- April Thoughts… The True, the Good, and the Beautiful
Truth, goodness, and beauty are sometimes referred to as transcendentals, those things that come before and excel everything else. These things find their fullness in God who is the Truth, Goodness, and Beauty beyond all measure. Likewise, these things are reflected in creation, and in His creatures. This is also true in His people, the Church. This month we remember those who have gone before us who have, in the service of God, demonstrated these things including artists, parish pastors, and theologians. Through all these, our Lord has shown us His desire to save all people and has given us pictures of His grace in the lives of people.
All of these saints and days can be found in the Lutheran Service Book on pages xi-xiii. Those that are italicized are not found in LSB, but are in Liturgies et Cantiques Luthériens, the French language hymnal prepared by LCC and used by our French-speaking sister congregations as well as French Lutherans around the world. These can also be found on pages xi-xiii of the LCL.
All Scripture quotations are from the Evangelical Heritage Version.
April 6: Lucas Cranach and Albrecht Duerer, Artists
Lucas Cranach (c. 1472 – October 16, 1553) and Albrecht Duerer (May 2, 1471 – April 6, 1528) were two of the brightest lights in the Northern Renaissance. Both of these artists used their art to glorify God and depict the beauty of His creation. Lucas Cranach was the court painter of Frederick the Wise, Elector of Saxony. Because of this he had ready access to Luther and the other reformers and theologians in Wittenburg. Cranach supported the work of the Reformation and used his workshop to create paintings and woodcuts which proclaimed the Gospel and Scriptural teachings. He was also responsible for painting many of the portraits of those associated with the Reformation. Some of his other great works included many altar pieces which still adorn churches in Germany. Albrecht Duerer was court painter for Holy Roman Emperor Maximilian I. After the emperor died, he returned to his hometown of Nuremberg, where he continued to work. Duerer also had many religious themes in his artwork, including woodcut series on the Revelation to St. John as well as the Passion of our Lord. His own writings and those of his friends demonstrate that he too was a supporter of the Reformation. The council and mayor of his city, Nuremberg, was one of the original presenters of the Augsburg Confession in 1530. Both of these men in their vocation as artists glorified God through their skill as well as in much of the subject matter of their paintings. We give thanks to God for them and how God has shone through them as well as for all artists who continue to skillfully work today.
Ascribe to the Lord the glory of his name. Bring an offering and come before him. Worship the Lord in the splendor of holiness.1 Chronicles 16:29
April 20: Johannes Bugenhagen, Pastor
Johannes Bugenhagen (June 24, 1485 – April 20, 1558), also known as Pomeranius, was a parish pastor in Wittenberg and responsible for organizing the reforming Church in Pomerania and Denmark-Norway. Bugenhagen was the parish pastor at St. Mary’s in Wittenberg during the Reformation and so often shared preaching and teaching duties with Martin Luther. One of the gifts which God had given Bugenhagen was that of organization and administration. This is demonstrated in his helping with Luther’s translation of the Bible, writing new Church Orders for a number of northern territories including Demnark-Norway, and eventually being appointed Superintendent of the Church in Saxony and overseeing all other pastors. In recognition of the importance of his work in Scandinavia, he is sometimes known as “the second apostle to the north” for his work in bringing the pure Gospel to the people whom Ansgar (the first “apostle to the north”) first brought the Gospel. In all of this, he was still also a pastor to the people in Wittenberg and continued to preach and administer the sacraments. Following Luther’s death Bugenhagen cared for his widow and children. We give thanks to God for the grace he has shown us in His servant Johannes Bugenhagen, and pray that He would continue to uphold all pastors in their vocations of serving His people.
He himself gave the apostles, as well as the prophets, as well as the evangelists, as well as the pastors and teachers, for the purpose of training the saints for the work of serving, in order to build up the body of Christ.Ephesians 4:11-12
April 21: Anselm of Canterbury, Theologian
Anselm of Canterbury (c. 1033 – April 21, 1109) was an Archbishop of Canterbury and author of a very important and influential work on the incarnation and atonement. Anselm grew up in what is now Italy and after a time of carefree living eventually ended up in a monastery in Bec, France. Due to his relationship with Lafranc, the last Archbishop of Canterbury, the English bishops earnestly desired to have Anselm take his place. While originally reluctant, he accepted the position. As archbishop, Anselm took up the job of reforming the Church in England, including dealing with the investiture controversy. As a result, he ran into conflict with the secular authorities and was exiled on more than one occasion. In the midst of all this Anselm wrote many theological and philosophical writings. Because of this he is known as the Father of Scholasticism. One of his most important works, Cur Deus Homo (Why the God-Man? or Why did God Become Man?), explores purpose of the incarnation according to the Scriptures and what happened in the atonement. In it, he beautifully writes and explains Christ making satisfaction for sins by means of being a substitute for humanity in His death. We give thanks to God for Anselm, who taught the truth and clearly pointed to Christ as our substitute who vicariously died for us.
For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in [Jesus], and through him to reconcile all things to himself (whether things on earth or in heaven) by making peace through the blood of his cross.Colossians 1:19-20
April 23: George, Martyr
George (d. April 23, 303) was a soldier in the Roman military, and martyr in the Roman Emperor Diocletian’s persecution of Christians within the army. Not too much is known of George’s life. He was born to a father of Greek background and mother from Palestine in the province of Cappadocia in modern day Turkey. After his father’s death, George and his mother returned to Palestine. It was there where he joined the Roman army. As a soldier, George did not hide his faith in Christ, but openly followed the Lord. As a result, he would not pray to the specific pagan gods associated with his legion nor to the emperor. When Diocletian ordered the persecution of Christians George refused to give up the faith and so was executed. The Holy Spirit, working through George’s proclamation of Christ in his death, brought some of the witnesses of his martyrdom to faith in Christ. Around 700 years later, the account of his life grew so great that it was said he saved an entire village from a dragon. While this much later addition is legendary, we know George was a faithful witness for Christ and even today gives us encouragement to remain faithful to Christ even in the face of death.
But you, O man of God, flee from these things and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, perseverance, and gentleness. Fight the good fight of faith. Take hold of eternal life, to which you were called and about which you made your good confession in the presence of many witnesses.1 Timothy 6:11-12
April 24: Johann Walter, Kantor
Johann Walter (1496 – March 25, 1570) was a composer of sacred music during the time of the Reformation. Walter was the chief cantor in the court of Duke Frederick the Wise of Saxony. Walter wrote the music for many of the early evangelical hymns, putting the Gospel message and teaching of true doctrine into the mouths of clergy and laypeople alike in the form of song. Because he was in Wittenberg, Walter often worked with Luther to write tunes and setting the for choir. Some examples are the credal hymn “We All Believe in One True God,” the Easter hymn “Christ Jesus Lay in Death’s Strong Bands,” and other hymns such as “A Mighty Fortress is Our God” (click here for a choral setting of “A Mighty Fortress”). Walter also was the editor of the first hymnal made for choirs during the Reformation, allowing the truth of God to be spread by song and to accompany the Word of God with beauty. He also wrote hymn texts as well, and in our hymnal we can find this in LSB 514, “The Bridegroom Soon Will Call Us.” Following the death of Frederick the Wise Walter accepted a call to be the cantor of the choir in Torgau where he continued to praise and glorify God through his music while also teaching the faith and building up the Church. We give thanks to God for Johann Walter and all other church musicians and all musicians who glorify God with their talents.
Shout for joy, you heavens, because of what the Lord is doing. Make a joyful shout, you depths of the earth. Burst forth with shouts of joy, you mountains, you forest and every tree in it, because the Lord has redeemed Jacob, and in Israel he will display his beauty.Isaiah 44:23
April 25: St. Mark, Evangelist
St. Mark (5 – April 25, 68) the evangelist is one of the four writers of the Gospels which we have in the Holy Scriptures giving us an account of the Lord Jesus Christ’s life, death, and resurrection. Mark’s Gospel gives us the name for the four books because it begins “The beginning of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God” (Mark 1:1). Mark is often identified with John Mark, the cousin of Barnabas, who is mentioned throughout the book of Acts as a companion of St. Paul and Barnabas (Acts 12:25, 13:5, 13:13-14, 15:37-40). Marks’ Gospel is often characterized as fast moving. It begins with the ministry of John the Baptist and the baptism of Jesus and continues with events happening one after another after another. Many times these events in Jesus’ life are connected with the adverb, “immediately.” Because of a number of thoughts of Peter in the Gospel (such as Mark 9:5-6 “Peter said to Jesus, ‘Rabbi, it is good for us to be here. Let us make three tents: one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.’ He did not know what to say because they were terrified.”) it is traditionally said that Peter was the source for Mark’s Gospel, for he himself was not an eyewitness to these things. Traditionally Mark is said to have later went to Egypt after he completed his Gospel, where he founded the Church in Alexandria. In art, each of the four evangelists are identified with one of the four living creatures in Revelation. Mark is identified with the winged lion because of the forcefulness of which he presents Jesus’ preaching and teaching. In the three year lectionary the second year is dedicated to focusing primarily on Mark’s Gospel, as we are this year. We give thanks to God for His apostles and evangelists through whom He brought the word of salvation to so many in their day and continues to do so through their words in His Church.
The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.Mark 1:1
- March Thoughts… Sombre Celebration
During the season of Lent the Church still remembers those who went before and those important events in the life of our Lord. March includes a large variety, including Old and New Testament saints as well as both well known and lesser known early Church saints and one of the principal feasts of Christ. Read this to learn more about our sombre celebrations during March.
March 7: Perpetua and Felicitas, Martyrs
Vivia Perpetua (c. 182 – c. 202) and Felicitas (? – c. 202), were North African martyrs put to death for their faith by the decree of Septimius Severus (r. 193-211). The difference between the lives of these two martyrs up to their deaths could not have been greater. Perpetua was from a noble and wealthy family in Carthage and enjoyed many of the privileges which went along with it, including a liberal education. She had a respectable marriage and had an infant son. Felicitas, on the other hand, was a slave who was pregnant. However different these women were, they shared a love of Christ and would die as witnesses for Him together as sisters. In the time leading up to their execution, Perpetua gave her son into the care of her brother (who was also a Christian), and Felicitas gave birth and was able to have a member of her congregation take her daughter to raise in the faith. These two women, steadfast in the faith, were publicly executed before the crowds in honour of the Emperor’s birthday, first facing wild beasts, and finally being killed by the sword. One of the most moving images from the account of their martyrdom recalls that when they were brought out a second time into the arena, the two women of such different stature and already injured from the wild beasts, greeted each other with the kiss of peace. In these two our God has given us examples of steadfastness under trial, that His strength is demonstrated in weakness, and that no matter our backgrounds all Christians are brothers and sisters and equal heirs of salvation.
Precious in the eyes of the Lord is the death of his favored onesPsalm 116:15
March 17: Patrick, Missionary to the Irish
Patrick (c. 385 – March 17, 461), was a Roman-British pastor and missionary to the Irish people. While Patrick’s family was Christian, he did not take the faith seriously in his youth or think of himself as a Christian. When he was sixteen he was captured by pagan Irish pirates and was enslaved for six years. During his time of captivity, Patrick turned to the God of his fathers whom he had previously dismissed, and came to a repentant faith in Christ. When he returned to Britain, Patrick immersed himself in the study of the faith and was eventually ordained. After this he returned to the land of his captivity, moved by love for the people of Ireland and wanting to share with them the Gospel of Christ that they might be set free from slavery to sin. The Lord worked wonderfully through Patrick, bringing many to faith in Christ so that multitudes from the rich to the poor, and from peasants to princes believed. The legend of Patrick driving the snakes from Ireland is most likely symbolic of his work driving paganism from the island through the preaching of Christ. He is remembered as one of the great missionaries to the nations because God used Patrick to bring Christianity to the Irish people, who would in turn, would send missionaries throughout many places in Europe still under the shadow of sin and death. His life also shows us an example of the love we are to have for our enemies, and for that, we give thanks to God that He had given him this great love, and pray that He would grant it to us as well.
[Jesus said,] “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father who is in heaven.”Matthew 5:43-45a
March 19: St. Joseph, Guardian of Jesus
St. Joseph (1st century BC – 1st century AD) was the husband of the Blessed Virgin Mary, and the legal father of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. While Joseph is not the biological father of Jesus, God used Joseph for His purposes in bringing salvation through His Son. While “guardian” brings to mind “legal guardian” for us today, the title is telling us more, and really speaks to how God used Joseph. As the guardian of Jesus, Joseph was a shield from scandal for our Lord as He was conceived of a virgin. Many could use this as a way to insult Him during His life and dismiss His ministry by making improper assumptions or accusations of His parentage. As the guardian of Jesus, Joseph is the legal father and provides Jesus with the legal descent from David, making Him the Son of David which fulfils the promises God made to David. As the guardian of Jesus, Joseph would have helped to raise Jesus and teach to Him the faith, and his trade. Joseph is present at the early events of our Lord’s life up to when He stays at the Temple after Passover while His family returns to Nazareth (Luke 2:41-50), but does not appear after this. This probably contributes to the tradition that Joseph was already older when he was betrothed to Mary, as he is not present at all in Jesus’ ministry, His death, or after His resurrection. Yet, Joseph faithfully fulfilled his calling as Jesus’ guardian and so today we thank God for him, and pray for all fathers and those who act as fathers for the fatherless.
This is how the birth of Jesus Christ took place. His mother, Mary, was pledged in marriage to Joseph. Before they came together, she was found to be with child by the Holy Spirit. Joseph, her husband, was a righteous man and did not want to disgrace her. So he decided to divorce her privately. But as he was considering these things, an angel of the Lord suddenly appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”Matthew 2:18-21
March 25: The Annunciation of our Lord
Nine months before Christmas, the Church celebrates the Annunciation of our Lord, when the angel Gabriel appeared to the Virgin Mary to announce that she would conceive and bear a son (Luke 1:26-28). This is celebrated as one of the principal feasts of Christ because it is an important event in His earthly life. While it may seem that we got this date by counting backwards from Christmas, it is actually the opposite! The early Church celebrated the Annunciation first, and only later was Christmas added by going forward nine months. The timing of this day comes from an old belief that important people would have perfect ages, that is, they would die on the day of their conception. This feast was then calculated based on when Jesus died. Because of this the Annunciation happens during Lent, and it gives us a small respite from our solemn season to celebrate the conception of our Lord Jesus who would die for our sins. The Annunciation helps us remember that our Lord Jesus went through all the experiences of human life, including where life begins: conception. It also gives us encouragement to pray for and stand up for the voiceless and helpless, including the unborn, for our Lord Himself was once one such one when the incarnation began.
The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you. Blessed are you among women.” But she was greatly troubled by the statement and was wondering what kind of greeting this could be. The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, because you have found favor with God. Listen, you will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to name him 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. He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and his kingdom will never end.”Luke 1:28-33
March 31: Joseph, Patriarch
Joseph (c. 1914 – c. 1804 BC) was the son of Jacob by his favoured wife Rachel. The life of Joseph is the main focus of the last section of Genesis from chapter 37 on. Joseph himself is a type of Christ, that is, his life prefigures that of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. His brothers betrayed him, selling him into slavery in Egypt, while telling their father that he was killed by a beast. However, from this, he is figuratively brought back to life again when he reveals himself to his brothers when they come to Egypt for aid during a famine. Thus, he pointed forward to the betrayal, death, and resurrection of our Lord. As a son of Jacob, one would expect for there to be a tribe of Joseph, as there are with all of Jacob’s 11 other sons. However, there is none. Instead, his two sons Manasseh and Ephraim, born to him by his Egyptian wife Asenath, become two “half tribes” in his place when Joseph asks his father to bless them. Joseph also has a number of events in his life which shine as examples to the faithful. First, as a slave, he resisted the wife of Potiphar who tried to seduce him and was willing to suffer the consequences of doing so, so that he would rather suffer doing right rather than sin (Genesis 39). He also gives an example to us of forgiveness as he forgives his brothers who sold him into slavery and reconciles with them (Genesis 50:15-21).
His brothers also came and fell down in front of him, and they said, “See now, we are your servants.” Joseph said to them, “Do not be afraid, for am I in the place of God? You meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring this to pass and to keep many people alive, as it is this day. Now therefore, do not be afraid. I will nourish you and your little ones.” He comforted them and spoke to them in a kind way.Genesis 50:18-21
- February Thoughts… Spiritual Ancestors
When we look back at those who have gone before us, we are not only looking at heroes of the faith, but we are looking back at our spiritual ancestors. For we are all members of the Body of Christ. And while we are separated, we are still family, brothers and sisters in Christ. I find this can be helpful when looking back and learning about them. It is like looking back on a family tree or learning of an ancestor. It is also important to keep in mind that all these saints we remember, our brothers and sisters, share the same faith as us in our great God and Saviour Jesus Christ. He was the one who worked through them and gave them their gifts, just as He gives to us the gifts and graces we use daily in His service. With that said, let us continue to look at our spiritual ancestors.
All Scripture quotations are from the Evangelical Heritage Version (find more information here). All Old Testament dates are based on The Lutheran Study Bible from CPH.
February 2: Purification of Mary and Presentation of our Lord
Just as January begins with a feast that looks at Jesus’ life, so too does February. And just as that feast was tied to Christmas, so is this. For the Feast of the Purification of Mary and the Presentation of our Lord takes place forty days after our Lord’s birth in accordance with the Law (Leviticus 12). The account of this event is found in Luke 2:22-38 where it describes how they were going to the Temple both for Mary’s purification and to present Jesus to the Lord for the redemption of the first-born. This shows us yet again Mary and Joseph taking care to ensure that both they and Mary’s Son were walking in accordance with the Law. However, here we also meet Simeon and Anna. Simeon, waiting for the redemption of Israel, takes the child in his arms and sings what we now call the Nunc Dimittis which we often sing as our Post-Communion Canticle. In addition, Simeon gives a prophecy related to Jesus, pointing forward to His redeeming work on the cross (Luke 2:33-35). Anna likewise praises the Lord and spreads the word to all who will listen about Jesus (Luke 2:36-38). There is much here to thank the Lord for and to follow as His people including the example of raising a child in the faith as well as speaking to the hope we have in Him.
Then Simeon blessed them and said to Mary his mother, “Listen carefully, this child is appointed for the falling and rising of many in Israel and for a sign that is spoken against, so that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too.”Luke 2:34-35
February 5: Jacob (Israel), Patriarch
Jacob (c. 2006 – c. 1859 BC), is the last of the patriarchs in the line of Abraham. He is the younger of the two sons of Isaac and Rebekah. Jacob’s life itself was full of conflict. After getting the birthright from his father Isaac by pretending to be Esau, he ran away to Haran to Rebekah’s family in order to avoid his brother’s anger and threats of death (Genesis 27). There, he had conflict with his father-in-law as he was deceived on his wedding night, as a result his wives also produced conflict as they competed for children (Genesis 29). Even his children brought conflict to his life as they were jealous of Joseph, his favourite son (Genesis 37:12-36). However, despite all of this, the Lord was with Jacob and promised that the promise He gave to Abraham had come to him (Genesis 28:10-22). Eventually, the Lord would also reconcile Jacob and his brother Esau. On the night before they met, the Lord appeared to Jacob as a man and wrestled with him until daybreak. At this time, Jacob asked for a blessing and received it along with a new name: Israel, because he had striven with God and man and had prevailed (Genesis 32:22-32). It was Jacob’s children who would become the tribes of Israel and their descendants would inherit the Promised Land. The Lord greatly blessed Jacob in his life, but the greatest blessing of all which He had given him was that through his line, the Messiah of the world would come, the one who stands between heaven and earth as truly God and truly man, reconciling us to God (Genesis 27:10-17; John 1:51). As we share Jacob’s faith, we are counted as true spiritual sons and daughters of Israel as we wait for the return of the Messiah, Jesus Christ our Lord.
I see him, but not now. I behold him, but not near. A star will come out of Jacob. A scepter will rise up out of Israel.Numbers 24:17a
February 10: Silas, Fellow Worker of St. Paul
Silas (1st century AD – c. 65 – 100), who is also called Sylvanus, was a companion of St. Paul and missionary with him. He is first mentioned in Acts 15:22, where he is chosen as one of the men to accompany Paul and Barnabas to go to Antioch to bring them the news and decree from the Jerusalem Council that there was no requirement for Gentile converts to be circumcised, thus making them accountable to the whole Old Covenant. Silas is spoken of at this time as one of the leading men among the brothers in Jerusalem, speaking to his character and strong faith in Christ. After these events, Silas would accompany Paul on his second missionary journey after he and Barnabas disagreed about taking Mark with them. As a fellow missionary with Paul, Silas was present with him at various times including being jailed (and freed by an angel) in Philippi (Acts 16:25-37), preaching in Thessalonica, Barea, and Corinth (Acts 17:1, 10; 18:5). Because of his presence in these places, Silas is also named along with Paul and Timothy as sending the two epistles to the Thessalonians and is mentioned in 2 Corinthians. Because Silas is not spoken of again in Acts after being present in Corinth, it has traditionally been thought that he remained there as a teacher and preacher within the Church, similarly to Timothy in Ephesus and Titus in Crete. Like Titus, Silas is thought to have been granted a peaceful death by the Lord, an uncommon thing for the early disciples and missionaries, and something for which we may give thanks to God.
I have written to you briefly (through Silas, whom I consider a faithful brother), to encourage you and to testify that this is the true grace of God. Stand firm in it.1 Peter 5:12
February 13: Aquila, Priscilla, and Apollos
Today, the Church commemorates the husband and wife missionaries Aquila and Priscilla along with the missionary Apollos (all born and died within the 1st century AD). Apollos was a Jewish Christian and companion of Paul from Alexandria in Egypt who was an important figure whom God used in the planting of the Church in Ephesus and Corinth (1 Corinthians 3:6). In Acts 18:24-25, he is described as “an eloquent man and well versed in the Scriptures. He had been instructed in the way of the Lord. He spoke with burning zeal and taught the facts about Jesus accurately,” however, he only knew the baptism of John and not Trinitarian baptism. This is where Aquila and Priscilla become acquainted with Apollos. They were also Jewish Christians, but they were from Rome and currently in exile because Emperor Claudius expelled all the Jews from Rome between AD 49 and 54. While in exile in Corinth they met Paul and after spending time with him, they accompanied him to Ephesus (Acts 18:1-4). While in Ephesus they heard Apollos’ teaching. In Christian love, this lay missionary couple takes Apollos aside and explains more accurately to him the true doctrine (Acts 18:26). In goldy humility, this learned man accepts their correction. Because of this example of godly humility, gentle correction, and Christian love for one another, these great missionaries and companions of Paul are commemorated and remembered together.
Therefore, encourage one another and build each other up, just as you are also doing. Brothers, we ask you to take note of those who work hard among you, who exercise leadership over you in the Lord, and who admonish you. Hold them in the highest regard in love, on account of their work. Live at peace with each other. We also encourage you, brothers, to admonish those who are idle. Encourage those who are discouraged, help those who are weak, and be patient with everyone. See to it that no one repays evil with evil, but instead, always strive to do good to each other and to everyone else.1 Thessalonians 5:11-15
February 14: Valentine, Martyr
Valentine (c. 226 – c. 269), was a Christian pastor who was martyred in Rome under the persecution of Emperor Claudius II. Despite his name being well known from quite early on, there is relatively little known about this saint. Pope Gelasius I (r. 492 – 496) famously said regarding Valentine and other early Christian martyrs we only know by name that their names are rightly honoured by men, but their acts are only known by God. It is generally accepted that during Claudius’ persecution that Valentine ministered to and encouraged those Christians in and around Rome and that eventually he himself was martyred by beheading (an execution reserved for Roman citizens). There is something to be said for not knowing much of Valentine’s life and acts, for there are many saints that are not well known beyond their own families, there are many whose names are not even known by men, but whose names are known only to God. Valentine then becomes an example for all Christians of humble service which doesn’t seek to glorify self, but only to serve our neighbour in love because of the love which God first had for us and demonstrated by sending His Son to die for us to redeem and save us.
Be careful that you do not do your righteous works in front of people, so that they will notice. If you do, you have no reward from your Father who is in heaven. Do not store up treasures for yourselves on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. 20 But store up treasures for yourselves in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal.Matthew 6:1, 19-20
February 15: Philemon and Onesimus
Philemon and Onesimus (both 1st century AD – c. 68), were members of the Church in Colossae. Philemon was a presumably wealthy man who owned both a house big enough for the Colossian Church to meet in as well as slaves, including Onesimus. At one point, Onesimus ran away and wound up in Rome where Paul was imprisoned. There they met and under the teaching of Paul Onesimus became a Christian. This is the circumstance surrounding Paul’s epistle to Philemon, asking that he would forgive Onesimus who is now his own brother in Christ and even carrying this letter to Philemon. He also encourages him to free Onesimus so that as a fellow Christian he would be able to help in either Philemon’s or Paul’s ministry. Paul does not compel Philemon because he wants this good work to be done willingly and voluntarily rather than forced. Philemon and Onesimus then stand out for us as an example of brotherly love, reconciliation, and forgiveness within the congregation.
I wanted to keep him with me, so that he might serve me in your place while I am in chains for the gospel. But I did not want to do anything without your consent, so that your kindness would not be the result of compulsion, but of willingness. Perhaps this is why he was separated from you for a while: so that you would have him back forever, no longer as a slave, but as more than a slave, as a dear brother.Philemon 13-16a
February 16: Philip Melanchthon (birth), Confessor
Phlip Melanchthon (February 16, 1497 – April 19, 1560), was a lay theologian and reformer during the 16th century Reformation. Melanchthon was a fellow professor at Wittenberg University and close friend of Martin Luther. Melanchthon was graced by the Lord with a gift for languages and a systematic thinking. He wrote his first academic work, a Greek Grammar, at the age of 21 and also wrote a Latin Grammar, was fluent in Biblical Hebrew (rare in those days), and wrote a rhetoric text that is still used today in places. However, the Lord used him the most in the theological controversies of the Reformation. Melanchthon is the author of both the Augsburg Confession and its Apology (that is, Defense) which are the primary confessions of the Book of Concord. His ability to think systematically allowed him to organize clearly the teachings of the Evangelical Church to present them before the Holy Roman Emperor at Augsburg. His knowledge of Greek and Latin, the Church Fathers, and Canon Law allowed him to present and defend the Lutheran position as being not only in accordance with the Scriptural truth, but also that which has always been taught and seen as true within the Church in opposition to Rome’s claims. While his reputation suffered as a result of his willingness to change the wording in one article of the Augsburg Confession later to allow John Calvin to agree to it, Melanchthon himself never gave up his own Biblical position. One of his theological texts, known as Theological Commonplaces, formed the basis and set the pattern for later theologians such as Martin Chemnitz and Johann Gerhard, both theologians who taught boldly the Scriptural truth.
Then I will speak of your testimonies before kings, and I will not be put to shame.Psalm 119:46
February 18: Martin Luther, Doctor and Confessor
Martin Luther (November 10, 1483 – February 18, 1546), was a reformer and doctor of the Church during the 16th century Reformation. Through Luther’s writings about the doctrine of indulgences and dispute with Johann Tetzel, the Lord brought about the reformation of His Church, bringing more into focus the truth of salvation by grace through faith and the proper place and use of the sacraments. Originally training to be a lawyer, after a frightening trip through a storm Luther vowed to leave his studies and become a monk. In the monastery Luther was known for the seriousness with which he took his vows and Augustinian rule and rose quickly among the ranks of the Augustinian Order. Eventually, on the advice of his father-confessor Johann von Staupitz, he was sent to Wittenberg to teach theology at the newly founded university. In the midst of his teaching, studying, and controversy with Tetzel, Luther was convinced of the Scriptural truth of justification by grace through faith. This Scriptural truth would eventually become the centre of Reformation. This was important because this teaching had become intertwined and obscured by much dross and other false teachings. Luther taught clearly and fiercely held to this Biblical truth, even as he was threatened with death and he saw the martyrdom of his fellow Augustinians who agreed with this Scriptural teaching. Because of this, he is called a doctor, or teacher, of the Church.
For we conclude that a person is justified by faith without the works of the law.Romans 3:28
February 23: Polycarp, Pastor and Martyr
Polycarp of Smyrna (65 – 155) was the bishop of the church in Smyrna and a martyr for the faith in Christ Jesus. Polycarp was a disciple of the Apostle John and based on his speech recorded in the account of his martyrdom seems to have been a Christian from a very young age as he is said to have served Christ for 80 years. Only one of Polycarp’s works survives, a letter written to the Christians in Philippi. This letter is one which clearly teaches salvation in Christ by grace through faith and encourages the Christians in Philippi to lives of holiness while referring to the words of our Lord and those of Paul to them and the other churches. After his martyrdom, an account was circulated that documented his last days and presented his faithful confession of Christ before the governor and before the whole of the arena who had gathered to see him killed. This document served as a way to encourage fellow believers at a time of persecution, encouraging them to continue in the faith and to pray for those who persecuted them. From some of the earliest days, Polycarp has been an example of faithfulness in the midst of persecution, this gift is one which can only be given by God, and something which we thank Him for and likewise pray that He would grant this same gift to those facing persecution.
But I say to you who are listening: Love your enemies. Do good to those who hate you. Bless those who curse you. Pray for those who mistreat you. If someone strikes you on one cheek, offer the other too. If someone takes away your coat, do not withhold your shirt. Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes away your things, do not demand them back.Luke 6:27-30
February 24: St. Matthias, Apostle
St. Matthias (1st century AD – c. 80) was an apostle of the Lord, chosen after His ascension into heaven. After the death of the betrayer Judas Iscariot there was an empty office of apostle among the Twelve. After a time of prayer following the Lord’s ascension, Peter preached that the Holy Spirit had spoken through the Scriptures concerning Judas’ death and his replacement (Acts 1:13-20). And so began the search for his replacement. The one who would replace him would need to be one who had followed the Lord from the beginning and had been a witness of His resurrection. Two were put forward by the community of believers, Matthias and Joseph Barsabbas (also called Justus). After prayer, the Lord revealed through a lot that Matthias was to be chosen (Acts 1:21-26). After this event Matthias is not mentioned again in Acts. Some see this as a sign that it was wrong to replace Judas, and rather they should have waited until Jesus chose someone Himself, that is, Paul. However, the text of Acts is clear that Matthias was chosen by the Lord. In addition, many other of the Apostles are not mentioned in the rest of Acts. Rather than showing this as a “mistake” it instead shows his humble work as a preacher, teacher, and evangelist. Matthias worked quietly, without recognition, like most within the Body of Christ. Thus, he serves as an example of humbly serving in our own vocations without desire for reward or recognition on our part. There are multiple traditions surrounding his death, some say that he died peacefully, while others that he was martyred in the region of Colchis.
Therefore, beyond this, brothers, just as you received instruction from us about how you are to walk so as to please God (as indeed you are doing), we ask and urge you in the Lord Jesus that you do so even more.1 Thessalonians 4:1
- January Thoughts… For All the Saints
Over the last number of months we at Our Saviour have been remembering those who have run the race and gone on before us in the faith in our prayers. We have been thanking God for their witness and example and praying that God would enable us to follow their examples of faith and life as it applies to each of us.
However, not all of the names of those we have been remembering have been familiar to all. And so, to help us in our remembrance and to to see the examples of their faith that we may follow them as runners who have already finished the race by God’s grace, I have decided to write small introductions to all those we remember (as well as any special days) that we might grow in our faith together.
All of these saints and days can be found in Lutheran Service Book on pages xi-xiii. Those that are italicized are not found in LSB, but are in Liturgies et Cantiques Luthériens, the French language hymnal prepared by LCC and used by our French-speaking sister congregations as well as French Lutherans around the world. These can also be found on pages xi-xiii of the LCL.
All Scripture quotations are from the Evangelical Heritage Version (find more information here). All Old Testament dates are based on The Lutheran Study Bible from CPH.
January 1: Circumcision of our Lord and Name of Jesus
Our new year begins right away with a festival which is centred on the life of our Lord. This day commemorates and remembers the Lord’s first step in His fulfilling of the Law for us: His circumcision, making Him under the covenant of Israel. We also remember this day His naming and so celebrate His name. These events are spoken of only very briefly in Luke 2:21. Unlike today where children are named at birth, often at this time the male children would officially be named at their circumcision eight days later. That is why we remember this today, January 1 being eight days after Christmas. This day is also the day which the Lord also began His passive obedience. That is, this is the first time which our Lord shed His blood for us, pointing forward to the cross where He would shed His blood for the forgiveness of our sins after fulfilling the Law for us. Jesus’ name is also good to meditate on. For in His name we see who He is and what He accomplishes for: The Lord is Salvation. Throughout the year, as we remember those who have gone before us, may we always keep our eyes forward on Jesus, their saviour and ours.
After eight days passed, when the child was circumcised, he was named Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb.Luke 2:21
Therefore God also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.Philippians 2:9-11
January 2: J. K. Wilhelm Loehe, Pastor
Johann Konrad Wilhelm Loehe (February 21, 1808 – January 2, 1872) was a pastor who was very influential in the founding of the Lutheran Church — Missouri Synod, our mother church body. Loehe was responsible for training many men in the ministry who would be sent to America as pastors for newly founded congregations and as missionaries. He thought that it was especially important that those he trained as missionaries would not only serve the German speaking people, but also the First Nations who lived on the edges of the frontier. He also helped organize a number of groups who would settle in Michigan. At the founding convention of the LCMS, over half of the pastors present were men trained by Loehe. In addition to training pastors, Loehe also instituted and trained an order of women called deaconesses who strove to serve the people of God and their neighbours through acts of charity and mercy. All this he was able to do without leaving his parish in Neuendettelsau, Bavaria.
And how can they preach unless they are sent? Just as it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news of peace, who preach the gospel of good things!”Romans 10:15
January 3: Genevieve
Genevieve (c. 419/422 – 502/512) was an exemplary Christian woman who devoted her life to a life of service to God’s people in and around Paris. Genevieve never married as from a young age she knew she wanted to serve the Church through acts of love and mercy and at that time that was not something she would have been able to do had she married. She remained at home and took care of both of her parents until their deaths, afterwards, she moved to Paris. One particular story demonstrates her love for God’s people. During the siege of Paris by Childeric I, a non-Christian Frankish king, Genevieve bravely left the city in order to gather food to bring to the poor and needy who were especially suffering. She also went to Childeric in order to plead with him to release many of the prisoners of war which he had captured. Childeric was so moved by her faith that he obliged. In addition, Genevieve is remembered for her constant prayer and her encouragement of her brothers and sisters in Christ to prayer, especially in difficult times, something we can always be encouraged to as well.
Walk in wisdom in the way you act toward those on the outside, making the most of your opportunity. Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you know how you are to answer each person.Colossians 4:5-6
January 6: The Epiphany of our Lord
After the season of Christmas we celebrate the Epiphany of our Lord. However, because this feast is tied to a specific day, rather than a Sunday, sometimes we may miss it. Epiphany comes from a Greek word which means “manifestation” or “appearance.” This rightly describes the day as Epiphany celebrates the manifestation of Jesus Christ as God in the flesh to the Gentiles. Thus, this day surrounds the visit of the Magi (Gentiles most likely from Babylon) and their bringing of gifts and worship to the Lord Jesus. Thus, Jesus is manifested as King of Kings and Lord of Lords, as these men from other nations come to worship Him. Epiphany is also closely related to the other manifestations of Jesus’ divinity. As the first Sunday after the Epiphany is the Sunday where we remember the Baptism of our Lord. The following Sundays all likewise look at His various miracles which show His divinity. Finally, the season of Epiphany ends with the Transfiguration, the revelation of His glory to His three chosen disciples before He begins His journey to Jerusalem to die for the sins of the world.
After listening to [Herod], they went on their way. Then the star they had seen when it rose went ahead of them, until it stood still over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they rejoiced with overwhelming joy. After they went into the house and saw the child with Mary, his mother, they bowed down and worshipped him. Then they opened their treasures and offered him gifts: gold, frankincense, and myrrh.Matthew 2:9-11
January 10: The Cappadocian Fathers
The Cappadocian Fathers are three pastors and theologians from the region of Cappadocia (in modern day Turkey) in the fourth century: Basil the Great (330 – 379), his brother Gregory of Nyssa (c. 335 – 395), and their close friend Gregory of Nazianzus (329 – 389). These three theologians were defenders of Trinitarian orthodoxy including both the full divinity and full humanity of Jesus against those that denied one or the other. These three were also instrumental in helping to formulate the wording of the third article of the Nicene Creed (more properly, the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed) at the First Council of Constantinople in 381. And so, whenever we confess the Nicene Creed together as a congregation, we are confessing what these men helped to write as we confess before the world and one another the truth about our great God and Saviour.
But regard the Lord, the Christ, as holy in your hearts. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give a reason for the hope that is in you.1 Peter 3:15
January 14: Hilary of Poitiers, Theologian
Hilary of Poitiers (c. 310 – 367) was another fourth century theologian and defender of the orthodox faith against heretics. What makes Hilary unique is that unlike many of the great early fourth century theologians is that he wrote in Latin rather than Greek because he was from the West, specifically Gaul, in modern France. Hilary was born to a pagan family and raised with a pagan education in both Latin and Greek. When he later undertook to read the Old and New Testament the Lord worked through the Word to convert him to the true faith. As a result Hilary, his wife, and daughter were all baptized. Hilary was eventually elected as bishop of Poitiers and in this role was especially important in teaching the true faith and driving out Arianism, keeping it from becoming entrenched in Gaul. Because of his convictions, Hilary was eventually exiled for 4 years. During these years he continued to defend the faith through writing. He left writings including a book On the Trinity as well as books exegeting the Scriptures. He also leaves for us an example of one who suffered during his life on account of Christ.
Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven. In fact, that is how they persecuted the prophets who were before you.Matthew 5:11-12
January 15: Remi, Pastor and Missionary to the Franks
Remi (c. 437 – January 13, 533), most often known as Remigius in English, is the first of the great missionaries that we remember in the year. As a civil servant Remi was well known in the city of Reims for his piety and knowledge of the Scriptures so that while still a layman he was elected bishop of the city (this happened with multiple early Church leaders as we will see this year!). Remi is most known for his missionary work among the Frankish people, especially that of Clovis, the king of the Franks. Through Remi’s preaching, as well as the witness of one of Clovis’ Christian wives Clothilde (more on that later in the year), the king eventually converted to the true faith and was baptized on Christmas 496. With this, many of the other Frankish nobles and leaders also desired to be baptized. As a result of this Remi, who was a well respected pastor and teacher, oversaw much of the teaching and missionary work among the Franks ensuring that they had good teachers across the kingdom to teach the faith and lead the people. The example of Remi and all missionaries encourages us to follow in sharing the good news with those around us.
[Jesus] told them, “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. So ask the Lord of the harvest to send out workers into his harvest field.”Luke 10:2
January 18: The Confession of St. Peter
In the early Church, two Apostles stand out among the Twelve in the book of Acts: Peter and Paul. Because the Lord had used these men in great ways for the advancement of the Gospel the Church has seen fit to honour them with two days each. One which they share together, and one each which commemorates an important event in their lives as Christ’s Apostles. The first which we remember is the Confession of St. Peter. This commemorates and celebrates the event which happens in Matthew 16:13-20, Mark 8:27-30, and Luke 9:18-21. Here we have the confession that Jesus is the “Christ, the Son of the living God” as Peter’s answer to the question to the disciples, “Who do you say that I am?” This confession was not something that Peter was able to come up with himself or something which he was told by others, but rather something that was revealed to him by God the Father. This confession, that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God is the solid rock upon which the Church is founded and upon which she stands so that even the gates of hell will not prevail against her. This confession of Peter stands as the basis for all later confessions of the Church from the Apostles’ Creed to the Formula of Concord. On the basis of this confession Jesus also first promises the Office of the Keys to Peter in this instance which He would later then give to the whole Church to be exercised by her office holders on her behalf (Matthew 18:18-20, John 20:21-23). Truly it is right to give thanks to God for this confession of Peter which we hold today.
[Jesus] said to them, “But you, who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter answered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”Matthew 16:15-16
January 20: Sarah, Matriarch
On this day we commemorate our first Old Testament saint, Sarah (c. 2156 – c. 2030 BC), the wife of Abraham and mother of Isaac. Sarah was originally born Sarai (Genesis 11:29) but when the Lord instituted the covenant of circumcision with Abraham and changed his name He also changed Sarai’s to Sarah as she would be the mother of many nations, even in her old age (Genesis 17:15-16). The account of Sarah is the first of the many accounts of barren women in the Old Testament who are then blessed with a child of promise by the Lord. These miraculous births, beginning with Sarah, all point to the virgin birth of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ as types and shadows. These show us that the Lord has always been preparing our salvation through His Son. Because of Sarah’s belief in the promises of God, she too is one who held to the true faith. The difference from us, however, is that she looked forward to the Christ while we look back to Him. Even though Sarah originally doubted the Lord’s promise of a son, the Lord was still faithful (Genesis 18:10-15; 21:1). Thanks be to God for His faithfulness to His promises, even when we are not always faithful to Him!
Sarah said, “God has made me laugh. Everyone who hears will laugh with me.” She said, “Who would have said to Abraham that Sarah would nurse children? Yet I have borne a son for him in his old age.”Genesis 21:6-7
January 24: St. Timothy, Pastor and Confessor
Timothy (c. 17 – c. 97), was one of the companions of Paul on his missionary journeys and eventually was left by Paul in Ephesus to oversee the Church in that place, making him the first bishop of Ephesus. Timothy was especially beloved of Paul and Paul viewed him as his child in the faith (1 Timothy 1:2). Timothy met Paul while he was in Lystra. His mother was a Jewish Christian while his father was a Greek. It does not appear that his father was Christian, as it was his mother Lois and grandmother Eunice that taught him in the Scriptures from his infancy (2 Timothy 3:15). Timothy was the recipient of two letters from Paul (1 and 2 Timothy) and was present with Paul when he wrote six of his letters (2 Corinthians, Philippians, Colossians, 1 Thessalonians, 2 Thessalonians, and Philemon). When Paul was awaiting martyrdom in Rome, he summoned Timothy to come and be with him. While the Scriptures do not speak to his death, traditionally it is held that the Lord granted Timothy the crown of martyrdom in Ephesus while he interrupted a pagan religious procession in order to preach the Gospel of Jesus to them in his old age. Timothy is thus an example of a faithful pastor, friend, and witness of the Gospel.
I am entrusting this instruction to you, Timothy, my child, according to the prophecies about you, which were made earlier, so that by them you may fight the good fight, with faith and a good conscience.1 Timothy 1:18-19a
January 25: The Conversion of St. Paul
This is the second feast day that is paired with that of the Confession of St. Peter which commemorates an event in the lives of Christ’s Apostles. This remembers and celebrates the conversion of Paul from a prosecutor of the Church to the great Apostle to the Gentiles. The event is recorded in Acts 9:1-19 where the Lord Jesus appears to Paul while he is on the way to Damascus in order to arrest Christians and as a result of this Christophany Paul is blinded. It ends with his baptism at the hands of Ananias in Damascus. This event, orchestrated by Christ, was a pivotal moment in Paul’s life. He himself recounts it two more times in Acts (22:1-16; 26:1-18) as well as twice in his letters (1 Corinthians 15:3-8; Galatians 1:11-16). It was at this time when the Lord appeared to Paul that he was given the command that he will be the Lord’s special servant in the mission to the Gentiles. This event thus began the great events of the second half of the book of Acts and all the rest of Paul’s work as an Apostle of Jesus in spreading the Gospel of salvation as well as writing over half of the books which make up the New Testament Scriptures. It is truly good, right, and salutary to give thanks to God for this great event in the history of the Church and the world.
For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the Twelve. After that he appeared to over five hundred brothers at the same time, most of whom are still alive, but some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, and then to all the apostles. Last of all, he appeared also to me, the stillborn child, so to speak.1 Corinthians 15:3-8
January 26: St. Titus, Pastor and Confessor
Titus (1st century AD – c. 97/107) was another companion of Paul and recipient of a pastoral epistle like Timothy, as such, it is appropriate to commemorate both Titus and Timothy bookending the Conversion of St. Paul. Compared to Timothy, we know relatively little about Titus’ life. However, we do know that he himself was a Greek convert to Christianity, and unlike Timothy, whom Paul had circumcised to help with missionary efforts among the Jews, Paul refused to let Titus be circumcised in order to help combat the spread of the Judiazing heresy which said one needed to be circumcised and keep all the law to be saved (Galatians 2:3). Titus was also a trusted companion of Paul as he was used to carry important letters for him to the churches such as Paul’s lost “severe letter” to Corinth as well as 2 Corinthians (2 Corinthians 7). Eventually Paul left Titus in Crete in order to appoint pastors in all the congregations and oversee the growth of the Church there (Titus 1:5). Tradition holds that unlike many of the early Christian leaders, the Lord granted Titus a peaceful death.
But when the kindness and love of God our Savior toward mankind appeared, he saved us—not by righteous works that we did ourselves, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and the renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs in keeping with the hope of eternal life.Titus 3:4-7
January 27: John Chrysostom, Preacher and Confessor
John Chrysostom (c. 347 – September 14, 407), was an important early Church Father from Antioch in Syria and was eventually made archbishop of Constantinople, the imperial capital of the Roman Empire at the time. John was renowned for his preaching and was given the name Chrysostom, which means golden-mouthed. While singled out for the ministry, at first, he was reluctant to join, as he did not consider himself worthy of the office. Eventually he was ordained and in doing so took both the pastoral care and preaching parts of the office very seriously. This always remained with him, even as he advanced to overseeing the church in the capital of the empire where he still occupied himself with preaching and the pastoral care of all the members of his congregation rather than leaving that to other pastors under his supervision. The Lord had made John Chrysostom a brave and faithful preacher who was not afraid to preach the truth, even if it was unpopular, to those who had power in the empire. This included most famously the Empress Eudoxia whom he rebuked for her lavish lifestyle and pride. Because of this, Chrysostom was eventually exiled, where he died in 407. While most commemorations are on the day of one’s “heavenly birthday,” on days when they may interfere with others a different day is chosen (such as their birth). This day is the day when Chrysostom’s earthly remains arrived in Constantinople from his place of exile and were laid to rest. John Chrysostom is an example of a faithful pastor to pastors, and of one who speaks the truth of Christ no matter what to all.
Preach the word. Be ready whether it is convenient or not. Correct, rebuke, and encourage, with all patience and teaching.2 Timothy 4:2
This concludes this month’s feasts, festivals, and commemorations. Join us next month as we continue to look at those the Church has remembered over the years as examples for the faithful to follow and give thanks and praise to God for.
- December Thoughts… The Twelve Days of Christmas
One person esteems one day as better than another, while another esteems all days alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind.Romans 14:5
If there is anything that people both in and out of the Church know about the season of Christmas, it is that somehow twelve days have to do with it! This is in large part to the Christmas carol, The Twelve Days of Christmas. On TV, movies, and even on the radio it is often seen as a countdown to Christmas. However, that is actually the number of days that the season of Christmas lasts. That is, from December 25 to January 6, which is Epiphany! Advent is both a time of hopeful waiting for the coming of Christ and a penitential season, similar to Lent. And just like Easter after Lent, Christmas is not juts one day, but full season of joy.
The song, The Twelve Days of Christmas, was first published around 1780, however, we do not know who exactly wrote it. Some, such as Hugh D. McKellar have suggested that these gifts in the song could be decoded to make a Roman Catholic catechism in order to teach the faith at a time when it was illegal in England. However, there is no evidence for the claim, and all the suggested meanings that were given are not anything which divided Roman Catholics and Anglicans! Quite strange to code hidden meanings from those who would agree with you on those things!
With that being said, there is no reason we can’t look at these things and use them in ways that are beneficial to our faith and build us up as we celebrate the season of Christmas! With that said, let us look at each gift, what we can connect it to, and how we might use them in our celebration of Christmas.
On the first day of Christmas, my true love sent to me, a partridge in a pear tree!
In this song, we look at the gifts of God to us, His Church. In the Old Testament, God Himself is seen as Israel’s husband. In the New Testament, Christ is called the bridegroom and the Church, His bride. And so, all the gifts we see can be seen as gifts from God to us.
The first gift, a partridge in a pear tree, reminds us of the reason that we celebrate Christmas: the Incarnation. In the incarnation God gives us Himself in His Son taking on flesh in order to die for us on the tree of the cross. This is always a good thing for us to remember and give thanks to God for!
On the second day of Christmas, my true love sent to me, two turtledoves.
The second gift, the two turtle doves, is usually said to represent the two testaments of the Scriptures, and thus, the whole of the Bible. This is a good thing for us to thank our Lord for! That He has given to us the revelation of Himself and His work to save us!
It also reminds us of the purification of Mary the presentation of Jesus at the Temple in Jerusalem, as in their poverty the sacrifice which they brought to the Temple to fulfill the Law was that of two turtledoves. “22 And when the time came for their purification according to the Law of Moses, they brought him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord 23 (as it is written in the Law of the Lord, “Every male who first opens the womb shall be called holy to the Lord”) 24 and to offer a sacrifice according to what is said in the Law of the Lord, “a pair of turtledoves, or two young pigeons”” (Luke 2:22-24). And so, we also remember that our Lord Jesus wholly fulfilled the Law in our place.
On the third day of Christmas, my true love sent to me, three French hens.
This gift is usually associated with what are traditionally called the three theological virtues: Faith, Hope, and Love. As St. Paul says in 1 Corinthians 13:13 “So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.”
But we can also remember the Creed as well, the summary of Christian doctrine, especially that of the Gospel and how the God who created us, also redeemed us, and sanctifies us! A good exercise might be to review the creed and meaning in the Small Catechism together as a family.
On the fourth day of Christmas, my true love sent to me, four calling birds.
For the fourth gift, and any time we hear the number four, reminds us of the four evangelists: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. The Lord chose these men to write down the events around Jesus life and His teachings so that the good news of what He has done for us may go out to all the world, to the north, south, east, and west and all places in between!
On the fifth day of Christmas, my true love sent to me, five golden rings.
Similarly to four making us think of the Gospels, the number five makes us think of the Five Books of Moses, also called the Penteteuch and the Torah. These were the first Scriptures which our Lord gave through Moses. Within these books we find many of the glorious promises of the Son and God’s salvation which He had planned for us. The very first already showing up in Genesis 3:15 as God speaks to the serpent saying, “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.”
On the sixth day of Christmas, my true love sent to me, six geese-a-laying.
This one may seem odd at first, but it has been connected to the days of creation, six in all. Where the Lord carefully and wonderfully planned out creation as He formed it and filled it by His word. First He creates the day and night, then He creates the sky, then He creates the land and seas and fills the land with plants. Then for the next three days He fills the places He has created! First, He “fills” the day and night with the sun, moon, and stars, then He fills the sky with birds and the waters with fish, and finally He fills the land with animals and crowns everything with those He created in His image: humanity.
On the seventh day of Christmas, my true love sent to me, seven swans-a-swimming.
This is often referred to speak of the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit which are said to be wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, piety, and the fear of the Lord. These are based on Isaiah 1:1-3a which states, “1 There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse, and a branch from his roots shall bear fruit. 2 And the Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him, the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and might, the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord.1 3 And his delight shall be in the fear of the Lord.”
We can also see the Lord’s Prayer, which is made up of seven petitions, in addition to the introduction and the conclusion. This might be a great time to review the Lord’s Prayer and meaning with your family.
1In the Septuagint (Greek Old Testament) and the Vulgate (Latin Bible) this first phrase is translated as piety, or godliness.
On the eighth day of Christmas, my true love sent to me, eight maids-a-milking.
This reminds us of the Sermon on the Mount and the Beatitudes.
3”Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
4“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.
5“Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.
6“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.
7“Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.
8“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.
9“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.
10“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5:3-10)
On the ninth day of Christmas, my true love sent to me, nine ladies dancing.
This one is very similar to the seventh day, but has a different referent. This day reminds us of the fruits of the Spirit which St. Paul lists in Galatians. “22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. 24 And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.” (Galatians 5:22-24).
The fruit of the Spirit certainly bring joy and are something that would inspire one to dance in gladness!
On the tenth day of Christmas, my true love sent to me, ten lords-a-leaping.
The tenth gift we see is ten lords-a-leaping. This reminds us of the Ten Commandments, which summarize God’s Law and His will for us as His people. While the Law shows us our sin, for those who have been born again in Christ Jesus it also shows us how God would have us order our lives and relationships. For the new man, the Law is a delight, as it shows us how to live a God-pleasing life. On this day of Christmas, why not go over the Ten Commandments in the Small Catechism with your family?
On the eleventh day of Christmas, my true love sent to me, eleven pipers piping.
This gift reminds us of the first disciples of our Lord. While He had called twelve, one had fallen away and betrayed Him with a kiss. And so, we see here the eleven faithful disciples of our Lord to whom He appeared after His resurrection. “13 And when day came, he called his disciples and chose from them twelve, whom he named apostles: 14 Simon, whom he named Peter, and Andrew his brother, and James and John, and Philip, and Bartholomew, 15 and Matthew, and Thomas, and James the son of Alphaeus, and Simon who was called the Zealot, 16 and Judas the son of James, and Judas Iscariot, who became a traitor.” (Luke 6:13-16)
On the twelfth day of Christmas, my true love sent to me, twelve drummers drumming.
With the last day we get to the number twelve, a number that shows up throughout the Scriptures. This number represents the Church, the people of God. The drummers remind us of a marching band, and bring to mind that while we are here we are part of the Church militant.
But why twelve? Jacob, or Israel, had twelve sons, these sons and their descendants made up Israel and her twelve tribes. Likewise, Jesus had twelve disciples, and after Judas betrayed the Lord, Matthias was chosen to take his place so that there were still twelve. In Revelation 21:12-14 the heavenly Jerusalem is described as a city having twelve gates and twelve foundations. Thus, twelve throughout the Scriptures reminds us of the Church.