by Rev. Matthew C. Harrison
Someone asked me the other day what I hoped to see by the end of my tenure as Synod president. I thought for a moment and responded. It is my deepest desire that the Synod be strengthened theologically (a deepened commitment to Holy Scripture and our Lutheran Confessions); that the Synod be at peace, living in love toward one another and concentrating on her mission to reach the lost; that the Synod be financially transparent and vastly strengthened; and that the Synod’s global mission and partner footprint be greatly expanded for the sake of the pure Gospel of Christ.
These rather simple goals can be accomplished by no one person, nor 8,000 clergy, nor all our church workers and not even 2.3 million church members. The extent to which we edge forward in each of them is and shall be the result of divine gifts and blessings. How the pressures, challenges and difficulties we face in this world fill me with foreboding about the future! How our secularized culture presses hard on the Church and even into the Church! When problems in the LCMS reach my desk, they are often intractable.
On Christmas Day 1534, Dr. Luther preached a brief sermon in his home (the large old monastery) to gathered family, friends and guests. He concluded it with just what you and I need to hear today, all these years later. He preached on the birth of Christ (Matthew 1; Luke 2).
“We should learn our lesson well and earnestly ponder the great honor that has been bestowed on us by Christ’s becoming a human being. For it is such a great honor, that even if one were an angel, you would do well to wish that you were a human being, so that you could boast: My own flesh and blood is greater than all the angels, and blessed is every creature that is a human being. God grant that we understand this, take it to heart and thank God for this great gift.
In addition, we should diligently study the example of Christ, what he manifested with his first advent to this earth in that he suffered for our sake, so that we too do our best to learn from him how to suffer. The Lord of all lords becomes a Servant of all servants. We should follow that example and learn from our dear kinsman and brother to gladly help and serve other people, even when it becomes a burden for us and causes us to suffer a little bit in rendering that service.
These two things we should note well: the account itself and the example it sets. To that end may God help us by the Holy Spirit through our dear Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.” (Sermons of Martin Luther, “The House Postils.” [Grand Rapids: Baker], vol. 1, p. 137.)
Christmas teaches that Christ was born for us and suffered for our sake. And we learn from Him how to suffer and live a life of service to our neighbors wherever God has placed us. Knowing this, I sing a joyful “O Come O Come Emmanuel,” pause to receive Christ’s gifts for forgiveness at church and leave with a clear conscience, strengthened to suffer and serve. And I leave the results of that service to God and His good pleasure.