21 December 2014

The Word of the Lord Is Your House and Home

Unless the Lord build the house, you labor in vain to build it.
Unless the Lord guard and keep the city, in vain do you keep vigil.

He is the Builder of all things, the Maker of the heavens and the earth out of nothing.  He speaks, and it is so.  He establishes and continues to uphold you and all of Creation by His Word.

It is not for you to build and achieve, but for the Lord to speak, and by His Word to give His good gifts, to accomplish His purposes for you and for all, according to His good and gracious will.

So does He call Abraham from the land of the Chaldeans; He brings him in and settles him in a good land.  And He makes that one old man, as good as dead, the father of many nations.

He brings the children of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel out of Egypt, and He makes of them His own children, His people, His chosen nation, in order to bless all the nations of the earth.  He sustains them through the wilderness, and He brings them into the Land that He promised.  He defeats and drives out their enemies, granting them victory in battles they barely fight, wherever He directs.  He gives them a safe place to call their own, a place of peace and rest.  He shelters and protects them.  He dwells among them with His Word, and He remembers His covenant with them.

Though the people are stubborn, frequently ungrateful, often rebellious and resistant to His Word, He raises up a king for them, a ruler after His own heart.  He finds and chooses David, He calls him and anoints him; He takes him from shepherding sheep to shepherding Israel.  The Lord crowns David a prince among His people, giving him victory over all his enemies and exalting his name.

It is the Lord who does all of this for David; the Lord who gives all of this to David; the Lord who builds up David’s house and blesses it.  Not for David only, but for the blessing of all the people.

David is always at his best when he trusts that gracious providence of God, the Lord, and lives accordingly.  Whenever he proceeds by faith in the Word of the Lord, he receives exactly what the Lord has promised, even against impossible odds.  His greatness and his glory are thus to receive all things by grace, and to live by faith in the Word and promises of God.

Of all those Words and promises, there is none greater than the one that David received in response to his proposal and plans for a temple.  Not that he would get to do what he intended.  But the Lord would build and establish the house of David, and raise up a Son of David to sit on his throne and reign forever.  It is that Son of David who builds a house for God’s Name.

It is true that Solomon reigned after his father David, and that he built, with God’s approval, a great Temple in Jerusalem.  There the Lord indeed caused His Name and His Glory to dwell with His people, hearing and receiving their prayers and their sacrifices, according to His Word.  By the Old Testament Temple Liturgy, He forgave their many sins, both day by day and year after year, and with His forgiveness He bestowed His good and gracious gifts of body and soul upon them.

But neither Solomon nor his Temple were forever.  In fact, both came to a rather disappointing end, subject to the judgment of God.  Solomon was drawn away from the Lord by his numerous wives and their pagan gods.  And over the ensuing years, the people regarded the Temple and their sacrifices as a guarantee against God’s wrath and punishment, as though they could buy Him off, even while they gave themselves over to false gods and the willful pursuits of their own flesh.  Thus, after Solomon the kingdom was divided, and in time the Temple would be destroyed, Jerusalem laid waste, and the people taken into Babylonian captivity.

Such is life apart from the Word of God.

Yet, because the Lord is gracious, and life and salvation are by His grace alone, He does not forget His promises, but He fulfills His Word as He has spoken.  He is faithful, and He does it.

He sends the angel Gabriel to speak His Word to the Blessed Virgin Mary in Nazareth.  He fulfills what He promised, at a point when no one would have dreamed that it could happen, when the once illustrious house of David was in disarray, decrepit, little more than a stump.  But the Lord takes the initiative, and He does everything from the ground up, by His grace.

It is no son of David, nor any other man, who conceives the Son of God in St. Mary’s womb, but God does it by His Word and Spirit.  As from the beginning, the Lord speaks, and it is so.

As surely as all projects and pursuits without His Word shall fail, so surely does every Word that proceeds from the mouth of God accomplish His purposes.  For no word is powerless with Him.  That is the answer to St. Mary’s question: “How can this be?”  And it is the answer to all of your questions, too.  For all things are accomplished by the Word of God.

Faith echoes His Word with its own, “Let it be!”  Mother Mary does not presume, but she hears and professes what the Lord has spoken.  “Let it be to me according to Your Word.”  That is the voice of faith, the prayer of a faithful servant of the Lord.  And with that prayer of faith proceeds the obedience of faith, as well.  You see that in St. Mary, to be sure, who receives everything by grace, but who is then also called to live and work by faith: to bear the Christ-Child in her womb, to bear reproach and suspicion from her fiancée and neighbors, to suffer hardship and loss, and to care for  a Son whom she will see crucified before her very eyes in due time.  She does not choose these works, nor does she offer them to God for the sake of gaining His favor.  Indeed, she already has His favor!  But in faith she says “Yes” and “Amen” to His Word.

You see that same obedience of faith in her father David at his best, and in her husband Joseph, who quietly accepts and follows the Word of God at every step along the way.

But you see the obedience of faith especially in St. Mary’s Son, our dear Lord Jesus Christ.  For He, the Word-of-God-made-Flesh, lives as perfect Man — as your Brother in the flesh — by perfect faith in His God and Father.  This is how closely, how deeply, how intimately the Lord has come and drawn near to you, to the extent that He lives your human life in the midst of sin and death.  He establishes the house of David by establishing the house of God in His own flesh.

Even so, He establishes the house of David in Himself, in His own human flesh and blood, by trusting and relying on His Father to raise Him up and establish Him — by the way of the Cross!

Not only does He share your human flesh and blood and make it His own by His conception and birth from St. Mary, but He also shares your sins and your stripes, and He makes those His own.  He takes ownership of your sins, and of the sins of all men and women, all the sons of Adam and daughters of Eve, as though He had committed every one of them Himself.  And then He suffers the strokes of God and man in punishment for all those sins of yours and others.  So fully does He share your shame and sorrows, even unto death.  So fully is He with you, even to the bitter end.

He submits to His Cross and Passion in the obedience of faith, in the confidence of the Word and promise given to His father David (and to His Mother Mary).  Though He is punished with the rod of men, and with the strokes of the sons of men, the Lord does not remove His loving-kindness from Him, nor remove Him from His throne.  Even from the dead, from the dust of the earth, He raises Him up and establishes the throne of His Kingdom forever.  And in the process, the sins of His people are forgiven, and all their punishments are removed.  Their enemies are all defeated.

Thus, the Lord your God is with you, not only as your Brother in the flesh, and as your sacrificial Substitute in death, but as your King, which is also to be your Good Shepherd.  As you live under Him in His Kingdom, you share fully in His faithfulness and obedience, in His victory over sin and death, and in the Glory of His Name.  For just as all the people suffer when their king is unfaithful, so do all the people benefit and prosper together with this King, who is faithful in all things.

He shepherds and reigns over you in love, from His Cross, by His Word of the Gospel.  He sends His messengers to you, to preach in His Name, as He sent Nathan to David and the angel Gabriel to Mary, and as He sent St. Paul to preach even to Rome and beyond.  By such preaching, you are established in His grace, in the household and family of His Church, and all the wealth and bounty of His Kingdom are given to you.  Thus, you are rich in the midst of your poverty.  You are alive, even in the face of your death.  You are great and glorious before God, even though you suffer shame and sorrow on earth.  And you are strong and steadfast, despite your frailty and weakness.

You live by faith in the Gospel, by which the Lord forgives your sins and declares you to be righteous, innocent, and pure.  Your faith in this sure and certain Word of the Gospel is as much His good work in you, and His good gift to you, as the conception of the Son of God in the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary.  But so does it also become your own faith, as surely as the Son of God became St. Mary’s own Son.  Not only that, but prayer and obedience of faith like hers are likewise yours, through Jesus Christ our Lord.  So that, not only do you say “Yes” and “Amen,” and “Let it be,” to the Word and promises of God — which are spoken to you in the Gospel, and are for you — but you also live and walk according to the Word of the Lord within your calling.

And the Lord is with you in your calling, as He was with David and Mary in their callings.  He is with you, and He is close to you, to strengthen and sustain you, to guard and keep you in those duties He has given you to do.  And whereas your self-chosen projects and self-appointed pursuits are bound to fail and collapse, your works undertaken in accordance with the Word of the Lord will accomplish His purposes.  They shall not fail.  Nor shall you be put to shame.

Not because you are so faithful or flawless, but because the Lord is faithful and gracious, because He loves you, because He forgives all your sins, and because He will never let the righteous fall.

Oh, to be sure, you’re going to make mistakes, mess things up, blow it badly at times, and continue to sin in your thoughts, words, and deeds, up until the day you die.  All the saints have been such sinners.  But it is the Lord who builds the House and brings His people into it.  So it is the Lord who delivers you from evil, who removes all your foes from within and without, and who grants you peace and rest within His House forevermore, all by the Word of His forgiveness.

It is already a done deal.  For the dear Lord Jesus, the Son of David, St. Mary’s little Babe, has made your sins His own, and suffered all the punishments for them; so that by His stripes you are healed.  And God has raised this Jesus from the dead.  That is your righteousness, and that is your resurrection, no matter how many times (or how far) you have fallen.  Just as He is risen from the dead, and lives and reigns eternally, so do you live in righteousness, innocence, and blessedness.

Do not be afraid.  The Lord is with you, and you have found favor in His sight.  Behold, here is the House that He has built for you, that you may call upon His Name and be saved.  Behold, here is the Body of Christ, which is the Temple of God on earth as it is in heaven; and here is the precious Blood, by which you are reconciled to God in Him.

His Peace be with you, according to His Word.  For He speaks, and it is so.

In the Name + of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

17 December 2014

Your Mouth Will Show Forth His Praise

As God created all things out of nothing by His Word, and as He orders all things mightily in heaven and on earth by the Wisdom of His Word and Spirit, so does He raise you up from death to life and make you and all things new by His Word of the Cross.  By that Word, which He speaks to you in the flesh and blood of Christ Jesus, the beloved Son, He breathes His Life-giving Holy Spirit into your body and soul with His forgiveness of all your sins.

It is by this Word of God in Christ that your mouth is opened, that your lips and tongue are set free from the slavery of sinful unbelief, in order to confess the Name of the Lord, to pray, praise, and give thanks to Him, and to rejoice in His great salvation.

It does seem strange and foolish that He does it by the Cross, by the Word of the Cross, by the preaching of Christ the Crucified, which is so contrary and opposite to all the wisdom, reason, and strength of the world.  Nevertheless, it is indeed by the way and means of this Word that He reveals Himself, and that He rescues and redeems the fallen world and fallen men from every tribe and tongue and nation, both Jews and Gentiles alike, for Himself.

He remembers His creatures, the work of His own hand, and He establishes His Covenant with them in Christ Jesus, in His Body of flesh and blood, crucified and risen from the dead.

He accomplishes Salvation in Him — Wisdom, Righteousness, and Sanctification, for you and for all people — and God the Father establishes in and with His Son the relationship of faith and love that actually defines and constitutes the Image and Likeness of God in Man.

Everything is perfected in Christ Jesus, in His Incarnation and in His bodily Resurrection from the dead.  But it is worked out and accomplished in His Body by the Way of the Cross, precisely for the sake of His people, in order to bring them out of death into life with Him.  He makes Atonement for you and for all people, and He reconciles you to God by His Cross.

And by the preaching of that Word, He grants to you this Wisdom of God, this relationship of faith and love, this knowledge of Salvation, by and with the forgiveness of all your sins.  In His tender mercy toward you, He speaks and gives forgiveness to you, and He thereby calls you to be reconciled to Him, to love and trust in Him, to call upon His Name in peace, and to worship Him rightly by faith in His Body and His Blood.

You hear all of this unfolding for you and for all in this story of Zacharias and Elizabeth, and of their little boy, St. John.  It is not only the beginning of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, who is on hand for all of this in the womb of His Mother, St. Mary, but also the paradigm and pattern of the way that God works in His Church of all times and in all places.

Zacharias and Elizabeth are holy and righteous by faith in the Word of the Lord, and they live by such faith in His Word, as St. Luke has testified.  But they are also old and long past the childbearing years.  Elizabeth has been called barren throughout her long life, and yet, it is now from her dead and empty womb that God calls into being and into His service the Forerunner, St. John, who comes and goes before the face of the Lord to prepare His Way.

As in the case of Abraham and Sarah in the Old Testament, so here also, God brings forth life out of death, and thereby points to the incarnate Christ who will die and rise again.

In a similar way, after ten months of mute silence, St. Zacharias confesses (in writing) the Word that God has spoken to him by the Angel Gabriel; and then his mouth is opened and his tongue is loosened to speak and sing in praise of God by the Holy Spirit.  So it is, that from out of the silence proceeds the Word of the Lord, to the praise of His glorious grace.

The old man who was prevented from speaking because of His foolish doubts and unbelief, is sanctified by the Word and Spirit of God and strengthened in his faith to bless the Name of the Lord and to prophecy of the Redemption He has come to accomplish in the flesh.

The conception and birth of any child is a cause for rejoicing and thanksgiving to God, and all the more so in these miraculous cases of St. John the Baptist and our Lord Jesus Christ, the incarnate Son of God.  It is not unusual to give expression of high hopes for the future of a newborn infant, as any father might boast of his son or daughter.  But on this occasion it is far more than simply that.  St. Zacharias speaks and sings by inspiration of the Spirit, and he gives thanks for what the Lord is doing, rejoicing in what He has said and promised, with such a confidence of faith that he describes these things as being already a done deal.

This he does, not only concerning his own little boy, but, first and foremost, concerning the Fetus in St. Mary’s womb, the Son of David, still half a year away from being born.  In that unborn Child, St. Zacharias correctly identifies and rejoices in the visitation and redemption of the Lord Himself, our God and Savior in human flesh and blood.

Consider how radically this Word of the Lord on the opened mouth of priestly Zacharias stands in sharp contrast to the foolish wisdom and presumptuous attitude of this selfish and sinful world.  What God does here is remarkable.  And yet, this miraculous and gracious work of God is actually less strange than the audacity of abortion; for it confirms, instead of contradicting, the goodness of God’s natural creation and gift of life.

By faith, Zacharias perceives and praises the Son of God, though He is yet unseen within His dear young Mother.  Whereas fathers and mothers nowadays, when such sophisticated ultrasounds are able to provide high resolution pictures of their unborn children, may still deny their humanity and personhood to the point of putting those little children to death.  Is that not a most remarkable perversion of creation, nature, and science?

But of course, our Savior Christ Jesus has come in the flesh to redeem all of humanity and all persons by embracing the foolishness of our sin and the fragility of our death in His own suffering and sacrifice upon the Cross.  He is conceived and born of the Woman in order to give His life and shed His blood as the Ransom for all men and women, boys and girls, both young and old.  To such an extent does He take our place, in order to give us His own place.

Which is why it is St. Mary’s little Lamb, who is no less the Lion of the tribe of Judah, who stands at the center: On the throne of God, worshiped by the angels and archangels, by the twenty-four elders and the four living creatures, by the Prophets, Apostles, and Evangelists, and by all the saints in heaven and on earth.  From the start, from beginning to end, from before the foundation of the world, from all eternity to all eternity, it really is all about Him.  He rightly has the pride of place in the Canticle of Zacharias, that is, the Benedictus, as surely as He will be the Object of St. John’s preaching and baptism.

Christ Jesus is the Word and Wisdom of God.  Not only in Himself and with the Father and the Holy Spirit, but also now for us, for you and your salvation — in His own flesh, by His Cross, and in His Resurrection from the dead.  By the gracious working of God, you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for you the Wisdom from God.  He is your Righteousness and Sanctification.  It is in and with Him, in His Body, crucified and risen, that you know the Way of the Lord and live in it by faith.  Because He has obtained forgiveness for all your sin, and reconciled you to His God and Father, and He calls you to Himself by His Spirit through the Gospel.  He has mercy upon you, and He grants to you His Peace.

It is in that Peace of Christ that you worship the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit without fear.  And in His Peace that you are likewise free to love and serve your neighbor without fear.

It is true that you fear the Lord in reverence and awe; that you humble yourself before Him to worship and adore Him by faith, not only with your heart and mind, but also with your lips and your body; and that you recognize the deadly and damnable seriousness of sin.  Yet, although the Law accuses you and exposes your sin, your doubts and fears and unbelief, your anger and despair, still, the Word and Spirit of the Lord in the Gospel of Christ opens your ears, your heart and mind, your lips and tongue, to receive and rejoice in His mercy and forgiveness.  He raises you up, and He restores and strengthens your faith, day by day, week after week, from one year to the next, from youth to old age.

It is pointedly by and with His Word that He does so, and by and with His Word that you worship Him and care for your neighbor.  Nowhere is that more evident than it is in the case of St. John the Baptist.  His birth and his name are announced by the Word of the Lord that is spoken by the Angel Gabriel.  In response, Zacharias is silenced in his doubt and unbelief, but his mouth and lips are opened in faith to pray, praise, give thanks, and sing.  He recalls the Word of the Prophets, and he looks ahead to the Word that his son, St. John, will preach.  God’s oath, His Covenant, and His forgiveness of sins are all given by and with His Word.

So, then, as the Lord has restored the fortunes of Zion, as He has accomplished Redemption for His people, His Church, He fills your mouth with laughter and your tongue with shouts of joy.  You worship Him by listening to His Word, by hearing and believing what He says and promises, and by confessing what He has spoken to you.  And with the same Word in your mouth and on your lips, He gives life to your neighbor and strengthens his faith.

To begin with, this is the primary way that fathers and mothers care for their children, even from the womb, from infancy and toddlerhood; that is, by speaking the Word of the Lord to them; by confessing, praying, and singing His Word both with them and for them.  There is no more precious gift that you can give to your children, or to anyone else, than that.

It is also by and with the Word of God that otherwise plain water has become the Life-giving Baptism of repentance and forgiveness of sins, which, from the days of John the Baptist until now, flows like a mighty river in the desert wilderness.  For with the Word of God, in and with that water, your Baptism has anointed you with the Holy Spirit, united you with Christ the Lamb, and named you with the Name of God, adopting you by His grace as a son of God in Christ Jesus.  That Word and promise of your Baptism give to you the forgiveness of sins, deliver you from death and the devil, and from all your enemies of body and soul, and raise you up to newness of life and eternal salvation in the Body of Christ.

Your Baptism has indeed brought you into the relationship of faith and love that Christ has established between God and Man in Himself, in His Person, in His own flesh and blood.  And as a member of His Body, the Church, He remembers you in and with His Covenant, that is, in and with His Body given and His Blood poured out for you in the Holy Sacrament.  For with His Word, the Verba Testamenti Christi, He takes bread, gives thanks, and gives it to you as His Body; He takes the wine, gives thanks, and pours out His Blood for you.  So does He remember you in mercy; and so do you remember Him and worship Him in peace.

By this priestly, sacrificial Food and Drink, He gives to you the knowledge of Salvation — not just head knowledge, but the intimate knowledge of experience and faith, of heart and mind, body and soul — in and with His Word of forgiveness, which takes away your sins.

Thus are you made righteous and holy before your God and Father in Christ Jesus, and so do you rejoice, give thanks, and sing in His presence.  You live by faith, and, when that day comes, so shall you depart in peace and joy, because the Lord is faithful in all His ways.  His living and active Word, fulfilled for you in St. Mary’s Son, the Lamb of God, is preached to you for repentance and forgiveness of sins in His Name.  And with that Word, the Sun of Righteousness arises and shines upon you, to warm and lighten you with the grace of God, your Savior, and to guide your feet in His Way of Peace by His Holy Spirit.  From the streams of living water in the desert to the Table of Christ in the House of the Lord forever.

In the Name + of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

14 December 2014

To Rejoice in the Light of Christ

In the midst of the deep darkness that surrounds you — and there is plenty of darkness round about, not only with the lack of sunshine in these short days of December, but with so much evil in this dying world, including daily reports of rape and murder, violence in the streets and abuses of power both here and abroad, and now the recent martyrdom of four young Christians in Iraq, all of them under fifteen years of age — yet, in the face of that deep darkness which threatens to swallow you up, the Voice of the Lord calls you to rejoice: To repent of your sins, and to rejoice!

No less dark than the world around you is the sin that dwells within you, in your heart and mind, in your language and your mischief.  But now repent of all your sin, and rejoice in Christ Jesus.

Beloved of the Lord, rejoice in that true Light of Christ, who has come into this world of sin and death and shines on you in Peace.  For He enlightens your heart and mind, your body and soul with His Holy Spirit, and He gives to you life everlasting with Himself and with His God and Father.

St. John the Baptist is not that true Light of the Lord.  He is not the Christ, the Lord’s Anointed.  Yet, he is a man both named and sent by God, by the grace and Spirit of the Lord, to make known that Light of Christ; so that you and all might receive and believe in that same Lord Jesus Christ through him — through St. John’s preaching and baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.

This is the way God does His thing.  This is the way Christ comes, not only then, but also here and now to you.  He sends a messenger to testify, to confess and point to the One who comes, and to make ready His Way before Him.  For not only His coming, but also your receiving and believing are accomplished by the Lord, by the voicing of His Word.

Apart from this Ministry of the Forerunner, you do not recognize or know the One who dwells among you in the flesh.  Because you are lost in the wilderness of your sin, even when Christ the Lord is standing right in front of you, even then, you still don’t know Him.  You’re still in the dark, unable to see or rejoice in His Light.  You aren’t able to comprehend what He is saying, to receive Him or believe in Him, until you are brought to repentance, from unbelief to faith in the Gospel.

Therefore, although St. John the Baptist is not the same man as Elijah the Tishbite, he has in fact been called and sent in the spirit and office of the Prophet Elijah, as the Angel Gabriel foretold his priestly father, Zacharias, in order to make ready the Way of the Lord.

He does it by the preaching of the Law and the Gospel, and by his baptizing with water and the Word in the Name of the Lord, unto repentance, and for the forgiveness of sins.  Thus, you are brought to recognize the Christ who stands with you in the water, to pass through those waters with Him, out of the wilderness of sin into the Kingdom of God, and to rejoice in His great salvation.

St. John’s entire life and ministry, his preaching and his baptism, and finally his beheading by King Herod, are all a witness to this Lord Jesus Christ.  That is why you can hardly get St. John to say anything about himself, except what he is not.  And when he is finally pressed to say who he is, he simply quotes the Scripture: He confesses the Word that God has spoken concerning him.

Always, always, always, St. John is pointing away from himself to the Lord Jesus Christ; because it is Jesus, Jesus, only Jesus who takes away the sin of the world and gives to you salvation.

This Office and Ministry of St. John the Forerunner continues in the pastoral office to this day, and even to the close of the age, unto all nations; so that, by the preaching and baptism of repentance and the forgiveness of sins, you might receive and believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and be saved.

It is most certainly true — I confess and do not deny — that I am not the Christ, nor could I be.  I am not the incarnate Son of God.  I am not your Savior and Redeemer.  But I also am a man sent by God to preach and teach His Word, and to baptize, absolve, and commune you with His Word.  Not as though I am worthy of myself to do any of these things, but because the Lord has sent me to do so.  This is the way He comes to you, and works for you, and shines His Light upon you.

So it’s not about me, but about Christ Jesus, whose servant I am for your sake.  According to my office and vocation as your pastor, I point you and bring you to Him, who is alone your Kinsman Redeemer.  Not with my own words or works, but with His Good Word and His Good Works.

This is the significance of the Salutation in the Liturgy.  When I address you in this way, “The Lord be with you,” it is to announce that He is indeed with you in the office and work that I carry out in His Name and stead: In the reading and proclamation of the Holy Gospel, in the consecration and distribution of the Holy Sacrament, and in the putting of His Holy Name on you in the Aaronic Benediction.  When you respond, “And with your Spirit,” you acknowledge and affirm that the Spirit of the Lord is with me in these words and works of His, in this office and vocation of the Holy Ministry.  Like a little “ordination,” it says that we rely, not on ourselves, but on Christ.

By this Ministry of the Gospel, you also have received and bear the Holy Spirit of Christ Jesus in your own proper office and station in life.  Indeed, the Spirit of the Lord is upon you to do what God the Lord has given you to do for the glory of His Name and for the good of your neighbor, that all may see the Light of Christ in you and so believe in Him through your good works.

It may seem crazy and confusing, but this is how God does His thing.  This is how Christ comes to your family and friends, to your colleagues and coworkers, to your teachers and students.

It is true that you are not the Christ.  But it is no less true that you are a Christian.  Which is to say that you are anointed by God the Father with the Spirit of Christ Jesus, His beloved and well-pleasing Son.  For, although you are not St. John the Baptist, either, you are baptized into Christ.  Which means that you are united with Him in His Cross and in the power of His indestructible life.

Therefore, the Lord is with you, not only in His coming to you by this Ministry of the Gospel, but also in whatever place and position He has put you, in order to accomplish His purposes through you.  He is with you in your labors, in your duties and responsibilities, in your chores, and in your studies, to sustain you with His Word and Holy Spirit, and to serve your neighbor through you.

It is within that same context that you abstain from evil and pursue good in the ways that St. Paul has admonished you this morning.  In the classroom, at the office, within your home and family, across the backyard fence, or out with friends; maybe volunteering to rock babies at the hospital, to serve meals at Hope Rescue Mission, or to build houses with Habitat for Humanity.  In each case, do not repay evil for evil, but always seek to do whatever is good and right for one and all.  Admonish the unruly; encourage the fainthearted; help the weak; and be patient with everyone.

It is not by your own personal ingenuity, cleverness, or strategy that you persist and persevere in such things, but by using and rehearsing the Word that God has spoken to you by His Son and by His servants in His Name.  That Word of the Lord opens your lips to confess and call upon His Name.  It is precisely in this way that you rejoice in the Lord: By praying at all times, in accord with His Word and promise, such as when you pray the Our Father or cry out to the Lord in the Kyrie.  And by giving thanks to God the Father in every circumstance and situation through our Lord Jesus Christ, as in the Creed and in the Eucharist, confessing who He is and what He does.

Christ the Lord, the true Light of the world, has already done everything for you, which you could never have done for yourself.  He has accomplished and established your salvation in His own Body of flesh and blood.  And now, by the Ministry of His Word and Holy Spirit, by His free and full forgiveness of your sins, He daily and richly adorns you with His own Righteousness, and He clothes you in His garments of salvation.  Thus does He bedeck you as a most beautiful Bride, made ready for Him who is your Bridegroom, who comes to bring you home rejoicing, to carry you across the threshold of death and grave into the Resurrection of the body and the life everlasting.

So, then, you are given to rejoice in Him, to pray, praise, and give thanks in His Name, by the fact that He rejoices over you in love.  Listen to what He says, for He is speaking peace and joy to you.

By this Voice of His Gospel, and by the same Word made Flesh in His Holy Sacrament, Christ the Lord sanctifies you in body, soul, and spirit; and so shall He preserve you, blameless and clean, without any spots or wrinkles or flaws of any kind.  He is faithful, and He will surely do it, just as He has spoken.  According to His promise, He will bring you to perfection at His coming in Glory.

He has already come in the flesh to redeem you by His Sacrifice upon the Cross.  And now, having risen from the dead for your Justification, He comes with His Body and Blood to make Himself known to you here in this place by the proclamation of His forgiveness and His love for you.

You know Him and receive Him, you repent of all your sins and believe in Him who loves you, and so do you rejoice in the Light of His Salvation — all by this very Word that is spoken to you.  In the Name + of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

10 December 2014

Life and Love Hidden Under the Cross

St. Mary is a beautiful example of receptive faith in the Word of God, as she says “Amen” and “Let It Be” to what He has spoken and promised to her.

And in her visitation to St. Elizabeth, she is likewise portrayed and presented as a living icon of the holy Christian Church on earth, the means whereby Christ, the Son of God, comes to us in the flesh.  Indeed, He comes to His people in the very Body and Blood that are His own because He was conceived and born of this Woman, the Blessed Virgin Mary.

She is a new Ark of the Covenant, in whose womb, already, is found the dawning of the New Testament.  In this way, St. Mary, the Mother of our Lord, is a Sacrament of Christ by His Word and Holy Spirit; for in her body of flesh and blood, the Word becomes flesh, God becomes Man and dwells with us.

Now, as then, it is a hidden presence and gift of Christ Jesus.  He is received and believed, not by human sight, but solely by faith in His Word and promise.  You receive Him in His Church, in His means of grace, as St. Mary received Him in her womb, and as St. Elizabeth received Him in the visitation of St. Mary, by His Word and Holy Spirit.

It is not that He is hidden by His human nature.  In fact, He is the Image of God precisely in His humanity, in His Manhood, in His holy Body of flesh and blood.  But the true Glory of that Image of God in Christ Jesus is hidden under the Cross, that is, under the curse of our sin and death, which He takes upon Himself and bears in His own Body, in order to atone for the sins of the whole world by the shedding of His Blood.

For God to become Man is no humiliation; it is the glorious fulfillment of His good creation.  That purpose is fully realized and manifest forever in the Glory of His risen and ascended Body.  However, in order that all of creation should be redeemed and sanctified in the Body of Christ Jesus, He first of all humbles Himself to bear the Cross.  He comes in the likeness of fallen flesh, to share not only human nature, but the mortality of all of Adam’s children, the curse and consequences of man’s sin.  That is the humility in which He is hidden.

So, while we rightly marvel at the beauty and the glory of the Incarnation, as the Son of God is conceived in the womb of Mother Mary, we also find that He humbles Himself and is hidden under the shadow of the Cross from the very start.  Hidden in and with your humility and weakness, yet present for you, even there, with His divine glory and strength for your redemption and salvation.  He hides Himself in this way, in order to reveal Himself in mercy, to help you and to save you by His grace.

Thus, He teaches you to recognize and receive Him by faith in His Word, even though, for now, you are not able to see Him as He is.  He catechizes you to rejoice in His coming, in His visitation and His presence, even under the circumstances of the Cross, in the midst of sin and death.  So that you wait upon the Lord, as a woman waits upon the birth of her child, knowing that great joy and new life shall emerge out of pain and labor.

What is most certainly true and shall be accomplished — what God the Lord speaks to His people — stands in contrast and contradiction to what your senses perceive, to what you feel and experience in this fallen world and in your own perishing flesh.  Therefore, shut your eyes, as it were, to everything else within and without, and open your ears to the preaching of the Word of God.  That is not to live in a fantasy world, but to live by faith in what is real though hidden under the frailties of this life under the Cross.

You have the example, this evening, of the young Virgin, engaged but not yet married, and of the old lady who was called barren, both of whom are now bearing children.  Was it easy for either one of them?  No.  Was it ideal?  Not hardly.  You can probably imagine at least some of the challenges and difficulties that each of them faced.  If you are also a mother, yourself, you will know it even better.  Childbearing itself is cursed with pain on account of the fall into sin.  And for the very young and the very old, it is surely that much harder.

St. Mary, full of grace and faith and favored by God, will be suspect to begin with, then hunted by the king who wants to kill her Son.  St. Elizabeth, so far as we know, will not live to see her son grow up, nor to see her Savior accomplish the purpose for which He comes.

But what do these dear women focus on?  Not their troubles, but the tremendous grace and blessing of God.  St. Mary exults in the Lord and praises His Name for the great things that He does for her, which are for the salvation of His people of all times and places.  She confesses His Word and promise, and rejoices in His Covenant, as though it were already accomplished and completed; as though the humble and poor were already exalted; and as though the high and mighty were already disciplined and prevented from injustice.

And St. Elizabeth rejoices in the grace of God, not only in her own pregnancy, but in the visitation of the infant Lord in the womb of His own Mother.  She praises and worships the incarnate God who is but a Fetus at this point: Not only is He a real human being, but the Lord who comes to her!  But it is only the first trimester for St. Mary and her Son, so there isn’t even a cute little baby bump to mark and manifest His presence.  What, then?  Only the Word of the Lord, and the testimony of the Holy Spirit by that Word.

The little unborn Forerunner, filled with the Spirit from his mother’s womb, is already doing His God-given job, announcing the Christ and pointing to Him.  St. John leaps for joy at the greeting of the Blessed Virgin, and in this way he alerts his own mother, St. Elizabeth, that the Lord is at hand.  And that little Lord Jesus, whom yet unseen you love, is the fulfillment of all the good things that God intends for you and for His whole creation.

He comes in the flesh, in remembrance of His mercy, in order to undo sin and death, and to bring man into holy fellowship with God.  He comes to do it by the way and means of His Cross, so that, in the Resurrection of His Body, all things in heaven and on earth are made brand new.  And even as we make our pilgrimage through Advent and look forward to the celebration of His Nativity, we know and we confess that He has done it: He is not only conceived and born, but crucified and risen from the dead, “for us men and our salvation.”

The Cross and Resurrection of the Son of God in human flesh is the key to everything, and the lense through which we as Christians are given to look at life.  It is by His Cross and in His Resurrection that you know and understand yourself and your circumstances rightly, contrary to the perception and interpretation of the world and your own flesh.  For you are blessed and favored by God, redeemed and saved by His grace toward you in the Body of Christ Jesus, the beloved and well-pleasing Son of the Father.

You know and believe and confess that He has come in the flesh, that He loves you and has saved you, because He tells you so in the preaching of the Gospel.  And, no less so, because He gives to you His Body and His Blood to eat and to drink for the forgiveness of all your sins, for the life and salvation of your body and your soul forever and ever in Him.

As He comforts you with this Word and promise, and with this precious Gift of Himself in flesh and blood like yours, consider what this means for the way you are to look at your neighbor, and, in particular, your brothers and sisters in Christ.

As the Son of God has become true Man — flesh of our flesh and blood of our blood — recognize Him in every person you encounter.  For every human being shares the same nature as the Lord who was conceived and born of the Woman, St. Mary.  As He is not ashamed to call them His brothers and sisters, but has become like them in order to redeem them and save them from sin, death, and the devil, therefore, do not be ashamed to love them and help them in His Name and for His sake.

As He has also borne their sin and death, their weakness and temptation, their griefs and sorrows in His own Body to the Cross, do not despise them, lest you be guilty of despising Christ.  Rather, care for them, and serve them, as the Lord visits you in mercy, cares for you and serves you, and gives Himself to heal you in body and soul unto the life everlasting.

All the more so are these things true and compelling in the case of your fellow Christians, who not only share the same human nature as the incarnate Son of God, but who eat and drink, as you do, His holy Body and precious Blood.  Which is to say, that, as St. Elizabeth perceived and blessed the Lord in the womb of His Mother, so are you given to behold the same Lord Jesus Christ in your brothers and sisters.  They also bear His flesh and blood in their bodies.  Therefore, in loving them, in feeding them and clothing them, in visiting them and tending to their needs, you love and serve the Lord, your Savior and your God.

Do not judge your neighbor by appearances, but according to the tender mercies of our God.  Look at them through the lense of St. Mary’s little Boy, His Cross and Resurrection, as the same Lord God looks at you and loves you for His own sake.

Love the young mother, the old lady, and the little children for Christ Jesus’ sake, who has made each and all of them His very own.

And not only that, but know that Christ has made you His very own, as well.  He has made Himself like you, that you may be like Him.  He has become the Son of St. Mary, that you should become a dear child of God by the conception and new birth of your Holy Baptism.  He has taken all your sins upon Himself, in order to cover you with His Righteousness and Holiness.  He has died your death and suffered your damnation on His Cross, in order to raise you up to newness of life, now and forever, in His Resurrection from the dead.

Blessed are you, indeed, who by His grace believe the Word that He has spoken to you, which shall be accomplished in you, as surely as He has fulfilled it for you and for all in His own Body of flesh and blood.

In the Name + of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

07 December 2014

Bible Study on "Forgiveness"

For the past eight years, the LCMS Praesidium has been publishing a series of Bible studies, intended for the use of pastors as they meet together each month in their circuits (September through May).  The general editor of the series is the Reverend Mark Love of St. Peter Lutheran Church in Rockford, Michigan.  I have to confess that, until this past summer, I was not aware of the series, which causes me to wonder how many other pastors and circuits have likewise been unaware of it.

Anyway, I learned of the series when I was asked to contribute a study on "forgiveness," as part of this year's consideration of key words in Christian theology.  The goal was to focus on the way in which the term is used in the Holy Scriptures and the Lutheran Confessions, and to consider the implications of the term for preaching, catechesis, and pastoral care.  I enjoyed the process of preparing the study, which is a different sort of writing than I am normally accustomed to.  The fruits of my labors are now available as the study intended for the month of December: both a leader's guide and a participant's guide are provided.  Previous months have focused on "love," "Gospel," and "propitation."

The Voice of the Lord

Here is where and how the Gospel begins.  This is how the Lord comes to you, to comfort you and give you life.  And this is how you are prepared for His coming.

He sends a preacher to voice His Word, which alone endures forever.  Everything else will wither and fade, or be destroyed, but His Word remains.  Thus, He sends a preacher to speak that eternal Word of His to your heart, for the purpose of turning your heart to Him in faith and love.

But what does your heart trust?  What does your heart fear, and what does it long for?  What does your heart love?  Whatever it is to which your heart clings, on which it depends, before which it bows, that is your god.  That is what drives you and determines your thoughts, words, and deeds.

Bear this in mind, therefore: Everything in heaven and on earth, all the world’s works, all its wisdom and its ways, all of it is passing away.  It is already dead and dying.  Of all that entices you, and of all that threatens you, none of it shall remain, and none of it is able to save you.

It is not that creation is faulty or inherently flawed.  God’s good work of creation is not evil.  It is fallen into chaos and corruption by the curse and consequences of man’s sin.  It is driven into death and destruction by man’s willful disobedience and departure from God.  It is for this reason that the whole world and all that is in it is falling apart and fading away, and man along with it; for it is found to be under the judgment of God.

Now the same Lord God, the Almighty, the Creator of the heavens and the earth, He is coming: He was, and is, and is to come.  And He remains forever.  No one else is worthy or able to redeem you or save you, but He is, and He does.  He comes to judge the living and the dead, to rescue the righteous, and to make all things new.

Hence, a new “in the beginning,” a new “let there be,” and it is so.  For the Lord is spoken in the flesh.  He enters into His own creation, and, not only that, He takes the burden of its mortality, its dying, upon Himself.  As man has brought about the downfall of creation by his sin, so does the New Man, Christ Jesus, the incarnate God, redeem creation and raise it up by His faithfulness.

He comes to put sin and death to death in His own Body on the Cross, in order to bring about the New Creation in the Resurrection of His Body.  So it is that His own flesh and blood are the new heavens and the new earth, the home where righteousness dwells.

He is the One who is coming, here and now, and hereafter.  He is the Mighty One, who comes to be your Judge, whether unto righteousness and peace and life with God, or unto condemnation and eternal punishment.

How, then, shall you meet Him?  Face to face, in faith?  Or with your back to Him, in ignorant fear?  Are you confident in His forgiveness?  Or shall you be condemned in faithless unbelief?

These are not rhetorical or pointless questions, but are of pressing importance and urgency.

As St. Peter has admonished you, in view of the coming destruction of the earth with all its works, conduct yourself in holiness and godly fear.  Fix your attention and your hope, not on these things that are perishing, but on the Day of the Lord.  Relying on His Word and promise, be diligent to be found at peace with Him, and, in so far as it depends on you, at peace with all people.

Refrain from doing evil.  Persist in doing good.  Live according to the commandments of God, yet resting yourself, not in your own merit, but in His mercy.  For He is patient, and He would not have you perish.  Thus, He calls you to repentance, to be saved by faith in His forgiveness of all your sins, and to live by His Righteousness.

Repent, therefore.  Turn away from sin and death, and away from all your idols.  Look instead to the One who is coming, and live.  If your heart is proud, humble yourself before Him.  If your heart is despairing, lift up your head in hope, because your Redeemer is drawing near.  If your heart is greedy and selfish, give your possessions away to the one who has nothing.  If you are consumed by some lust or addiction, let go of those false gods and seek the Lord where He is found.

Whatever you have done, whatever you have been, Repent.  A broken and contrite heart, the Lord will not despise.  Be baptized.  Or, if you are baptized, return to your Baptism.  Be crucified with Christ by contrition and repentance.  Day by day, as often as you sin in your thoughts, words, and deeds, humble yourself under the mighty hand of God to seek and receive His Gospel.  Be raised to newness of life, not by your own bootstraps, but through faith in His Word.

Consider the way the Lord your God has come in the flesh.  He has submitted Himself to St. John’s preaching and baptism, in order to die the death of repentance for the forgiveness of all your sins.  And His own God and Father has raised Him from the dead for your justification.

It is this Gospel of forgiveness that is spoken to you and given to you by His Word, which He causes to be preached to you.  For that is how He shepherds you and His whole flock.

So, then, go out to the preacher whom the Lord has sent, and so hear His voice in the wilderness proclaiming His forgiveness of your sins.  Return to the waters of your Baptism, and enter the good land that God has promised, by going out to the “Jordan River,” confessing your sins.

This is what a contrite and penitent heart is called to do, first of all.  Confess your sins, therefore, and confess the Christ who comes to you, in order to live by His Word of the Gospel.  Not by your own reason and strength, and not by your good intentions or sincere emotions, but by the hearing and heeding of His Word and the preaching of it.

Do not take lightly or for granted, and do not let go, the significance, the strength and salvation of His Voice, that is, the proclamation of His Word, the speaking of Christ that is heard.  It is the beginning of the Gospel.  It is the means by which you receive Christ and are saved by His grace.

His Word works it all in your ears, in your mind, and in your heart.  His Voice in the darkness, His preaching, brings about the New Creation of His Resurrection and His Righteousness in your body and soul, in your whole life.  It is by the ministry of His messengers, whom He sends before His face, that you are prepared for His coming, and for life with Him in the new heavens and earth.

Because it is true that you daily sin much and surely deserve nothing but punishment, His threats, His discipline and warnings may seem to go on and on forever.  And yet, He restrains His wrath and withholds His anger from crushing you completely, because His righteous judgment and His gracious will have been accomplished and established for you by the Cross of Christ.

He calls you daily to repentance because He is patient and persistent in His desire to save you.  And when He crucifies you, it is for the sake of resurrecting you with Christ unto newness of life.

Indeed, the Word of the Lord that endures forever is finally His Word of comfort, which declares that your warfare is ended; that your iniquity is pardoned; that you have peace and rest with God.

Hear and receive this comfort that is spoken to your heart.  And know this, that the fierceness of God’s Law is for the sake of bringing you to this sweet and comforting sound of His Absolution.  For every sin which would destroy you has been borne by Christ and borne away.

Assuredly, His Voice of the Gospel does what He declares: “I forgive you,” He says by the mouth of His servant, and you are forgiven.  He speaks, and it is so.  With this Word, He does make you and all things new.  His Voice brings forth Life out of death, and Light out of the darkness.

You are sealed by that very Word of the Father as a new creation in Christ Jesus by your Baptism into His Cross and Resurrection.  Being united with Christ, the Lord, the incarnate Son of God, by the washing of the water with His Word and Holy Spirit in His Name, you have been rescued and are kept safe for time and for eternity.  There is nothing in heaven or on earth that can destroy you.

These means of the Gospel are not simply means to some other end, but are already the beginning of salvation, which shall be fully revealed at the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ in Glory.  And by these same means, so shall you be found blameless in body, soul, and spirit at His coming.

Even now, it is the milk and honey of the new heavens and the new earth which flow for you here, in the midst of the wilderness.  From the Altar of Christ, from the Sacrifice of His Cross, from His own hand of love, and with His own voice, He gives to you His Body and pours out for you His Blood, for the forgiveness of all your sins.  This is your home, and this is where you dwell with Him in righteousness.

In the Name + of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

03 December 2014

Your Priestly Vocation in Christ

Since the Lord has called you to a royal priesthood in Christ Jesus, by virtue of your Holy Baptism into Him, you should know what your priestly service is, and how to perform it: To pray and confess His Holy Word, and to offer sacrifices of thanksgiving to His holy Name.

In the Gospel this evening, you have heard the culmination and fulfillment of the Aaronic Old Testament priesthood, as it comes to its purpose in the duties of Zachariah and in the promise and conception of his son.  All of this, and all that has come beforehand, points to the coming of the Christ and prepares His people to receive Him and be united to Him.

It is in Christ Jesus, our merciful and great High Priest in the order of Melchizedek — not a son of Aaron but the Son of David — it is in Him that the Lord’s people enter into His divine and holy presence, into the true Holy of Holies, in holiness, righteousness, and peace.  That is what the Priesthood, the Tabernacle, and then the Temple were all about, all along.

So, too, the morning and evening sacrifice, as well as the incense offering that coincided with those daily sacrifices, were always about the Christ who was to come.  These gifts of God were both a prayer and a promise of the great Salvation He would bring about and accomplish by His Incarnation, by His Cross and Resurrection and Ascension.

Every morning and every evening, when the sacrifice was made on the altar of burn offering in the courtyard, then the appointed priest in the Holy Place would offer the incense on the golden altar that stood before the veil, before the Mercy Seat on the Ark of the Covenant.  The sweet-smelling incense that filled the Temple and ascended to the Lord accompanied and actually embodied the petitions of Israel for redemption: That God would restore the oracle to the service of His House, and that He would gather the scattered into His courts, to keep His statutes, to live according to His Will, and to serve Him with their whole heart.

This is the petition that Zachariah is offering when the Angel Gabriel appears to him in the presence of the Lord and declares that his prayer has been heard and is being answered.  And the evidence that it will be done entirely by the grace and powerful working of God is provided in the way and means He goes about it: He gives a son to this old man and his old barren wife, and He provides a name for the boy, John, which means, Yahweh is gracious.

It is with St. John the Baptist, the son of Zachariah and Elizabeth, that the Gospel itself begins; because he is the forerunner who goes before the face of the Lord to prepare His way.  The gifts of God cannot even be received apart from the preparation He provides through the preaching of His messenger!  The Lord works all in all, from beginning to end.

It is by the preaching and ministry of this priestly son, St. John, that the Old Testament priesthood ushers in the Christ to whom it has always pointed.  St. John is the oracle of the Lord, who preaches the Law and the Gospel unto repentance and faith; who thereby turns many of the sons of Israel away from their sins and death and back to the Lord their God.

He is called by God already from his mother’s womb to preach and to practice a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.  And, as you know, not only does he baptize the people with such a baptism, but he will also baptize Christ Himself, the Lamb of God, unto His own Cross and Passion.  In this way, St. John offers the Lamb to the Lord for the sins of the world; not that he is worthy or even able of himself to do so, but according to his office and vocation, by and with the Word and Spirit of the Lord who sent him.

As the Christ enters and emerges from the waters of His Baptism, so is He crucified, dead, and buried, and so does He rise from the dead and ascend to the right hand of the Father.  He thus descends to the depths of Sheol, and then ascends to the heights of heaven, in order to become the Sacrifice and the Incense by which He brings you and your prayers to God.

St. John, the priestly son of Zachariah, is the instrument of the Lord’s mercy, but it is Christ Jesus who is offered and received on your behalf, who fulfills and accomplishes all things.

In His own human flesh and blood, the One who is baptized by St. John the Forerunner is a great High Priest forever, who sacrifices His own body and life and sheds His holy and precious blood, once for all, as the Sacrifice of Atonement for the sins of the whole world.

By that Sacrifice of Christ, which begins with His Baptism and is completed on His Cross, His Body and His Blood become the priestly Food and Drink, the Holy Communion Meal of the perfect Peace Offering, by which His priestly people are bound to Him in fellowship.  Not only for Israel of old, but also for you and for all who are baptized into Him.

The same Body and Blood of Christ Jesus, which are given and poured out for you from His Altar in the Temple of His Church on earth, are also, at the same time and forevermore, the sacred and sweet-smelling Incense and the great High Priestly Prayer that ascend to the highest heavens, into the true Holy of Holies made without hands, into the ears and nostrils of His God and Father.  As He feeds you here with Himself, and as He preaches peace to you here by His Gospel, so does He never stop interceding for you and petitioning your Peace and reconciliation with the Father in heaven, who sits enthroned upon the cherubim.

By these ways and means of Christ, as you receive Him into your body through the Gospel, in your ears, and in your hands and mouth, so do you also enter with Him, in His Body of flesh and blood, into the presence of God in Peace: By repentant faith in His Word of the Gospel, the forgiveness of all your sins.  By your Baptism into His Cross and Resurrection and Ascension.  By your participation in the Holy Communion of His Body and His Blood.

Joined to Christ Jesus in body and soul by these gifts of His grace, you do belong to the royal priesthood of His Body, the Church; so that your body and life, like that of St. John the Baptist, only within your own particular place in this world, are a priestly sacrifice of thanksgiving and a priestly service of prayer and confession.  You offer to the glory of God and for the good of your neighbor what you have received from the Lord by His grace.

What that means, at ground level, is that you are daily put to death and daily raised to new life by repentance and faith in the Gospel.  And that is not simply a mental activity, nor a self-help exercise of your emotions.  It is to hear and head the preaching of the Word of the Lord, the Word of Christ Jesus, from those messengers who are sent to speak it to you.

It is also then to serve the duties of your office and station in life, as in the very presence of the Lord your God.  To know what that means for you, specifically, consider your place in light of the Ten Commandments, as the Catechism has instructed you to do.  And so live and do as God has commanded: Love and cherish, honor and serve your spouse, your parents, and your children, your brothers and sisters (in your own home and family, and in Christ), and your other neighbors, as well, as you are given to do in each case by the Word of God.

Because this life of faith and love is a priestly sacrifice, it is to bear the Cross and to suffer patiently for the sake of Christ Jesus.  Which is to say, not simply that you put up with it, but that you boldly confess His Cross in gentleness and reverence, in courtesy and peace.

Whatever disgrace and shame you may experience from other people, do not measure the grace and favor of God by your outward circumstances, but by the Word and promise of Christ, by His Cross and Resurrection.  So, for example, Zachariah and Elizabeth bore the Cross of having no children, though they were indeed righteous in the sight of God by faith in His Word; and by such faith, they lived according to His Word in their vocations.

This is the priestly life and priestly service, the “liturgy of life,” so to speak, to which you also are called by the Spirit through the preaching of the Gospel.  It does involve the doing of your duties, but it is always the case, at all times and in all places, that it depends upon the hearing of the Word of Christ, by which you believe, and by which you pray and confess the Lord your God.  As the Father speaks to you by His Son, so by His Holy Spirit do you speak that same Word in prayer, praise, and thanksgiving.  You speak as the oracle of God.

That you might learn to speak and sing that Word of Christ, the Word-made-Flesh, the Lord does for you, as He did for Zachariah, the very thing that we have prayed in the evening Psalm: He sets a watch over your mouth, and He guards the door of your lips, lest your heart be inclined to unrighteousness and evil by the speaking of doubt and unbelief.  For words are powerful, as you hear them, and as you speak them, whether for good or for evil.

Through his silence, Zachariah learned to wait upon the Lord, to listen to His Word, and to watch for the fulfillment of His promises.  In time, as we shall hear in a few weeks, he also learned to speak the Word of the Lord to and for his little son, St. John.  In the same way, you are called to silence, first of all, that you might hear and learn the Word of Christ, and then, by His Word, to confess His Cross in the sure and certain hope of His Resurrection.

Indeed, by the grace and Spirit of Christ Jesus, everything you do and say as a Christian is a confession of His Cross and Resurrection.  By His Word, all of your words and actions, your body and soul, your heart, mind, and spirit are consecrated for priestly service to the glory of His Name.  From the font — from the womb of your Mother, the Church — you are holy and righteous in all things, without any blame or fault in the presence of your Father.

For His Word to you in Christ Jesus is more than simply “true.”  It is the Truth, upon which the heavens and the earth and all of creation are brought into being and perfected.  It is the sure and certain promise of what is to be, of your tomorrow and forever, because it has already been fulfilled and accomplished for you in the Body and Blood of your Savior.

He has humbled Himself, even unto death, and He has been exalted by His God and Father on your behalf, as your merciful and great High Priest, that you should be exalted in Him.

His Blood, shed upon His Cross, has atoned for all your sins forever; and with that Blood, in His own Body of flesh, crucified and risen from the dead, He has entered the Most Holy Place, behind the veil, where He ever lives to intercede for you before the throne of God.

That you should be and abide with Him there, now and forevermore, He also feeds you with His Body and His Blood here at His priestly Table, to nourish you in your body and soul, unto the Resurrection and the Life Everlasting.

Therefore, take heart, and do not be afraid, dear child of God.  Not only is your petition heard and answered for the sake of your dear Lord Jesus Christ.  But, as you belong to Him, a member of His royal priesthood, you stand with Him before your God and Father in Peace.  Even now by faith in the Gospel, and forevermore in Christ, you live and abide with the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit in that true Temple of God which is the Body of the Lamb.

In the Name + of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.