30 December 2012

To Sing of Christ in Peace and Joy

Now you are met, as Simeon and Anna were met, with the Christ, the Babe, the Son of Mary.

He is more than He appears, but, by the Light of the Gospel, He reveals Himself to you; so that, not only with your eyes, but into your arms, into your heart and soul, and with your mind and mouth, you receive Him, His Life, and His Salvation.

He is God’s Answer to your prayers.  He is the true Satisfaction of your deepest longing.  He is the reason and purpose for which you have been created.  And now He is here, with you and for you.

He is begotten of God the Father from all eternity, but now, in the fulness of time, He has been conceived and born of the Woman, St. Mary, in order to redeem you with His own flesh and blood.

That is why He comes to His Temple, and why He will enter the Most Holy Place, once for all, by His Self-Sacrifice upon the Cross, in His bodily Resurrection from the dead, and in His Ascension to the Right Hand of His God and Father.  He does all of this, in fulfillment of the Law, in order to save you from sin and death, to justify you with His righteousness, to sanctify you with His Spirit, and to glorify you with His own divine Glory as the Son of God.  These are things that only God the Lord can do, and by His grace He does them all for you.

He first of all becomes like you.  He takes human flesh and blood from His Mother Mary, in order to become true Man; and He opens her womb by His holy Nativity, in order to sanctify all the sons and daughters of man.  From conception and birth, unto His death upon the Cross, His whole body and life are devoted to His God and Father, to do His will.  From infancy, He is presented to the Lord, to grow up before Him — from true boyhood to true manhood — increasing in wisdom and stature, and learning to live, as you must learn to live, by grace through faith in the Word of God.

It is a great Mystery, indeed, that God should first of all become what He was not — without ceasing to be what He always was, and is, and ever shall be — and that He should then also grow in grace and truth, in faith and love, in His own human flesh and blood.  But so He does.  For in this way, He keeps, fulfills, and satisfies the Law of God, as the true Man, for all of mankind.

He lives by faith, entrusting Himself to the Lord His God.  And in love for His God and Father, He lives in love for you and all His neighbors.  As a Child, He honors His parents and submits to their authority.  He is chaste and pure in human celibacy, and in faithfulness to His Bride, the Church.  He cherishes her and cares for all her children in gentleness and peace.  He does not hurt nor harm, but helps all people, without prejudice, and gives life in both body and soul.  He does not rob, but freely bestows His generous good gifts, to both the evil and the good.

He foregoes His wealth and makes Himself poor, in order to make you rich.  He turns the cheek to those who strike Him.  He forgives the sins of those who trespass against Him.  He loves His enemies, and prays for those who kill Him.  And so does He pray and plead for you, with His own blood and righteousness, as your merciful and great High Priest in all things pertaining to God.

So does He perform everything according to the Law of the Lord.  Even to the point of sacrificial death.  For His flawless obedience of perfect faith and perfect love take Him to the Cross; which is already there on the horizon, in His Presentation, when Mary and Joseph offer Him up to the Lord.  He is not redeemed or released from service, but He is consecrated for sacrifice.  For His Mother’s purification, “a pair of turtle doves or two young pigeons” are paid, the offering of the poor, because the Holy Family cannot afford the usual lamb.  But in this case, the Firstborn Male, who has opened her womb, is the Lamb who is given to God.  For He is the Passover.  His Blood is the Ransom.  His Flesh is the Meat.  His Cross and Passion are the Exodus from Egypt.

Now, then, if you would be released from the bondage of sin and death, and be set free from the house of slavery, receive this holy Child Jesus into your arms, and bless God by faith in His Name.  For He is your Life and your Salvation.  He is your true Light in the darkness; your sure and certain Hope when all seems lost and hopeless; and your sweet Comfort in all sorrow and temptation.  He is your great Redeemer, who brings you out from under Pharaoh’s bitter yoke, through the hard wilderness in safety, and finally into the Land of Canaan.

This Child who is born for you, this beloved Son who is given for you, He is your Peace and Sabbath Rest.  For He is the Christ who atones for your sins by His Blood.  He is the Mighty Lord who conquers death by His Sacrifice.  He is the Seed of the Woman, who crushes the accuser under His wounded heal.  And He is the Prince of Peace, who reconciles you to God, His Father, and brings you into His presence, blameless before Him in body, soul, and spirit, both now and forever.

Therefore, everything depends upon this Lord Jesus — yes, even upon this little Lord Jesus, who at six weeks of age is presented in the Temple — and nothing else matters, at all, apart from Him.

As you are met with Him, so are you confronted by His Cross, and that is the Sign that first of all opposes you: the Sword that pierces your heart and your soul, dividing between your bones and marrow.  It puts you to the test, by forcing you to choose between the Christ and the Pharaoh; between the Exodus and Egypt; between God and the devil.  There really is no middle ground, no compromise or living in-between; except the wilderness, which teaches you repentance by the Cross — which begs the question, yet again, and confronts you with the choice of life or death.

Theoretically, it should be easy: Your life is in Christ Jesus, so, there you go.  But, in fact, it is impossibly hard.  Because your heart is desperately sinful, and you are deathly afraid of entrusting yourself entirely to God in Christ.  You neither understand nor trust the paradox of the Cross: that you must die to yourself, in order to live with God.  That you must fall, in order to rise with Christ.  That you must be humbled in genuine repentance, in order to be exalted in faith and righteousness.

Between you and the Lord in the Holy of Holies, there stands the Sign of the Cross, which threatens to undo you, and does.  It is a swift and terrible Sword, which not only divides your heart and soul within yourself, but also divides and redefines your family and all of your relationships.  For it calls you to belong to God, so that you and your life are not your own, but His; and so that all of your feelings, all of your friendships, and your entire family are under Him, and under His Cross.  That is how deeply the Sign of Christ divides you.

If this work of repentance were yours — for that is what this falling and rising is; this revealing of the heart; this division of soul and spirit — it is repentance — and if this were your own work, you would be lost, and you would have no peace or joy forever and ever.  For you cannot break the yoke of bondage that lies upon you.  You cannot redeem yourself from sin and death.  You cannot preserve your life, nor can you save your mortal flesh.

But the work of repentance is the work of Christ Jesus.  It is for this work that He is appointed by His Father, for the falling and rising of many in Israel.  It is for this Cross that He is consecrated, in order to sanctify forever the children born of women, by the offering of Himself once for all.  It is for this death of His that He is presented to the Lord, in order to bring you to God in Himself.

So He comes to you now, and He calls you to Himself, and He crucifies the man or woman, the boy or girl that you have been, in order to make you alive in His own Body of flesh and blood, to fill you with His Holy Spirit, and to grant you perfect Peace in the presence of His God and Father.

You see, His redemption of Jerusalem, and His consolation of Israel, are not only what He has done by His Cross and Resurrection, once upon a time, but what He does for you and gives to you, even now, here in the Temple of His Church on earth.

That is why the Holy Spirit calls and gathers you here, by the Gospel.  For this is where your Life and Salvation are found, for you, in the flesh and blood of Christ Jesus.  Here is where the Glory of God fills the Temple in the means of grace, in His preaching of forgiveness and in His holy Sacraments, which are His Pillar of Cloud by day, and His Pillar of Fire by night.

Even better, these Sacred Things are the Light of the Revelation of the Glory of God in the Face of Jesus.  In Him, you see the Face of God, and yet, you do not die, but live.  For His great Glory is the Gospel of Salvation, which shines upon you, that you may see and believe.

As the Holy Spirit brings you to this place by this Word of the Gospel, so by this Word are you anointed and filled and sanctified by the same Holy Spirit.  Thus are you able to live by faith, to bless the Lord your God, to serve Him day and night in His Temple, and to love and serve your neighbors in the peace and joy of Christ Jesus.

As scary as the Cross of Christ is, it is now also your comfort and your peace.  For by the Cross you have already died, and now, by the Cross, your life is safely hidden with Christ in God.

It is hidden, yes, but Christ is your Anchor behind the Veil, in whom you have entered into the Holy of Holies.  Indeed, at His Altar, here and now, where you eat His Body and drink His Blood, you rest in the bosom of the Father, and you abide in the Inner Sanctum of the Holy Triune God.

Now you are released from the fear of death, and you are set free to sing unto the Lord, to sing the New Song of God and of the Lamb.  For He has done marvelous things, for you and for all people, and here He feeds you with such good things, which shall not be taken away.  He remembers His mercy and His faithfulness to you, and to His whole Church in heaven and on earth.  Everything is safe and secure in Christ, your Savior.  Which is why your whole life is one of thanksgiving.

I know that your heart and spirit are not always thankful.  For that, I must say to you, Repent.  Do not give yourself over to discontent or grumbling.  But then I say to you, also, that Christ is your Sacrifice of Thanksgiving; as He is also your High Priest, and your constant Prayer of Faith.  He always lives to make intercession for you, and His Spirit also helps you in your weakness.  For Christ is your Offering to the Father, your acceptable Sacrifice, and your sweet-smelling Incense.  There is, therefore, nothing lacking, nothing amiss, and no accusation against you.  There is only thanksgiving for your life and salvation in this one Lord, Jesus Christ.

Therefore, beloved, now sing, as the Apostle instructs you to do.  It is no empty or futile exercise, but meet, right, and salutary.  It is good for you, and for your brothers and sisters in Christ.  For the Psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs of His Word fill you and the household and family of God with His Life-giving Holy Spirit.  They catechize you in the true faith, and strengthen you in faith and love.  And they bear the fruits of thanksgiving to God.

Such singing of Christ is both a principle part and a paradigm or pattern of the entire Christian life.  It is a godly work of faith and love, which both a little child and an old man or woman can do, by the grace of God, and by His Word and Spirit.  It chases away the devil, and glorifies the Holy Trinity, and allows the joy and gladness of heaven to echo throughout all of creation.

How so?  How shall a song do all of this?  How shall your voice accomplish such great things?

Because Christ the Lord, the Son of God, your Savior Jesus, has become flesh and blood.  He has a human voice, like yours, with which He speaks and sings the Word and Spirit of His Father.  And in His Body, crucified and risen from the dead, all of creation has been redeemed and sanctified for God: including you, your lips and tongue, your mouth, and your voice.  And in the Temple of the Lord, all cry out and sing, “Glory to God in the highest, and peace to His people on earth!”

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

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