10 December 2014

Life and Love Hidden Under the Cross

St. Mary is a beautiful example of receptive faith in the Word of God, as she says “Amen” and “Let It Be” to what He has spoken and promised to her.

And in her visitation to St. Elizabeth, she is likewise portrayed and presented as a living icon of the holy Christian Church on earth, the means whereby Christ, the Son of God, comes to us in the flesh.  Indeed, He comes to His people in the very Body and Blood that are His own because He was conceived and born of this Woman, the Blessed Virgin Mary.

She is a new Ark of the Covenant, in whose womb, already, is found the dawning of the New Testament.  In this way, St. Mary, the Mother of our Lord, is a Sacrament of Christ by His Word and Holy Spirit; for in her body of flesh and blood, the Word becomes flesh, God becomes Man and dwells with us.

Now, as then, it is a hidden presence and gift of Christ Jesus.  He is received and believed, not by human sight, but solely by faith in His Word and promise.  You receive Him in His Church, in His means of grace, as St. Mary received Him in her womb, and as St. Elizabeth received Him in the visitation of St. Mary, by His Word and Holy Spirit.

It is not that He is hidden by His human nature.  In fact, He is the Image of God precisely in His humanity, in His Manhood, in His holy Body of flesh and blood.  But the true Glory of that Image of God in Christ Jesus is hidden under the Cross, that is, under the curse of our sin and death, which He takes upon Himself and bears in His own Body, in order to atone for the sins of the whole world by the shedding of His Blood.

For God to become Man is no humiliation; it is the glorious fulfillment of His good creation.  That purpose is fully realized and manifest forever in the Glory of His risen and ascended Body.  However, in order that all of creation should be redeemed and sanctified in the Body of Christ Jesus, He first of all humbles Himself to bear the Cross.  He comes in the likeness of fallen flesh, to share not only human nature, but the mortality of all of Adam’s children, the curse and consequences of man’s sin.  That is the humility in which He is hidden.

So, while we rightly marvel at the beauty and the glory of the Incarnation, as the Son of God is conceived in the womb of Mother Mary, we also find that He humbles Himself and is hidden under the shadow of the Cross from the very start.  Hidden in and with your humility and weakness, yet present for you, even there, with His divine glory and strength for your redemption and salvation.  He hides Himself in this way, in order to reveal Himself in mercy, to help you and to save you by His grace.

Thus, He teaches you to recognize and receive Him by faith in His Word, even though, for now, you are not able to see Him as He is.  He catechizes you to rejoice in His coming, in His visitation and His presence, even under the circumstances of the Cross, in the midst of sin and death.  So that you wait upon the Lord, as a woman waits upon the birth of her child, knowing that great joy and new life shall emerge out of pain and labor.

What is most certainly true and shall be accomplished — what God the Lord speaks to His people — stands in contrast and contradiction to what your senses perceive, to what you feel and experience in this fallen world and in your own perishing flesh.  Therefore, shut your eyes, as it were, to everything else within and without, and open your ears to the preaching of the Word of God.  That is not to live in a fantasy world, but to live by faith in what is real though hidden under the frailties of this life under the Cross.

You have the example, this evening, of the young Virgin, engaged but not yet married, and of the old lady who was called barren, both of whom are now bearing children.  Was it easy for either one of them?  No.  Was it ideal?  Not hardly.  You can probably imagine at least some of the challenges and difficulties that each of them faced.  If you are also a mother, yourself, you will know it even better.  Childbearing itself is cursed with pain on account of the fall into sin.  And for the very young and the very old, it is surely that much harder.

St. Mary, full of grace and faith and favored by God, will be suspect to begin with, then hunted by the king who wants to kill her Son.  St. Elizabeth, so far as we know, will not live to see her son grow up, nor to see her Savior accomplish the purpose for which He comes.

But what do these dear women focus on?  Not their troubles, but the tremendous grace and blessing of God.  St. Mary exults in the Lord and praises His Name for the great things that He does for her, which are for the salvation of His people of all times and places.  She confesses His Word and promise, and rejoices in His Covenant, as though it were already accomplished and completed; as though the humble and poor were already exalted; and as though the high and mighty were already disciplined and prevented from injustice.

And St. Elizabeth rejoices in the grace of God, not only in her own pregnancy, but in the visitation of the infant Lord in the womb of His own Mother.  She praises and worships the incarnate God who is but a Fetus at this point: Not only is He a real human being, but the Lord who comes to her!  But it is only the first trimester for St. Mary and her Son, so there isn’t even a cute little baby bump to mark and manifest His presence.  What, then?  Only the Word of the Lord, and the testimony of the Holy Spirit by that Word.

The little unborn Forerunner, filled with the Spirit from his mother’s womb, is already doing His God-given job, announcing the Christ and pointing to Him.  St. John leaps for joy at the greeting of the Blessed Virgin, and in this way he alerts his own mother, St. Elizabeth, that the Lord is at hand.  And that little Lord Jesus, whom yet unseen you love, is the fulfillment of all the good things that God intends for you and for His whole creation.

He comes in the flesh, in remembrance of His mercy, in order to undo sin and death, and to bring man into holy fellowship with God.  He comes to do it by the way and means of His Cross, so that, in the Resurrection of His Body, all things in heaven and on earth are made brand new.  And even as we make our pilgrimage through Advent and look forward to the celebration of His Nativity, we know and we confess that He has done it: He is not only conceived and born, but crucified and risen from the dead, “for us men and our salvation.”

The Cross and Resurrection of the Son of God in human flesh is the key to everything, and the lense through which we as Christians are given to look at life.  It is by His Cross and in His Resurrection that you know and understand yourself and your circumstances rightly, contrary to the perception and interpretation of the world and your own flesh.  For you are blessed and favored by God, redeemed and saved by His grace toward you in the Body of Christ Jesus, the beloved and well-pleasing Son of the Father.

You know and believe and confess that He has come in the flesh, that He loves you and has saved you, because He tells you so in the preaching of the Gospel.  And, no less so, because He gives to you His Body and His Blood to eat and to drink for the forgiveness of all your sins, for the life and salvation of your body and your soul forever and ever in Him.

As He comforts you with this Word and promise, and with this precious Gift of Himself in flesh and blood like yours, consider what this means for the way you are to look at your neighbor, and, in particular, your brothers and sisters in Christ.

As the Son of God has become true Man — flesh of our flesh and blood of our blood — recognize Him in every person you encounter.  For every human being shares the same nature as the Lord who was conceived and born of the Woman, St. Mary.  As He is not ashamed to call them His brothers and sisters, but has become like them in order to redeem them and save them from sin, death, and the devil, therefore, do not be ashamed to love them and help them in His Name and for His sake.

As He has also borne their sin and death, their weakness and temptation, their griefs and sorrows in His own Body to the Cross, do not despise them, lest you be guilty of despising Christ.  Rather, care for them, and serve them, as the Lord visits you in mercy, cares for you and serves you, and gives Himself to heal you in body and soul unto the life everlasting.

All the more so are these things true and compelling in the case of your fellow Christians, who not only share the same human nature as the incarnate Son of God, but who eat and drink, as you do, His holy Body and precious Blood.  Which is to say, that, as St. Elizabeth perceived and blessed the Lord in the womb of His Mother, so are you given to behold the same Lord Jesus Christ in your brothers and sisters.  They also bear His flesh and blood in their bodies.  Therefore, in loving them, in feeding them and clothing them, in visiting them and tending to their needs, you love and serve the Lord, your Savior and your God.

Do not judge your neighbor by appearances, but according to the tender mercies of our God.  Look at them through the lense of St. Mary’s little Boy, His Cross and Resurrection, as the same Lord God looks at you and loves you for His own sake.

Love the young mother, the old lady, and the little children for Christ Jesus’ sake, who has made each and all of them His very own.

And not only that, but know that Christ has made you His very own, as well.  He has made Himself like you, that you may be like Him.  He has become the Son of St. Mary, that you should become a dear child of God by the conception and new birth of your Holy Baptism.  He has taken all your sins upon Himself, in order to cover you with His Righteousness and Holiness.  He has died your death and suffered your damnation on His Cross, in order to raise you up to newness of life, now and forever, in His Resurrection from the dead.

Blessed are you, indeed, who by His grace believe the Word that He has spoken to you, which shall be accomplished in you, as surely as He has fulfilled it for you and for all in His own Body of flesh and blood.

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

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