Midweek Advent Series: Luther’s Oratio, Meditatio, Tentatio

Midweek Advent Series: Luther’s Oratio, Meditatio, Tentatio

(The following is an adaptation of Prof. John T. Pless’ Advent Preaching Workshop from 2017. In it you will find an order of service, suggested hymns and readings, and notes for sermon preparation. We hope this will serve you well in your Advent preparations.)

Introduction: Each of the three Advent midweek sermons will be structured aground Luther’s famous triad. Utilizing the Service of Prayer and Preaching in the Lutheran Service Book (LSB, pg. 260-267), the services will also incorporate the Introduction and first three petitions of the Lord’s Prayer:

Midweek I Oratio – First Petition

Midweek II Meditatio – Second Petition

Midweek III Tentatio – Third Petition

If you plan on using this series, we suggest you read Luther’s "Preface to the Wittenberg Edition of Luther's German Writings, 1539" (AE 34:279-288) and Praying Luther’s Small Catechism by John T. Pless, pp. 51-77 prior to the workshop. It will also benefit you to have a copy of the Lutheran Service Book so you can follow the order of the Service of Prayer and Preaching.

-Prof. John T. Pless

WEEK 1: ORATIO (PRAYER)  

SERMON NOTES:

Oratio is prayer grounded in the Word of God. “When we use His Word to pray, we pray by the Spirit” (Kleinig, 172). Like David who was given the words of the Lord and so prays that God who lead and guide Him so our mouths are opened to call upon God for all that He promises. The oratio is embodied in the Introduction and First Petition of the Lord’s Prayer in the Small Catechism. We can call God “our Father” because He has given us His Son. The Holy Spirit has brought us to faith in the Son through the Gospel. It is in this faith that we know that it is most certainly true that God is our Father.

The three articles of the Creed are also reversible. It is the Holy Spirit who brings us to Christ Jesus, our Lord who has made us His own by His innocent suffering and death. We are located in His Kingdom, where we live under Him, serving Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness even as He is risen from the dead to live and reign for all eternity. In Him we have boldness and confidence to enter into the presence of His Father.

The blessed One who comes in the name of the Lord gives us access to His Father. Luther reminds us that God’s name is certainly holy in itself but we pray that it may be kept holy among us. This is done when the Word of God is taught in its truth and purity and we as His children lead holy lives according to it. Notice here how the Catechism’s explanation resonate with the words of Psalm 119 where we implore God to “Deal bountifully with your servant that I may live and keep your word” (Ps. 119:17) and again “Make me understand the way of your precepts, and I will meditate on your wondrous work” (Ps. 119:27).  God’s Word is heard and pondered in this Psalm so that “Petition and confession again and again modulate into praise and thanksgiving” (H.J. Kraus, Psalms II:415).  This modulation is also reflected in many of the hymns of Advent. For example:

“Fling wide the portals of your heart; Make it a temple set apart from earthly use for heav’n’s employ; Adorned with prayer and love and joy. So shall your Sov-‘reign enter in and new and nobler life begin. To God alone be praise for word and deed and grace!” (340:4 LSB)

“Enter now my waiting heart, glorious King and Lord most holy. Dwell in me and ne’er depart, thought I am but poor and lowly. Ah, what riches will be mine when Thou art my guest divine! Hail! Hosanna, David’s Son! Jesus hear our supplication! Let Thy kingdom, scepter, crown, Bring us blessing and salvation, that forever we may sing: Hail! Hosanna to our King.” (350:2 & 4 LSB).

Also “O Savior, Rend the Heavens Wide”-355 LSB, especially stanzas 6-7.

The posture of Advent is prayer, calling out to the Lord who has come, who comes to us now in His Word, and fill come again at the end to take us to Himself. In the meantime we wait not as those who live in confusion and uncertainty  but as dear children of God who have learned and continue to learn that God is our true Father and we are His true children so that we might make our petitions to Him as dear children coming before a dear father “with boldness and confidence.”

The Lord has come to us. He is the Word made flesh. The Scriptures which His Spirit inspired prophets and apostles to write testify to Him. It is in and through the Holy Scriptures that Christ Jesus gives Himself to us. Without the Holy Scriptures we would not know Him whose words are “spirit and life” (John 6:63). We listen to the Scriptures read and preached so that we might know Christ and His benefits. His words of promise give us the courage to call upon Him

Dietrich Bonhoeffer asserted “The richness of the Word of God ought to determine our prayer, not the poverty of our heart” (Psalms, 15). It is for this reason that the Psalmist confesses his delight in the Lord’s words (Ps. 16) and implores God to give him understanding that he may mediate on the Lord’s wondrous works.

Our Advent oratio is ever “Come, Lord Jesus.”  He is near to all who call upon His name and He has promised to hear us and save us.

Possible Outline:

Introduction

Everything about Advent announces that the Lord is present to redeem and rescue His people. He has given us His holy name that we may call upon Him and live holy lives here in time and thereafter in eternity.

  1. God’s Word gives us His Name

  2. With His Name we Have His Promise: All Those who Call Upon His Name will be Saved

  3. God’s Name is Kept Holy When we Call Upon His Name with our Lips and Honor it in Lives of Faith and Love

Conclusion

The Catechism reminds us that God’s holy name is given to us that we may call upon it in every trouble, pray, praise, and give thanks. For the Christian, Advent is much more than a hectic season of preparation for the festivities of Christian. Advent is the Christian life in miniature. It is listening to the words of the Lord and learning ever again from His Word that we are His holy children blessed with His name in Baptism. With His name on our lips, we call upon Him in the midst of this world’s chaos, with our own lives lacerated by sin, and in the face of death, trusting only in His promises for the sake of the Son He sent to be our Brother and Savior. Call upon Him now in this day of trouble. He will you and you shall glorify Him.

SUGGESTED ORDER OF SERVICE:

The order of service for this series is the Service of Prayer and Preaching (LSB, p. 260). 

HYMN

Midweek I: “O Come, O Come Emmanuel”-357 LSB

OPENING VERSICLES FOR ADVENT p. 260

OLD TESTAMENT CANTICLE  “Sing Praise to the God of Israel”- 936 LSB

READING FROM HOLY SCRIPTURE

Midweek I: Psalm 119:12-16, 26-27

RESPONSORY FOR ADVENT p. 263

CATECHISM

Ten Commandments/Apostles’ Creed/Lord’s Prayer

Midweek I: Introduction/First Petition p. 323 LSB

HYMN STANZA “For the Joy Thine Advent Gave Me” 548:3 LSB

SERMON

Midweek I Oratio

OFFERING

HYMN

Midweek I: “O Lord, How Shall I Meet You”- 334 LSB

PRAYER p. 263

COLLECT OF THE WEEK

Midweek I: Collect for Advent I

COLLECT FOR THE WORD p. 265

CATECHISM PRAYERS

Midweek I: Catechism Prayer for “Introduction” (Pless, Praying Luther’s Small Catechism, p. 54) and Catechism Prayer for “First Petition” (Pless, p.56)

EVENING PRAYER p. 267

HYMN STANZA  “Arise, O Christian People”- 354:4 LSB

BLESSING p. 267

WEEK 2: MEDITATIO (MEDITATION ON SCRIPTURE)

SERMON NOTES:

“Intimate acquaintance with the word of Yahweh brings about superior prudence (cf. Deut. 4:6). It produces a careful walk (v.101) and grants delightful enjoyment (v.103)” (H.J. Kraus, Psalms II:418). The mediatio of Luther’s triad is not self-reflective introspection but a life lived in the Word of God. Meditation is verbal as it engages  the  words of the Lord.  In the words of Cranmer’s old collect, we “ read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest” God’s Word. Note here the connections with Psalm 119.  The Psalmist prays “Oh, how I love your law! It is my meditation all the day long” (v.97).    Also  “How sweet are your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth” (v.103).

Meditation is not an escape from the world into a monastic cell where one is left alone with his or her thoughts. Rather it is life in God’s Word within the world. The kingdom for which we pray in the second petition is not a Platonic sphere outside of temporal existence. God’s kingdom comes with His Son who entered this world as the child of Mary. He brings His everlasting reign into human history and history finds its ultimate fulfillment in Him who is the author and finisher of our salvation. This kingdom comes to us now in time. How does this happen? Listen to the Catechism:  “God’s kingdom comes when our heavenly Father gives us His Holy Spirit, so that by His grace we believe His holy Word and lead godly lives here in time and there in eternity.”

No wonder then that Luther ties meditation to listening to sermons, remembering your Baptism, and engaging in the works of one’s vocation like honoring parents according to the fourth commandments. We meditate on that which we love. To meditate rightly is to fear, love and trust in God above all things and give oneself in love to the service of the neighbor according to God’s commandments. Meditation is not spiritual introversion; it is extroverted, outside of oneself in Christ by faith and in the neighbor by love.

Possible Outline:

Introduction

What do you think about when you hear the word, meditation? Buddha sitting cross-legged and gazing at his belly? Contemplative monks cloistered away with attention fixed on the rosaries in their hands? Spiritual techniques marketed with the promise of providing tranquility and stability to your life?  The Bible gives us an altogether different picture of mediation. We meditate rightly by hearing and keeping God’s holy Word. We meditate on the things we love (here the preacher might give some examples).  Loving the Word of the Lord, we meditate on it. Our hearts are occupied with God’s Word.

  1. To meditate on God’s Word is to hear it for faith comes by hearing the Word.

  2. To mediate on God’s Word is to take it to heart.

  3. To meditate on God’s Word is to live godly lives according to it.

Conclusion

As we have heard in the Catechism, “God’s kingdom comes by itself without our prayer.” We do not pull ourselves up into God’s kingdom through our mediation. His kingdom is the kingdom of the ear as Luther said in one of his sermons. We mediate when we like Mary (recall Luke 1) hear and believe God’s “Word and lead godly lives here in time and there in eternity.”

SUGGESTED ORDER OF SERVICE:

The order of service for this series is the Service of Prayer and Preaching (LSB, p. 260). 

HYMN

Midweek II: “Creator of the Stars of Night”- 351 LSB

OPENING VERSICLES FOR ADVENT p. 260

OLD TESTAMENT CANTICLE  “Sing Praise to the God of Israel”- 936 LSB

READING FROM HOLY SCRIPTURE

Midweek II: Psalm 119: 97-104, 129-133

RESPONSORY FOR ADVENT p. 263

CATECHISM

Ten Commandments/Apostles’ Creed/Lord’s Prayer

Midweek II: Second Petition p. 324 LSB

HYMN STANZA “For the Joy Thine Advent Gave Me” 548:3 LSB

SERMON

Midweek II Meditatio

OFFERING

HYMN

Midweek II: “Once He Came in Blessing”-333 LSB

PRAYER p. 263

COLLECT OF THE WEEK

Midweek II: Collect for Advent II


COLLECT FOR THE WORD p. 265

CATECHISM PRAYERS

Midweek II: Catechism Prayer for Second Petition (Pless, p. 59)

EVENING PRAYER p. 267

HYMN STANZA  “Arise, O Christian People”- 354:4 LSB

BLESSING p. 267

 WEEK 3: TENTATIO (SPIRITUAL ATTACK)

SERMON NOTES:

Tentatio is the spiritual attack or affliction that comes when one meditates on the Word of God. Psalm 119:53 is a lament born out of this tentatio: “Look on my affliction and deliver me for I do not forget your law.” There is a parallel between this verse and the Catechism’s explanation of the third petition: “God’s will is done when He breaks and hinders every evil plan and purpose of the devil, the world, and our sinful nature which do not want us to hallow God’s name or let His kingdom come; and when He strengthens and keeps us firm in His Word and faith until we die. This is His good and gracious will.”

Advent reminds us that we do not pray the third petition as agnostics who do not know the will of God. God’s good and gracious is revealed in the Blessed One who comes in the name of the Lord. He is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. His mercy is great (Ps. 119:156). Those who keep the words of this Savior will endure trial and persecution in one form of another. Think of the imprisonment of the great saint of Advent, John the Baptist (Matthew 11). Mary who sings the Magnificat and ponders (meditates) on all that the God of her salvation has done (see Luke 2:19) will have her own soul pierced by a sword (Luke 2:35) as her Son is set for “the fall and rising of many in Israel” (Luke 2:33).

God’s good and gracious will is our salvation. That as Luther reminds us is His “proper” work. But His proper work also entails His “alien” work, the work of breaking and hindering all that sets itself in opposition to His will: the devil, the world, and our sinful nature. Luther’s prayer in the Large Catechism’s explanation of the third petition is entirely consistent with Psalm 119: “Dear Father, your will be done and not the will of the devil or of our enemies; nor of those who would persecute and oppress your holy Word or prevent your kingdom from coming; and grant that we may bear patiently and overcome whatever we must suffer on its account, so that our poor flesh may not yield or fall away through weakness or sloth” (LC III:67, K-W, 449).

To hold fast the treasures of the first two petitions (God’s holy name and the gift of His kingdom) means that there will be suffering in one form or another: “If we try to hold these treasures fast, we will have to suffer an astonishing number of attack and assaults from all who venture to hinder and thwart the fulfillment of the first two petitions” (LC III:61, K-W, 448).

Potential Outline:

Introduction

How are you to pray “Thy will be done”? The German preacher, Helmut Thielicke observed that this is a dangerous petition to pray for we are in fact praying against ourselves. We are not asking God to bring His will into alignment with our will. Just the opposite, we are imploring Him to bring our fickle and unpredictable wills into harmony with His good and gracious will. This is not without suffering for we are asking God to “break and hinder” the will of the enemies: the devil, the world, and yes, our sinful nature.

  1. To meditate on God’s Word is to become a target

  2. Christians are under attack from the devil, the world, and our own flesh

  3. God’s Word sustains us to endure to the end

Conclusion

Bonhoeffer has described the Christian life as one long Advent Season. We are waiting on a Savior who has already come and comes even now.  He has died in our place, defeated our enemies, and been raised for your justification. Clinging to His Word, we are set in spiritual warfare with the all that stands in opposition to Him. Our confidence is not in ourselves but in His sure and certain testimonies so we pray: “Give me life according to your steadfast love. The sum of your word is truth, and every one of your just and righteous decrees endures forever” (Psalm 119:159b-160).

 

SUGGESTED ORDER OF SERVICE:

The order of service for this series is the Service of Prayer and Preaching (LSB, p. 260).

 

HYMN

Midweek III: “Comfort, Comfort These My People”-347 LSB

OPENING VERSICLES FOR ADVENT p. 260

OLD TESTAMENT CANTICLE  “Sing Praise to the God of Israel”- 936 LSB

READING FROM HOLY SCRIPTURE

Midweek III: Psalm 119:153-168

RESPONSORY FOR ADVENT p. 263

CATECHISM

Ten Commandments/Apostles’ Creed/Lord’s Prayer

Midweek III: Third Petition p. 324 LSB

HYMN STANZA “For the Joy Thine Advent Gave Me” 548:3 LSB

SERMON

Midweek III Tentatio

OFFERING

HYMN

Midweek III: “The Night Will Soon be Ending”- 337 LSB

PRAYER p. 263

COLLECT OF THE WEEK

Midweek III: Collect for Advent III

COLLECT FOR THE WORD p. 265

CATECHISM PRAYERS

Midweek III: Catechism Prayer for Third Petition (Pless, p. 62)

EVENING PRAYER p. 267

HYMN STANZA  “Arise, O Christian People”- 354:4 LSB

BLESSING p. 267

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