ILC commends Dr. Collver for faithful service, names Interim General Secretary

Rev. Dr. Albert Collver speaks at the ILC’s 2018 World Conference in Antwerp, Belgium.

WORLD – The International Lutheran Council (ILC) has named Darin Storkson as Interim General Secretary, taking over for Rev. Dr. Albert Collver who announced his resignation as General Secretary earlier this month.

In a farewell letter to members of the ILC Executive Committee, Dr. Collver cited a desire to pursue other opportunities. “I appreciate your service on the Executive Committee,” he wrote to his colleagues, “and believe that the ILC is important for worldwide Lutheranism. I wish you all well.” Dr. Collver first joined the ILC as its Executive Secretary in October 2012.

The Executive Committee received his resignation with great regret. “Dr. Collver’s service to the International Lutheran Council and world Lutheranism has been extraordinary, with far reaching results and accomplishments,” noted Bishop Hans-Jörg Voigt, Chairman of the ILC. “We thank him for his invaluable work, and we pray every blessing upon him as the Lord places him in his next field of service to the church.”

Dr. Collver’s tenure as General Secretary saw the International Lutheran Council dramatically increase its presence on the world stage. During his service, the ILC entered into an international informal dialogue with the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity; officially incorporated, and adopted new bylaws; welcomed 20 new church bodies into membership over two successive world conferences; and launched the Lutheran Leadership Development Program, among other accomplishments.

Darin Storkson at the ILC’s 2018 World Conference in Antwerp, Belgium.

On March 19, the ILC Executive Committee appointed Darin Storkson to serve as Interim General Secretary. Prior to this, Storkson served as ILC Deputy General Secretary. He began working with the ILC in 2017.

“Darin Storkson brings great knowledge of the work of the International Lutheran Council, having served with Dr. Collver for some time,” noted ILC Chairman Voigt. “He will ensure the important work begun in recent years not only continues but thrives. May God bless him in this new role, and through him the witness of confessional Lutherans worldwide.

Storkson has a strong background in international affairs, formerly serving as a diplomat with the International Committee of the Red Cross, a foreign direct investment consultant, and a director in various international roles for The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod for fourteen years.

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ILC welcomes Tanzanian Lutheran diocese into membership

Rev. Dr. Naomichi Masaki, ELCT-SELVD Bishop Emmanuel Makala, Rev. Dr. Daniel Mono, and ILC General Secretary Albert Collver.

GERMANY – On February 27, 2019, the International Lutheran Council (ILC)) welcomed the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Tanzania – South East of Lake Victoria Diocese (ELCT-SELVD) as a Recognized Organization observer member. Their acceptance was formally declared in Wittenberg, Germany following a decision of the ILC’s Executive Committee.

“We are so joyful that we have been accepted as a member of the ILC in an observer status,” said ELCT-SELVD Bishop Emmanuel Makala. “Through our authorized decision-making Assemblies, we have found that the ILC is a safe place for encouragement and learning.”

The Pastor’s Committee of ELCT-SELVD voted to seek ILC membership in January 2019.

The Pastors’ Committee of ELCT-SELVD voted unanimously to seek membership in the ILC on January 24, 2019.

“We understand that there is a big contradiction between the teachings and practices of African churches and much of world Lutheranism today,” Bishop Makala continued. “We pray for and witness to those who would change the church into a secular entity focused solely on human rights rather than on being the Church.” For that reason, he said, the ELCT-SELVD is grateful for the work of the International Lutheran Council. “The ILC remains faithful to the Scriptures and the Confessions. We remain also in that understanding and will not abuse our consciences.”

ELCT-SELVD Bishop Emmanuel Makala and ILC General Secretary Albert Collver

Rev. Dr. Albert Collver, ILC General Secretary, welcomed Bishop Makala and the ELCT-SELVD warmly. “It is a joy to welcome the South East of Lake Victoria Diocese into the ILC family,” said Dr. Collver. “Bishop Makala is a faithful leader of the church and we look forward to the ELCT-SELVD’s participation in the life and work of the International Lutheran Council.”

The decision to seek affiliation with the ILC has been a natural progression for the ELCT-SELVD, with Bishop Makala having been a regular guest at ILC world events over the past five years. Most recently, Bishop Makala and another member of the ELCT-SELVD are participating in the Lutheran Leadership Development Program.

“I congratulate Bishop Dr. Emmanuel Makala and his beloved diocese for joining the ILC,” said Rev. Dr. Naomichi Masaki, Associate Professor at Concordia Theological Seminary (Fort Wayne, Indiana) and Director of the Lutheran Leadership Development Program. “It has been my highest privilege to know him very closely over the course of so many years. Bishop Makala has always been a faithful confessor of doctrine and in all its articles. All he has done as bishop has been motivated not by some personal gain but for the sake of his people.”

“I agree with many who consider him as a Luther for this age in Tanzania,” Dr. Masaki continued. “His people rejoice with him on this occasion because they know that they will continue to be cared for by their Savior through faithful administration of the pure Word of God and sacraments according to Christ’s institution. I join with all of the beloved saints in his diocese in praising the Lord for His faithfulness to them and all of us!”

The decision of the ELCT-SELVD to affiliate with the International Lutheran Council received praise from other African Lutherans as well. “I would like to express my sincere congratulations to Rev. Dr. Emmanuel Joseph Makala, Bishop of the ELCT-SELVD, because you have been accepted as a member of the International Lutheran Council,” said General Secretary Teshome Amenu of the Ethiopian Evangelical Church Mekane Yesus. “This is a historic and special moment because this agreement was made in Wittenberg, Germany, where Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses and called the church back to the authority of the Holy Scriptures five hundred years ago. Let us remain faithful to the Holy Scriptures and Lutherans Confessions!”

Rev. Dr. Daniel Mono, a District Pastor in the ELCT-SELVD, also expressed joy at their diocese’s welcome into the ILC. “It was such good news for all of us to be accepted as members of the International Lutheran Council,” he said. “We are looking forward to being active and faithful members; faithful to the Gospel of Jesus Christ, administering sacraments as instituted and mandated to us by Jesus Christ.”

“With no doubt, God has heard the prayers of pastors and members of ELCT- South East of Lake Victoria Diocese,” he continued. “We all regard the ten documents in the Bok of Concord as true interpretations of the Bible. We are looking forward to cooperating in various ways.”

While the South East of Lake Victoria Dioceses is a member of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Tanzania, it is also an independently constituted legal entity, allowing it to affiliate with the International Lutheran Council. The diocese has approximately 23,000 members, 72 congregations, and 72 pastors. The diocese was established in 2012 and officially inaugurated in 2013 as a result of rapid growth in the region.

At its 2018 World Conference, the ILC announced new membership categories that allow for a wider variety of observer members. One of these classes—Recognized Organizations—allows “ecclesiastical organizations other than or at a different level than organized church bodies” to seek observer membership, allowing “councils, districts, dioceses, organized movements, and individual congregations” to affiliate with the ILC.

More information on the different membership categories in the International Lutheran Council, including how to apply, is available here.

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Commentary: Methodist rejection of same-sex marriage is a victory for Christians of the Global South

by Mathew Block

News that the United Methodist Church (UMC) has reaffirmed the historic teaching of Christianity on same-sex relationships is a welcome surprise, and represents a victory for Christians of the Global South.

The 2019 General Conference of the UMC, which just met in St. Louis, Missouri, was widely expected to be a turning point for Methodists. A vast majority of bishops were pushing for the adoption of the “One Church Plan,” which would have seen the church strike prohibitions on the marriage of same-sex couples and the ordination of practicing homosexual ministers in the United States, and open up the possibility for other countries to follow suit.

The plan, however, was defeated by a vote of 449 to 374 (about 55 percent to 45 percent). Instead, delegates voted in favor of the Traditional Plan, reaffirming the church’s historic position on gender by a vote of 438 to 384 (about 53 percent to 47 percent).

So what happened? How did the historic Christian understanding of sexuality carry the day against the wishes of most UMC bishops? The answer is simple: Africa said no.

For a long time, the affluent church in the United States has pressed dependent churches in Africa and elsewhere to adopt the progressive ideologies of western mainline Protestantism. But the churches of the Global South have resisted, culminating in the recent votes at the UMC General Conference.

That experience is hardly unique to Methodism. We see the same thing happening in world Lutheranism. A few years ago, Rev. Dr. Albert Collver, General Secretary of the International Lutheran Council, published an article entitled “Colonialism in the Global South: The Imperialism of Western Sexual Ethics.” There he argues that the imposition of western progressive theology on churches in places like Africa represents a new form of colonial oppression by western churches.

And yet, many mainline Protestants seem to think the opposite. In his article, Dr. Collver notes a 2014 essay from the Lutheran World Federation which argued that “the rejection of homosexual love” was itself “another form of colonialism.”

This position leads to the incongruous image of western Protestants accusing their African brethren of colonialism, even as they attempt to push western progressive theology on their dissenting historic colonies. What is more, western mainline Protestants are increasingly tying financial support for churches in places like Africa with the acceptance and promotion of progressive ideology on issues like sexuality—an apparent attempt to starve out dissenters.

Despite this pressure, many churches of the Global South have firmly resisted attempts by westerners to impose progressive theology. Churches like the Ethiopian Evangelical Church Mekane Yesus, for example, have made their opposition to same-sex marriage clearly known, rebuking western church bodies which have departed from Scriptural teaching in this matter.

Their position will only become stronger, given the rapid growth of Christianity in the Global South. This is especially true as mainline Protestantism in the West continues its long decline.

It was precisely this sort of situation—the growth of Christianity in the Global South and the decline of mainline Protestantism in the West—which led to the dramatic showdown at the United Methodist Church’s recent General Conference. Unlike many denominations which have separate national church bodies in different countries, the UMC functions as a single church body throughout multiple nations. So while western progressives planned to push through divisive doctrinal change on the issue of sexuality, the growth of Methodism in the Global South meant Africans (who now make up more than 40 percent of all United Methodists worldwide) had a much stronger voice than in years past—and a much greater share of voting delegates.

Their voice was powerfully present during the General Conference. This was particularly true during a speech by the Liberian theologian Dr. Jerry P. Kulah on the morning of February 23. “We Africans are not children in need of western enlightenment when it comes to the church’s sexual ethics,” he said. “We do not need to hear a progressive U.S. bishop lecture us about our need to ‘grow up.’”

His words are a stunning rebuke to the colonialist ideologies of western mainline Protestantism. He continued:

“We Africans, whether we have liked it or not, have had to engage in this debate for many years now. We stand with the global church, not a culturally liberal, church elite, in the U.S.

We stand with our Filipino friends! We stand with our sisters and brothers in Europe and Russia! And yes, we stand with our allies in America.

We stand with farmers in Zambia, tech workers in Nairobi, Sunday School teachers in Nigeria, biblical scholars in Liberia, pastors in the Congo, United Methodist Women in Cote d’Ivoire, and thousands of other United Methodists all across Africa who have heard no compelling reasons for changing our sexual ethics, our teachings on marriage, and our ordination standards!

We are grounded in God’s word and the gracious and clear teachings of our church. On that we will not yield! We will not take a road that leads us from the truth! We will take the road that leads to the making of disciples of Jesus Christ for transformation of the world!”

That stance may mean some financial difficulties for orthodox Methodists in Africa and elsewhere if western Christians choose to withhold funding. But that doesn’t mean African Methodists will back down. Dr. Kulah continued:

“Some United Methodists in the U.S. have the very faulty assumption that all Africans are concerned about is U.S. financial support. Well, I am sure, being sinners like all of you, some Africans are fixated on money.

But with all due respect, a fixation on money seems more of an American problem than an African one. We get by on far less than most Americans do; we know how to do it. I’m not so sure you do. So if anyone is so naïve or condescending as to think we would sell our birth right in Jesus Christ for American dollars, then they simply do not know us.”

These are powerful words, and well worth reflecting on in our own Lutheran circles. Many Lutheran church bodies today face similar pressures to submit to western ideologies contrary to the teachings of Scripture. You who resist are to be commended for your faithfulness in the midst of great challenges. I pray that the words of the great Lutheran hymnwriter Paul Gerhardt will give you strength to meet whatever challenges you may face:

If God Himself be for me,
I may a host defy;

For when I pray, before me
My foes, confounded, fly.
If Christ, my Head and Master,
Befriend me from above,
What foe or what disaster
Can drive me from His love?

May that love of God be your strength as you continue to stand firm in His Word. And as you stand firm, know that we in the International Lutheran Council stand with you. May God bless you and your churches with every good thing in Christ.

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

Classes begin for Lutheran Leadership Development Program

Rev. Dr. Albert Collver, ILC General Secretary, teaches LLDP students in Wittenberg.

GERMANY – Students from across the world have converged on Wittenberg, Germany for the inaugural classes of the Lutheran Leadership Development Program (LLDP).

Rev. Dr. Naomichi Masaki, LLDP Director, teaches in Wittenberg.

“It’s a joy to welcome our first cohort of students, our dear colleagues and brothers in the ministry” said Rev. Dr. Naomichi Masaki, Director of the LLDP and a professor with Concordia Theological Seminary in Fort Wayne, Indiana (CTSFW). “We pray for God’s richest blessing on each of them as they begin their studies. May the Lord make fruitful use of what they learn over the next two years as well as the time they spend with each other and teaching faculty, to encourage solid confessional Lutheran witness in their respective churches.”

In total, eight students are currently in Germany, with four other LLLDP students unable to attend this set of classes due to visa difficulties. The initial class of twelve includes pastors, bishops, and other church leaders from the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Ghana, the Free Evangelical Lutheran Synod in South Africa, the Lutheran Church in Southern Africa, the Lutheran Church of Nigeria, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Tanzania, the Ethiopian Evangelical Church Mekane Yesus, and the Malagasy Lutheran Church.

Dr. Masaki (second from right) joins LLDP students for a meal.

The current round of studies in Wittenberg runs from February 18-March 1, 2019. Dr. Masaki is teaching a course on the “Theology of the Lutheran Confessions,” while Rev. Dr. Albert Collver, General Secretary of the International Lutheran Council (ILC), will teach “World Lutheranism and the Ecumenical Movement.”

Birthplace of the Reformation

“Wittenberg is a natural place to hold the first round of classes in the Lutheran Leadership Development Program, given the city’s history as the birthplace of the Reformation” explained Dr. Collver. “Here in Wittenberg, students will have the opportunity to study Lutheran history up close.” During their studies, students will visit nearby Reformation sites, including Martin Luther House, Melanchthon House, St. Mary’s Church, and the Castle Church. Excursions to other Reformation sites, such as the Wartburg, Eisleben, Erfurt, and Torgauis also planned.

The International Lutheran Center at the Old Latin School in Wittenberg.

Classes in Wittenberg will be held at the International Lutheran Center at the Old Latin School. The building was first constructed in 1564 as a school for boys, and is situated just across from the City Church—St. Mary’s—where Luther preached regularly. After an extended period sitting derelict, the building was purchased in 2006 and underwent extensive renovations over several years under the care of the International Lutheran Society of Wittenberg—a joint project of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS), the Independent Evangelical Lutheran Church in Germany (SELK), and Concordia Publishing House (CPH).

Today the International Lutheran Center provides a welcoming space for visitors and locals in Wittenberg to learn, grow, study, meet, retreat, and hear the Gospel.

The LLDP

The Lutheran Leadership Development Program is a two-year certificate program which aims to provide Lutheran church bodies around the world an opportunity to develop leaders who are competent in both solid confessional Lutheran theology as well as practical skills in leadership and resource management. The program is a project of the International Lutheran Council, working in cooperation with the LCMS, CPH, and CTSFW.

Students in the LLDP meet three times a year over a two year period for a total of twelve courses. Additional course work, writings, and examinations take place at a distance.

The next round of classes will take place at Concordia Theological Seminary in Fort Wayne, Indiana from July 8-19, 2019.

You can support the Lutheran Leadership Development Program by making a donation online. You can also make a by cheque to:

International Lutheran Council
PO Box 18775
St. Louis, MO 63118

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Guatemalan Lutherans elect new president

Newly elected President Ignacio Chan of the Lutheran Church in Guatemala.

GUATEMALA – On January 26, 2019, the Lutheran Church in Guatemala (Iglesia Luterana en Guatemala – ILG) elected Rev. Ignacio Chan as its new president during the church’s 2019 Assembly in Cristo Rey.

President Chan President Chan succeeds Rev. Abdiel Orozco Aguirre, who was first elected as president of the ILG in 2015.

The newly elected officers of the Lutheran Church in Guatemala.

Also elected during the 2019 Assembly were Rev. Byron Paz as Vice President, Luís Mazariegos as Secretary, and Efraín García as Treasurer. The new officers were installed on January 26 by Rev. David Rodriguez, a former President of the Guatemalan church. President Chan officially took office on January 30.

“I put myself at your service as a simple and humble worker in the vineyard of the Lord, trusting in your prayers,” said President Chan in an email following his election. “With the help of God, we will work in harmony.”

The International Lutheran Council (ILC), of which the ILG is a member church, sent greetings to President Chan following his election. “Congratulations and God’s blessings on the election in your church,” said ILC Chairman Hans-Jörg Voigt (Bishop of Germany’s Independent Evangelical Lutheran Church). “St. Augustine once wrote on the duties of a bishop as follows: He may ‘reprehend the troublemakers, console the faint-hearted, take care of the weak, refute the adversaries, beware of entrapment, arouse the languid, restrain those looking for quarrels, put the vain in their proper place, appease those who argue with one another, teach the uneducated, help the poor, set free those oppressed, encourage the good, bear with the wicked, and—oh—love them all.’ May God give you this love!”

The Lutheran Church in Guatemala has approximately 4,000 members in congregations throughout Guatemala.

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ILC and CPH partner together to provide 17,000 catechisms to churches around the world

CPH President Bruce G. Kintz poses with boxes of Small Catechisms ready to ship around the world.

WORLD – In November 2018, Concordia Publishing House shipped thousands of copies of Luther’s Small Catechism to church bodies around the world as part of the publisher’s partnered work with the International Lutheran Council.

In total, 17,000 copies of the visual edition of the Small Catechism (with Explanation) were shipped to Lutheran church bodies around the world, including to churches in Ghana, Nigeria, and the Philippines.

“For 150 years, God has blessed CPH with the ability to help equip churches around the world with the resources they need to support theological formation and strengthen Lutheran identity,” said Dr. Bruce G. Kintz, President of Concordia Publishing House. “It’s a joy to partner with the International Lutheran Council in this important work. To God be the glory!” CPH is the world’s largest, continually-operating publisher of confessional Lutheran materials.

In addition to working together on the distribution of Lutheran resources internationally, the ILC and CPH also partner together on the Lutheran Leadership Development Program, a global initiative to train leaders for Lutheran churches around the world.

You can support the joint work of the ILC and CPH through online giving. Simply designate your gift for the Lutheran Leadership Development Program or another program of your choice.

You can also make donations by mail to the following address:

International Lutheran Council
PO Box 18775
St. Louis, MO 63118

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Training the next generation of Confessional Lutheran leaders: Lutheran Leadership Development Program ready to launch

WORLD – As a new year gets underway, the International Lutheran Council and its partners are preparing for the first class of the Lutheran Leadership Development Program (LLDP).

This two-year certificate program aims to provide Lutheran church bodies around the world an opportunity to develop leaders who are competent in both solid confessional Lutheran theology as well as practical skills in leadership and resource management. The LLDP is a project of the International Lutheran Council working in cooperation with The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod, Concordia Publishing House (CPH), and Concordia Theological Seminary in Fort Wayne, Indiana (CTSFW).

“We’re are grateful for our partners in this project, and are excited to work with them in raising up a new generation of global Confessional Lutheran leaders,” said Rev. Dr. Albert Collver, General Secretary of the ILC. “We look forward to welcoming the LLDP’s first class of students in just a few weeks, and pray for God’s blessings on their studies.”

The first class of students in the LLDP will gather for instruction at the Old Latin School in Wittenberg, Germany from February 18-March 1, 2019. Future classes over the next two years will be held at Concordia Theological Seminary in Fort Wayne and Concordia Publishing House in St. Louis, Missouri.

Rev. Dr. Naomichi Masaki of CTSFW serves as Director of the Lutheran Leadership Program. For more information on the program, including details on student learning outcomes, a description of course requirements, and admission details, click here.

Breath of God, Yet Work of Man: First LLDP resource published

Course materials for the Lutheran Leadership Development Program are being prepared in partnership between CTSFW and CPH, with the first of these new resources just unveiled. Breath of God, Yet Work of Man: Scripture, Philosophy, Dialogue, and Conflict is now available for pre-order from CPH.

Edited by Rev. Charles P. Schaum and Rev. Dr. Albert Collver (ILC General Secretary), the book features definitions, benefits, and discussions of Lutheran biblical interpretation. The authors explain tensions that underlie the use of Scripture in Christian witness, acts of mercy, and life together.

Rev. Dr. Albert Collver (ILC General Secretary) and Rev. Dr. Bruce Kintz (CPH President and CEO) display the new book Breath of God, Yet Work of Man.

While developed especially for use in the Lutheran Leadership Development Program, the book will be of interest to a much broader audience. “The authors have assembled a massive amount of material that will challenge readers to think more carefully about how we read the Holy Scriptures and confess the faith today,” notes Rev. Dr. John T. Pless, Assistant Professor of Pastoral Ministry and Missions at CTSFW. “This is a provocative book that will engage both those within and outside of the Missouri Synod in coming to understand the development of modern hermeneutics.”

Download a sample of the book by visiting CPH’s website here.

Support the training of Confessional Lutheran Leaders around the world

You can support the Lutheran Leadership Development Program and its work in preparing confessional Lutheran leaders for churches around the world through online giving. Simply designate your donation for “The Lutheran Leadership Development Program.” You can make a one-time gift or set-up recurrent giving.

You can also make donations by mail to the following address:

International Lutheran Council
PO Box 18775
St. Louis, MO 63118
United States of America

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Korean Lutherans celebrate 60 years

Participants in the Lutheran Church in Korea’s 2018 convention.

SOUTH KOREA – The Lutheran Church in Korea (LCK) held its 48th regular convention October 10-12 at Luther University in Yongin, South Korea, during which time the church celebrated 60 years of Lutheran witness in Korea. The gathering took place under the theme “Arise, Shine.”

LCK President Young-Seok Jin and LCMS President Matthew Harrison sign a protocol agreement between their two churches.

The first Lutheran outreach in Korea took place in 1832, but sustained Lutheran ministry in the country did not take place until 1958, when The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS) established mission work in the region. That work was undertaken by three American missionaries (Paul Bartling, Maynard Dorow, and Kurt Voss) and their families, along with one Korean clergyman, Dr. Won-Yong Ji, who had received his doctorate from the LCMS’ Concordia Seminary in St. Louis, Missouri.

The church achieved independence in 1971. Today, the LCK counts more than 5,000 members in more than 50 churches across the country, though it has touched the lives of hundreds of thousands more through various mass-media mission programs, like the Lutheran Hour and the Bethel Bible study program.

LCMS President Matthew Harrison was present for the event, bringing greetings to the church as it celebrates 60 years of Lutheranism in Korea. On October 10, the two churches took the opportunity to reaffirm their ties to one another, with LCK President Young-Seok Jin and LCMS President Harrison signing an updated protocol document between the two churches. The document will guide continued cooperation between the two churches going forward.

ILC General Secretary Albert Collver, LCK President Young-Seok Jin, and LCMS President Matthew Harrison.

The Lutheran Church in Korea is a member church of the International Lutheran Council (ILC). Rev. Dr. Albert Collver, General Secretary of the ILC, was also present for anniversary celebrations in Korea.

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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.

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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.

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