27 December 2009

That the Peace of Christ Rule in Your Heart

What are you looking for?

Behind all the goals and aspirations; all the projects, plans and wish lists; dreams of romance, love and marriage; all the academic pursuits, financial ventures, and physical endeavors, what are you looking for?

In the movies that you watch, the games that you play, the music that you listen to, and the books that you read, what are you looking for?

When you come to church on the First Sunday after Christmas, to the Temple of the Lord; and whether you come to church on each of the Twelve Days of Christmas, or find other things to do on these holy days, what are you looking for?

Whatever you might call it, however you might describe it, and however your heart might feel it, what you’re looking for and long for is peace. Not simply a truce or cease-fire. Not merely the absence of arguments and conflict, a break at last from the fighting and yelling, contending and competing. But real peace: contentment and satisfaction, a confidence in who you are and why you’re here; and not only reconciliation but friendship with God and with your neighbors, far and near. A peace that flows with identity, meaning and purpose.

That is what your restless heart is looking for, because it is for such peace with God and with each other that you have been created. It is the pulse of real life.

If you do not have such peace ruling in your heart, nothing else will be able to satisfy you or put you at ease; not for long, and not forever.

Without such peace, you’re as good as dead; and yet, you still find no rest from your labors, but are driven by a fevered striving that you cannot even comprehend, much less control. Like a corpse made to dance by the strings of a puppeteer. Not a real boy or girl. Not a real man or woman.

So, you’re looking for a peace that surpasses comprehension, and you find it in the same place that Simeon and Anna did: in the Temple of the Lord; in the Christ-Child, the Babe, the Son of Mary; in the Sign of His Cross. All according to the Word and Spirit of God.

This is where you find what you are looking for.

This is where you see the salvation of your God.

But what is it that you do see, exactly? A Baby, His parents, and a couple of old people.

But babies are born every day, and old people die all the time. And sometimes babies die, and old people outlive their spouses and sometimes the capacities of their minds and bodies. Sometimes couples have children, and sometimes they can’t. And too often, babies are born unwanted; or, what is worse, they are not permitted to be born.

It all seems far too ordinary, on the one hand; haphazard and capricious on the other hand. But this is the only sort of thing that is seen on the surface of it: a Baby, His parents, and two old people. That is all that Mary and Joseph and Simeon and Anna see, when they are met with the Lord in His Temple; and that is what you are given to see, also, here in the Lord’s house, and in your Christian life.

So how is there peace to be found for you in this?

How shall you perceive what Simeon and Anna saw in the Christ: the Light of revelation to the Gentiles and the Glory of His people Israel?

How shall that Light of Christ reveal the meaning and purpose of your life — not haphazard and capricious, but graciously given by God — and how shall you live and die in peace?

If you "live like you were dying," that might be helpful in some respects, or maybe not; but it isn’t the source of peace. Neither a zest for life nor succumbing to despair will save you. If you remain centered in yourself, the end is the same either way.

Whether you seize the day, run with the bulls, jump from a plane, or do nothing at all, what difference does it make?

If you simply resign yourself to the fact that someday you’re going to die, sooner or later, this way or that way, that is not the peace of Christ but the cold logic of Satan.

Faith says, "Yes, it is true that I shall die from this temporal life on earth; for I have already died with Christ in my Baptism; but now, then, my life is hidden with Him in His Resurrection and Ascension, in the bosom of my God and Father in heaven. Therefore, even though I die, yet shall I live."

Who dies thus, dies well.

But while it is far better to depart and be with Christ — and if you die before you wake, you pray the Lord your soul to take — there is a reason for your temporal life on earth. There is a meaning and a purpose for the time and place that you are given here; for your vocations and stations in life. And already there is peace for you in Christ Jesus.

For whether you live or die, you are the Lord’s.

That is the key, first of all, to this Holy Gospel, to the Presentation of our Lord in the Temple, and to the Peace of Christ that you share with Simeon and Anna, Mary and Joseph.

You are the Lord’s — because He has redeemed you, purchased and won you. As He once redeemed the firstborn sons from death, and redeemed Israel from Egypt, so has He, the more gloriously, redeemed you and all people from sin, death, the devil and hell, by the sacrifice of His holy body and the shedding of His precious blood upon the Cross.

That is why the parents brought their firstborn sons to the Lord’s house: the Levites, to dedicate their sons to service; and the rest of Israel, to redeem their sons from sacrifice, and to sanctify them for life in the world to the glory of God. Because, in truth, they and all their children are the Lord’s by right, who is their Creator and Redeemer.

You and your children, also, are His, your Creator and Redeemer, from whom your life and all things come, by grace.

Because you are His, you do not belong to yourself, but to Him. And as you belong to Him, you belong also to His people. You also, then, are dedicated to the service of God; and as you are redeemed from sacrifice, you are sanctified for life — in this world and the next.

That is the life that you are called to live, in whatever place God has put you; not for yourself and your own sake, but for Him who for your sake died and was raised.

You see, then, it is His Cross that reveals the secret thoughts of your heart. It opposes whatever selfishness and self-righteousness there are in you — whatever striving for self. And so His Cross is for the dying of your self.

But it is His Cross, first of all, and He has given Himself over to death ahead of you; in order to redeem you, and rescue and raise you. So that He is the Ram caught in the thicket and thorns of the Cross, provided by God in the place of you and your sons. And He is the Passover Lamb, sacrificed to feed you with His flesh and to cover you with His Blood; so that, not death but life shall have you, not slavery but freedom, not heartache but peace.

All of this, not only for you, but for the many. Not only for the dying, but also for the rising. So that you are not only put to death in your self, but you are raised to new life in Christ within His one Body of many members. You live as He lives; and you shall never die. You live as He lives; and your life is bound up together with all who live in Him.

Therefore, the peace that you are looking for is not only your own comfort and salvation, but the redemption of Jerusalem and the consolation of Israel.

The peace that you are looking for is found in Christ Jesus, because He has reconciled God and man in Himself, in His own Person, in His flesh and blood, in His Cross and Resurrection. You find the peace that you are looking for in Him, and you also find your neighbors and friends in Him, your brothers and sisters, your fathers and mothers, sons and daughters, babies and old people. In loving Him, you love them. In loving them, you love Him.

And as you love Christ in your brothers and sisters, so do they love you in Christ. The Anna sitting next to you there in the pew, her piety, her fasting and prayers are yours; they avail for you and strengthen you. The Simeon sitting a few rows in front of you, his righteousness and devotion are yours; they avail for you and strengthen you. The Joseph sitting with his family in the back, his quiet obedience are yours; it avails for you and strengthens you. And the Mary who lives by faith, who bears children and cares for them in love, her purification is yours; her faithfulness and loving service are yours, and avail for you and strengthen you.

Not as though any of your brothers and sisters could redeem you or merit salvation for you, but because they and you belong to each other in Christ Jesus, and you are taken up together into Him who is your redemption and the Savior of His Body.

This is your identity, your meaning and purpose.

But how do you live and love in this way? What are you to do with yourself?

It is according to the Word of the Lord that you are guided by His Spirit to live and love in peace. That is what brought Mary and Joseph and Simeon and Anna to the Temple — to the little Lord Jesus. And that is likewise what brings you here with your parents and children.

If you are a parent, then bring up your children in the fear and admonition of the Lord. Bring them to His Temple in Holy Baptism; teach them His Word, and bring them to His Holy Communion. Teach them to pray, to sing, and to confess His Name.

If you are a wife, then live with your husband in peace, until death parts you from him.

And if you are a widow, or unmarried, then do not leave the Temple, but serve both night and day with fasting and prayers. In this way you give thanks to God, the Lord, and you strengthen His Church and His people.

If you are a young man, or old, know that it is a manly thing to be in church, to pray and sing, to praise the Lord your God. It is a manly thing to care for your own family, if you have one; to care for orphans and widows in their distress; to take the little children in your arms with gladness, and to behold in them God’s gift of life.

To belong to the Body of Christ is to bear with your neighbor patiently, and in love to share his burdens as your very own. Which means not only time and sweat and money, though it does include all of that, as needs may be; but it means, above all else, that you forgive your neighbor whatever his trespass against you. There is peace in such forgiveness, and life.

There is peace and life — for you and for the many — in such forgiveness, because it is such forgiveness that resides in the heart of Christ, and flows from His heart to all the members of His Body. His Body bears with you, and in love His Body shares your burdens as His own. And His Body forgives you all of your sins, whatever your trespasses may be.

It is all the blessed good work of this little One who has opened the womb of His Mother, and who was brought up to Jerusalem and presented to the Lord: not only in the Temple, but once-for-all upon the Cross.

This One is your Peace.

Though you have not been righteous and devout. Though you have not kept the Law.

Though you have not been faithful in praying and singing and confessing His Word.

Though you have not fasted, and have not been in the Temple as you ought.

Though you have not honored your parents or cherished your spouse or cared for your children or loved your neighbor.

This little One, the Babe, the Son of Mary is your Peace.

He has performed everything in fulfillment of the Law.

He has grown in wisdom and stature for you, and He is strong.

The grace of God is upon Him, and His grace is upon you. In Him you see not death, but the Lord’s Christ, whose Body bears all your sins and bestows forgiveness.

Take His Body now into your arms, bless God, depart in peace, and live.

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

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