23 January 2011

The Light of Christ

He has come to save His people Israel, to fulfill His Covenant with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, to bring about and bring to fruition His promises concerning Judah and the House of David. He truly is the King of the Jews, and He will save His people from their sins.

But it would be too small a thing for Him to save only those who are Jews according to the flesh. He is Himself the Seed of Abraham and the Son of David according to the flesh — but so also by the faith of Abraham, and according to the faith of His father David. As Abraham was called from the land of pagan idolatry on the far side of a distant river, so does the Lord Jesus call disciples to Himself from beyond the Jordan, from Galilee of the Gentiles, and from all the nations of the world. For in Him, the Seed of Abraham, all the nations are blessed.

So, too, as David gathered loyal followers to himself from the foreign peoples all around, the Lord Jesus enlarges the nation of Israel by calling all people to Himself.

In Him, in His Body of flesh and blood, the Kingdom of heaven is at hand. And by His preaching of the Gospel, strangers and foreigners, enemies and exiles become true citizens of His Kingdom, true sons of His Father.

When His own native Israel rejects Him, His preaching and His preachers, He withdraws to those who were despised, neglected, far off and forlorn. He is the Light that shines in the darkness, and His Light of the Gospel brings life to those who sat all sad and gloomy in the valley of the shadow of death. He breaks the yoke of the oppressor, the burden of the Law with its accusations and condemnations. He breaks down the wall of hostility and reconciles the world to His God and Father. He grants peace, blessed peace, where there is no peace on earth: to the Middle East; to the old world, the new world, and the third world; and also to your heart and mind, your body and soul.

In Him, in His Person and work, in His flesh and blood, and in His preaching of repentance for the forgiveness of your sins, His Light shines upon you. He is the Morning Star who rises over you with healing in His wings. His Word is a lamp to your feet, a light to your path. His preaching scatters the darkness and awakens you to the dawning of a New Day: in His Resurrection.

Beloved, follow Him in the Light of that New Day, while His Light shines for you in the preaching of His Word; lest He withdraw from this place to go elsewhere.

When you try to walk by your own human sight, according to the wisdom of the world, you actually stumble around in the darkness without a clue. What the world considers bright is really foolish, and what the world calls “light” is blackest night. That is the most perverse and devastating curse of sin: the inability to see things clearly as they truly are. Everything is inside-out, like a negative image. The true Light seems so dark, while the darkness looks brilliant. Therefore, do not be deceived, for nothing is what it appears to be.

One case in point is the heinous sin and deep darkness of abortion, which our nation celebrates as a matter of personal choice and great freedom. The blindness of this great lie is sometimes so blatant as to be ludicrous, and yet over half the nation apparently doesn’t notice or simply can’t perceive wrong from right.

Perhaps some of you saw the news this past week, concerning the abortion doctor in Philadelphia who has been running what even the media have described as a “house of horrors” for the past thirty years. Atrocities abound, and countless legal violations, but the principal crime for which he has been arrested and is being charged (finally!) is that he has delivered viable infants and then used scissors to puncture their necks and sever their spinal cords. Grotesque and vile, yes, no doubt, but only inches removed from the legal “partial birth abortion” that is routinely practiced all over the country and protected by the law of the land. And it is really no different than any other abortion, which does similar violence to infants yet unborn, putting them to death.

See what evil the world’s black light would adorn with praise and glory, as though beautiful?

Now, if you have had an abortion — of if you have urged another to have an abortion — of if you have condoned or defended the legality of abortion — recognize your sin, repent of it, and cling to Christ who loves you. His Light not only reveals this sin for what it is, but also remits and removes it. You cannot restore the lives that have been taken by the violence of abortion, but the Lord Jesus brings life out of death, even as He causes the Light to shine out of the darkness.

If you have not practiced or supported abortion, praise God, but do not congratulate yourself. Repent of your own sin. Repent of your failure to help wherever and however you can.

Repent of your failure to love and care for your neighbor, whether the unwed mother God has placed near you, or your own spouse and children. If you have allowed your children to live, but have not given them your time and attention, your love and affection, Repent. Or, if you have avoided children for the same selfish and unfaithful reasons that others abort them, Repent.

The Fifth Commandment — “You Shall Not Murder” — not only forbids abortion, but it requires you to serve and protect your neighbor’s body and life: To feed the hungry, clothe the naked, shelter the homeless, and defend the helpless. It requires you to pay attention to your neighbor, not for the sake of competing or criticizing, but for the sake of loving and helping. It requires that you consider the needs of your brothers and sisters in Christ, for example, whose bodies of flesh and blood — like unto the Lord’s — sit alongside you here within the Lord’s House, and that you offer more than sympathy and soft words.

Hear and heed the call of Jesus, who has come to you and called you to Himself, to follow Him.

You have heard how He called Simon Peter and his brother Andrew, and James and John the sons of Zebedee, and how they immediately left their nets, their boats and their father to follow the Lord Jesus. They left their father and mother, as it were, the way a man does when he takes a wife, that they might cleave to the Church, the Bride of Christ, as faithful husbands in His Name and stead. The yoke of the Law is removed from their necks and backs, but the yoke of Christ is laid upon them for the Ministry of His Gospel: for the benefit of their neighbors, unto the close of the age!

In the case of these and the other Apostles, they are not only given the vocation of discipleship, but the new station and office of apostleship. No longer fishermen, they are to be fishers of men. Not boats and nets, but Word and Sacrament, the preaching of repentance, the catechesis of Christ, Holy Baptism, Holy Absolution and the Holy Communion will be the tools of their new trade.

You also are called to follow Jesus, but where and how? Some of you men, I hope and pray, will be called to the Office of the Ministry, to be pastors in the footsteps of the Apostles. Some of you women may be called to the office of a deaconess in due time, as Mrs. Rhein has been this past year. But most of you will not be so called to full-time offices in the Church. Yet, each and every one of you is called to discipleship.

Where and how are you to follow Jesus?
Are you supposed to quit your job, to leave your home and family?

If you are still a child or young person, there are many possibilities — and free choices — ahead of you. Discipleship does not require any particular one over all others. But discipleship does mean that you will listen to the wisdom, counsel and advice of your parents, and that you will proceed in the fear, love and trust of God above all things.

If you are married, you certainly should know that discipleship does not require but forbids you to abandon your spouse and children.

In any case, following Jesus does not mean that you should turn your back on family, friends and neighbors (which even pagans do not normally do!); nor does it require that you must give up your honest labor. It does mean, rather, that you are called to serve all of your relationships and stations in life in the Light of the Gospel, in faith and love.

Faith and love will do no harm to the neighbor. They will never dishonor father or mother. They will never be unfaithful to husband or wife. They will never neglect or abuse son or daughter.

Faith and love may result in division within families and even within the Church on earth. Just as faith and love result in a division within yourself — between the old Adam and the New Man. There is quite a difference, though, between the division that necessarily arises in response to the faithful confession of Christ Jesus, and the division of pride, selfishness and party spirit.

To oppose or withdraw from your neighbor out of contempt or competition is sinful and wrong. But if your neighbor opposes or withdraws from you on account of Christ and your confession of His Name, know that to be the blessed and holy Cross of Christ laid upon you. Take courage, and do not be dismayed.

The fact is, wherever Christ enters in with His preaching of the Gospel, the teaching of His Word, the proclamation of repentance and of His Kingdom, there Satan, all his works and all his ways will be cast out. Where the New Creation enters in, the old creation is crucified and laid to rest. But of course your old Adam doesn’t care for that, nor the old Adam in your neighbors. Hence, division, but do not despair.

By those whom He has called and sent in His Name, Christ Jesus is still teaching in the synagogues of His Church; He is still proclaiming the Gospel of His Kingdom, even here and now to you. With this, the Light of the revelation of the Glory of God shines upon you — in His flesh, and in His forgiveness of your sins. His preaching of repentance is for your rescue. He has not come as your enemy, to destroy you, but as the enemy of your sin and death, and of the devil, in order to release you from bondage. He has come to cast out your demons, to heal your diseases, to remove your iniquities and remember them no more.

This is the news about Him that has spread even well beyond Syria — from Galilee to Jerusalem, from Judea and Samaria to the ends of the earth. His Word and Spirit have spread even here, even to Emmaus in South Bend, Indiana, and by these He calls you to follow Him. That doesn’t require you to pack your bags and travel to Palestine or anywhere else in the world, but only that you hear His Word, receive His good gifts, and live in the Light of His Presence.

For He is here with you, and He is with you in your home and family, in your job and relationships. He is with you to forgive your sins and cover you with His righteousness. He is with you to uphold you by His grace, to shelter you in His mercy, to strengthen you with His own courage and compassion. He is with you in your heart and mind with His Word and Spirit, and His own flesh and blood fill your body and soul with His Life and Light and Love, His grace and peace.

He is the First Fruits of the New Creation, and you are a New Creation — a new man or woman — in Him. Even if you may be divided from your earthly family by the faithful confession of Christ Jesus, you belong to a new household and family of God in Him. Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, Judah and David are among your fathers in Christ, because you share with them one Lord, one faith, one God and Father, one Spirit, one Church, one life and salvation. And by one Holy Baptism into the Cross and Resurrection of Christ Jesus, you belong to one Body in Him.

You and all of your true brothers and sisters — in Him — are of the same mind and the same judgment, which is the mind of Christ and His righteousness. Not by your own reason or strength, but by the faith and confession of His Gospel.

As you have heard, so do you believe, and so also speak. That is what the Creeds and Prayers and Rites of the Church provide and protect: the faithful confession of Christ and His Gospel. You speak with one another with His Word and voice, and so also for one another — you for your neighbor, your neighbor for you. You give as you receive, and together with the whole Church in heaven and on earth, you live in the Light of Christ, in the Love of God the Father, and in the Communion of the Holy Spirit, now and forever. Amen.

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