22 December 2019

To Live and Work in the Righteousness of Faith

Where other sons of David have failed to follow in their father’s footsteps — and even great David himself was not always faithful, as the Holy Scriptures make plain — here now is a son of David who shows himself to be a man after his father’s heart.  In fact, the Scriptures present St. Joseph, the son of David, as flawless in his obedience of faith.  He is righteous by God’s grace, and he is faithful in his righteousness.  He governs himself and lives by God’s Word, and when God the Lord speaks to him, St. Joseph acts immediately to do as the Lord has spoken.

Even so, the birth of Jesus Christ and His Holy Gospel do not begin with St. Joseph and his faithful obedience, but with the Word and Spirit of God.  It is God’s gracious speaking that precedes and brings about St. Joseph’s faithful hearing, from which his righteousness proceeds.  And it is God’s speaking of His Word — His speaking to us by His Son — that not only marks but makes the beginning of all things, and so also accomplishes the fulfillment of all things in Christ Jesus.

Before there ever was King David, the Gospel that begins to make its appearance in the birth of Jesus Christ was promised through the holy Prophets in the Scriptures.  This same Son of God, who has now become flesh of our flesh and blood of our blood by His conception and birth of the Blessed Virgin Mary, is Himself the Word of God by whom, through whom, and for whom all things are made.  And when our first parents, Adam & Eve, fell into sin by their disobedience of His Word, it was this very Son of God — St. Mary’s Son, the Seed of the Woman — whom God promised and pledged and for centuries prepared to give in the fullness of time.

The Lord God takes every initiative and acts in love for you and all.  He does not ask for your help, nor does He need your help; nor does He simply offer to help you.  As He created you in love out of nothing, so it is by grace alone that He moves to save you from your sins, from death, and from the power of the devil.  It is His work, His labor of love, and His good gift from start to finish.

What He does ask of you — His commandments of faith and love — are not for His benefit, but for your benefit and for your neighbor’s benefit.  For He would have you learn to live as He lives in the flesh.  Not that you must “earn your keep,” but that you would receive by faith and live in love the divine Life that is yours by the grace of God in the Body and Blood of Christ Jesus.

In the divine, eternal Love of God the Father for His Son, and by the Love of God the Son for His Father in the Holy Spirit, the Lord freely chooses to give you Himself and His Life and Salvation.  And that you might know Him and receive Him in His grace and mercy toward you, He gives to you a Sign; which does not simply point to His Salvation, but the Sign is your Savior, Immanuel, “God with us,” deep in the flesh.  The Lord Himself draws near and is with you to the utter depths of Sheol; and so does He remain with you in the flesh unto the heights of heaven — in the waters of Holy Baptism, in the Word of Holy Absolution, and in the Sacrament of the Holy Communion.

The thing about His Signs, though, is that they are recognized only by faith, and not by sight.  And so, for now at least, you know them solely by the hearing of His Word — and that is how it will continue until you shall finally see them fulfilled in the Resurrection of all flesh.

So, then, wait upon the Lord in the hope of His Resurrection, according to His Word and promise.  Wait in the peace of His Holy Gospel.  Watch unto prayer, as He has taught you to pray and has promised to hear you.  And Work in those labors of love to which He has called you in this life.

Do not lose heart when your place in life is hard to bear, when your job is difficult and long, when your work seems pointless and under-appreciated, and when all your labors appear to be in vain.

Do not lose heart or give up hope, although you are tested and tried and frankly tired of waiting.

Do not grow weary of doing good, even if you feel like it doesn’t really matter what you do or don’t do, or whether you do anything at all.  In truth, your works of love do mean a great deal; they are significant in the same mysterious and hidden way as all the Signs of Christ are hidden under His Cross — because they are His good works of love in you, and they fly in the face of sin, death, the devil, and hell.  So it is that your obedience of faith and your persistent labors of love are the fruits of Christ’s Cross and genuine Signs of His Resurrection from the dead.

True enough, it is a perilous path that you are called to follow in faith and love, and you will not be left to proceed unhindered.  You walk in danger all the way, as St. Joseph did when he took the pregnant Virgin Mary to be his lawfully-wedded wife.  Whereas the glory of the Resurrection is hidden from your eyes, what you do see and feel and experience tugs persistently on your heart and mind, tempting you away from the Word of the Cross to that which has the appearance of wisdom and glory and power and might, but which the Lord has forbidden as deadly and damnable.

Adam & Eve fell for it when they turned away from all the gracious means of life that God had so generously given to them, and they took hold of the one thing He had warned them against.  It was, after all, a delight to the eyes and desirable to make them wise.  King Ahaz, too, a son of David according to the flesh but not by faith, refused and rejected the Word of the Lord and sought instead to find refuge and strength in the enemies of God’s people.

It’s easy to recognize their gross errors now, in retrospect, with your 20/20 hindsight.  But you pursue the same false trail and fall into the same deadly trap when you neither hear nor heed the Word of God but insist upon your own wisdom, reason, inclinations, feelings, and experience; when you neglect what God has given, and you attempt to take what He has not given; when you demand your own preferences, and when you chase after the lusts of your heart, mind, and flesh.

In order that you would not go down that deadly path and become lost, the Lord in His mercy sends the ministers of His Word, like the Prophets and Apostles before them, to preach His Law and His Gospel to you.  As always, He takes the initiative in coming to you and acting for you.

In order to warn you against the way of death, He comes with the fiery judgment of His Law, which exposes and condemns your sin.  In this, He disciplines you in love, as a good father will discipline his children — not out of anger or frustration, but out of care and concern for your life.

Do not despair of His help, nor suppose that you must earn His favor by your good behavior.  But live by the righteousness of faith in His Word, and do as He has commanded, because it is meet and right so to do.  Proceed in the confidence that He loves you, that He desires to save you, and that He has in fact redeemed you from all your sins and reconciled you to Himself by His grace.

So does He send His preachers to you, not only with the frightening thunder of His Law, but with His sweet and precious Gospel of forgiveness.  You receive this grace and ministry of the Gospel through Jesus Christ, the incarnate Son of God, who by His Cross has descended into Sheol as your dread Champion, but who has also risen from the dead and ascended to the right hand of the Father in heaven for you.  The preaching of the Law and the Gospel is really the preaching of His Cross and Resurrection, in order that you should pass through death with Him into the Life everlasting.

The preaching of His Cross and Resurrection is the preaching of repentance, unto faith in His forgiveness of all your sins.  For what is repentance but the dying and rising of Christ worked in you by His Word and Spirit?  It is what He has worked in you by your Holy Baptism in His Name, and what He continues to accomplish in you by the ongoing catechesis of His Word of the Cross.

Now, you should know that even the Prophets and Apostles were wearied by the sinful response that often met their faithful preaching.  Deaf ears and hard hearts seem impervious to the Word.  And it is no different now than it was for any of them, so a pastor can easily become discouraged by the seeming hopelessness of preaching.  So many people don’t even bother to listen at all, and those who do hear the preaching may still act as though it made no difference whatsoever.  The pastor is tempted to suppose that the success or failure of the preaching rests upon his shoulders.  And yet, he is not called to achieve results, but simply to preach and confess the Word of Christ.

Much the same is true for you, as well, within your own vocation and stations in life.  If you are a husband and father, love your wife and children and live to provide and care for them, as the Lord has called you to do.  And if you are a wife and mother, love and serve your family in the confidence of Christ, the Lord, trusting that He will guard and keep you by His Word and Spirit.  Whatever your job may be, live and work conscientiously as a faithful servant of the living God.

In all of your duties and responsibilities, be encouraged by the beautiful example of St. Joseph, and by the mercies and faithfulness of God toward that strong but quiet man of faith.  In each case that God has chosen to record for us in the Holy Scriptures, St. Joseph receives the Word of the Lord without question or complaint, and he immediately gets up to do exactly what the Lord has given him to do.  He takes dear St. Mary to be his wife, though she is already pregnant with a Child not his own.  He loves her and cares for her because he knows and trusts the love of God for him, on the basis of nothing more nor less than God’s Word and promise concerning her Son, Immanuel.

For his obedience, St. Joseph’s life is challenging and difficult, probably embarrassing in ways we can only imagine, and frustrating at any number of steps along the way.  He allows the outward shame of Mary’s pregnancy to rest upon himself, and he shelters and protects her from danger, taking her to Egypt, for example, and keeping her there when Herod tries to kill the Christ Child.

All St. Joseph could see with his eyes were the needs of his family and the hurts and hardships of their life together under the Cross.  Not so different from what you see and find in your callings.  But not only did the Lord provide for St. Mary and the Baby Jesus through this sturdy carpenter, a faithful son of David, indeed; He also obtained salvation for St. Joseph, for you and everyone.

Who would tell St. Joseph, now, that his work was meaningless, that his labors were in vain, and that the crosses in his life on earth were not worth the pain and trouble they brought upon him?

And it is no different for you here and now!  Whatever your place in life, whatever your office and occupation, you also are given to care for the Mother of God and for the Christ Child, that is, to care for His Church and for your neighbors.  Do not doubt that is true.  You may not even live to see the difference God makes in the lives of His people through your faithful service, but, as for the preachers of Christ, so also for you, it is not for you to achieve or accomplish but only to love your neighbors by doing what the Lord has called you to do.  He will take care of everything, as He will surely take care of you, providing for all your needs of body and soul, for now and forever.

The proof of this promise is the Body of Christ Jesus, conceived and born of the Blessed Virgin Mary by the Word and Spirit of God.  With His own flesh and blood, crucified and risen from the dead for your Salvation, He gives to you the same Sign that He gave to the House of David.  For He is the incarnate Son, Immanuel, who is God with us.  He is with you and gives Himself to you.

Why does He do it?  Because He is Jesus, which being translated means, “Yahweh Saves.”  He comes to save His people from their sins.  That is why He is here with you.  That is what He does.

He has defeated all your enemies, and He has cast them out.  He has brought peace to the Land, and He grants Sabbath rest to all His people, even to you and yours in this poor life of labor.  All that you fear has been removed by His Cross and Resurrection from the dead.  Sin is forgiven and death is defeated.  For Christ is risen from the dead, and in Him all of creation is made brand new.

You cannot see it now.  Your eyes will deceive you and play tricks on you, as will your sinful heart and mind, your fickle feelings and fluttering emotions.  But even when you see and feel death, behold the Cross of Christ, and by the hearing of His Word let faith discern His Resurrection.

Hear His Word to you now, and taste the Signs that He thereby gives to you and pours out for you, His holy Body and His precious Blood.  If He has eaten curds and honey in the promised Land, so do you eat and drink a better Milk and Honey in His Kingdom, even now in His Church on earth.

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

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