28 December 2014

The Peace of the Lord Is Yours in Christ Jesus

What is it that you’re looking for?  Behind all your goals and aspirations; in all your projects, plans, and wish lists, all your dreams of romance, love, and marriage; and with all your academic pursuits, financial ventures, and physical endeavors, what is it that you’re really after?

In the movies that you watch, the games that you play, the music that you listen to, and the books that you read, what are you trying to find?

When you come to church on the First Sunday after Christmas, to the Temple of the Lord — and whether you come to church on each of the Twelve Days of Christmas, or find other things to do on these holy days — what is your hope and expectation?

Whatever you might call it, however you might describe it, and however your heart might feel it, what you’re looking for and longing for is peace.  Not simply a truce or cease-fire.  Not merely the absence of arguments and conflict, a break at last from the fighting and yelling, contending and competing.  But real peace.  Genuine contentment and true satisfaction.  A confidence in who you are and why you’re here.  And not only reconciliation, but actual friendship with God, and with your neighbors near and far.  A peace that flows with identity, meaning, and purpose.

You’re looking for a peace that surpasses human comprehension or achievement, but you find it in the same place that Simeon and Anna did: In the Temple of the Lord.  In the Christ-Child, the Babe, the Son of Mary.  In the Sign of His Cross.  In accordance with the Word and Spirit of God.

But how shall you perceive and recognize what Simeon and Anna saw in the Christ Child, that is, the Light of revelation to the Gentiles and the Glory of His people Israel?

And how shall the Light of Christ reveal the meaning and purpose of your life, not haphazard and capricious, but graciously given by God?  To say it simply, how shall you live and die in peace?

If you “live like you were dying,” as they say, that might seem helpful in some respects; or maybe not so much.   But that approach is not the source of peace.  Neither a zest for life nor succumbing to despair will save you.  If you remain centered in yourself, the end is the same either way.

Whether you seize the day, run with the bulls, parachute out of a plane, or you do nothing at all, what difference does it make?

And if you simply resign yourself to the fact that someday you’re going to die — sooner or later, this way or that way — well, that attitude is not the peace of Christ but the cold logic of Satan.

Consider, instead, the righteousness of faith in the Gospel, which reasons in this way: “Yes, it is true that I shall die from this temporal life on earth; for I have already died with Christ in my Baptism.  But so is it also true that my life is hidden with Him in His Resurrection and Ascension, in the bosom of my God and Father in heaven.  Therefore, even though I die, yet shall I live.”

Who dies thus, dies well.

Even so, while it is far better to depart and be with Christ — and if you die before you wake, you pray the Lord your soul to take — there is nevertheless a reason for your temporal life on earth.  There is a meaning and a purpose for the time and place that you are given here; for your vocations and stations in life.  And already there is peace for you in Christ Jesus.

For whether you live or die, you are the Lord’s.

That is the key, first of all, to this Holy Gospel, to the Presentation of our Lord in the Temple, and to the Peace of Christ that you share with Simeon and Anna, Mary and Joseph.

You are the Lord’s  because He has redeemed you, purchased and won you.  As He once redeemed the firstborn sons of Israel from death, and redeemed His people Israel from Egypt, so has He even more gloriously redeemed you and all people from sin, death, the devil, and hell, by the Sacrifice of His holy Body and the shedding of His precious Blood upon the Cross.

That is why Jewish parents brought their firstborn sons to the Lord’s house: The Levites did so to dedicate their sons to service in the priesthood; and the rest of the Israelites came to redeem their sons from sacrifice, to sanctify them for their life in this world to the glory of God.  Because, in truth, both they and all their children are the Lord’s by right, who is their Creator and Redeemer.

You and your children, too, are likewise His.  You belong by right to your Creator and Redeemer, from whom your life and all things come by His grace alone.

Because you are His, you belong not to yourself but to Him.  And as you belong to Him, so do you belong to His people.  Your life is dedicated to the service of God.  And, as you are redeemed from sacrifice by the Sacrifice of Christ, so are you sanctified for life with God in time and eternity.

That is the life that you are called to live by faith in whatever particular place God has put you.  Not for yourself and your own sake, but for Him who for your sake died and was raised.

It is in fact His Cross and Crucifixion that reveals the secret thoughts of your heart, as Simeon prophesied to St. Mary.  For His Cross opposes whatever selfishness and self-righteousness there is in you, whatever striving for yourself.  His Cross brings about the dying of your self.

But it is His Cross, first of all, and He has given Himself over to death ahead of you, in order to redeem you, to rescue and raise you.  So that He is the Ram who is caught in the thicket and thorns of the Cross, provided by God in the place of you and your sons.  And He is the Passover Lamb, who is sacrificed to feed you with His flesh and to cover you with His Blood.  So then, not death but life shall have you; not slavery but freedom; not fear and sadness, but peace and joy.

All of this Christ does, not only for you, but for the many.  Not only for the dying of repentance, but also for the rising of faith.  You are not only put to death in your self, but you are also raised up to a new life in Christ within His one Body of many members.  You live as He lives, and you shall never die.  You live as He lives, and your life is bound up together with all who live in Him.

Therefore, the peace that you are looking for and longing for in the depths of your being is not only your own comfort and salvation, but the redemption of Jerusalem and the consolation of Israel.

The peace that you are looking for is found in Christ Jesus, because He has reconciled God and man in Himself, in His own Person, in His own flesh and blood, in His Cross and Resurrection.  You find the peace that you are looking for in Him, and you also find your neighbors and friends in Him; your brothers and sisters; your fathers and mothers; your sons and daughters; your babies and old people.  In loving Him, you love each and all of them.  And in loving them, you love Him.

Not only that, but, as you love Christ in your brothers and sisters, so do they love you in Christ.  The Anna sitting next to you there in the pew, her piety, her fasting and prayers are yours; they avail for you and strengthen you.  The Simeon sitting a few rows in front of you, his righteousness and devotion are yours; they avail for you and strengthen you.  The Joseph sitting with his family in the back, his quiet obedience is yours; it avails for you and strengthens you.  And the young Mary who lives by faith, who bears children and cares for them in love, her purification is yours; her faithfulness and loving service are yours, they avail for you and strengthen you.

Not as though any of your brothers and sisters could redeem you or merit salvation for you, but because they and you belong to each other in Christ Jesus, and you are all taken up together into Him who is your redemption and the Savior of His Body.

You are called to live according to the Word of the Lord, and you are guided by His Spirit to live and love in peace.  That is what brought Mary and Joseph and Simeon and Anna to the Temple, to the little Lord Jesus.  And that is likewise what brings you here with your parents and children.

If you are a parent, then bring up your children in the fear and admonition of the Lord.  Bring them to His Temple in Holy Baptism.  Teach them His Word, and bring them to His Holy Communion.  Teach them to pray, to sing, and to confess His Name.

If you are a wife, then live with your husband in peace, until death parts you from him.

And if you are a widow, or if you are unmarried — if you have been given the gift and vocation of celibacy — then “do not leave the Temple,” but serve both night and day with your fasting and prayers.  That is to say, use your time and energy, your talents and resources to serve and support the Church and Ministry of the Gospel, and to care for your neighbors in the faith of Christ and with His love.  You thus give thanks to God, and you strengthen the congregation of His people.

If you are a young man, or old, know that it is a manly thing to be in church, to pray and sing, to praise the Lord your God.  It is a manly thing to care for your own family if you have one; to care for orphans and widows in their distress; to take the little children in your arms with gladness, and to behold in them God’s gift of life.

To belong to the Body of Christ is to bear with your neighbor patiently, and in love to share his burdens as your very own.  Which means not only time and sweat and money — though it does include all of that, as needs may be — but it means, above all else, that you forgive your neighbor whatever his trespass against you.  There is peace in such forgiveness, and life.

There is peace and life for you and for the many in such forgiveness of sins, because it is such forgiveness that resides in the heart of Christ, and it flows from His great heart of love to all the members of His Body.  His Body bears with you in patience, and in love His Body shares your burdens as His own.  His Body forgives you all of your sins, whatever your trespasses may be.

It is all the blessed good work of this little One who has opened the womb of His Mother, and who was brought up to Jerusalem and presented to the Lord: not only in the Temple once upon a time, but once-for-all upon the Cross.

This little One, the Babe, the Son of Mary, He is your Peace.  In flesh and blood likes yours, He has been righteous and devout, and He has performed everything in fulfillment of the Law.  He has grown in wisdom and stature for you, and He is strong on your behalf, for your eternal benefit.

The grace of God is upon Him, and His grace is upon you.  In Him you see not death, but the Lord’s Christ, whose Body bears all your sins and bestows forgiveness.

By His Cross He has redeemed you, and in His Resurrection His Body has been established as the true Temple of God in heaven and on earth.  As your merciful and great High Priest, He ever lives to pray and intercede for you before His God and Father, while He also comes and enters in to be with you here in His Church, in His Sacrament, to grant you His forgiveness and His Life in His own flesh and blood, given and poured out for you.

Take His Body now into your arms, and take up His Cup of Salvation.  Call upon His Name, bless the Lord your God for all His benefits, depart in His Peace and Joy, and live forever in Him.

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

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