22 December 2007

Do Not Be Afraid to Do What You Are Given

The Word of the Lord is spoken to you, as it was spoken to St. Joseph. Not now by an angel in a dream, but by a messenger of the Lord in His Church. Indeed, His prophetic Word has been fulfilled and made more sure with the coming of Christ Jesus in the flesh. So this Word is now proclaimed to you as the Gospel, unto the obedience of faith.

It is a wondrous Word that is here preached to you, full of the gracious and wonderful works of God. He has acted on your behalf, and He is still taking every initiative and acting to save you, to give you all good things and every perfect gift. The Lord Himself is your Savior, and He has become your Salvation. He has been conceived and born of the Blessed Virgin Mary, becoming flesh of her flesh and blood of her blood, so that He who is begotten of the Father from eternity is also (now and ever) true Man: like you.

He is the promised Son of David, who shall be seated on His throne and reign forever and ever. But neither David himself, nor any of his royal sons, nor humble Joseph either, brings about this birth and crowning glory. The Lord Jesus is conceived and born of David’s daughter, the Virgin, apart from any man. The House of David neither takes from God, nor gives to Him, but hears His Word and receives His gift, His Son.

With Ahaz, the Word and the gift are despised and rejected, but they could not be thwarted. With Joseph, they are heard and received in faith, in repentance and righteous obedience. St. Joseph is no king, nor is he the natural father of the Christ. But the Lord speaks to Joseph, and that righteous man believes and obeys. There is no hesitation, no talking back or argument. Each time he hears the Word of the Lord, he takes it to heart and immediately acts upon it.

It is in the righteousness of faith that he does so. Even before the Lord has revealed to him that his bride has not been unfaithful and adulterous, but shall bear a Son by the Holy Spirit, Joseph has already determined to deal with her in mercy. His righteousness is found, not only in his respect for the Law, for the Sixth Commandment and the sanctity of the marriage bed, but all the more deeply in his compassion for Mary. The letter of the Law would have her not only divorced and sent away, but stoned to death as a public spectacle, as a harsh example to others. Joseph honors the command, but he honors the heart of God in the Gospel, which does not punish but spares the sinner.

Of course, though Mary is a sinner, because she too has inherited the sin and guilt and death of Adam and Eve, she is without any sin or guilt in the conception of her Son. In this she is chaste and pure and faithful. But not in the eyes of the world. St. Joseph believes the Word of the Lord concerning his bride, but in taking her to be his wife he makes her public shame his own. He covers her with righteousness, as her Son shall cover the world with His righteousness. St. Joseph protects the Blessed Virgin from the accusation of the Law, but he will suffer for it. Her Son will suffer far more; for them and all the House of David, for you and all the world, for Jews and Gentiles alike.

Already in St. Joseph you are given a beautiful example of the Christian faith and life, of righteousness and faithfulness under the Cross of Christ. The Cross is several decades down the road, but it is the Cross that Joseph suffers for his obedience of faith.

It is the Cross that you are given to bear and suffer, as well, for the benefit of your neighbor, your spouse and children, your friends and enemies. It is sure that none of your neighbors is the pure and spotless Virgin Mary bearing the Son of God in her womb, but you are called to deal with all of your neighbors in charity and love, for the sake of her Son.

Do not condone or accommodate sin, whether against the Sixth Commandment or any other, but forgive as you are forgiven; show mercy in the loving-kindness of your God; deal with your neighbor in the Peace of Christ. It is more than the cheerfulness and generosity of the season. It is care and concern and real help at all times, in every place, as you are given the opportunity. Not for a show or the goodwill of man, but even at great personal cost, and even when it causes the world to scowl at you.

Help your neighbor in need, up and down the street, left and right. But do not neglect or despise those neighbors whom the Lord has entrusted most closely to your care: your parents, your spouse and children. Honor your father and mother with obedience when you are young, and with tender provision when they are old. Not only when they are wise and kind and attentive to you, but also when they are grumpy and ill-tempered, or senile and crazy.

Love and cherish your wife or husband, not only on your honeymoon, but every day of your life together, for as long as you both shall live: in good times and bad, in sickness and health, for richer or poorer. Be faithful and honest, not only by avoiding adulterous affairs, but by giving yourself, your heart, mind and body, fully to your spouse. Trust the Lord who has given your wife to you, who has given you to your husband. And trusting the Lord, forgive your spouse for Jesus’ sake.

Care for your children, also, with love and mercy and forgiveness. Deal with them gently and with patience, as the Lord is long-suffering, slow to anger, and compassionate with you. Do not fail to discipline your children, to teach them right and wrong, to train them in the way they should go, in the fear of the Lord. But do not vent your own sinful anger upon them; they suffer, as it is, for the sins of their father and mother. Remember that the little Lord Jesus was Himself a Child, and that He welcomes the little children to His own embrace; not because they are perfect little angels without sin, but because He has given Himself for them, and He forgives them, as He also forgives you.

Do all of this, and more, according to the vocations in life to which the Lord has called you. Do so because it is good and right: to honor the Word of the Lord and to serve your neighbor in love. Do not be afraid to do what you are thus given to do. Perhaps you will suffer greatly for it, but the Lord shall sustain you; He will strengthen you and keep you, in faith, even unto the life everlasting.

Consider the outcome of the Cross of Christ: Both He and you are vindicated in His Resurrection from the dead. What is there to fear? What can any man, woman or child do to rob you of that life which is yours forever by grace through faith in Christ?

You do not work and serve and strive and suffer for your own sake, as though to save yourself. You do it for the Lord (in faith) and for your neighbor (in love). Because the Lord has commanded, and your neighbor has need of it.

Rest assured, the Lord will accomplish His purposes for you, and for your neighbor. He does not need your help. But you need Him. And as He does serve you with all that you need for both body and soul, for this life and the life everlasting, so does He desire that you serve your neighbor in His Name. Feed and clothe and shelter your neighbor’s body, therefore, with the means provided by the Lord. And do not neglect to speak His Word to your neighbor; it is the most precious gift of all.

You are privileged to speak this Word of God (to confess His Word) — which is to say what is more important and significant than any president or king might otherwise declare — you are able to do so, because the Lord your God speaks to you. His Word of the Law commands the way you are to go, according to the good and acceptable will of God. But His Word to you is chiefly and decisively His Gospel, the speaking of the beloved and well-pleasing Son in the flesh: into your ears, into your heart, into your body and life.

In this Gospel He has great mercy and divine compassion upon you, exceeding that of Joseph for Mary; exceeding all that you could ever imagine or suppose. He does not punish you for all your sins and failures of thought, word and deed. He spares you, and does not withhold His goodness from you. He bears with you in love, and bears both you and all your burdens with divine charity and providence.

Not with a wink and a nod, but at the greatest cost and sacrifice. The Father gives the Son, and the Son submits Himself in humble obedience, even unto death upon the Cross. He becomes flesh, in which there is no shame, but in that flesh and blood like yours, conceived and born of Mary, He bears your sins and carries your sorrows and suffers all the curse and consequence of your wrongs.

He has borne the full burden of the Law on your behalf, in order to cover you with His righteousness. He makes all your shame and guilt His own, in order to clothe you with His innocence and glorify you with His holiness. For He has kept the entire Law perfectly, both the letter and the Spirit of it, to your credit and benefit! And yet, He has also suffered the guilty verdict, the sentencing, and the punishment of the Law against all of your transgressions.

In this way, the Lord Jesus Christ has perfectly satisfied and perfectly fulfilled the Law: in your stead and for your advantage. In His Incarnation and His Cross, the true heart of God the Father has been opened to you in love and forgiveness. For He has rescued you from every evil, from sin, death, the devil and hell, and He has reconciled you to Himself.

His good and gracious will for you has been, not only to save you from death and damnation, but to share with you Himself and His Life. It is finally for that purpose that He has come to be with you: that you may be and abide with Him forever, where He is. Not as a visitor, a temporary guest, but as a son of God by grace, truly at home with Him in His house, in His Kingdom, in the very bosom of His Father — who is now your Father in heaven.

Here is a Word as "impossible" and difficult as the Word of the Lord to the House of David. The Virgin has conceived a Son by the Holy Spirit, and He is God the Savior. Your Savior.

In the flesh and blood of Mary’s Son, Christ Jesus, the Lord your God is with you. Not "once upon a time," back then and there, but here and now: with you, and for you. This same Jesus, this same God, this Savior, is with you and speaks to you in His Word of the Gospel, which is the Absolution of your sins. You are acquitted. You are set free. You shall not die but live.

He is with you, with His Word, in the waters of Holy Baptism. Therein, by the same Word and Spirit of God by which the Blessed Virgin Mary conceived the Son in her womb, you have been conceived and born again as a son of God in Christ. You bear His Name — you are a Christian — because He is with you and He saves you.

He is with you, also, as intimately as He was with St. Mary in her womb, when He feeds you in the Holy Communion with the same Body and Blood that she bore in Bethlehem.

Do not be afraid to take and eat and drink this Sacrament, as a member of His Bride, the Church, but know that He is here for you to save you, closer than a lover. And He shall keep you and preserve you, chaste and pure by His gracious forgiveness, steadfast in the one true faith — even under the Cross — unto the life everlasting.

It is by these means of grace that He fulfills and accomplishes for you what His dear Name proclaims: Salvation! For it is by and with this flesh and blood of His, conceived and born of the Seed of David, that He has redeemed you. He is here with you, not to punish you or put you to death, but to love you, to give you Himself and His Life.

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