25 November 2012

Be Alert to the Cross of Christ

Be on the alert!  So says your Lord, four times over, this morning.

Pay attention to what you see happening in the world all around you, in both church and state, among your neighbors, in your family, and in yourself.  But above all else, give ear to what you hear from God, the Lord.  Interpret what you see (and what you don’t) by what He says.

Everywhere you look (and no less, where you refuse to look), there is sin and death, decay and destruction.  The whole world is wearing out and wasting away.  None of it will last.  The days are growing short.  A harsh wind is blowing in a big storm.  The winter is coming.

It’s far more than just the weather, isn’t it?  There’s all sorts of uncertainty in these troubled and difficult times.  Political unrest and economic turbulence abound.  If it’s not a fiscal cliff, then some other precipice lies ahead of you.  So, watch your step!

Depending on your politics, you may be happy or sad about the recent elections, with various hopes or fears for the future.  But the Psalmist is right: Trust not in princes; nor presidents, either.  It’s not about a prejudice against politicians.  When it comes to what really matters most, do not trust in yourself, either; nor your neighbor; nor anything of this fallen world.  For all of creation is subject to the curse of sin.  It dies and decays.

You, also, are like the grass, which withers and fades; like autumn leaves, which look so glorious for a little while, but then they fall; they are gathered and burned, or they decompose into the soil.

Number your days, you son or daughter of man, and know how short your life here is.  Consider your end, which comes before you know it, sooner than you think.  Your mortal life is nothing.  There is no strength of man that survives.

Since everything looks (and is) so bleak, what hope is there?  What in the world shall you do?

Beloved, your hope is in the Lord.  Therefore, be alert to Him.  Give ear, again, to what He says.  Pay attention to what He is doing by His Word of the Cross, though it, too, appears to be futile.

Your dear Lord Jesus deals with sin, which is the real problem and the underlying cause of death and every evil.  He forgives all sins which you have done, but He also deals with your sin at its core: not so much as bad behavior to be punished, but as a turning away from God, the Creator.  You do not trust the Author and Giver of Life, the One from whom your life and all things come, on whom all things depend.  Your unbelief is the unrighteousness which leads only to death.

But, now, the Lord sends forth a Law, even to the ends of the earth.  He establishes His justice in the midst of sin and death.  Henceforth, His righteousness is near; for His salvation has gone forth.  Though the heavens and the earth and all of creation will perish — the sky will vanish like smoke, and the earth will wear out like a garment — still, His salvation and His righteousness are forever.

Give attention to that fact: His righteousness and His salvation are forever, and they are for you.

His own arm will judge His people; and, it is true, His holy and righteous Law would condemn you and sentence you to death and damnation, because you are neither holy nor righteous in yourself.  Yet, He calls you to Himself; He calls you by name, to be His own, to wait upon His arm in hope.

For with His mighty, outstretched arms, in the tender palms of His own hands, He has suffered the tribulation and the final judgment in Himself.  It is in this way that He has accomplished justice and established righteousness in the earth.  He has taken all the hurt and all the heartache of the fall into sin upon Himself.  Though He is the Creator of all things, and He is Life in Himself, He has taken the entire curse of sin and death, the destruction and decay of the world, upon Himself.

In His Passion unto death, even death upon the Cross, the Lord Jesus Christ has atoned for the sins of the world.  And in His Resurrection from the dead, He has rectified what was broken in all of creation; He has reconciled the sons and daughters of man unto His God and Father in heaven.

You know the Story, which the Holy Scriptures tell, the Creed confesses, the Liturgy unfolds for you and for all, and the Church Year rehearses, even to the end of the age:

The beloved and only-begotten Son of God has left His home with the Father in heaven, and He has come forth on a journey to redeem you and save you.  As true Man, conceived and born of the Blessed Virgin Mary by the Word and Spirit of God — and, therefore, as your own Brother in the flesh, with a body and blood and a nature just like yours — He has waited in faith upon His Father.  He has lived as true Man (as man was created and meant to live), not knowing the day nor the hour in advance, but simply hearing and heeding and relying on His Father’s faithful Word.

He has taken heed.  He has stayed awake.  And He has been alert.  Therefore, when that day and that hour came, He was ready: Watching and waiting in faith, He went to His Cross in holy love.

Learn the lesson of His Tree.  Consider its tenderness, its leaves and fruit, which are for the healing of the nations — and no less so for your healing, unto strength and perseverance and eternal life.

He has sent forth His messengers with its rich and lush fruits, to gather His elect from the four winds, His disciples from all nations.  Thus, by the fruits of His Cross, that is, by the preaching of His Word and the administration of His Sacraments, He calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies His whole Christian Church on earth.  With these healthy fruits, by this Ministry of His Gospel, He Himself is near you — He is right at the door — daily and richly to forgive you all of your sins.

It is for this purpose that He has appointed His servants to care for His household, that is, to feed and clothe, to nurture and teach His family.  His pastors and teachers are watchmen on the heights, doorkeepers, and stewards of the Mysteries of God.  They are called and ordained to keep watch, both day and night; to guard your coming in and your going out by His Word, by the preaching of repentance for the forgiveness of sins; and to guide all your days and your deeds in His Peace.

But what He says to them, He also says to you: “Be on the alert!”  For to you, also, He has given your own proper tasks, your own particular duties, within His household and family.  Do not think that, if you are not a pastor, you do not have to pay attention or take care.  But be faithful in your own office and station in life, and care for your neighbors according to your calling.  That is where you are to watch and to wait for the coming of the Lord, faithfully doing what He has given you to do, in the hope of His mercy; which is to say, in the sure and certain hope of His Resurrection.

Take heed to the Word of the Lord, to His Law and His Gospel.  Thereby set your heart on the pilgrim’s way, to live by faith as a sojourner through the wilderness, as a wayfarer on earth.  Not with your eyes downcast and your chin dragging in the dirt, but lift up your head, your heart and mind, your eyes and ears, unto Christ your Savior; for He is ready, willing, and able to keep you from stumbling, and to make you stand in His glorious presence — blameless in body and soul.

Keep yourself in the Love of God, which is in Christ Jesus, your Savior, and so live by His grace.

Beloved, He has taught you how to live in His love; and day after day, week after week, year after year, He continues to catechize you in the way you are to go, which is the way of life in Him: To say it short and simple, rest yourself in the Word and promise of Christ, that is, upon His Gospel.  Rely not on yourself, but on Jesus.  He will never leave you nor forsake you.  He will not fail you.

In the midst of the great tribulation — which is to say, in your pilgrimage under the Cross — build yourself up on your most holy faith by giving attention to His Word: Do not despise it, but hold it sacred, gladly hearing the Word of Christ as it is preached, and learning from His Word when it is taught.  Avail yourself of the Gospel, not only in the preaching, but also by making regular use of the means of grace.  Receive the Sacrament according to the Word of Christ.  Confess your sins, and receive the Absolution (that is, forgiveness) from your pastor as from Christ Himself; in no wise doubting, but firmly believing, that by this Word your sins are forgiven before God in heaven.

So, too, keep yourself in the Love of God and live by faith in Christ, by praying in the Holy Spirit: at all times, and in all places, without ceasing.  Not by your own reason and strength, but by the Word of Christ, as He has spoken to you.  For you have the Spirit of Christ only by His Word.  And in turn, you pray and confess His Word only by His Spirit.  Such prayer is the voice of faith.

Therefore, pray throughout your days, when you get up in the morning, and when you go to bed at night, and as you take up and lay aside your duties of the day.  And let your whole life be a kind of prayer, by constantly repenting of your sins before God, and by relying on His grace and mercy.

Pray, also, within the fellowship of the Church, which is the Body of Christ.  For it is in Him and with Him and through Him that you pray, and He has taught you to pray with and for each other.  Thus, you serve and support your fellow Christians with your prayer, and they do the same for you.  And together you receive the answer to all of your prayers in the Word and Flesh of Christ Jesus.

So, then, by the Word of God and prayer, wait eagerly upon the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ, unto eternal life.  Set your hope firmly and fully upon Him, and fix your eyes on Him, by clinging to the promise of the Gospel.  Trust that, by His sacrifice and bloodshed on the Cross, and in His bodily Resurrection, He has established His righteousness and His salvation, for you, forever.

Do not be consumed by the temporal things of this life on earth, but temper your consuming with the humility of repentance.  After all, you don’t know what the next four years may hold; nor even what tomorrow may bring; nor if there will even be a tomorrow for this earth, or for you upon it.  But, rather, comfort and strengthen yourself with the eternal things of Christ, who has risen from the dead and lives and reigns forever, and whose Word shall never pass away.

And as you wait upon His mercy, so have mercy on your neighbor: Comfort and encourage the doubting in their weakness and fear, by loving them graciously and well.  Save others by snatching them out of the fire, by warning them straightforwardly.  Don’t wink or nod at sin, but call it what it is, and call your neighbor to repentance in a spirit of gentleness.  To hate the garment polluted by the flesh is not to flee from your brother or sister, but to flee from sin in the fear of the Lord.

Have mercy on your neighbor, who is a sinner like yourself; as you also depend on the mercy of God in Christ, and as He Himself is merciful.  Be gentle and compassionate, as the Lord your God is gentle and compassionate with you.  Forgive, as you yourself are freely and fully forgiven.

Have no fear of death, and do not despair of hope; for the Lord Himself now helps you in your weaknesses and doubts, and He now saves you from the fires of your passions, and from the fires of eternal punishment in hell.  As your merciful and great High Priest, He persists in constant prayer and intercession for you.  And here in His Church, He faithfully speaks His Word to you.  He sends His holy angels to guard you and keep you in body and soul, and His ministers to gather you to Himself by the peaching and teaching of His Gospel, by forgiving you all of your sins in His Name and stead, and by giving you the Food and the Drink that you need at the proper time.

In calling you daily to repentance, He calls you daily to faith in His forgiveness of all your sins, and to find your Sabbath rest and perfect peace in His righteousness and holiness, His innocence and blessedness.  Indeed, the forgiveness that is yours in His Blood delivers you from every evil, unto that day and that hour when He shall call you from this vale of tears to Himself in heaven; as even now His fruitful Cross shines the summer sunshine of His faith and love upon you in Peace.

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

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