December 2010 Pastor's Monthly Newsletter Article A friend of mine, no great fan of the Christian faith, likes to claim that all religions hold about 90% of what they believe in common with one another, so it really doesn’t matter which one you choose. Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Hinduism… what’s the difference? (Or so he would say.)
What he doesn’t realize is that for Christians, the 10% (to use his numbers) that distinguishes us from our brothers and sisters of other faiths accounts for 90% of what is important to us.
Martin Luther and his 16th Century colleagues recognized this. As they articulated their faith, they sought to identify which of their beliefs were “adiaphora” (a Greek word, translated by most Christians as “unessential”) and which of them were “matters of faith.” In other words, there are many aspects of our faith – of our system of belief – on which we can agree to disagree. These range from important moral issues like poverty, hunger and justice, to trivial issues like which hymnal to use for worship, or how many angels can dance on the head of a pin. On these and other issues, faithful Christians hold a wide variety of beliefs, but it is not enough to drive us apart from one another. These are adiaphora – unessential matters – some very important, but not central to our faith. One might speculate that 90% of what we believe is actually adiaphora (whether we realize it or not…).
On the other hand, there are “matters of faith” – issues that are so close to the heart of our faith that we strive to defend them at all costs. These are matters on which we dare not disagree. Christ died to put us right with God. We are saved by grace, through faith. Humans are Simul Justus et Peccator – simultaneously sinner and saint. God calls us to faithful living, as a response to the grace we have received. These are matters of faith, and many Lutheran Christians will defend them to the death.
Among these central beliefs is one we celebrate at this time each year: Emmanuel. It is a Hebrew word. Emmanuel (or Immanuel) is translated into English as, “God [is] with us.” The word Emmanuel proclaims that in Jesus of Nazareth, God has become one of us. The word Emmanuel proclaims that we have a God who insists on accompanying us through every step of our life’s journey. It also reminds us that often times God is present in the lives of others through us. Our love, our kindness, our generosity, our presence in their lives becomes Emmanuel: God incarnate in human flesh to comfort and strengthen others.
In the month of December at Saint Peter, we’ll worship using a liturgy that is based on the ancient hymn, “O come, O come, Emmanuel.”
O come, o come, Emmanuel, and ransom captive Israel, That mourns in lonely exile here until the Son of God appear. Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to you, O Israel!
Join us this Advent and Christmas, as we celebrate the presence of God in our midst: Jesus, Emmanuel, God Incarnate, with us in flesh and blood.
God’s peace to you all, David J. Risendal, Pastor