Category Archives: Devotional

“Qui Creavit Coelum.”

This is a translation I have produced of an Advent hymn called “Qui Creavit Coelum.” As I understand it, the earliest manuscript in which we find it is from around 1425 A.D.; the hymn is also known as “The Song of the Nuns of Chester.” The original Latin text can be found here. I added some notes at the bottom. Nothing here is particularly scholarly; it’s simply a little devotional exercise that I wanted to share.

Happy Advent, friends.

The King who is ruling the ages,
He who created Heaven,
is being born in a stable.[1]

Joseph brings some rushes;
Mother wraps up the Child,
and places him in the manger.[2]

There among the animals
they place the Joy of the World.
He is fragrant beyond all.[3]

The Mother of the Lord suckles
and embraces the Little One;
she worships the Lord.[4]

Ask, Mother of the Lord,
that He give us Joy
in everlasting glory[5]

 


 

[1] I’ve taken the last line of this stanza first, for two reasons: (a) grammatically, “rex” as the subject fits naturally when rendered first in English, which makes good sense of the two relative clauses, each introduced by “qui;” and (b) by first emphasizing the transcendent nature of this King who is ruling time (present tense) and created matter (perfect tense) , the humility of His lowly birthplace is magnified in English. That this tiny Babe is ruling the centuries is a great mystery.
[2] “Paniculum” here is not a common word and means something like a tuft of reeds used for thatching a roof. I like the poetic image of Jesus being wrapped in rushes. It reminds me of Moses’s basket being placed in the rushes; so here, a rush-wrapped Baby Jesus is “ponit in praesepio.” The whole of Scripture – indeed, the whole of the world – is the story of Jesus Christ coming to save sinners like you and me.
[3] I like fragrant as a gloss for “dulcis” here: the Lamb of God is laid down next to animals He created, incarnate to do what they never could. He is here to take away the sins of the world. Thus He is “dulcis super omnia;” as an offering to God, He is “fragrant beyond all.”
[4] Mary worships God through her vocation as mother. What is done in faith, even the changing of diapers, is service to God. I think this stanza does a beautiful job of honoring the vocation of Motherhood. It also continues to emphasize the mystery of the Incarnation: That God could be breast-fed! How highly favored is Mary, the Mother of God?
[5] I do not believe in prayers to the saints. I have here translated the text as it is, not as I think it ought to be. I think this language could be understood apart from praying to the saints, but considering that this text comes to us from the nunnery of St. Mary, in 1425, I assume the author was indeed intending this as a prayer to Mary. Instead, I believe that scripture teaches that “rogat nobis mater domini” – that is, “The Mother of God is praying for us.” But that is another discussion, which I do not wish to participate in here.

I hope this was in some way a blessing to you this Advent.

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Filed under Christology, Devotional, Personal

Devotional practices.

This is less theology, I suppose; or rather it’s a practical application of theology. I wanted to spend a few words on devotional practices, and invite you to comment on your own practices as well. I will shamelessly incorporate any good ideas into my own spiritual life. I hope the tone of this doesn’t come across as braggadocios. My devotional life is certainly not worth bragging about. I often lose myself to work and school and social events, and don’t set aside proper time for God. Remember that someone’s “instagram” life and their real life are very different. This is me on my better days.

Scripture study.

The study of Scripture is very important to me. I try to read daily, but I’m not a very organized study kind of guy. I usually approach topics and themes, or books individually. While I’ve read the entirety of Scripture, I don’t think I’ve ever read cover-to-cover straight through.

Right now I’m taking a little time each day to work on a translation of the Vulgate. My Latin training isn’t quite finished, so there are plenty of parts with which I struggle, but I have found that the translation process is quite illuminating. I’ve been working through John and I’m considering putting my translation up if all goes well.

The important thing for me when reading Scripture is context. I don’t read verses individually, I read stretches and passages and chapters and books. I try to parse the arguments of Paul, or the narrative flow of the Gospels. I read seeking understanding, always trying to use the text to challenge my beliefs.

Prayer.

As with most things in my life, my prayer life is also less organized than it ought to be. I try to spend a little time each day with a personal liturgy-inspired prayer: The Creed, the Lord’s Prayer, a prayer from the Small Catechism, a time of silent meditation. I find that liturgy focuses my mind and follows a evermore familiar rhythm. I have to submit my ego to the Word of God. It’s very freeing. My wife and I have a little family liturgy before bed. When baby gets here, we’ll have a liturgy for three.

Fasting.

I’ve written about fasting before, so I won’t rehash all of that here. I bring this up more to say that I have found fasting to be an incredibly useful discipline. I like the extra time it gives me and the mental sharpness I develop.

Church Fathers and other saints.

I think a sad fact is that many Christians neglect the Church Fathers. Now, I’m not saying that we should approve of everything that they said. I disagree with them about veneration of the Saints, for instance. But these are men who have walked the entirety of this path, and from whom we may learn much. They knew Scripture in ways which we could only hope to know it. Many of them faced persecution, exile, and martyrdom, and were rewarded with the crown of righteousness. To read the Fathers is to drink from deep springs.

I love Chrysostom, personally. Every Easter I hear his famed Paschal Homily as many times as possible. Right now I’m also trying to translate St. Anselm’s Proslogion, which is very slow going because his Latin is, in many ways, far beyond my grasp. I may have to come back to that after the semester is out, but it is a fun challenge, at any rate.

One devotional tool I really enjoy is the Treasury of Daily Prayer. It combines liturgical readings of the Old Testament, a Psalm, the New Testament, some hymnody, some quote of a Lutheran reformer or Church Father, and prayers. It also reminds you of feast days for saints (which is another helpful devotional tool in my opinion) and other important events in the Christian Church. It comes with helpful layouts for various liturgical settings as well. There’s an iPhone app called PrayNow for $8.99 which is, to my knowledge, the same content, but interactive. I enjoy the physical book, personally.

That’s it for now, I suppose. If you have any particular practices you find helpful, feel free to share them below. Of course, please note that the comments below do not necessarily have my endorsement. Anyone can put anything they want on the internet.

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Filed under Devotional, Theology Thursdays

God has fixed this.

My earlier post on this matter left one crucial question unanswered: In the face of tragedy, what comfort does Christianity offer? The answer is simple: God has fixed this.

We do not know how. It certainly doesn’t look like God has fixed this. But we know that He has fixed this. We know this because He went to the cross for us.

When Jesus hung on the cross, it didn’t look like God was fixing anything. In fact, the one who claimed to be God, who made Himself equal with God, was the one suffocating to a very public and very humiliating death. We could, like the unbelieving thief, say “Are you not the messiah? Save yourself, and then us!”

But we are not unbelievers. We, like the second thief, recognize that we have justly incurred any punishment that befalls us. But Jesus was an innocent man, hung on the cross for sins that He did not commit. And like the second thief we realize that the cross is not a defeat, but it was a victory: “Lord, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”

So the eyes of faith look at this tragedy and realize that Jesus has hung on the cross. God has died and risen from the dead. The God who is so full of love as to shed His own blood for us will not abandon us. A small child may not understand why a doctor must give him a shot, but he trusts his father who says the pain will be worth it in the end.

Christians, we know that the joy of the new creation will not compare to the suffering we have here. Jesus even promised that we would have trouble in this world. But he also promised that when we stand with Him on that day, and see what it means that He has overcome this world, then the veil will fall away — then this tapestry will take a new hue, as joy unspeakable winds its way through the warp and weft of suffering, and redeems it all for the glory of God.

Take heart. God has fixed all of this.

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Giving Up On Giving Something Up For Lent?

Quite often people talk about giving something up for Lent. Some of the things I’ve heard recently include social media, chocolate, coffee — I even witnessed one person talking about going on a diet for the entire season of Lent. Most people indicate that these things are “idols” or “struggles” or something in their life that takes time away that should be invested in their relationship with God. It is easy for this Lenten fast to become an external fast only — that is, something done for show to prove your devotion to God. It can be entirely exhausting to approach a fast this way. In fact, I never made it more than a few days fasting when I was in the Assemblies of God because, to be honest, I’m just not very strong. It was not until I came home to the Lutheran Church that I  understood the freedom that is fasting. Here, I would like to encourage those of you who would like to “give something up for Lent” to orient your fasting back toward God and the Gospel.

And when you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, that your fasting may not be seen by others but by your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

Matthew 6:16-18

Notice first that Jesus says “when you fast.” He does not say “if you fast” or “do not fast (since the Roman Catholics came up with that).” Fasting is one of the great Disciplines of Christian living. It is a discipline that God rewards. But it is a private discipline. Yes, we as a church do focus on fasting especially during Lent, but it is not for the purpose of bragging about it before the world or one another. At my church on Ash Wednesday the text was the story of the Pharisee and the Publican and we were reminded that it is not our righteousness, especially our fasting, but our humble trust that justifies us before God. So also, if you pervert the fast that Christ invites you to into a claim to superiority, you will be struck down. Instead, keep your fast between you and God. (Read all of Matthew 6 — it’s good stuff.)

Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of wickedness, to undo the straps of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover him, and not to hide yourself from your own flesh?

Isaiah 58:6-7

Here is the true purpose of fasting: Acts of love and service toward our neighbor. Martin Luther is said to have quipped “God doesn’t need your good works, but your neighbor does.” In our context this means your fast does not offer anything to God, but it presents an excellent opportunity for you to serve your neighbor. Here the discipline of fasting joins with the other great Christian disciplines: Prayer, and alms-giving.

Let us say you decided to give up stopping at the coffee shop for the entire 40 days (and 6 additional Sundays) of Lent. This makes you a brave soul indeed. Enjoy your withdrawals. But the purpose of fasting is not merely to give something up. Suddenly you find yourself with an extra 15 minutes in the morning that you would have spent getting coffee before work, school, or church. Now, rather than using that time to serve your caffeine addiction, you can spend more time in devotion or prayer. Perhaps take the extra time to read the Catechism, or to memorize Scripture. By the time Easter rolls around, you’ll have spent about 11 and a half extra hours hearing the voice of the Good Shepherd. Again, if you do this to show off, you’re going to have a bad time; but which of us wants to turn down an invitation to spend more time hearing God’s Word? God’s Word creates and sustains our faith, so while we might neglect our physical daily bread, we will be all the more nourished for having feasted at such a rich table.

I drink boring old black coffee, that costs about $2.75 a cup. I don’t drink it every day, so coffee isn’t what I choose to fast when I fast. But lets say you, like me, drink boring coffee. By the end of your fast, you will have saved over $100 dollars. If you’re into more expensive coffees, maybe $5 a pop, you could save $230 or more. And here the final strand of the three-fold cord of Christian disciplines enters in: Alms-giving. Perhaps give to the work of your church in your community. Maybe you could donate to Online for Life or another pro-life organization.  The point is that you now have money available to spend on the needs of your neighbors that you were previously going to spend on something you wanted.

I hope you see why fasting is such a beautiful discipline. If you still don’t, please don’t feel as if you must or even ought to participate. It is something that should be entered into in joy, not sorrow. God rewards Lenten fasting when it is approached humbly, and with an eye toward the Gospel: He gives us an opportunity to grow even more in God’s grace, through His Word, and to put our faith in practice through love and service. He causes us to remember our need for Him who gives us body and soul and all things. But perhaps most importantly, He gives us a tangible analogy to ponder how, though we give up something worldly for Lent, Christ gave up heaven for the sins of the world. May your Lenten season be filled with this truth.

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Psalm 93 and Advent.

During our Advent vespers last Wednesday my church joined in singing Psalm 93. The first verse really caught my attention for its contrast to how I used to think of Advent and Christmas.

The Lord reigns, he is robed in majesty;
the Lord is robed in majesty and armed with strength[.]

Why is this such an appropriate Psalm to sing during Advent? After all, it doesn’t describe the Christmas story at all. Jesus isn’t robed in the majesty that the Son of God deserves; He’s born in a humble stable, wrapped in rags, and laid in a repurposed feeding trough — from the beginning the God-man experiences suffering and rejection from His people. And “armed with strength?” An infant, cooing for His mother’s milk? Strength is not the word that springs to mind.

And yet this is the perfect Psalm to remind us that things are not always as they seem. God is not always in the whirlwind, or the fire, or the earthquake. God is in the still and the small — in the quiet burbling of the newborn Christ-child, God is robed in majesty and strength, for “He will save His people from their sins.” This baby will bring an end to all of the principalities and powers of darkness. He will deliver us from death, hell, and the devil. He will go to the cross, and there, veiled in suffering, God will set aside the record of our debt, our sin, by nailing it to the cross. This little boy, sleeping in the lap of the Mother of God, is the undoing of all of our evils, for He is the righteous one.

The Lord is robed in majesty, and armed with strength. Amen.

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