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Christmas and the Poverty of Christ

“Holy Night” by Fritz von Uhde, 1911.

by Juhana Pohjola

“For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sake He became poor, so that you by His poverty might become rich.” – 2 Corinthians 8:9

St. Paul, in this single verse, lifts up for us a Christmas sermon on one aspect of our Lord Jesus Christ’s calling: His poverty. The Apostle reminds us of Christ Jesus’ lowliness. What did the maiden Mary from the village of Nazareth sing? “He has looked on the humble estate of His servant” (Luke 1:48). What sign did the angels give to the shepherds? “You will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger” (Luke 2:12). And where are His possessions and earthly goods if the ”Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head” (Luke 9:58)? Truly, by humility and poverty is the birth of the King of Kings framed!

Poverty does not mean only a lack of material wellbeing; it also implies a certain powerlessness. How could this poor baby and family protect themselves against the wrath of the mighty king Herod and his army? Where could they look for help if they could not depend on their family and relatives but must instead escape alone to the foreign land of Egypt? Truly, by hostility, oppression, and refuge is the birth of the Prince of Peace surrounded.

Inset: Mary and the baby Jesus.

When we see, during Christmas time, the beautiful decorations and depictions of the Nativity and the Holy Family, we must keep both eyes open. If, on the one hand, we face financial problems, insecurity, loneliness, and oppression, we are reminded that our Lord has also experienced poverty in all its forms. We need not despair because He understands what we are going through, and He promises to abide with us. “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin” (Hebrews 4:15). And again: “For He delivers the needy when he calls, the poor and him who has no helper” (Psalm 72:12).

If, on the other hand, if we have been blessed with material abundance, earthly goods, and spiritual resources, we should in thankfulness enjoy them but also share them in mercy and mission, remembering the words of St. Paul: “God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work. As it is written: ‘He has distributed freely, He has given to the poor; His righteousness endures forever’” (2 Corinthians 9:8-10).

The Apostle Paul, however, reveals an even deeper meaning to the poverty of our Lord. This poverty also includes a lowliness and humbleness in the way in which He has appeared to us. “The Word became flesh” (John 1:14). The Eternal Son of God—divine in glory and power—hid Himself in the weakness and fragility of a baby boy. The Triune God reveals Himself in the poverty of human flesh. To seek and find a gracious God, then, we do not look to high heavenly places and spiritual realms; instead, we look to the lowly and earthly—to the human flesh of Christ Jesus. St. Paul emphasizes that the Lord became poor for our sake. We humans can encounter the divine in Him. We, though unholy, can touch the Holy One in Him. We mortals can embrace the Eternal in Him. This is why Martin Luther was bold enough to say: “I do not know of any God except Him who was made flesh, nor do I want to have another. And there is no other God who could save us, besides the God Incarnate.”

“Christ on the Cross” by the Francken Family, c. 1630.

In truth, the poverty of the Lord is greater even than His willingness to come in the humility of human flesh. For He took upon Himself not only the poverty of our earthly and bodily needs, but also our deepest poverty—namely, our spiritual bankruptcy, our transgressions, and our lack of righteousness before God. So it is that the Apostle in the same epistle also preaches a paschal sermon in a single verse: “For our sake He made Him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21). The manger and the cross, Christmas night and Good Friday are united in one divine plan—one act of salvation. For your sake, the Rich became poor. For your sake, the Sinless was made sin. He took all your poverty and all your sin upon Himself. Why? So that you, though poor, would become rich. So that you, though a sinner, would be forgiven and declared righteous, clean, and holy in the sight of God. All of the poverty of your life becomes His and all the richness of His grace and love becomes yours. What a blessed exchange of Christmas gifts!

We have seen during this year great devastation and enormous human tragedy. We face a world with poverty and famine, war and natural disasters, oppression and persecution of Christians. We have in many ways entered into an era of greater uncertainties. But in the midst of these trials we can cling to a greater reality and divine certainty, which all Christendom celebrates: “For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, who is Christ the Lord” (Luke 2:11).

We call people in their poverty of their lives to gather at the life-giving altars of our churches, in which we encounter the Incarnate God of the manger—the Crucified and Risen Lord, who declares to you: This is My body and blood, given and shed for you for the forgiveness of all your sins!

Who of us can truly be poor when through Christ we have all the riches of heaven? Who of us is truly powerless and helpless when the Mighty Saviour abides with us? Who of us, though dying and decaying mortals, could despair when we have life and salvation in Him?

What a joyful calling it is to sing, preach, and celebrate this good news in the many homes and sanctuaries of member churches of the International Lutheran Council, in numerous languages and on all five continents. Rejoice! For our sake the Lord Jesus Christ became poor that we would become rich in Him!


Rev. Dr. Juhana Pohjola is Bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Mission Diocese of Finland (ELMDF) and Chairman of the International Lutheran Council (ILC).

Christmas Waiting — How Long, O Lord?

Madonna of the Yarnwinder (Lansdowne: attr. Leonardo da Vinci and other artist).

by Mathew Block

“How long, O Lord?” It’s a question I’ve asked several times over the past two years. The COVID-19 pandemic upended normal life for many across the globe, as governments established restrictions on travel, work, public gatherings, worship services, and more. Now, with a new wave sweeping the world and the rise of another variant of concern, it’s very possible those restrictions will be renewed—and just in time for Christmas.

The whole thing can leave you feeling exhausted and longing for a return to daily life as we once knew it. “How long will this last?” we cry out. “How long, O Lord?”

It’s a question that the Israelites also asked, albeit in different circumstances. It’s the cry of David, fleeing from the wrath of Saul: “How long, O Lord? Will You forget me forever?” (Psalm 13:1). It’s the cry of a people watching their nation—and the promised continued kingship of David’s family—seem to fall apart: “How long, O Lord? Will You hide Yourself forever?” (Psalm 89:46). It’s the cry of the people of God weeping over the destruction of Jerusalem at the hands of their enemies. “How long, O Lord? Will You be angry forever?” (Psalm 79:5).

These are the prayers of a people longing for salvation—longing for the day when God will finally come and set things right. In that sense, then, the question, “How long, O Lord?”, ultimately reflects a deeper desire: namely, the culmination of God’s promise to send a Messiah. “How long, O Lord? How long until You send the One who will redeem Israel? How long until our Saviour comes?”

An answer to this prayer was longer in coming than many people would have wished. Centuries passed before God’s promised Redeemer arrived. And even then, He did not come as the people expected. He came not as a king or a conqueror, not even as a rebel working to free the subjugated nation of Israel. He came instead as a child—as an infant so apparently unimportant that He was relegated to a manger bed because no one could be bothered to make room for Him in the inn.

And yet, this child was the fulfillment of God’s many promises throughout Scripture—the answer to all those questions asking, “How long?”, which have been posed to God ever since humanity’s first fall into sin. How long, O Lord? Just so long as God had always intended: “When the fullness of time had come,” St. Paul writes, “God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons” (Galatians 4:4-5).

The infant Christ contemplates the cross.

How does God accomplish this salvation for His people? Not with a sword. Not by instituting an earthly kingdom. Instead, He humbles Himself. He takes on “the nature of a servant, being born in the likeness of men”—and being found thus, He humbles Himself even further “by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:7-8).

It is not the answer people expected. But it is the answer that they—that we—need. The waiting is over; the time of fulfillment is at hand. Our God comes. He comes in compassion, to seek and save the lost. He comes with mercy, to rescue sinners longing for salvation. He comes in humility—as a babe in a manger, as a convict on a cross.

God lowers Himself in the incarnation in order that He might raise us up through His resurrection. For the entirety of Jesus’ time on earth—His birth, His ministry, His death, and His resurrection—are all one and the same work: the work of salvation. They are all the same answer to humanity’s cry of “How long?”

How long, O Lord, until You save us? How long must we wait? The answer is no longer; He has already come. He has already saved us. And though we still face trial and tribulation in this world—though we long for an end to this or that present suffering—we know that God is with us even now, bearing us up with His grace and mercy. He has come. He has saved us. He is with us. And He will bring an end to our present sorrows, whether in this life or in the life to come.

May the knowledge of that gift of salvation—the knowledge of the love and mercy of Christ—bring you peace this Christmas and always.


Mathew Block is communications manager for the International Lutheran Council and editor of The Canadian Lutheran.

“Glory to God in the Highest” – Where Did it Go?

The annunciation to the shepherds, Govert Flinck: 1639.

by Timothy Quill

This past Sunday was the last in Advent, and once again immediately following the Kyrie ,the pastor went directly into the Greeting and Salutation: “The Lord be with you,” “and with your spirit.” The Gloria in Excelsis was nowhere to be found. It has been gone since the first Sunday in Advent.

When Martin Luther undertook his remarkable 1526 restoration and German translation of the Latin Mass, he did not include the ancient Gloria in Excelsis. How was it possible for someone as theologically and musically gifted as Dr. Luther to delete the Gloria? At first glance this seems a bit baffling, but a closer look reveals that the reason for the omission was most likely because the German Mass was first sung in December of 1525 which put it during the penitential season of Advent when the Gloria was not customarily sung. New compositions of the Gloria would eventually be composed by Nicolaus Decius, Luther, and others.

The Gloria is also omitted during the penitential season of Lent, but its omission is most striking during the Advent-Christmas season since it is the song of the angels to the shepherds on the night of Jesus’ birth.

Lutherans greatly value and retain the traditional liturgical practices of the church.

In the Introduction to his 1523 revision of the Latin Mass, Luther explained: “It is not now or ever has been our intention to abolish the liturgical service of God completely, but rather to purify the one that is now in use from accretions which corrupt it and to point out an evangelical use.” He commends those parts of the service added by the early church fathers and recommends they be retained in the liturgy: Psalms and Introit Psalm, Kyrie, Readings from Epistle and Gospel, Gloria in Excelsis, and so forth (LW AE 53:20-21).

In 1530, the Lutherans confessed in Article 15 of the Augsburg Confession, “We gladly keep the old traditions set up in the church because they are useful and promote tranquility, and we interpret them in an evangelical way, excluding the opinion which holds that they justify” (Ap XV, Tappert 220:38, emphasis mine).

One year after the Diet of Augsburg, Luther was preaching at St. Mary’s parish church in Wittenberg. He expressed amazement that the evangelical movement was still alive: “A year ago, at the Diet of Augsburg, the [general] opinion was that everything would go topsy-turvy within four weeks, and that all Germany would founder. [No one knew how things would end up,] or from what source help and comfort might come. The situation baffled and defied all reason and wisdom, and one was constrained to say: ‘It all depends on God’s power, and it is all staked on His Word’” (LW AE 23:400).

It is now 489 years after the Diet of Augsburg and the world in which we live—including numerous churches which bear the names “Evangelical” and “Lutheran”—are in many respects topsy-turvy, upside down, and in a state of confusion. And we too are led to express amazement and thanksgiving that after all she has gone through, the Lutheran Church has not foundered. She continues to depend on “God’s power, and it is all staked on His Word.” This is articulated on the International Lutheran Council website: “The International Lutheran Council is a growing worldwide association of established confessional Lutheran church bodies which proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ on the basis of an unconditional commitment to the Holy Scriptures as the inspired and infallible Word of God and to the Lutheran Confessions contained in the Book of Concord as the true and faithful exposition of the Word of God” (emphasis mine). It is extremely encouraging to know that we are not alone. Over 50 churches worldwide have chosen to be part of an association of confessional Lutheran church bodies which share this commitment to the Gospel and the Word of God.

Martin Luther retained the historic liturgy but insisted that it be in the vernacular, so that the people could understand and participate meaningfully in the Divine Service. For this reason, the Gloria in Excelsis was also composed in hymn form in order to foster congregational singing.

As Advent gives way to Christmas, ILC Churches from many countries and cultures will worship in different languages yet share in the common faith, the common Lutheran confession, and common Lutheran liturgical tradition. In the Divine Service the Lord Jesus Christ, the incarnate Word made flesh, comes to us through the Word and in his very Body and Blood in the Blessed Sacrament to bestow upon us the forgiveness of sins, life, and eternal salvation. Lutherans from all ages and throughout the world join the angels, who sang to the shepherds when Jesus was born in Bethlehem: “Glory be to God on high; and on earth peace, goodwill toward men” (Luke 2:14).

All glory be to God alone,
Forever more the highest one,
Who did our sinful race befriend
And grace and peace to us extend.
Among us may His gracious will
All hearts with deep thanksgiving fill.
– Martin Luther, All Ehr und Lob, stanza 1


Rev. Dr. Timothy Quill is General Secretary of the International Lutheran Council.

A Knife, a Sheepskin, Sandals, and a Flute: Shepherds at Work in the Fields of Bethlehem

The following article was written by Rev. Dr. Hans-Jörg Voigt for the 2018 Christmas issue of The Canadian Lutheran magazine, and is reprinted here with permission. Dr. Voigt is Bishop of the Independent Evangelical Lutheran Church in Germany and Chairman of the International Lutheran Council.


Jules Bastien Lepage’s “Annunciation to the Shepherds.”

Those shepherds in the fields near Bethlehem were tough guys. Any decent person of the time would have considered them outcasts—on par with thieves and robbers. Nobody wanted to have anything to do with them. So, of course, it is to these people in the fields that the angels first appear. Luther’s words here are most fitting: “This is the first sermon about the newborn little child, our Lord Jesus, that was brought by the angels from heaven to us here on earth.”

What kind of people were those shepherds? I am reminded of four objects that such shepherds may have carried on their person; and they say a lot about those people. And what they tell us is that these shepherds were very much like you and I today.

The Knife

No doubt the shepherds carried a good knife on their belts. After all, a shepherd has to trim the hoofs of the sheep and he has to cut the sticks that close the gate at night. The Evangelist St. Luke writes: “They kept watch over their flock by night” (2:8). Back then, there were still some lions in the region around Bethlehem. And to protect the herd from the attack of lions that raided during the night, you needed at least a knife.

The shepherds were therefore tough guys. They were people who knew how to use knives and clubs well, often even frightening other people. He who is afraid often seeks to frighten others.

What are you afraid of? What makes your jackknife flip open? And how do you frighten others? Somebody once told me that we Germans are often considered to be quite anxious. Was it perhaps this “German angst” that so often caused Germans throughout history to break out their long “knives”? Is there such a thing as “Canadian angst”?

When the angel came to the shepherds, they were very much afraid. Yet the angel proclaims to them the opposite of fear and anxiety; he brings joy and peace. “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day a Saviour…. Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace” (Luke 2:10-11, 14).

The child in the manger, Jesus Christ, brings joy and peace despite the fear and anxiety so prevalent in our time.

A few weeks ago, we marked the 100th anniversary of the end of World War I. It was the most horrendous war that the world had seen until then. Canadians and Germans opposed each other on the battlefields of Europe as bitter enemies. I am filled with gratitude that this last November the Prime Minister of Canada Justin Trudeau and the German Chancellor Angela Merkel shook hands right there among the war graves.

In 1914, something unusual happened in France. The war was raging in its fifth month; more than a million casualties were already mourned. But on Christmas Eve, the soldiers on both sides simply stopped shooting. For this day, at least, they wanted peace. And the Germans began to sing: “Stille Nacht, heilige Nacht.” On the other side the English called out: “Well done, Fritzen!” and then they began to sing: “O holy night… it is the night of our dear Saviour’s birth.” Then they showed each other their little Christmas trees, and, when nobody was shooting, they dared to come out of their trenches. They exchanged gifts and put up their little Christmas trees for all to see. Later on, in No-Man’s-Land, they played soccer—unbelievable!

The birth of Christ works peace! God Himself makes peace for us by forgiving our sins. In the war this divine peace, for just a brief moment, became visible right there among the knives, the bayonets, and the machine guns. This story—it has become known as the “Christmas Peace of 1914”—is not recorded in many documents. The army commands on both sides tried to hush up the event, and they had some difficulty trying to restart the war in January. The units were re-assigned, because many of the men didn’t want to shoot anymore.

For a brief moment in history, the “knives” were put away and peace became a reality.

The Sheepskin

When I think of the shepherds, I also think of sheepskins. For me it’s hard to imagine that the shepherds did not present a soft, warm sheepskin to the Christ child. St. Luke writes: “And they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in a manger” (Luke 2:16). It seems likely that the shepherds brought a sheepskin with them, but we can’t know for certain.

But what we do know is the following: Christmas is not about us presenting a gift to the Christ child; instead, the Child presents us with a white, pure sheepskin. For this purpose, Jesus Christ, God’s Son, became man: to give us the gift of the sheepskin of His love and forgiveness. His love for us men is warmer than any sheepskin. His love is so warm that it covers up all your guilt and takes away all your anxiety.

If you are sad during these Christmas holidays—perhaps because you’re alone, or because the festival is not turning out as joyful as you had hoped—then just think of the warm sheepskin of Jesus’ love for you. When others have offended you and you are angry, think of the warm sheepskin of Jesus’ love.

The Sandals

In those days, shepherds wore sandals that consisted of a leather sole tied to the feet by strings. These sandals have some significance for us. After they had witnessed the scene, the shepherds used these sandals to go out to various people to tell them of that wonderful child in the manger. St. Luke reports: “And when they saw it, they made known the saying that had been told them concerning this child” (2:17).

The sandals are a reminder for us that at some time in the past, somebody did for us what the shepherds did in their day. Somebody brought that same message about the Child in the manger to Germany and to Canada. Let’s hope that these shepherds—the Greek word for shepherd is “pastor”—who first brought this Christmas message to Canada were wearing winter boots and not sandals! But we really should be grateful for the shepherds’ sandals; they brought us the Christmas message of the wonderful Child in the manger.

St. Mary shows us what we should do with the words of these shepherds: “Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart” (Luke 2:19). Yes, the sandals of the shepherds are truly important. Speaking of these “sandals,” our Confessions say this: “So that we may obtain this faith, the ministry of teaching the Gospel and administering the Sacraments was instituted” (Augsburg Confession, Article 5).

The Flute

No doubt about it: a real shepherd has a real flute. St. Luke the Evangelist proclaims: “The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen” (Luke 2:20). Yes, I can easily imagine how the shepherds went through the night and played their flutes.

It brings to mind Luther’s words from one of his Christmas sermons: “Having heard a good sermon, sing a joyful hymn.” Why? Because the child in the manger, Christ Jesus our Lord, takes away our “knives” and grants us eternal peace. Because Jesus Christ grants us His forgiving love, which is white, soft, and warm like a sheepskin. Because He sends shepherds in their sandals to proclaim Christ’s love to this day.

For this reason, we sing and play the flute, we use drums along with violins, trumpets, organs, pianos and our voices to the best of our ability, whether that be in “old Germany” or among “God’s frozen people” in Canada.


The Joy of All the Earth: Christmas Greetings from the ILC


Dear friends,

ILC Vice-Chairman Robert Bugbee

ILC Vice-Chairman Robert Bugbee

Luther’s old Christmas carol, “Vom Himmel hoch” (“From Heaven Above”), is bright and cheerful when you come to verse 2:

“To you this night is born a Child of Mary, chosen virgin mild; This little Child of lowly birth shall be the joy of all the earth.”
Lutheran Service Book 358:2)

The holy Christ Child comes to be the joy of all the earth. That is so very true. But it wasn’t really Luther’s idea. He got it from God Himself, Who commissioned the Christmas angels to sing, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men” (St. Luke 2:14).

God is sending Bethlehem’s Good News out across the world once again this Christmas. His Christ is coming into all sorts of lands and situations. He is there where people are terrified over the spread of Ebola, because they have witnessed loved ones and friends cut down in the prime of life and cannot see the end of the outbreak. He wants to enter into homes and families in eastern Europe, worried that they won’t get enough natural gas to heat their dwellings as the days grow colder, and sore at heart over the shooting and bombing which have killed their neighbours and blown up large sections of their towns and cities.

He wants to come close to the comfortable and often very self-satisfied inhabitants of prosperous nations, who imagine they are doing quite fine on their own and don’t need a god to help them with much of anything. The little Christ is seeking admittance to hospital units, prison cells, and lonely bedrooms where somebody lost a life’s partner this year and now faces the first holiday season alone.

“This little Child of lowly birth… shall be the Joy of all the earth.” Yes, He has come to be the joy for all those various situations, and a hundred others you cannot even imagine. He has come to be the Rescuer Who lived and died to win God’s pardon for the needy and often rebellious human race. He has come to make clear that the Lord of heaven and earth wants you badly, is on your side, and stands with you in your troubles. This includes the troubles you caused and the ones that overtook you like a hurricane you couldn’t stop. He has come to bring you and God together again. In so doing He also works to plant into you the kind of heart that comes together with other people from whom you are distant, for whatever reason.

He isn’t offering you magic or quick fixes. He never tells you that the political strife, the ravaging diseases, the economic wreckage, and your personal struggles will all dissolve and blow away immediately when you open your heart to Him. But He comes with love and mercy for your wrongs. He promises to hear your cries. He helps you hold up under your burdens so they become more bearable.

He’s not bringing you a fairy-tale world to live in. But He offers you Himself, all the kindness and help He came to bring. He presses it all into your hand, not because you earned it or have a right to demand it, but because He, your Saviour, wants you to have it. There is no life, no home, no town, no country, no person in any situation whom He does not want to have. It does you and me good to remember that as He comes toward us again this Christmas. Luther had it right: “This little Child of lowly birth… shall be the joy of all the earth.”

Whatever situation you find yourself in and wherever you are located as you read these lines: I wish you this joy very strongly and personally as God’s Christ once again makes His way to you.

Rev. Dr. Robert Bugbee, President of Lutheran Church–Canada and Vice-Chairman of the International Lutheran Council.


Christmas Greetings from the ILC


“The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness—on them light has shined. You have multiplied the nation, you have increased its joy… For a child has been born for us, a son given to us; authority rests upon his shoulders; and he is named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:2-3,6).

Dear friends,


ILC Chairman Hans- Jörg Voigt

In the name of the Executive Committee of the International Lutheran Council (ILC) and its Executive Secretary, I send you warm greetings for the 2013 Christmas season and the coming New Year. Grace and peace be with you.

The Old Testament Prophet Isaiah tells us about “people who walked in darkness.” Looking back to on the past year, I can see a lot of such darkness. My brother from the Coptic Orthodox Church in Germany, Bishop Anba Damian, reported with tears in his eyes the persecutions of Christian congregations in Egypt. So too, we heard of violence against Christian churches in Nigeria; we keep our partner Lutheran Church there in prayer.

We also witnessed the terrible typhoon in the Philippines. As we know, our partner church in that nation has suffered as a result; many of our sisters and brothers have lost their homes and church buildings. The International Lutheran Council is responding to their needs, and I encourage you to support the Philippines along with us.

And there has been more darkness this past year, as conflicts afflict church bodies around the world—conflicts, for example, on the theological and spiritual understanding of family and human sexuality. And the darkness reaches closer still, into our own hearts and minds, as conflicts arise in our own families and congregations.

I remember it clearly: when I was a child I feared the darkness. And in our northern hemisphere, we have darkness for a long period of the year. It made everyone happy to light a candle and kindle a lamp. In the same way, one of my friends speaks of his need to visit his old native country in Africa: “The sun shines there so directly on my head,” as he says.

The prophet Isaiah announced: “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness—on them light has shined.”  In faith, we know that this great light is no one else than our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, the Son of God, laying himself down in a lowly manger.

He is burdening himself with our guilt. He is taking our sickness and sufferings upon his shoulders. He is the Truth, soaking in all our struggles. He is the “Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.”

In recent days, I saw the picture of a chalice for the Holy Supper. On the base of this chalice, there is a manger with the new born baby and St. Mary and Joseph.

This chalice preaches to us. It reminds us that the great light which shines in the darkness is not far from us. It shines, whenever the Word becomes Flesh during the celebration of the Lord’s Supper. Christmas happens at the altar! The church becomes a barn; the plate and the chalice become a manger. And the pulpit becomes the place for modern-day shepherds to stand and “make known what had been told them about this child” (Luke 2:17). In our churches, the light of Christmas becomes bright in our lives!

We have also seen, in recent times, the bright ministry of the “Prince of Peace” at work in the world. I remember, for example, the reconciliation which took place in the Lutheran Church of the Philippines just over a year ago. I recall also the valuable talks between the executives of the Lutheran World Federation (LWF) and the International Lutheran Council (ILC) which took place Wittenberg just this November. And I think too of the talks between the Roman Catholic Church’s Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity (PCPCU) and the ILC delegation which recently met in Rome—and the upcoming international discussions which will take place as a result of that meeting. These are signs of light amidst the darkness of our world.

May the eternal light, Jesus Christ, make bright your darkness, both now at Christmas as well as throughout the coming new year!

+ Hans-Jörg Voigt, Bishop of the Independent Evangelical Lutheran Church in Germany and Chairman of the International Lutheran Council


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