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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Latvia celebrates 25th anniversary of Archbishop’s consecration; ILC brings greetings, addresses Eastern European bishops conference

Celebrating the 25th anniversary of the consecration of Archbishop Jānis Vanags of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Latvia. (Photo: Ulda Muzikanta)

LATVIA – The Evangelical Lutheran Church of Latvia (Latvijas Evaņģēliski Luteriskā Baznīca – LELB/ELCL) celebrated the 25th anniversary of the consecration of Archbishop Jānis Vanags in a special jubilee service in the Cathedral of Riga, Latvia on August 29, 2018. The anniversary coincided with the ELCL’s General Pastors Conference as well as an international gathering of church leaders for the Eastern European and Scandinavian Bishops Conference.

During the service, Archbishop Vanags preached on John 1:35-39, reflecting on Jesus’ call for all people to follow Him. “Jesus words ‘come and see’ are the most beautiful thing,” Archbishop Vanags said. “God calls. Jesus calls. He called me in my early childhood, during the Soviet era,” he reflected. “In an incredible way, He called me out of the darkness to Himself, to faith, and to ministry. It happens that God called me to serve in a unique way. But He also calls to every person, and every call is just as important… God’s call is your opportunity.”

Jesus’ words to “come and see,” Archbishop Vanags noted, are an answer to the question of the disciples: “Teacher, where are you staying?” That matters, he said, because God is not to be found everywhere, but only where He has made His dwelling. “Our church is often accused of being too conservative,” Archbishop Vanags noted, and of holding too rigidly to its doctrinal stances. “But our church does nothing of the sort,” he said. Instead, it merely seeks to ask the same thing that the disciples asked: “Lord, where do you live?” The church is called to “come and see” Christ where He has revealed Himself to be.

“Where is this place where Jesus lives?” Archbishop Vanags asked in conclusion. “Find it by listening to His preaching. For there, where Christ preaches, there is the Holy Christian church…. Let us listen again and again to hear the call of Jesus: ‘Come and see!’”

The ILC brings greetings, addresses conferences

Rev. Dr. Albert Collver (left) and Bishop Hans-Jörg Voigt (centre) bring greetings to the gathering on behalf of the International Lutheran Council.

Bishop Hans-Jörg Voigt, the Bishop of Germany’s Independent Evangelical Lutheran Church (SELK) and Chairman of the International Lutheran Council (ILC), was present for the event, bringing greetings and congratulations to Archbishop Vanags and the Latvian church. Rev. Dr. Albert Collver, Executive Secretary of the ILC, was also present, joining Bishop Voigt in bringing greetings on behalf of the International Lutheran Council. Both participated, along with numerous other church leaders, especially bishops from Eastern Europe, in the service of thanksgiving and prayer at the cathedral in Riga.

During the ELCL’s General Pastors Conference, Bishop Voigt gave a lecture on “International Relations and the International Lutheran Council.” He began by noting the distinction between “nation” and “nationalism”—something all too necessary today. Anytime one adds a sense of superiority to our understanding of “nation,” he warned, then we descend into nationalism.

Bishop Hans-Jörg Voigt presents on International Relations and the International Lutheran Council.

Such “nationalism” must not govern church relationships, Bishop Voigt said. Instead, when it comes to the topic of international relations from the perspective of the International Lutheran Council, he said, we do better to focus on the theological concept of the “catholicity” of the Church. Bishop Voigt appealed to the definition of catholicity given by the church father Vincent of Lérins, as alluded to and supplemented by the Formula of Concord—namely, that “catholicity” means what has been believed at all times, in all places, and taught by all Scripture. Such an understanding of the church will not lead to confessional arrogance, Bishop Voigt noted, but rather to repentance and humility.

Together with Dr. Collver, Bishop Voigt fielded questions about the International Lutheran Council from the pastors and bishops present. Both Bishop Voigt and Dr. Collver affirmed that they consider churches with dual membership in the International Lutheran Council and the Lutheran World Federation to be a valuable bridge between the two world organizations.

Events continued the next day in Saldus, Latvia, with the Eastern European and Scandinavian Bishops’ Conference. A major focus of discussion was the future of theological education in Europe, and the possibility of combining resources to meet challenges in that area. Plans were discussed for future meetings in the coming year. Present this year were leaders from Latvia, Lithuania, Germany, Belarus, Ukraine, Russia, Norway, Finland, Sweden, and the United States.

During the Bishop’s Conference, Dr. Collver presented on the “Present and Future of the International Lutheran Council.” He began with a brief overview of the ILC’s history before describing some of the ILC’s plans for the future. Among other topics, he noted the development of the Lutheran Leadership Development Program, an educational program which aims to assist Lutheran church bodies around the world in developing leaders who are competent in both solid confessional Lutheran theology as well as practical leadership skills.

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ILC Chairman brings greetings to LWF Council Meeting

LWF-logo

WITTENBERG, Germany—The Council of the Lutheran World Federation (LWF) met June 15-21, 2016 in Wittenberg, Germany. In his address, LWF President Bishop Munib Younan (Jerusalem) called upon LWF member churches to carry out a critical dialogue on the foundation and mutual responsibility involved in church fellowship. “The crises facing the world demand more than our politeness. They demand action,” he said. “But we cannot act fully without interrogating our foundational assumptions and motivations.”

As the meeting of the governing body of the LWF communion got underway, Rev. Dr. Martin Junge, LWF’s re-elected General Secretary, emphasized the importance of ecumenism. This 2016 Council meeting is the last full gathering of the LWF’s highest governing body before the 12th General Assembly in May of 2017 and prior to the commemorations for the 500th Anniversary of the Reformation. The General Secretary stressed the intention of this Lutheran communion to mark the anniversary around the world and in the spirit of ecumenical responsibility.

A joint Catholic-Lutheran Reformation event in Lund Cathedral and in Malmö, Sweden on October 31, 2016, will mark a notable high point. The fact that this event is being carried out jointly—on the Lutheran side by LWF President Younan and General Secretary Junge and on the Roman Catholic side by Pope Francis—“represents a historic turning point in our relationships, in view of the clear commitment to leave conflict behind and open up to the communion that God invites us for and holds prepared for us, while dealing with differences that remain,” according to General Secretary Junge. His report also underscored the significance of diaconal work. To be Lutheran is to be diaconal. Thus the LWF is currently supporting 2.3 million refugees.

ILC Chairman Voigt addresses the LWF assembly.
ILC Chairman Voigt addresses the LWF assembly.

Bishop Dr. Hans-Jörg Voigt, Chairman of the International Lutheran Council (ILC), took part in the Council meeting as an ecumenical guest and observer. In his greeting, Bishop Voigt, spiritual head of the Independent Evangelical Lutheran Church of Germany (SELK), called attention to the fact that 2017 also marks the 200th Anniversary of the founding of independent Lutheran churches which resisted the repressive religious politics of the Prussian state after 1817. Lutherans fled to North America, Australia and Latin America. Years later, the ILC was formed by these church bodies, together with others.

Bishop Voigt expressed joy that some participants in the LWF Council meeting were being housed in Wittenberg’s “Old Latin School” and conducted a number of smaller meetings there. The Old Latin School is a joint project of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (USA) and the SELK. Bishop Voigt did not gloss over the reality that the LWF-ILC relationship has been marked by certain tensions. Thus the annual consultations between the two global fellowships are all the more important. In this spirit the ILC gratefully and joyfully gave theological attention to the dialogue paper, From Conflict to Communion, published by the LWF and the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity (PCPCU). In conclusion, Bishop Voigt said, “May God show us His way for coming closer together between the two focal points of truth and love—love and truth.”

The LWF is a global fellowship of Lutheran churches. It was founded in 1947 and now numbers 145 member churches in 98 countries, with more than 72 million members. The ILC is an association of confessional Lutheran churches throughout the world, representing 3.3 million Lutherans in 35 member churches and is thus the second-largest international Lutheran fellowship.

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Hans-Jörg Voigt reelected ILC Chairman

The International Lutheran Council’s newly elected Executive Council. (Left to right: IELP President Norberto M. Gerke, LCC’s President Robert Bugbee, SELK Bishop Hans-Jörg Voigt, ILC Executive Secretary Al Collver, ILC Secretary, ELKB President Gijsbertus van Hattem, ELCE Chairman Jon Ehlers. Missing from the photo are LCN Archbishop Christian Ekong and LCP President Antonio del Rio Reyes; they, along with a number other African and Asian ILC member churches, were unable to attend the 2015 World Conference due to visa difficulties).
The International Lutheran Council’s newly elected Executive Council. (Left to right: IELP President Norberto M. Gerke, LCC’s President Robert Bugbee, SELK Bishop Hans-Jörg Voigt, ILC Executive Secretary Al Collver, ILC Secretary, ELKB President Gijsbertus van Hattem, ELCE Chairman Jon Ehlers. Missing from the photo are LCN Archbishop Christian Ekong and LCP President Antonio del Rio Reyes; they, along with a number of other African and Asian ILC member churches, were unable to attend the 2015 World Conference due to visa difficulties).

ARGENTINA – On September 26, delegates to the International Lutheran Council’s (ILC) 2015 World Conference in Argentina reelected Rev. Dr. Hans-Jörg Voigt as ILC Chairman.

Chairman Voigt is Bishop of the Independent Evangelical Lutheran Church (SELK) in Germany, a position he has served in since 2006. He was elected ILC Chairman at the 2012 World Conference held in Niagara Falls, Ontario in Canada. Bishop Voigt had previously served as Interim Chairman of the ILC since 2010, after being automatically advanced from Vice-Chairman when the position of Chairman became vacant.

Despite the modest size of his church body, Chairman Voigt has become a prominent leader in confessional Lutheran and wider Christian circles. His 2013 Pastoral Letter “Discovering Marriage and Family as Gifts of God, along with other public action, won him recognition as “2013 Bishop of the Year” by a German interdenominational Christian news service, and he was likewise awarded a “Declaration of Respect” by the Association of Christian Publicists. In 2014, Concordia Lutheran Seminary in Edmonton, Canada awarded Chairman Voigt an honourary Doctor of Divinity Degree in recognition of his service not only to the German church but to Lutherans around the world.

Also on September 26, the ILC reelected President Gijsbertus van Hattem of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Belgium (ELKB) to serve as Secretary for the Executive Council.

The remainder of the ILC’s Executive Committee is composed of five World Area Representatives. According to the ILC’s constitution, members elect church bodies rather than individuals to fill these roles. Elected to serve as Latin America representative for this triennium was the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Paraguay (IELP), currently served by President Norberto M. Gerke. The remaining World Regions saw the previous triennium’s representatives returned to office. Representing Africa is the Lutheran Church of Nigeria (LCN), currently served by Archbishop Christian Ekong. The Asia World Area will be filled by The Lutheran Church of the Philippines (LCP), currently served by President Antonio del Rio Reyes. Europe will be represented by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in England (ELCE), currently served by Chairman Jon Ehlers. Finally, elected to represent North America is Lutheran Church–Canada (LCC), currently served by President Robert Bugbee.

The ILC’s Vice-Chairman is not elected by the World Conference. Instead, the Executive Council will elect a Vice-Chairman from among the World Area Representatives at their first council meeting.

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On the Visitation of Mary, a Pastoral Letter Encouraging Young People to Marry and Raise Children

Chairman-VoigtGERMANY – A year ago today, Bishop Hans-Jörg Voigt of the Independent Evangelical Lutheran Church (SELK) in Germany released a pastoral letter entitled “Discovering Marriage and Family as Gifts of God.” Its July 2 publication coincided with German observances of the Visitation of Mary to her cousin Elizabeth (Luke 1:39-56)—an appropriate day to consider the blessings of marriage and children.

The letter came in the midst of turmoil in Germany, following the publication of a reference paper on marriage by the Evangelical Church in Germany (EKD). The EKD paper—entitled “Between Autonomy and Dependence—Strengthening the Family as a Reliable Community”—was widely criticized, both by other Christians and in the German press, for abandoning a traditional biblical understanding of marriage.

Bishop Voigt’s letter, by contrast, was widely praised. Bishop Wolfang Ipolt of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Görlitz was one of those who hailed its publication. “Given the irritation caused within the Catholic Church by the EKD’s guidance on the subject of marriage and family,” he wrote, “the pastoral letter of the Bishop of SELK is for Catholics a positive sign from Evangelical Christianity. Especially when it comes to the important area of marriage and family, Christians of different denominations must stand together and not lightly abandon the testimony of Scripture.”

In addition to serving as head of SELK, Bishop Voigt is Chairman of the International Lutheran Council (ILC). His letter, which presents the case for a biblical understanding of marriage and family in clear, positive language, is now available in English, thanks to a translation by Rev. Charles Schaum.

“Hardly a day passes by currently in which basic questions regarding marriage, family, and sexuality are not dealt with in the public sphere of our western society,” Bishop Voigt’s letter begins. “Uncertainty has now reached even the internal sphere of the Church. With this pastoral letter I would remind you of the foundations of Holy Scripture and the confession of the Church concerning the area of questions on marriage and family.”

“Hardly a day passes by currently in which basic questions regarding marriage, family, and sexuality are not dealt with in the public sphere of our western society.”

“In light of all this uncertainty,” he continues, “I am writing this pastoral message especially to offer encouragement to young people, that they might get married and start a family.”

Throughout the letter, Bishop Voigt discusses the desire young people have to start their own families. To that end, he encourages young adults not to let concerns in this world—extended periods of education, temporary employment arrangements, a desire for greater mobility, and so forth—prevent them from entering into marriage and raising children.

Bishop Voigt also calls on the wider Church to demonstrate love and care for young families, so that they are not overwhelmed by the challenges rearing a family brings in contemporary western society. “Congregations can become a place where older people help younger families with their child-rearing tasks,” he writes. Noting especially the difficulties single parents face, he writes that “the Church is required in a special manner to stand helpfully in allegiance with them.”

This is a truly biblical and Christian model of marriage and family, Bishop Voigt explains. “The words of Jesus and the explanations of the Apostle Paul allow no doubt that the New Testament recognizes no other models for life than marriage and family on the one hand and celibacy—which is a special spiritual gift—on the other. Consequently, alternative models of marital relationship—including polygamy and homosexuality—must be rejected. But this does not condone the mistreatment of people who subscribe to such models. “It is a fruit and consequence of the winsome love of Christ,” Bishop Voigt writes, that the Church must treat “people with same-sex inclinations with respect and love, and additionally stand against discrimination against them.”

Download the full letter in English here. The letter can also be read in German at SELK’s website here.

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Latvian and German Lutherans hold meetings

Dean Andris Krauliņš, Romāns Ganiņš, and Bishop Hans-Jörg Voigt.
Dean Andris Krauliņš, Romāns Ganiņš, and Bishop Hans-Jörg Voigt.

GERMANY – From March 24-25, representatives of the Latvian Evangelical Lutheran Church (ELCL) visited Hanover for meetings with Germany’s Independent Evangelical Lutheran Church (SELK). Dean Andris Krauliņš of Latvia’s Jūrmala circuit and Romāns Ganiņš, Head of Administration at the Consistory in Riga, represented the ELCL. SELK was represented by its Bishop, Rev. Hans-Jörg Voigt.

Discussions over the two days focused on church-congregational life in the two partner churches. Michael Schätzel of the German church’s council gave Romāns Ganiņš a detailed description of the financial systems of SELK, focusing on congregational budget-planning systems. Dean Andris Krauliņš and Bishop Voigt shared together the different structures of organization in the two church bodies, with the latter describing the meeting structure of the church’s council.

“Last year I visited the synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Latvia,” Bishop Voigt noted. “Whenever I meet together with our brothers and sisters in Latvia, I appreciate our closeness in the liturgy of the Lutheran worship service and in our confessions. We need to support one another as we face our secularizing European culture.”

The Independent Evangelical Lutheran Church of Germany has 187 churches, 124 active pastors, and approximately 35,000 members. Its bishop, Rev. Hans-Jörg Voigt, also serves as Chairman for the International Lutheran Council.

The Evangelical Lutheran Church of Latvia, a member of the Lutheran World Federation, is one of the largest Christian church bodies in Latvia, with nearly 300 churches throughout the nation served by 140 pastors and ten evangelists. Of Latvia’s 2.3 million population, approximately 430,000 identify as Lutheran, with about a tenth of these active in the life of the church.

The German and Latvian churches signed an “Agreement of Partnership” in 2002 on the grounds of common subscription to the Lutheran Confessions. The two churches are in the process of seeking full altar and pulpit fellowship. In addition to SELK, the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Latvia has ties to other ILC churches, including The Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod with which it achieved altar and pulpit fellowship in 2001.

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Edmonton seminary to honour German bishop

(From the Canadian Lutheran)

The Rev. Hans-Jörg Voigt, Bishop of the Independent Evangelical Lutheran Church of Germany.

EDMONTON – The Rev. Hans-Jörg Voigt, Bishop of the Independent Evangelical Lutheran Church of Germany (SELK), will receive the honourary Doctor of Divinity degree at Concordia Lutheran Seminary’s Sacred Convocation in late May. News of the seminary faculty’s action in granting this honour was recently announced by Rev. Dr. James Gimbel, CLS president.

Bishop Voigt, a native of the former communist East Germany, served as a parish pastor for 13 years before his election as SELK leader in 2006. In 2010 he became chairman of the International Lutheran Council (ILC), an association of confessional churches around the world. Despite the modest size of his church body, he has become prominent – especially in the past year – for his very courageous witness in support of historic Christian teaching on marriage, and in opposition to abortion on demand. His 2013 Pastoral Letter “Discovering Marriage and Family as Gifts of God” and other public actions won him recognition as “2013 Bishop of the Year” by an interdenominational Christian news service in his country, and more recently a “Declaration of Respect” by the Association of Christian Publicists.

”Concordia Lutheran Seminary is grateful for the opportunity to publicly acknowledge the courageous leadership and ministry of Bishop Voigt,” noted President Gimbel, in announcing this recognition. “In our global age, partnerships are critically important for a faithful adherence to and proclamation of God’s Word for our world. The presence of the Missionary Study Centre at our seminary, and the extensive work done by our faculty in delivering theological education to Ukraine, southeast Asia, and elsewhere testifies to our love of Christ’s mission, not only in Canada, but throughout the world. We hope to form a new generation of pastors as courageous servants of Christ in season and out of season, wherever God has placed us. We thank God for partners and models like Bishop Voigt, and appreciate this chance to highlight his leadership and witness.”

The Sacred Convocation, at which Bishop Voigt is to be honoured, begins at 7:00 p.m. on Friday, May 30 at the Tegler Centre of Concordia University College of Alberta, directly next door to the seminary. This annual event marks the close of the academic year, and is highlighted by the conferral of academic degrees, as well as the distribution of vicarages and candidate calls. It is a public event, to which pastors, deacons and lay people from LCC congregations are invited.

Concordia Lutheran Seminary, one of the two theological schools maintained by Lutheran Church–Canada (LCC), was founded in 1984 and has taken a leading role in the academic and spiritual preparation of pastors, especially in the two western districts of LCC.

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Christmas Greetings from the ILC

Shepherds-Fields

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

Dear friends,

Chairman-Voigt
ILC Chairman Hans- Jörg Voigt

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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