19 December 2010

The Quiet Obedience of Faith in the Righteousness of the Word

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.

Yet, 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. So also for you.

It is God’s gracious speaking that precedes and brings about St. Joseph’s faithful hearing, from which his righteousness proceeds. 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 accomplishes the perfect 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 all things were made and are preserved in love. And when already our first parents Adam & Eve fell into sin, 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 when the fullness of time would come.

This Son of God, with His Father and the Holy Spirit, is the Prime Mover, the First Cause, the Ground of Being, the Fountain and Source of all things. But He has not simply brought things about and set them into motion. He remains alone the Author and Giver of life, in whom all His creatures live and move and have their being. He is intimately aware of His creation and of every aspect of it, from the tiniest detail to the vastest reaches of time and space. All things are His, and He is actively present unto all things to sustain them by His grace, by divine goodness and mercy.

This one true God, the Holy Trinity — who is Life and Light and Love — He creates and preserves all things in heaven and on earth for the sake of Man, the male and female, whom He has created in His own Image for the sake of His Love, in order to share His Life with them and to enlighten them with His own Spirit of holiness. Not by any compulsion, nor out of any necessity, as though God the Lord could be forced or needed anything, but in the perfect freedom of His divine grace.

He takes every initiative, and He acts in love for you, as for 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 does He move to save you from your sins and from your sinful self, from death and damnation, to the uttermost of His everlasting life and salvation. What He is by nature, He gives to you by grace alone. 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 His life, and He who has called you to be His own, sends you as an instrument of His grace, mercy and peace unto your fellow man. In this way, too, He graciously shares what is His with you and others.

The aim is not that you would “earn your keep,” nor that you must “earn your living,” but that He would give you life, and that you would thus live in His love by His grace, in the radiant light of His glory both now and forever.

That is what He does for you and gives to you, because He freely chooses to do so, because He likes you and He loves you. He really does. Not arbitrarily, nor whimsically, but from God the Father’s great heart of love for His Son, and from God the Son’s great heart of love for His Father. The freedom of His love for you is therefore the perfect divine freedom of God the Holy Spirit.

In such love, He comes to you and gives Himself to you. And so that you might know Him and receive Him in His coming to you, He also gives to you a Sign, which not only points to His great salvation, but the Sign is your Savior. That is to say, the Sign that God gives you is Himself: Immanuel, God with us, deep in the flesh. The Lord Himself comes and draws near and is with you to the utter depths of Sheol, and He remains with you in the flesh unto the heights of heaven.

That is the Sign He has given to you in your Holy Baptism, which He gives to you everywhere in His Holy Gospel, in His Holy Absolution of all your sins, and which He gives to you again this morning in the Holy Communion.

The thing about His Signs, though, is that they are only recognized by faith — not by sight. For now, at least, you know them solely by the hearing of His Word — until you shall finally see them fulfilled in the Resurrection of the body. For the Resurrection of Christ, and of His disciples, is the confirmation of the Incarnation of the Son of God and of His Redemption of the world by His Cross and Passion. But you do not yet see His Resurrection, do you? Nor your own, nor the resurrection of your loved ones from the dead.

What you see now are the Signs of the holy Cross. It is not by sight, therefore, but by the ears of faith, that you receive and recognize the glory of Jesus’ Resurrection in the Word of His Cross.

Beloved, wait upon the Lord in the hope of His Resurrection, according to His Word and promise to you. Wait in the peace of His 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, nor give up hope, though 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 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. When everything is so hard and seems so hopeless, and it only keeps on getting harder and worse, no matter how much you try, and yet you persevere in faith and love, by God’s grace in Christ Jesus, then you are boldly confessing His Resurrection from the dead.

That matters. Not because you are saving yourself, but because your obedience of faith and your persistent labors of love are the fruits of Christ’s Cross and genuine Signs of His Resurrection.

Therefore, wait upon the Lord and hope in His Word, for His mercies are new every morning, and with Him there is plenteous redemption. Quiet your nagging doubts and fears with His Gospel, His Word of forgiveness, and with His sure and certain promises to you.

If you speak, then speak as God speaks: Confess what He has spoken to you by His Son. Pray as He has spoken, also, with the words that He has given you, in the confidence that He does help you in your weakness, and knowing that He Himself prays in you and with you and for you all the time.

Do not take any words of grumbling upon your lips, nor harbor such grumbling in your heart, nor allow such grumbling to carry on a conversation in your head. Drown out those false words with the Word of Christ. Let it ring in your ears as often as you are able to hear it; treasure and ponder it in your heart; rehearse it for yourself and with your family in the morning, at Noon, and when you go to bed at night; let it sing upon your lips and tongue, instead of grousing and complaining. So set the Word of His Cross and Resurrection against the assaults and accusations of the devil.

It is a perilous path that you are called to follow in faith and love, and you shall not be left alone to proceed unhindered. You rather walk in danger all the way, as St. Joseph also found in taking 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, a delicacy upon the tongue, and desirable to make them wise, so as to make them like gods unto themselves. 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 will not 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. Again, 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. He did the same when He cast Adam & Eve out of the Garden, lest they eat the Fruit of the Tree of Life in their fallen state and so live forever in the darkness and death of their sinful unbelief. So, too, when He disciplined Judah with the King of Assyria, in order to break their trust in idols.

When you suffer hardship and loss, and things don’t go your way; when your best laid plans go awry, and the traps you have set for others end up snagging you instead; when you feel the curse of sin, the sting of death, and the fire of God’s righteous wrath and anger, then learn to fear the Lord and turn away from all that contradicts His Word.

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 His desire is your salvation, and that He has in fact redeemed you from all your sins and reconciled you to Himself by grace.

For He sends His preachers not only with the frightening thunder of His Law, but with His sweet and precious Gospel of forgiveness. You receive this grace and apostleship 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, that through these 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 into Him, and it is 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. It is no different now than it was for any of them. A pastor can far too 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 also, dear child of God, within your own vocation and stations in life. If you are a husband, love your wife and give yourself for her in compassionate care, sacrificial service, steady patience and ready forgiveness, whether it seems to help or make any difference, and irrespective of whether she appreciates or even notices your efforts. If you are a wife, love and serve your husband, pray for him, submit to his headship for the sake of Christ, and care for your home and family in the faith and confidence of that which cannot yet be seen or felt.

If you are a father or mother, care for your children in peace; teach them to know their Savior, not only by your faithful catechesis of His Word, but also by the example of your own life; discipline your children in the way they ought to live, clarifying the difference between right and wrong, but so also forgiving their sins as consistently and steadfastly as the dear Lord Jesus daily forgives you.

Whatever your job may be, do your work conscientiously, not merely to please or impress men, but chiefly as a servant of 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 His 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 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 him. He shelters and protects her in harm and 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 than what you see and find in your vocations. 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 provided salvation for St. Joseph, and for all the world.

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?

Beloved of the Lord, it is no different for you! 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 — in caring for His Church and for your neighbors. Do not doubt that it 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 neighbor 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 — and more than the proof, the actual accomplishment of this Word — is in the Body of Christ Jesus, conceived and born of the Blessed Virgin Mary by the Holy Spirit. With His own flesh and blood, crucified under Pontius Pilate for your transgressions, and raised for your justification, He gives to you the same Sign that was given to the House of David: For He Himself is the Son, Immanuel, who is God with us. He is God with you. He 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 for 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 rest to all His people, even to you in the midst of all your labors. All that you fear has been removed. Sin is forgiven, and death is defeated. 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. Yet, 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.


Michael said...

It is through His grace, His calling, our living faith in Jesus Christ, our Baptism, our gift of the new heart and the new human spirit, the gift of the indwelling Holy Spirit, the Sacrament of Confession that make us righteous in the eyes of God, the Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist that gives us the living bread as our assurance of salvation and the power of the Holy Spirit that sanctifies us so we may grow in the fruit of the Holy Spirit to become shining lights in the world. How abundant are the gifts of our loving Father!

Rev. Adrian Piazza said...

I loved it. It has the three most important things when preaching Christ's presence for His Saints; Location! Location! Location!