23 December 2012

The Lord Comes to Sanctify You for Eternal Life

She rises and runs in a hurry to the house of Zacharias in the hill country of Judah, in accordance with the Word that God has spoken to her.  She proceeds in faith on this way that He has set before her, because He has coupled His promise to her with Elizabeth’s miraculous pregnancy.  Therefore, Mary goes in faith, in order to see this sign which the Lord has given her.  And she goes in love for her elderly relative, in order to serve and care for Elizabeth in those final months leading up to labor and delivery.  For the older woman has secluded herself from her relatives, neighbors, and friends, and her own dear husband, Zacharias, is unable to speak with her throughout the long nine months.  What a blessing, then, to welcome young Mary, even if there were nothing else to it!

But Elizabeth not only receives the Blessed Virgin into her home; she also rejoices in the Lord who comes to visit her within His Mother’s womb.  She, too, responds in faith and love to the Word of God, which is revealed to her through the confession of her unborn son, St. John.  In this way he begins to fulfill his office as the Forerunner, heralding the presence of the Christ.  The Lord had said that he would be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother’s womb, and now, in utero, he leaps for joy at the sound of St. Mary’s voice, at the Advent of her Son.  So it is that Elizabeth welcomes, not only Mary, but her Lord and her God.  And in this faith, both women praise and magnify His holy Name, and they love each other well.

You are called to live and do likewise, according to the Word of the Lord that He speaks to you: To trust His promises, to follow the path He sets before you, to receive and love your neighbor, and to rejoice in God, your Savior.  Because, in truth, what the Lord has done for dear St. Mary, He has done, not only for her, but for you, and for all; for the benefit and salvation of the world.

In her womb is the union of God and Man, the intersection of the Lord Almighty, by whom all things were made, with humble human life on earth.  Blessed is she among women, and blessed is the Fruit of her womb, Jesus!  For by His Incarnation — by His becoming flesh of her flesh and blood of her blood — He becomes like us, and He comes to be with us, in order to save us.

All the more blessed is she, and everyone else, who believes the Word of God and keeps it: in the confidence that He will do exactly as He says.  For He is faithful, and He does it.  To believe what He says, therefore, is already to have what He promises, and to live by His grace in peace and joy.

His Word to you is challenging and difficult, as it was for Mary and Elizabeth.  He is faithful, no doubt, and He provides all that is needed for this body and life; but in this fallen world of sin and death, it is not easy.  His presence is hidden from your sight, in His Church, as it was hidden in the womb of His Mother when He visited the house of Zacharias.  And His Word is spoken in, with, and under the Cross, which appears to be the very opposite of divine life and glory and salvation.

It is only by the Holy Spirit that you believe His Word and live according to it; not by your own logic or reasoning.  And the Holy Spirit is bestowed precisely by that Word of Christ, and through His flesh and blood, as these are administered to you by His servants within His Church on earth.

If this seems like a circular process — no understanding of the Word apart from the Spirit, and no Spirit apart from the Word — that is because it comes to you by grace from the Lord, from outside of yourself.  It’s not something you can enter by any intelligence or effort of your own.  You can’t force your way into it.  But it comes to you and enters you, solely by the grace of God in Christ.

What is this, but grace?  That the Lord your God, your Savior and Redeemer, in mercy comes to visit you, here in His House, “in the belly of His Mother,” as it were: in the womb of His Church.

Thus, by His grace, by His Ministry of the Gospel, the Lord Jesus pours out His Holy Spirit upon you, and you are filled with the Spirit of God.  Thus are you sanctified by Christ in your body and soul, and so it is that you live in faith and love, and you care for one another in peace and joy.  For the Lord your God is with you, and the Holy Spirit strengthens you, in your vocation as a Christian, in all of your going out and coming in, even forevermore.

The significance of all your days and your whole life is found in St. Mary’s Son, who still comes to be with you.  He truly is Immanuel (God with us).  He comes to redeem you from sin and death, and to sanctify you for eternal life with Himself, and with His God and Father, in the Holy Spirit.

It is for this very purpose that He received, from the body of His Mother, His own Body of flesh and blood; that is, in order to save you in body and soul, by sacrificing Himself upon the Cross, and now by sanctifying you with the fruits of His Cross, that is, with His Word and Sacraments.

Thus, your ears hear the Word of the Lord, which He preaches to you, and your mouth then speaks in prayer and praise, confessing and singing His Word.  So, too, in a similar way, your whole body and life are raised up in faith and love; not as a merely external token, nor as simply going through the motions, but as a living sacrifice of yourself, from a heart of faith, and with the mind of Christ.

It really is a life-changing visitation that He makes to you here.  Your heart and mind, your body, soul, and spirit are sanctified by His presence, because He comes to abide with you as the One who has atoned for you.  He has reconciled you to God, and so He grants you peace with God; indeed, He is your Peace.  For He comes to be with you, in order to bring you to God the Father in Himself.  Thus to be and abide with God in Christ is your life and your salvation.

And as He comes to dwell with you here — no less so than He once tabernacled in the womb of St. Mary — so does He also go with you from this place, to wherever you may go, throughout all your days on earth — just as He visited the house of Zacharias and Elizabeth within the body of His Mother.  That is how and why your life, even now, in the flesh, has meaning and purpose and value and significance — in Christ — each of you, uniquely, within your own particular place.

The fact that your mortal flesh is still dying, all the while, does not contradict or undo the truth of this Gospel.  It was no different for Mary and Elizabeth, and yet, you see that God accomplished His purposes in them.  Likewise, again, the fact that your efforts are frequently disregarded, and that you may not seem to be doing any good, does not change who you are in Christ Jesus.

For God is your Savior, and He is with you; and, not only that, but He Himself has shared your mortality and suffering, and has risen from the dead in His own human Body of flesh and blood.

It is the Lord your God who now humbles you, therefore.  Not that He would destroy you, but in order to exalt you in Christ Jesus.  That is to say, He kills you in your sinful self, in order to make you alive in Himself, in His holiness.  He thereby takes away your self-righteousness, in order to justify you with His own righteousness, innocence, and blessedness.

He lets you go hungry, in order to feed you from His hand; so that you would thereby learn to live by faith in His Word.  He leaves you powerless, so that you would lean upon His Mighty Power.

His Law condemns you and puts you to death, with its commands and prohibitions, with all of its threats and punishments.  But the Law is not the last Word.  For Christ Jesus has fulfilled the Law and completed it for you.  He has suffered all its punishments in your place, but, having met all of its demands in perfect faith and love, in holiness and righteousness, He has been vindicated of its accusations and its condemnations, and has thus established the Gospel, for you and for all people.  This Gospel of His does not condemn you at all, but comforts you with forgiveness.  And it does not kill you, but raises you up from death to life in the resurrected Body of Jesus Himself.

Proceed in the certainty of that Word of the Gospel, in the peace and confidence of Christ, your Savior — and in fearless love for your neighbor within your own proper station — no matter how difficult or scary your path may be.  For the Lord is faithful, and His Word and promises are true.

It is in the Cross and Resurrection of Christ Jesus — the Seed of Abraham, the Word made Flesh, the Son of Mary — that the words and promises of God are all fulfilled.

For He humbles Himself and takes on the form of a servant (not by His becoming true Man, in which there is no shame but the Image of God, but by His voluntary bearing of sin and death in His Body of flesh and blood).  And in that humility, He is obedient to His God and Father, even unto death, for the salvation of sinners.  In perfect faith and holy love, He lays down His life on the Cross, as the Sacrifice to end all sacrifice for sin.

And God His Father vindicates Him, raises Him up, and exalts Him at His Right Hand forever.

It is in His Cross and Resurrection, therefore, that you are now brought to genuine repentance — that you are humbled in contrition for your sins, yes, but then also raised up and exalted through faith in His free and full forgiveness of all your sins — unto the life everlasting in body and soul.

Already in your Holy Baptism, you share the Cross of Christ and His Resurrection from the dead.  And that Holy Sacrament signs and seals the entirety of your life — your body and soul, your heart, mind, and spirit — and all of your days and your deeds — in His Peace and Sabbath Rest.

So, too, the Lord continues to come, to visit you, to sanctify and save you, to give you life with Himself in both body and soul, in the Remembrance of His Mercy.

St. Mary sings of this “Remembrance” in the Magnificat — as Zacharias does in his song, the Benedictus, such as we considered this past Wednesday.  This “Remembrance” of God is the very thing that Zacharias means (in Hebrew).  It is a most appropriate name for a priest, because the liturgical work of the priests — the various sacrifices, the arrangement of the show bread in the holy place, the offering of incense, the priestly vestments, and the whole administration of the Covenant — it was all for the Lord’s remembrance of His people, in accordance with His Word.

So, now, in the Sacrament of the Altar — which is the New Covenant of God in Christ — His servants speak and act according to the Lord’s Word and Institution, “in remembrance” of Him.

In this way, and by this means of grace, in the Liturgy of the Lord’s Supper, your dear Lord Jesus Christ remembers you in mercy.  And with that, His God and Father remembers Him as your Savior; not as an exercise of intellect, as though He might otherwise forget, but rather as an active affirmation of His Atonement, by which you are saved.

As He thus remembers you in love, He gives His Mercy into your hand, into your mouth, and into your body: that is, the Body and Blood of Christ Jesus, conceived and born of the Blessed Virgin Mary, crucified under Pontius Pilate, risen and ascended, and now given and poured out for you.

Thereby He and all His benefits, and all that belongs to Him, are given to you and becomes yours.

Here, with His flesh and blood, He visits you and does great things for you; and He fills you up with these good things, which shall never be taken away from you, but shall bear good fruits in you, even now, and in the resurrection of your body at the last, unto the life everlasting of your body and soul; through the same Jesus Christ, your Lord.

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

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