t bring a tit-for-tat reward system with him. He doesn’t bring in the final judgement, either. What he brings with him is the fullness of God and His glory and grace and truth. “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.” He comes full of grace and truth, not anger and judgement. He comes, in the words of a favorite advent hymn, “the pris’ners to release, In Satan’s bondage held. The gates of brass before Him burst, the iron fetter yield. He comes the broken heart to bind, the bleeding soul to cure, and with the treasures os His grace T’ enrich the humble poor.”

    That is borne out in verse sixteen of John chapter one: “And from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace.” We have received grace upon grace because this tiny baby, who’s birth we celebrate today, is the one who gave Himself upon on a cross, and with His dying breath proclaimed “It is finished!” With those words our sins were forgiven and God was reconciled to man. God’s grace was showered upon us in Jesus Christ. That grace is received by faith, which sees in Jesus’ death the satisfactory payment for all of our sins. 

    Jesus came in grace and truth to go to the cross and there to blot out our sins with his blood. And because He came in human flesh and blood, born as a baby in Bethlehem, we now have nothing to fear from God, nor need we desire the likes of a mythical Santa Claus over Him, especially on Christmas. Amen.

Read more
What’s the Deal with Mary? Why is the Virgin Birth so Important?
What’s the Deal with Mary? Why is the Virgin Birth so Important?

Eric Gawura • December 22, 2021

The virgin birth of the Messiah (Greek: Christ) was prophesied by Isaiah: “The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.” (Isaiah 7:14, NIV).

It was announced by the angel Gabriel to Mary:

“But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favor with God. You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end.” “How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?” The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God.” (Luke 1:30–35, NIV).

It was announced to Joseph, the Betrothed of Mary by the angel:

“But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit…“When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife. But he had no union with her until she gave birth to a son. And he gave him the name Jesus.” (Matthew 1:20, 24-25, NIV).

The virgin birth of Jesus was a miracle on par with His resurrection from the dead, and like the resurrection it marks Jesus as the promised Messiah (Christ).

More importantly, the virgin birth of Jesus explains the fact that Jesus is both human and God. He took His human nature from His mother, Mary. His divine nature had no beginning. Rather, the Son of God – the second person of the Holy Trinity – was “conceived by the Holy Spirit and made man.” Jesus has two natures. The natures are not mixed together, producing some sort of third nature. His human and divine natures remain completely intact – 100% of each. They are joined together in one person, Jesus Christ, so intimately joined that there can be no separation of the two just as their can be no mixing of the two.

Our salvation depends completely on Jesus having two natures. As a human being, with a human nature, He can suffer the human, personal death that is the punishment for human sin. As God His the death of His human body can “count” for, or cover, the punishment for sin for every single individual person who has ever, is, and ever will live.

So the virgin birth marks Jesus as the promised Messiah – Immanuel (which means “God with us”) who lives, suffers, dies, and is resurrected to bring about the forgiveness of our sin and so with that forgiveness Salvation, Eternal Life. The virgin birth is a core doctrine (“teaching”) of the Bible and Christianity.

Read more
What’s the deal with the Star of Bethlehem? What was it? Can modern Science explain it?
What’s the deal with the Star of Bethlehem? What was it? Can modern Science explain it?

Eric Gawura • December 15, 2021

After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him…After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen when it rose went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they were overjoyed.” (Matthew 2:1-2, 9–10, NIV)

There have been many attempts to explain the Star of Bethlehem scientifically through the years. Three main theories can be summarized as follows:

1.   The Star was a comet. In astrology comets have traditionally been associated with important events in human history (e.g. the birth or death of kings). However, there are no historical records of comet sightings that line up with the time of Jesus’ birth. Halley’s comet appeared in 11 B.C., but Jesus was born between 7-4 B.C. so it’s years too early to be the Star.

2.   The Star was a supernova, an exploding star. Supernovae are very bright and can be seen even in broad daylight for weeks, even months. But there are no records of a supernova appearance at the time of Jesus’ birth.

3.   The Star was an alignment of planets (a planetary conjunction). Because the planets orbit the sun at differing speeds they do occasionally “line up” in the night sky. Astrologers in the ancient world assigned planets to certain political realities on earth, so that a conjunction of certain planets may have carried a type of omen about an important birth in Judea. Johannes Kepler (1571—1630) held to this view. However, planetary conjunctions do not produce a single light source, and they can only be seen at night. They are also quite normal, nothing that would register as miraculous.

So if none of these naturalistic theories adequately explains the nature of the Star, then what was it?

The Greek word for “star” is aster. It is used 24 times in the Greek New Testament, and the vast majority of its uses mean “star” or “celestial body.” It is used in Revelation 12:4 to refer to fallen angels who joined Satan’s rebellion against God. There is an interpretive tradition that sees the stars mentioned in Revelation 1:20 as the guardian angels of the seven churches mentioned in chapters 2-3. Basic rules of biblical interpretation say that we should take the normal meaning of a word, unless there is a compelling reason to suggest otherwise. That being the case, we should understand aster to mean a heavenly body.

Looking at the data that the Bible gives us about the Star we can note the following:

1.   It appeared to the magi in the East; most likely they were from Persia (modern day Iran). No mention is made of anyone in Judea or Samaria seeing the star.

2.   In Matthew 2:9 we are told that the star led the magi from Jerusalem (where they had an audience with King Herod) to Bethlehem, a distance of about 6 miles north-to-south. Every naturally occurring object in the sky moves from east-to-west due to the earth’s rotation.

3.   The star led the magi to a particular house in Bethlehem. It is difficult to see how a naturally occurring object could do that.

Taking all of this information together we may conclude that the Star of Bethlehem can not be explained as a naturally occurring object by science. It was a once-and-done, supernatural and miraculous phenomenon.

God has used supernatural phenomenon to lead His people in the past. He led Israel out of Egypt by a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night. He showed His presence in the Tabernacle and the Temple by means of a glowing, radiant cloud (the Shekinah glory). It appears that He caused another miraculous phenomenon to lead the magi to the infant Jesus, their Savior and ours.

Read more
What's the Deal with Xmas? Is it Wrong to use it instead of Christmas?
What's the Deal with Xmas? Is it Wrong to use it instead of Christmas?

Eric Gawura • December 10, 2021

There are a lot of people who think that the word Xmas is part of the secular world’s “War on Christmas.” They see “Christ” in “Christmas” marked out with an “X” and conclude that secular forces are trying to “X-out” Christ from Christmas. But hold on a second. Things aren’t always as they at first appear.

In the Greek language in which the New Testament was originally written, the word for Christ is spelled Χριστός, with the first letter “Chi” essentially the same as our English letter “X.” The letter X has been used, then, in English as an abbreviation for the full word “Christ” going back to at least 1021 (found in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle).

The authoritative Oxford English Dictionary and its Supplement cite the usage of “X-“ or “Xp-“ for “Christ” as early as the year 1485 (and the term “Xtian” as shorthand for “Christian” from 1634). In a time before computers or typewriters, it was apparently easier on the hand to write Xmas instead of the whole word when you were going to be writing it out a lot.

So Xmas is nothing more than a way to abbreviate the word “Christ” in Christmas. There’s nothing sacreligious about it.

Still, it is true that there is a wider attempt by some in our society to obscure the true meaning of Christmas and to downplay the essentially religious and Christian nature of the holiday. They do so by playing up the supposed “pagan origins” of Christmas (see here for a good refutation https://www.gotquestions.org/Christmas-pagan-holiday.html) and by pushing the use of “Happy Holidays” in place of “Merry Christmas.” Certainly in a multicultural society like America, where many different religions celebrate holidays at the close of December, “Happy Holidays” is generally more respectful of other traditions, but “Merry Christmas” is absolutely a better Christian witness to the reason for the season of CHRISTmas!

Read more
What's the Deal with Christmas Carols? Which is the Oldest?
What's the Deal with Christmas Carols? Which is the Oldest?

Eric Gawura • December 09, 2021

Turn on your radio the day after Thanksgiving (or even the day after Halloween in some places) and you’ll most likely find stations playing Christmas music 24/7 until the day after Christmas. That’s a full month of holiday songs! What’s interesting about this Yuletide tradition is that radio stations that are devoted through 11 months of the year to playing current pop music happily play music and songs in December recorded as far back as the 1940s and ‘50s. For many of us it just isn’t Christmastime until we hear Bing Crosby singing White Christmas or Gene Autry’s rendition of Rudolph, the Red-nosed Reindeer.

Which got me wondering, what’s the oldest Christmas carol out there? Many, if not most, of the songs played on radio were written in the mid-20th century.

  • Frosty the Snowman (1950),
  • Rudolph (1949),
  • The Christmas Song (1945),
  • Santa Claus is Coming to Town (1934),
  • Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas (1943),
  • Jingle Bell Rock (1957),
  • Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree (1958),
  • It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year (1963),
  • Have a Holly Jolly Christmas (1965),
  • It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas (1951),
  • Sleigh Ride (1950),

They’re pretty modern compared to some of the much older, traditional carols.

Some of the best known and most sung traditional carols go back centuries. For example,

  • Away in a Manger (1882),
  • Go Tell it on the Mountain (1865),
  • It Came Upon a Midnight Clear (1849),
  • Jingle Bells (1857),
  • O Little Town of Bethlehem (1867),
  • We Three Kings of Orient Are (1863),
  • Angels We Have Heard on High (1862),
  • The First Noel (1823),
  • Hark! The Herald Angels Sing (1739),
  • Joy to the World (1719),
  • O Holy Night (1847),
  • and Silent Night, Holy Night (1818).

Some carols are older still, stretching back to the middle ages. Examples include

  • Lo How A Rose E’er Blooming (16th century),
  • Coventry Carol (date unknown; traditional),
  • O Come, All Ye Faithful (Adeste Fideles; 17th century),
  • From Heaven Above to Earth I Come (1539),
  • "O Tannenbaum" ("O Christmas Tree") [18th century].

The oldest known Christmas carols are actually Christmas Hymns. Hymns are more solemn then carols, which are familiar, festive, and simpler. The early Christmas hymns were theological in content and didn’t pay much attention to the human side of the Nativity. The two oldest Christmas hymns date back to the 4th and 5th centuries. They are:

  • Jesus refulsit omnium (Jesus, Light of all the nations), by St. Hilary of Poitiers (368)
  • Corde natus ex Parentis (Of the Father's love begotten), by Prudentius (405), a layman, government official of the Roman Empire, and great Christian poet.

You won’t hear either on the radio, but both are still sung in churches at Christmastime. In fact, “Of the Father’s Love Begotten” can be found in Lutheran Service Book (#384). If you’d care to have a listen to these oldest of Christmas songs follow these links:

Jesus refulsit omnium (Jesus, Light of all the nations) ~ https://youtu.be/pMJnlPHqch0

This is the English translation by Kevin Hawthorne, PhD :

‘Jesus, devoted redeemer of all nations, has shone forth,

Let the whole family of the faithful celebrate the stories

The shining star, gleaming in the heavens, makes him known at his birth and, going before, has led the Magi to his cradle

Falling down, they adore the tiny baby hidden in rags,

as they bear witness to the true God by bringing a mystical gift.’

Corde natus ex Parentis (Of the Father's love begotten) ~ https://youtu.be/dGzD8DDxx0A

These show that, no matter what the age, music and singing have always been a rich part of the celebration of Christmas. Christians certainly enjoy some of the popular (and in some cases, silly) songs that are heard on the radio in December, but our true celebration of Christmas isn't about Santa, Rudolph, the presents, decorations, or food. Our celebration of Christmas is focused on the good news that God became one of us in order to save us. The religious, or theological carols that have come down to us through the ages help us to experience and share our joy at such good news. And, of course, there are always Christians out there who are expanding our portfolio of songs to sing, whether they be classical composers like John Rutter or Contemporary Christian artists like Lauren Daigle or Chris Tomlin. Through the ages the songs of Christmas go on!

Read more
What’s the deal with Advent? What is it? Should I Observe it?
What’s the deal with Advent? What is it? Should I Observe it?

Eric Gawura • December 08, 2021

Advent is a season in the liturgical Church calendar that starts on the fourth Sunday before Christmas (always falling between 27 November and 3 December) and ends at sunset on Christmas Eve. Its observance in the Church goes back to the fourth century A.D. (first mentioned in writing at the Council of Sargossa in 380 A.D.).

The word Advent is taken from the Latin word adventus (“coming”; “arrival”) which itself was the Latin translation of the New Testament Greek word parousia, which means “coming, advent, being in person.” Parousia is the word used in the original Greek in which the New Testament was written to refer to both the coming of Christ in human flesh and His Second Coming.

The season of Advent, then, is a season of preparation with a dual focus. On the one hand it focuses on our preparation to celebrate Christmas, the birthday of our Savior in the flesh. On the other hand, it focuses on our preparation for His return in glory, majesty, and power on the Last Day. So, it is much more than just a way to countdown the days ‘til Christmas. As a season with a double focus, it reminds us that we live in the time between the two comings of Jesus Christ, between His first coming to accomplish our salvation and His Second Coming when He will make all things new and perfect. As Christians we look back in human history, giving God thanks for what Jesus has accomplished for us, and we look forward to the day when the promises of God will be fulfilled – promises to destroy death forever, to renew all of creation to its original pristine state, and to raise us up in perfected bodies to live with Him for eternity.

The dual nature of Advent is seen in the liturgical lectionary (the calendar of appointed readings for each Sunday in the Church Year). The first two weeks of Advent have readings that focus on the Second Coming of Christ. They focus on His promise to return and our need to always be ready for that return. The last two weeks of the season transition to a focus on Christ’s first Coming at Christmas, with the readings focusing on God’s Old Testament promises to send a Savior and their fulfillment in the birth of Jesus.

In recent decades, many Christians have so focused on Advent as a preparation for Christmas, that the season’s equally important focus on Christ’s return has been lost. But both are important. Advent isn’t just about celebrating God’s in-breaking into human history in the past (Christmas). It is also about looking forward to that day when Christ will bring human history to its final conclusion and usher in our eternal life with Him.

There are many traditions practiced by Christians in their observance of Advent, the most well-known of which include decorating churches and homes with evergreen boughs, the use of Advent wreaths to mark the weeks of Advent, and special music (in the hymns of the Church both focuses of Advent are reflected).

Many, many Christians also privately observe the season by focusing on God’s Word. They use devotional books that contain daily Bible readings and meditations to help focus attention on the “reason for the season.”

If you’d like to observe Advent in this way ask your pastor for resources or look online (here’s a good online resource: https://www.lhm.org/advent).

Happy Advent!

Read more
What about Christmas Day? Was Jesus really born on December 25th?
What about Christmas Day? Was Jesus really born on December 25th?

Eric Gawura • December 07, 2021

There is no way of knowing for sure exactly what day of the year Jesus was born. Heck, we don’t even know with exact precision what year he was born (it was somewhere between 7 - 4 b.c.). There is no official birth record for Jesus, and the Bible doesn’t mention December 25 or any other date. The Gospel of Luke gives us a lot of details about Jesus’ birth – that he was wrapped in swaddling clothes, that he was laid in a manger, that he was visited by nearby shepherds – but it doesn’t mention a date. That’s because the important thing about Christ’s birth wasn’t the date, but the fact that He was born, that God had taken on human flesh and nature that was important to the Bible, and to the early Church.

In the first two centuries of Christianity Christmas wasn’t even a celebration. Early writings from the first four centuries focus much more on the importance of God becoming man for the salvation of sinners. The first Church Father to mention a specific date was Irenaeus (130—202). Drawing on an established tradition, which believed that one’s date of death coincided with the date of one’s conception, Irenaeus used March 25 as the date of Jesus’s crucifixion – and thus Mary’s conception -- and then worked backwards nine months to arrive at December 25th as the date of His birth. The Church Fathers Hippolytus (ca. 170-236 a.d.), Sextus Julius Africanus (160—240 a.d.), John Chrysostom (347–407 a.d.), and Cyril of Jerusalem (348-386 a.d.) all favored December 25th as well, probably following Irenaeus’ lead.

Aside from the ancient tradition used by Irenaeus, though, there is no way for us to know the exact date of Jesus’ birth. History professor, and LCMS pastor, Paul Maier, in his book The First Christmas summarizes our best guess as to when Jesus was actually born: “Adding up all the clues, hints, and shreds of evidence from every available source, many scholars set the date for the Nativity sometime in the Fall of 5 b.c.” Even that isn’t universally accepted, though.

So why did December 25th end up at the day that we celebrate the birthday of Jesus? Again, Dr. Maier explains:

    “The early Christian Church seems to have observed the birth of Christ on January 6 in the East, and on December 25 in the West, but both practices began too late – the 300s a.d.—to warrant attaching any precision to these dates.

    “Probably it was a matter of substitution. The Romans of the time not only celebrated their Saturnalia festival at the close of December, but they also thought that December 25 marked the date of the winter solstice (instead of December 21), when they observed the pagan feast of Sol Invictus, the Unconquerable Sun, which was just in the act of turning about to aim northward once again. Christianity sought to replace these pagan festivals with a Christian celebration honoring the “sun of righteousness,” a common epithet for Jesus as Messiah….but all this should not obscure the fact that, according to the best reckoning, Jesus may indeed have been born in the fall or winter of 5 b.c.”

Does this mean that Christians are inadvertently celebrating a pagan holiday?

Not at all! One Christian bloggers explains:

“…the meaning of any word, symbol, or custom is determined by current usage, not origin. Many words and practices have departed from their origins and no longer mean anything close to what they once did. For instance, the swastika has been around for thousands of years as a symbol of good fortune. It was therefore reasonable for the Nazi party to take this as their symbol, as they emphasized that they were the party to bring good times back to Germany, which was going through hard times after World War I. However, it would be absolute foolishness for a person to decorate his home today with swastikas based on their “real meaning.” The swastika has been so thoroughly identified with the horrors of the Holocaust that, in the current culture, it is a symbol for anti-Semitism and all things evil. The original meaning of the symbol is completely irrelevant.

“Regardless of what the Christmas symbols may once have meant, their use today needs to be evaluated on the basis of what they mean today. To automatically associate candles, colored lights, or decorated trees with pagan worship is unwarranted.

If what we know as Christmas originally started out as a pagan celebration, then it has been so successfully co-opted by Christians that any self-respecting pagan would be distressed at what Christians have done to it. Christmas celebrations are so completely the opposite of paganism that any suggested link between the two can be disregarded.”

The reason that we celebrate Christmas goes back to what the early Church put the focus on – not the date, but the fact that God took on humanity and was born to be our Savior. That is the “reason for the season.”

Merry Christmas!

Read more
What's the Deal with the Plagues on Egypt? Are They Real or Not?
What's the Deal with the Plagues on Egypt? Are They Real or Not?

Eric Gawura • November 04, 2021

What's the deal with the plagues on Egypt under Moses's leadership? If they really happened, why aren't there extra-biblical records of them?

Well, there just might be such "outside the Bible" evidence. This link offers some tantalizing evidence from an Egyptian sage living about the time of Moses of a great calamady that hit Egypt, and the description of that calamity is strikingly similar to the account of the plagues found in Exodus.

Watch the video and let us know what your thought about it are!


The movie clip is from the movie Patterns of Evidence: The Exodus. It's a movie that will get you thinking!

The clip is part of an interview. If you want to skip the interview and get straight to the movie clip then fastforward to timestamp 3:29. The clip runs about 6 minutes.

Read more
What's the Deal with Infant Baptism
What's the Deal with Infant Baptism

Eric Gawura • November 02, 2021

What’s the deal with infant baptism? Why do some churches practice it and other churches don’t?

The “What’s the deal with” blog series is meant to be a quick look and summary of a wide variety of questions that people may have about the Christian faith. It is not meant to provide long, in-depth explanations of those questions. With that in mind, the question of whether or not to baptize infants can be summarized in the following points:

Throughout most of Christian history the church has baptized infants because it has recognized the need for them to receive Baptism, and because the Bible commands that they be Baptized.

Let’s look at their need:

  1.  All people born into this world are conceived and born in sin. This is what the Bible calls “original sin.” Adam and Eve were created in the image of God – perfect in truth, holiness, and righteousness. But when they used their free will to disobey God those gifts were lost. The children that they produced also lacked those gifts. See these verses:

  • Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men, because all sinned—” (Romans 5:12, NIV84)
  • For I was born a sinner— yes, from the moment my mother conceived me.” (Psalm 51:5, NLT)
  • When Adam had lived 130 years, he had a son in his own likeness, in his own image; and he named him Seth.” (Genesis 5:3, NIV84)
  • The Lord saw how great man’s wickedness on the earth had become, and that every inclination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil all the time.” (Genesis 6:5, NIV84)
  • As it is written: “There is no one righteous, not even one;” (Romans 3:10, NIV84)

This is not an exhaustive list, but it shows that everyone is born into this world as a sinner and therefore in need of a savior, infants included.

Being sinners, we lack the ability to change ourselves into righteous people. We cannot get back the lost gifts of perfect truth, holiness, and righteousness (the Image of God) on our own.

God, in His mercy, decided to save us from the eternal punishment that is due to all sinners. He sent His only-begotten Son to become a human being to save us. He saved us by living a perfect life for us and then dying to sin in our place. Having suffered the punishment for our sin as our substitute through death, God raised Him from the dead. Jesus of Nazareth is our Savior from sin. As the Bible says, ““Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved.”” (Acts 4:12, NIV84)

We receive the forgiveness of our sins, and therefore salvation and eternal Life, through faith in Jesus. Faith is a gift from God, not something that we produce ourselves, and is given to us through the Gospel.

  • For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast.” (Ephesians 2:8–9, NIV84)
  • Consequently, faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ.” (Romans 10:17, NIV84)
  • I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile. For in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: “The righteous will live by faith.”” (Romans 1:16–17, NIV84)

Because God knows that our sin-weakened mind and heart have trouble trusting the bare word of the Gospel, He tied the gospel promises of forgiveness and salvation to two certain rites. Put another way: when we hear the general promises of the Gospel we have no trouble believing them. But when our conscience is disturbed and becomes troubled, we have trouble believing that the general promises of the Gospel apply to us individually and specifically.

So, in order to give us certainty that He has dealt with us individually – not as a member of a mass of humanity, but as an individual person – He gives us Baptism (and the Lord’s Supper, a matter for another future post) so that we can know that He has forgiven us and saved us.

Because the water of Baptism goes on my head then I know that the Gospel has been applied to me and that I have been given the gift of faith and thus salvation.

So, Baptism is a means by which God extends His grace to an individual and saves them. So, the Bible says of Baptism:

  • Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” (Acts 2:38, NIV84)
  • And now what are you waiting for? Get up, be baptized and wash your sins away, calling on his name.’” (Acts 22:16, NIV84)
  • … baptism that now saves you also—not the removal of dirt from the body but the pledge of a good conscience toward God. It saves you by the resurrection of Jesus Christ,” (1 Peter 3:21, NIV84)
  • Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.” (Mark 16:16, NIV84)

2.   Let’s look at the command to Baptize:

  • Therefore, go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,” (Matthew 28:19, NIV84)
  • Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” (Acts 2:38, NIV84)

And regarding infants, Jesus says that this: “In the same way your Father in heaven is not willing that any of these little ones should be lost.” (Matthew 18:14, NIV84)

So, for all of these reasons we baptize infants.

There are Christian denominations who do not baptize infants. Their reasoning has to do with a complete, or partial, rejection of the Bible's teaching on sin (original sin in particular) and an understanding of the nature of faith that differs from what the Bible teaches. Lacking an understanding of the need and a conception of faith that makes it a good work, these denominations do not baptize infants. Baptists, Menonites, Amish, Pentecostal, and many non-denominational churches fall into the category that deny infant Baptism.

Read more