17 December 2014

Your Mouth Will Show Forth His Praise

As God created all things out of nothing by His Word, and as He orders all things mightily in heaven and on earth by the Wisdom of His Word and Spirit, so does He raise you up from death to life and make you and all things new by His Word of the Cross.  By that Word, which He speaks to you in the flesh and blood of Christ Jesus, the beloved Son, He breathes His Life-giving Holy Spirit into your body and soul with His forgiveness of all your sins.

It is by this Word of God in Christ that your mouth is opened, that your lips and tongue are set free from the slavery of sinful unbelief, in order to confess the Name of the Lord, to pray, praise, and give thanks to Him, and to rejoice in His great salvation.

It does seem strange and foolish that He does it by the Cross, by the Word of the Cross, by the preaching of Christ the Crucified, which is so contrary and opposite to all the wisdom, reason, and strength of the world.  Nevertheless, it is indeed by the way and means of this Word that He reveals Himself, and that He rescues and redeems the fallen world and fallen men from every tribe and tongue and nation, both Jews and Gentiles alike, for Himself.

He remembers His creatures, the work of His own hand, and He establishes His Covenant with them in Christ Jesus, in His Body of flesh and blood, crucified and risen from the dead.

He accomplishes Salvation in Him — Wisdom, Righteousness, and Sanctification, for you and for all people — and God the Father establishes in and with His Son the relationship of faith and love that actually defines and constitutes the Image and Likeness of God in Man.

Everything is perfected in Christ Jesus, in His Incarnation and in His bodily Resurrection from the dead.  But it is worked out and accomplished in His Body by the Way of the Cross, precisely for the sake of His people, in order to bring them out of death into life with Him.  He makes Atonement for you and for all people, and He reconciles you to God by His Cross.

And by the preaching of that Word, He grants to you this Wisdom of God, this relationship of faith and love, this knowledge of Salvation, by and with the forgiveness of all your sins.  In His tender mercy toward you, He speaks and gives forgiveness to you, and He thereby calls you to be reconciled to Him, to love and trust in Him, to call upon His Name in peace, and to worship Him rightly by faith in His Body and His Blood.

You hear all of this unfolding for you and for all in this story of Zacharias and Elizabeth, and of their little boy, St. John.  It is not only the beginning of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, who is on hand for all of this in the womb of His Mother, St. Mary, but also the paradigm and pattern of the way that God works in His Church of all times and in all places.

Zacharias and Elizabeth are holy and righteous by faith in the Word of the Lord, and they live by such faith in His Word, as St. Luke has testified.  But they are also old and long past the childbearing years.  Elizabeth has been called barren throughout her long life, and yet, it is now from her dead and empty womb that God calls into being and into His service the Forerunner, St. John, who comes and goes before the face of the Lord to prepare His Way.

As in the case of Abraham and Sarah in the Old Testament, so here also, God brings forth life out of death, and thereby points to the incarnate Christ who will die and rise again.

In a similar way, after ten months of mute silence, St. Zacharias confesses (in writing) the Word that God has spoken to him by the Angel Gabriel; and then his mouth is opened and his tongue is loosened to speak and sing in praise of God by the Holy Spirit.  So it is, that from out of the silence proceeds the Word of the Lord, to the praise of His glorious grace.

The old man who was prevented from speaking because of His foolish doubts and unbelief, is sanctified by the Word and Spirit of God and strengthened in his faith to bless the Name of the Lord and to prophecy of the Redemption He has come to accomplish in the flesh.

The conception and birth of any child is a cause for rejoicing and thanksgiving to God, and all the more so in these miraculous cases of St. John the Baptist and our Lord Jesus Christ, the incarnate Son of God.  It is not unusual to give expression of high hopes for the future of a newborn infant, as any father might boast of his son or daughter.  But on this occasion it is far more than simply that.  St. Zacharias speaks and sings by inspiration of the Spirit, and he gives thanks for what the Lord is doing, rejoicing in what He has said and promised, with such a confidence of faith that he describes these things as being already a done deal.

This he does, not only concerning his own little boy, but, first and foremost, concerning the Fetus in St. Mary’s womb, the Son of David, still half a year away from being born.  In that unborn Child, St. Zacharias correctly identifies and rejoices in the visitation and redemption of the Lord Himself, our God and Savior in human flesh and blood.

Consider how radically this Word of the Lord on the opened mouth of priestly Zacharias stands in sharp contrast to the foolish wisdom and presumptuous attitude of this selfish and sinful world.  What God does here is remarkable.  And yet, this miraculous and gracious work of God is actually less strange than the audacity of abortion; for it confirms, instead of contradicting, the goodness of God’s natural creation and gift of life.

By faith, Zacharias perceives and praises the Son of God, though He is yet unseen within His dear young Mother.  Whereas fathers and mothers nowadays, when such sophisticated ultrasounds are able to provide high resolution pictures of their unborn children, may still deny their humanity and personhood to the point of putting those little children to death.  Is that not a most remarkable perversion of creation, nature, and science?

But of course, our Savior Christ Jesus has come in the flesh to redeem all of humanity and all persons by embracing the foolishness of our sin and the fragility of our death in His own suffering and sacrifice upon the Cross.  He is conceived and born of the Woman in order to give His life and shed His blood as the Ransom for all men and women, boys and girls, both young and old.  To such an extent does He take our place, in order to give us His own place.

Which is why it is St. Mary’s little Lamb, who is no less the Lion of the tribe of Judah, who stands at the center: On the throne of God, worshiped by the angels and archangels, by the twenty-four elders and the four living creatures, by the Prophets, Apostles, and Evangelists, and by all the saints in heaven and on earth.  From the start, from beginning to end, from before the foundation of the world, from all eternity to all eternity, it really is all about Him.  He rightly has the pride of place in the Canticle of Zacharias, that is, the Benedictus, as surely as He will be the Object of St. John’s preaching and baptism.

Christ Jesus is the Word and Wisdom of God.  Not only in Himself and with the Father and the Holy Spirit, but also now for us, for you and your salvation — in His own flesh, by His Cross, and in His Resurrection from the dead.  By the gracious working of God, you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for you the Wisdom from God.  He is your Righteousness and Sanctification.  It is in and with Him, in His Body, crucified and risen, that you know the Way of the Lord and live in it by faith.  Because He has obtained forgiveness for all your sin, and reconciled you to His God and Father, and He calls you to Himself by His Spirit through the Gospel.  He has mercy upon you, and He grants to you His Peace.

It is in that Peace of Christ that you worship the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit without fear.  And in His Peace that you are likewise free to love and serve your neighbor without fear.

It is true that you fear the Lord in reverence and awe; that you humble yourself before Him to worship and adore Him by faith, not only with your heart and mind, but also with your lips and your body; and that you recognize the deadly and damnable seriousness of sin.  Yet, although the Law accuses you and exposes your sin, your doubts and fears and unbelief, your anger and despair, still, the Word and Spirit of the Lord in the Gospel of Christ opens your ears, your heart and mind, your lips and tongue, to receive and rejoice in His mercy and forgiveness.  He raises you up, and He restores and strengthens your faith, day by day, week after week, from one year to the next, from youth to old age.

It is pointedly by and with His Word that He does so, and by and with His Word that you worship Him and care for your neighbor.  Nowhere is that more evident than it is in the case of St. John the Baptist.  His birth and his name are announced by the Word of the Lord that is spoken by the Angel Gabriel.  In response, Zacharias is silenced in his doubt and unbelief, but his mouth and lips are opened in faith to pray, praise, give thanks, and sing.  He recalls the Word of the Prophets, and he looks ahead to the Word that his son, St. John, will preach.  God’s oath, His Covenant, and His forgiveness of sins are all given by and with His Word.

So, then, as the Lord has restored the fortunes of Zion, as He has accomplished Redemption for His people, His Church, He fills your mouth with laughter and your tongue with shouts of joy.  You worship Him by listening to His Word, by hearing and believing what He says and promises, and by confessing what He has spoken to you.  And with the same Word in your mouth and on your lips, He gives life to your neighbor and strengthens his faith.

To begin with, this is the primary way that fathers and mothers care for their children, even from the womb, from infancy and toddlerhood; that is, by speaking the Word of the Lord to them; by confessing, praying, and singing His Word both with them and for them.  There is no more precious gift that you can give to your children, or to anyone else, than that.

It is also by and with the Word of God that otherwise plain water has become the Life-giving Baptism of repentance and forgiveness of sins, which, from the days of John the Baptist until now, flows like a mighty river in the desert wilderness.  For with the Word of God, in and with that water, your Baptism has anointed you with the Holy Spirit, united you with Christ the Lamb, and named you with the Name of God, adopting you by His grace as a son of God in Christ Jesus.  That Word and promise of your Baptism give to you the forgiveness of sins, deliver you from death and the devil, and from all your enemies of body and soul, and raise you up to newness of life and eternal salvation in the Body of Christ.

Your Baptism has indeed brought you into the relationship of faith and love that Christ has established between God and Man in Himself, in His Person, in His own flesh and blood.  And as a member of His Body, the Church, He remembers you in and with His Covenant, that is, in and with His Body given and His Blood poured out for you in the Holy Sacrament.  For with His Word, the Verba Testamenti Christi, He takes bread, gives thanks, and gives it to you as His Body; He takes the wine, gives thanks, and pours out His Blood for you.  So does He remember you in mercy; and so do you remember Him and worship Him in peace.

By this priestly, sacrificial Food and Drink, He gives to you the knowledge of Salvation — not just head knowledge, but the intimate knowledge of experience and faith, of heart and mind, body and soul — in and with His Word of forgiveness, which takes away your sins.

Thus are you made righteous and holy before your God and Father in Christ Jesus, and so do you rejoice, give thanks, and sing in His presence.  You live by faith, and, when that day comes, so shall you depart in peace and joy, because the Lord is faithful in all His ways.  His living and active Word, fulfilled for you in St. Mary’s Son, the Lamb of God, is preached to you for repentance and forgiveness of sins in His Name.  And with that Word, the Sun of Righteousness arises and shines upon you, to warm and lighten you with the grace of God, your Savior, and to guide your feet in His Way of Peace by His Holy Spirit.  From the streams of living water in the desert to the Table of Christ in the House of the Lord forever.

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

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