31 December 2015

Sanctifying Time to the Glory of God

As we have recently heard from the Holy Gospel on Christmas Day, and as we confess throughout the year in the Creed, it is by and through the Son of God (the Word who became Flesh) that all things are made and exist.  Even in the face of sin and death, we thus affirm that all of creation is good, for it is God’s good work and His gracious gift.  It is to be received with thanksgiving, sanctified by His Word and prayer, and used to the glory of His Name in faith and love.

By the same token, you know how easily and how often God’s good gift of creation is abused and misused in contradiction of His Word.  It is so typical that it is either idolized or demonized, either worshiped and feared as though it were God, or despised and rejected as though it were the devil.

Time itself also belongs to God’s good creation and is therefore subject to sanctification by His Word and prayer, or to the idolatry and sacrilege of sinful unbelief.  It is created by God and given for a good and godly purpose, namely, that you should live by faith in His promises, day by day and year after year, in patience and in love.  Thus is it marked and measured by the days and nights that God the Lord has established; by the rhythm of weeks, the turning of seasons, and the passing of years which the Holy Scriptures and the servants of God, the sun, moon, and stars, determine.

The purpose of these signs and seasons, of evening and morning, sunset and dawning, of winter, spring, summer, and fall, and of seedtime and harvest, is that you should remember the Lord and His mercies, as He remembers you according to His steadfast love, and as He generously provides you with your daily bread.  For all of time, together with all of creation, is sanctified to the glory of God and for your eternal good by the Cross & Resurrection of the incarnate Son, Jesus Christ.

Even so, time is likewise subject to blasphemous abuse when it is worshiped and feared instead of God, or when it is resisted and denied as though it were the work of the devil.  Time becomes a cruel taskmaster and a prison house, when it is viewed, not as God’s good creation and good gift, but as your lord and ruler, whether for good or ill; that falsehood will destroy you, either way.

Then you find that time pursues you on swift horses, indeed, until you are utterly undone.  Except, it is actually the Lord your God, your Maker and Redeemer, who pursues you in love — also with His servant, time — in order to recall you to Himself, to faith and love, and to eternal life in Christ.

Thus, it is here in time that you suffer and die on account of your sin.  But it is also here in time that you are brought to repentance, that you receive life and live by the grace and mercy of God.

It is within time that you may be hurt and disappointed, lied to, betrayed, and left waiting on those who let you down.  And it is within time that you, also, do both good and evil to your neighbors.

But it is in repentance and rest, quietness and peace, that you are saved here in time for eternity hereafter.  It is within time that you are called to live by faith, to wait in patience on the Lord; and in time that you are called to love and serve your neighbors, to carry out your duties in the fear and faith of God — not knowing the hour in advance, but only that your Master is certainly at hand.

Therefore, do not lose heart, and do not grow weary of doing good, but keep your loins girded, and keep the Word of the Lord in view as the Lamp unto your feet and as the Light upon your path.

Blessed are you, who are so ready and waiting.  The Lord will surely reward you in due season.

It is for you as it was for Israel in Egypt: Waiting and watching, suffering and dying, praying and hoping.  Not always faithful, but never forgotten.  The Lord hears your cries and remembers you.

Ten plagues the Lord sends upon your taskmaster.  But things get worse before they will get better.  The Cross puts to death every part of Egypt that reigns, not only over you, but within your heart and mind, your body and soul.  But all goes according to the Word of the Lord.  And at exactly the right time He raises you up and delivers you from every evil of body and soul, within and without.

For those who know and believe that the angel of death is coming to strike down the firstborn, the Lord provides the lamb to be sacrificed and eaten, sanctified by His Word and prayer.  So it is that death passes over, and His people come out of slavery into freedom, out of death into life.

So imagine yourself and your family on that night, gathered around the table of the lamb, guarded by nothing but his blood upon your door.  Whether it will happen in the second or third watch of the night, you have been told what is coming.  So you wait, you watch, you pray and confess.

And then the hour comes, and the cry goes up, and with your loins girded and your lamps lit you are brought out of Egypt by the mighty hand and outstretched arm of the Lord your God.

Beloved, that is how you are to live at all times and in all places, in readiness and waiting for the Lord Jesus Christ who is coming to set you free.  And He does set you free, though not from His creation, nor from your body of flesh and blood.  He redeems and sanctifies creation to become the new heavens and the new earth, and He sets your body free from sin, death, and the power of the devil, that you should live with Him, both now and forever, in body and soul.

He makes of time, not a tyrant, but a servant of faith, hope, and love.  So it is that, precisely in time and through time, He delivers you from death and brings you into the life everlasting in Himself, into the eternal Eighth Day of the New Creation in His own crucified and risen Body.

If you find that Egypt pursues you on swift horses, and if you are put to death all day long for the Name of the Lord, you also find yourself driven to the Pole on the hill, that is, to the sign of the Cross on Mt. Zion.  And you are brought through the waters of Baptism, through the drowning and death of repentance, into the resurrection of forgiveness and the divine life of faith and love.

You are taught by the Lord Himself to number your days in this way, day by day, from one week to the next, year after year.  For when His Hour had come, and the Lord Jesus was handed over to His voluntary suffering and death, He was watchful and alert on your behalf, girded in readiness, girded with love for you and for all people, even though all the world was at enmity with Him.

So now He invites you to recline at His Table, and here He comes to wait upon you and to serve you in grace, mercy, and peace.  Here you are gathered around the Table of the Lamb, and you are guarded by His holy, precious Blood.  In this way He remembers you, and you are made ready.

This is how you live and love and wait for the reception of your Master, here in time, in the sure and certain hope of the resurrection and eternal life.  Not only when you are kneeling at the Altar and actually receiving the Holy Communion of His Body and Blood into your mouth and body; but, no, your whole life moves to and from this Table, so that, whether you are eating or drinking, or whatever you are doing, you live by faith, you live in love, and you glorify the Lord’s Name.

Live, therefore, as one who receives the Body and Blood of the Lord Jesus Christ, and consider what that means for your life in the body here in time.  Use your body to care for your neighbor’s body, respecting your neighbor, of course, and keeping yourself pure, but feeding the hungry and clothing the naked, visiting the sick and imprisoned, caring for widows and orphans in distress.

Use the time that you are given to love and serve your neighbor; to listen with patient compassion; to pray and intercede for your neighbor in peace; and then, also, to gird yourself for good works, that you might be the answer God provides to your prayers and intercessions for your neighbor.

Live as one who receives the Body and Blood of the Lord Jesus Christ, knowing that, as He died and was raised in His Body, so also are you justified by God for a resurrection ready to be revealed in due time.  As God the Lord has bound Himself to you with the very Body of Christ Jesus — here in time — there is nothing at all in time or space that shall be able to separate you from His Love.  Not 2015, nor 2016.  Neither life nor death.  Not now, not ever.

Time is neither your savior nor your enemy.  It is neither God nor the devil.  But the one true God, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, uses time and all of His created things to serve and care for you: to feed and clothe and shelter you; to bring you to repentance and faith; to feed you with Himself.  He has, He does, and He will, tomorrow as today, throughout the New Year, unto life everlasting.

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

30 December 2015

God Is With You Under the Cross

It’s certainly not as though God can’t handle Herod easily or take care of Himself.  For all things derive from Him and depend on Him, and He upholds all things by the Word of His power.  He needs nothing from anyone, but all things in heaven and on earth must look to Him.

And yet, it is according to His wisdom, grace, and mercy that the Lord your God works through means, behind the scenes.  The Creator takes care of His creation by way of His own creatures.  He thereby affirms the goodness of His Creation, and He brings His creatures into harmony with Himself, that they should live and work with Him in the giving and preserving of life.

It is also the case that He, the one true God, has entered into His Creation and become one with it in Christ Jesus.  The Creator has become a creature.  Not only to fulfill the purpose of creation in Himself, in the Person of the incarnate Son, but also to redeem and sanctify the fallen creation and make all things new in the Resurrection of His Body from the dead.

This is what it means for Him to be Immanuel — God With Us.  He has become one of us, flesh of our flesh and blood of our blood, and tabernacles with us.  His own Body is the Temple of God among men, both now and forever, that we might dwell with Him and He with us.

Not only has He become true Man, but to begin with, as God in the flesh, He also enters fully into the mess along with us, bearing our sins and their consequences.  He suffers the curse of the Fall in His own Body and Life, and yet He lives by faith and confidence in His own God and Father.

As the true and perfect Man, He relies upon the Word and promises of God in order to fulfill the Law and the Prophets in Himself on our behalf.  He also depends upon the means that God provides to guard and protect, to nourish and sustain His body and life on earth unto the Hour of His Cross, when He lays down His life in faith that His Father shall raise Him up from the dead.

Already His Cross and Resurrection are anticipated in His journey to and from Egypt.  For so shall He also, in due time, pass through death and the grave into the Resurrection of His Body and the life everlasting in the heavenly Promised Land of Paradise.  Thus has He opened up that way of Life for you and all His people, for all who believe and are baptized into Him.

You have heard, have you not, again and again, that it is “the Child and His Mother” who go in and out of Egypt into Israel.  He is with His Mother because the Son of God has become true Man by His conception and birth of the Woman.  And she is with Him, because He has accomplished all things for His people, His Church, so that, where He is, there you may be also.

By the same token, consider all the ways that His God and Father in heaven cares for “the Child and His Mother” by the faithful and steady service of St. Joseph here on earth.  So does the Lord care for His Church to this day by His called and ordained servants of the Word, in much the same way that He provides husbands and fathers to care for His families in the world.

But St. Joseph is also an example to you, no matter what your particular calling and station in life may be.  Therefore, learn from him to navigate your way through the challenges and difficulties of life under the Cross, by hearing and heeding the Word of the Lord, and by exercising the true wisdom that begins and continues with the fear of the Lord.  But do not be afraid of anything or anyone else in doing so, regardless of appearances.

Think of the contrast between King Herod’s impotent rage, which could not prevail against God’s purposes, and St. Joseph’s quiet obedience, by which the Lord fulfilled the Word of His Prophets and preserved St. Mary and the Christ Child in the midst of mortal peril.

Such is the truth of the matter, even now.  Those who appear to be powerful are not; whereas those who seem to be so weak and powerless find security and strength in Christ by faith.

Such faith listens to the Lord, trusts His Word and promises, and lives and works according to His commandments in all circumstances.  And just so, according to His divine Wisdom under the Cross, He accomplishes His purposes for you and for your neighbors.  For the Cross of Christ conquers death and brings forth the Resurrection, and God calls forth His children out of Egypt.

The Lord is faithful, and He shall do it.  Rest assured that He has not lost track of you or forgotten you, no matter where you are.  No, He is still Immanuel.  He is with you in His flesh and blood, and so are you with Him, both body and soul, unto the life everlasting.

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

29 December 2015

Seek the Lord Where He Is Found

The shepherds did not linger or delay after hearing the Word of the Lord.  They did not drag their feet, hem and haw, or make excuses.  Directly following the praise and proclamation of the angels, they encouraged one another with the promise they had been given, and they went straight to Bethlehem to seek the Lord where He would be found.  They went in a hurry to find the signs to which His Word directed them.

Learn from this good example of the shepherds and practice the same zeal for the Word and Sacrament of Christ.  For He is the priority at the center of this story and of all creation.  Establish Him as the priority in your own life, as well, as you plan and schedule your days, as you budget, spend, and save your money, and as you choose your activities and companions.

Do not hesitate or make excuses, but faithfully seek the Lord where He shall be found.  Make your way with due diligence to the Christ Child, to the Lord your God in the flesh, to His Manger from which He feeds you in body and soul.

According to the oath that God swore to His servant David, here now is great David’s greater Son.  He is the true Shepherd and everlasting King of Israel, who cares for His flock by day and night, who gathers the people to Himself and rules the nations with righteousness, justice, and equity.

This newborn King and great Good Shepherd of the sheep does not despise the poor and lowly, nor does He neglect the weak and little ones.  Instead, He demonstrates His own almighty power in mercy and in meekness.  Although this little Babe is the Lord your God, He voluntarily takes all your sin and death upon Himself, and for a little while makes Himself poor and lowly, weak and small, dependent on His young Mother and her husband, and subject to the rulers of this world.

All of this He does in love for you and for all people, so that by the mercies of God He should thus raise the sons and daughters of fallen man from death and the grave to the life everlasting.

You know that, in the fullness of time, this Child shall be crucified for your sins and raised for your justification.  For He is your reconciliation and your righteousness.  And as the Lord, His God and Father, raises Him from the dead in His own Body born of Mary, so are His flesh and blood established as the New and Everlasting Covenant of Peace and Joy and Life with God.

Come, then, find your life in Him.  Receive these gifts Christ freely gives.  Share the fellowship Meal of His Sacrifice.  Eat and drink the Food that He provides at no cost to you.  Open your mouth and be fed, and so give thanks unto the Lord who is so gracious, good, and kind to you.

Seek Him out and find Him where His Word has directed you: With Mary and Joseph, that is to say, in His Church and Ministry; in His House of Living Bread, and at the Manger of His Altar.

Receive Him here as He gives Himself to you, into your ears by His Word, into your heart and mind, and into your hands and mouth and body and soul.  Gladly hear and learn His preaching, and treasure every Word that proceeds from His mouth as the greatest and most worthwhile prize on earth.  And at His Word, come worship and adore Him in His Body at His Manger here.  Believe and trust in Him.  Kneel and bow down before Him.  Eat and drink with thanksgiving.  And so also pray, confess, and sing, as surely as the Lord has spoken to you by His Gospel of forgiveness.

Sing to the Lord the New Song of faith and confidence in Christ.  Praise and glorify His Holy Name, His Body and His Blood, in all that you say and do.  Return faithfully to your office and stations in life, to perform the duties God has given you for the good of your neighbors.

Indeed, seek the Lord and serve Him also in those neighbors, as they are adorned by the hidden majesty of His Word.  Shepherd your own little flock, by night or by day as you are so called, in the joy and gladness of your Savior.  Do not work as though to make a life for yourself, and do not labor for that which does not nourish you or last for very long.  But work to the glory of the Holy Trinity, and live the life that He gives to you by grace through Jesus Christ, the incarnate Son.

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

26 December 2015

After the Pattern of Christ Jesus

St. Stephen was content and at peace, even as he was being put to death, because he had fixed his hope on the living God.  He wasn’t searching for the meaning of life, because it had already been made known to him by the Holy Spirit through the Gospel.  He wasn’t confused about his place and purpose in the world, because he knew himself to be a child of God in Christ.  And he wasn’t nervous or afraid about tomorrow or the next day, because he lived by the grace of his Father.

That explains the striking contrast that we find in the story of Stephen: On the one hand, his fierce and forthright preaching of the Law, and on the other hand, his gracious prayer of forgiveness for those to whom he preached as they were stoning him to death.  He demonstrates the bold courage that characterizes the martyrs of our Lord Jesus, but also the charity and compassion of Christ.  He has the strong confidence and passionate conviction, not of harsh anger, but of faith in the Gospel.

In particular, Stephen knew and trusted that he had a dwelling place with God, because God had made His dwelling place with Stephen in Christ Jesus.  The holy martyr knew that he would be with Christ, with the Father in heaven, because the same Lord Jesus Christ was with him in his suffering and death.  He knew that heaven was his home, and that heaven had been fully opened to him by the Cross and Resurrection of the incarnate Son of God.

The Lord has just as surely done the same for you, as well.  He has become flesh for you.  He has given Himself for you, even unto death.  He has risen from the dead and ascended into heaven for you, also.  And yet, He also remains with you here in His Church on earth, in His own flesh and blood, with His Word and Holy Spirit.  Behold, the Tabernacle of God is with you here.

What Moses was shown and what he saw on the Mountain was a Type of that incarnate Lord, Jesus Christ, and the tabernacle that Moses made by God’s direction was according to that holy pattern.  It served the people of God in the wilderness as a means of grace, a proclamation of the Gospel, because it pointed to what has now been accomplished and fulfilled in the Son of Mary.

He is the new and better Joshua, who brings God’s people out of the wilderness into the good land that He has promised, defeating all their enemies before them.  And He is the new and better David — the Son of David who is greater than Solomon — the true King of Peace, and holy Wisdom — whose own Body is raised and established as the true Temple of God.  That is to say, not a house for God to live in, as though He were otherwise homeless, but a House in which you live with God.

In Him, by your Baptism into Him, His God and Father is your God and Father.  You bear His own Name and Holy Spirit, because you are born of Him, and you have your life in Him, and you are a member of His family.  Your house and home are with Him, safe and secure, now and forever.

For Christ Jesus, the beloved Son, has become your Brother in the flesh and your Savior from sin, death, the devil, and hell.  He is your merciful and great High Priest in the order of Melchizedek.  His sacrificial death is your Atonement and Redemption.  His Resurrection from the dead is your reconciliation and your righteousness with God.  And His Ascension to the Right Hand of the Father is your own happy homecoming, your peaceful resting place, and your salvation forever.

That is why you can be strong and courageous, like St. Stephen, in doing your job and saying forthrightly what is good and right and true, even when it is painfully difficult, woefully unpopular, and poorly received.  You fear the Lord, because He alone is your true God and Father, but you need not be afraid of any mortal man.  No one can rob you of your life with God in Christ.

Along with such courage and confidence, you are also able to be compassionate, kind, and patient, even when you deal with hurtful and unpleasant people.  To be sure, your kind compassion may require the preaching of the Law and the call to repentance, according to your office and vocation.  But such a preaching of repentance — as when the Lord persisted in sending the Prophets to His people of old, and in the case of St. Stephen — is neither vindictive nor mean-spirited, but aims at warning the neighbor of danger and calling him back to the Lord.

So, too, when you must warn your neighbor, do so in love — truly to rescue him from danger and lead him to life with yourself — and neither out of anger, defensiveness, fear, or vengeance.

After all, you know that you are safe.  Your life is secure.  You need not guard yourself so fiercely.  God has opened His heaven to you in Christ Jesus, as fully and freely as He did for St. Stephen.  Indeed, through your Holy Baptism you have already died with Christ and entered into life with God in Him.  That is how sure and certain your life and your eternal future are and ever shall be.

Dear child of God, you know that for Jesus’ sake your true Father in heaven loves you; that He is pleased with you and delights in you, regardless of what anyone else may think or say or do.  And you know that all of this is solely by His grace and mercy; that He is compassionate, kind, and patient with you — long-suffering, slow to anger, and full of nothing but steadfast love for you.

Therefore, as Christ has given Himself for you and given you His own life by the Gospel, and as He has become your Righteousness and your Salvation, so is He your Strength and your Song — your confidence and courage, on the one hand; your charity and compassion, on the other hand.

So it is that you become like Him.  Which is also to become like St. Stephen, who was recreated in the Image of God, after the pattern of Christ Jesus, in his own Holy Baptism.

Therefore, you also live, you suffer, and you die, as Stephen did — like Christ — by grace through faith in the Gospel.  That is the only power and poise that you will ever need.  And it is yours!

You have the tabernacle of the testimony here in the wilderness, that is to say, the preaching of the Gospel.  That is the true wisdom and eloquence of the Word and Spirit of Christ Jesus, calling you daily to repentance, unto faith, through the forgiveness of all your sins.  It cleanses you and clothes you with the Blood of the Lamb; as in your Holy Baptism, so also in the Holy Communion.

The saints who have gone before you, especially the holy martyrs like St. Stephen, are another kind of “tabernacle of the testimony,” because they have lived in their own flesh and followed by faith the same pattern they were shown in Christ Jesus.  And you, in turn, follow the same pattern as a living testimony to your neighbor, so that your neighbor may then see the Son of Man in you.

Be Thou faithful unto death, and He will give you the crown of life.  That was His sure and certain promise to St. Stephen (whose name means “crown”), and His promise to you is no less sure and certain.  Indeed, it is already a “bird in the hand,” because your dear Lord Jesus Christ, the very King of heaven, has already crowned you with His own royalty and righteousness by the Gospel. He has crowned you with Himself and with His Glory, having made of you His royal Bride, His Queen.  And as He spoke by the Prophet Isaiah, you are a crown of beauty in the hand of the Lord.

You are another Stephen, by virtue of your Baptism into the Cross and Resurrection of the Lord Jesus.  And as He did for that holy Stephen, for whom we give thanks and praise to God this day, so does He also bring you through the waters of your Baptism into the heaven He has opened to you by His own Baptism.  He will bring you through death and the grave into the life everlasting, as even now He brings you through the great tribulation into His own Resurrection and Ascension.

Already you live with Him in God, by grace through faith in His Gospel, because God tabernacles here with you in Him, that is, in His flesh and blood and in His Word of forgiveness.  For that dear Lord Jesus binds together in Himself, forever, both God and Man, both heaven and earth.

Here at His Altar — and so also from this Altar into the world in your calling and station, even through the wilderness — you live before the throne of God; you live and abide in His Temple.

Your sins are all forgiven.  Forgive those, also, who trespass against you.  For you are righteous and holy before God and precious in His sight for the sake of Jesus Christ.  As He has risen from the dead, and lives and reigns forever at the Right Hand of His God and Father, so shall you not die, but live.  Does He not feed you with His Body and pour out His Blood for you to drink?  Yes, He does.  He sees to it that neither His Word nor His Table are neglected in this place.  Therefore, you lack nothing, nor shall you ever lack for what you need.  Your sure and certain hope for life and salvation are here for you in the forgiveness of your sins and in the Meat and Drink of Christ.

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

25 December 2015

Life with God in the Flesh of His Word

Beloved of the Lord, Christ Jesus is your Savior, not only by what He does for you, but because of Who He Is: the Son of God in the Flesh.  For salvation involves not only being rescued from danger, death, and damnation through the forgiveness of your sins, but also being brought into the safety and security of eternal Life and Light in the presence of the Holy Trinity.  Indeed, such Life and Light do not merely come from God; they are of God Himself, and in Him alone forever.

It was for the sake of His own divine and holy Love that God, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, created all things, in order to share His Life and Love with others outside of Himself, that is, with His own creatures, by His grace alone.  In creating all things out of nothing by His Word, God the Lord was giving Himself, His Life and His Light, to those whom He created.  In particular, it was in Love that He shared Himself, and nothing less than Himself, with those whom He created in His own Image and Likeness — of which Christ Jesus, the incarnate Son of God, is the Archetype.

To be created in the Image of God is ever and always to share the Image of the Word-made-Flesh, St. Mary’s Son, who is both God and Man.  For it was always God’s intention that He should fill His Creation with His own divine Life, that is, with Himself, by becoming part of His Creation.

Hence the Lord’s friendship and communion with Adam & Eve, the Man and the Woman, the King and the Queen of His Creation, in the Garden prior to the Fall into sin.  From the beginning, such communion or fellowship with God has resided in the Person of His Word, the beloved Son who would in the fullness of time become flesh and dwell among us in the Person of Christ Jesus.  It is for His sake that the Father created you and all creatures, and for His sake that He saves you.

Now, to be sure, the Fall into sin broke the harmonious relationship between God and man, and it made fellowship with God impossible for the children of men until there should be atonement for sin and reconciliation.  Thus, for example, from your conception and birth, you were at enmity with God and separated from Him by your sin.  And that is not to speak primarily of all the naughty things that you have done, nor of all the good that you have neglected to do, but of your failure and inability to fear, love, and trust in God, and your lack of faith in His Word.

By such sin in the very heart of you, God Himself and His Life and Light and Love are rejected, and you cut yourself off from the fellowship with God for which you were created.

There is every cause for great rejoicing on this Holy Day and in this sacred Season, therefore, because the Son of God, your Savior Jesus Christ, has become flesh of your flesh and blood of your blood.  He has come to redeem you from sin and death and to reconcile you and all the world to His God and Father.  Indeed, He has done so by His voluntary suffering and death upon the Cross, and God and man are reconciled forever in the Resurrection of His Body from the dead.

Not only has He rescued you and all the children of men from your predicament of sin and death.  By His Holy Incarnation, the Son of God has also accomplished within Himself — in the unity of His own divine Person — the perfect and permanent communion of God and Man.  For the Lord your God has taken flesh and blood and your entire human nature to be His very own, in which He entered into the depths of your darkness and has been raised and glorified in the heavenly places.

Your salvation, therefore, and your deliverance from sin, death, the devil, and hell, do not involve an escape from your life in the body, nor from the world of flesh and blood into which you have been conceived and born.  Rather, in Christ Jesus your body is redeemed along with your soul, your soul with your body, and your flesh and blood are sanctified for a bodily Life with God.  For the Body of Christ Jesus, conceived and born of St. Mary, crucified under Pontius Pilate, and risen from the dead in divine glory, is the First Fruits of the New Creation, in which the very-goodness of the original Creation has not only been restored, but fulfilled, exceeded, and perfected.

The Lord your God has spoken His Word into the Flesh, and the Word of God is henceforth never without His own Flesh.  In holy Love, the Father speaks to you now and forever by His incarnate Son, who is the Light of the world and the Life of man.  His Body of flesh and blood is the Light that shines for you in the darkness, so that you behold the Father in Him and live with God in Him.  Indeed, your communion with the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is in the Body of Christ Jesus.

As there simply is no Life or Light at all apart from the Word of God — for all things are made through Him, and without Him there is nothing — so there is no communion or fellowship with God apart from His Word-made-Flesh, which is Christ the Lord, your Savior born of St. Mary.

Everything has been accomplished and established, once and for all, forever and ever, in Him.  That is to say, both the rescue from sin, death, and hell, and the permanent safety and security of life and salvation with God, are found in Him.

So it is that your rescue and redemption, your safety and salvation — that perfect Light and divine Life and holy Love for which you have been created by God — become yours and remain yours, only insofar as you are united with Christ Jesus in body and soul by grace through faith in Him.

Thus, because He loves you and desires your salvation, He comes to you and calls you to Himself by the ways and means of His Word.  By and with the preaching of His Gospel, both Christ and His Holy Spirit are actively present and at work to lay Christ Himself upon your heart and mind, to justify you with His righteousness, and to sanctify you with His holiness.

From the very beginning, and after the Fall into sin, it has ever and always been so.  God speaks to give life by His Son.  By the Law and the Prophets, the Old Testament was preparing for and leading to the New Testament in the Body and Blood of Christ.  And then St. John the Baptist came, a man sent by God to preach and to baptize, that all might believe in Christ Jesus, the Light of the world.  So, too, the holy Apostles and Evangelists, and the ministers of Christ to this day.

As in the case of St. John, and so to the close of the age, the preaching of the Word goes hand in hand with the washing of the water with the Word in Holy Baptism.  Crucified and raised with Christ in those waters, you are born again as a child of God in Him.  And this new birth of Holy Baptism parallels the miraculous conception and birth of the Lord Jesus Himself.  For as He was conceived and born of the Blessed Virgin Mary, so are you also conceived and born anew in Him — in each case by His Word and Holy Spirit, and not by any will or cooperation of man.

In particular, in Holy Baptism you are united with Christ Jesus in His Cross & Resurrection, and thereby brought into the fellowship of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

Having thus entered into fellowship with God in Christ through Holy Baptism, you are granted the privilege of feasting upon Him — of eating His holy Body and drinking His precious Blood — in the Holy Communion of His Altar.  So does He live and abide in you.  He tabernacles with you in the flesh, both His and yours, so that you also live and abide in Him, both body and soul.  And by such communion with the Son of God, your fellowship is also with His Father and the Holy Spirit.  That is not simply a means to some other end.  It is your life and salvation with God in Christ.

As the almighty and eternal Word of God sounded in the ear of the Blessed Virgin Mary and was thereby conceived and made flesh-of-her-flesh within her womb, so does the same Word of God — whom you have heard in this Holy Gospel — continue to give Himself in the flesh, for you and for the many, by and through and with His Word of the New Testament in this Holy Sacrament.

So does the Mystery of the Incarnation — the profound “Sacrament” of the Word-made-Flesh — continue for you at this Altar in this place.  And here, in this Sacrament of His Body and Blood, the Holy Triune God is revealed to you.  Indeed, the Maker of the heavens and the earth gives Himself to you in the flesh of Christ, and in His Body you share His Life and Light and Salvation.

As He created all things out of nothing with the first “in the beginning,” solely by His grace and power (which are the grace and power of His Word), so does He make a new “in the beginning” for you — out of your nothingness — by and with His Word-made-Flesh.  And, behold, this Word of the Living God declares concerning you and your life in Him, that “It is very good!”  To which there is nothing for you to do, but simply to receive it freely in faith and with thanksgiving.

That, dear friend, is what the ChristMass truly is, and what “Christmas” is all about.  Not only on this day, nor only for the next few weeks, but all year long and always.  Oh, come, let us adore Him!  Let us worship and bow down before the Lord our Maker, who is Jesus Christ our Savior!

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

24 December 2015

Unto You Is Born a Savior

You are here in the Lord’s House in the middle of this dark night, while most folks are hunkered down at hearth and home with their families and their gifts, because the sweet Word of the Gospel has proclaimed to you a Savior, Christ the Lord, who is born for you this day in the city of David.

There is no doubt that you are in need of such a Savior, for you know at least some of the trouble that lies heavy on your heart and mind, upon your mortal flesh, and on your soul.  The daily news of late has surely added to your worries and concerns, to say nothing of the stress and anxiety that attend the weeks leading up to this sacred season.  Above all, you need the Lord your God to come and save you from your sins, and from the death and damnation that you deserve by your sins.

Because you could do nothing to save yourself — nor did you even know how or desire to look to the Lord and ask for His help — He has taken every initiative, entirely His own, out of His great Love for you and for all people, and has come in the Flesh to save you from sin, death, and hell.

The Creator of the heavens and the earth has entered His own creation, in order to save His people from their sins and to redeem them for Himself.  He is from heaven to earth come down; which is how and why there is divine Peace on earth even in the midst of wars and rumors of war, and why the good and gracious will of God now rests upon the men and women of every time and place.

What is more, since you could not receive Him nor believe in Him by any work or wisdom of your own — neither by your intellect, knowledge, experience, or sensibilities — He has not only come down from heaven for you, but to this very day, and to this holy night, He causes His Word of the Gospel to be preached to you.  He comes to you, and He calls you to Himself by that preaching.

He pours out His Spirit upon you by the Gospel.  He enlightens you with His gifts.  He sanctifies and keeps you in the true Christian faith.  And He brings you here tonight, to this House of the Living Bread from heaven, that you should find Him and receive Him to yourself in body and soul.

As a Pillar of Fire by night, the Glory of the Lord goes before you in this place.  His Word sounds forth in the midst of deep darkness, and the true Light of the Lord shines upon you here and now.  As a Lamp unto your feet and a Light upon your path, the preaching of His Word directs and leads you to His Word-made-Flesh.  For He is here for you in this House, nestled in the manger of this Altar, covered with cloths and contained in metal vessels, but evermore your Savior and Lord.

Though you are not a shepherd on the outskirts of Bethlehem, and you are not a citizen or subject of Caesar Augustus (who is long since dead and gone), yet this Holy Gospel of the ChristMass is proclaimed to you, because it is for you that a Savior is born on this day, who is Christ the Lord.

The message that is here and now proclaimed to you is not simply a nostalgic recollection of the dark and distant past.  It is most especially the Word of the Gospel of God, which is addressed to you and given to you in the present tense, that you should now receive and rejoice in your Savior.

So it is that, by this Word of the Lord, you are given the Signs that lead you to Christ in the flesh.

He is in Bethlehem, the “House of Bread,” which is the City of David, because He is the promised Son of David, and His own Body, born of Mary, is the Living and Life-giving Bread with which His God and Father feeds you from heaven.  And that House of Bread is found, not in Palestine, but wherever in the world He gives His Body and His Blood for His Christians to eat and to drink in remembrance of Him.  The City of the Son of David is wherever His Word is preached in truth.

He is likewise to be found with His Mother Mary, as St. Luke and St. Matthew both demonstrate in their Nativity Gospels.  Which is to say that Christ the Lord is to be found within His Church on earth, wherein the children of God are conceived and born by the grace and power of His Word and Holy Spirit.  There, too, He is found in the care of His adopted father and guardian, Joseph, as He provides spiritual fathers on earth to guard and keep, to serve and care for you by His Word.

You have heard that His infant body is swaddled in cloths.  So shall linen cloths enwrap the same holy body in His death and burial (once more in a borrowed space); and on Easter morning those linens will serve as a sign of His Resurrection.  No less do you find the crucified and risen Body of your dear Lord Jesus Christ swaddled in linen cloths upon this Altar, tonight and all year long; not only at Christmas and Easter, but as often as you eat and drink at His Word.  And baptized into Him, you also recline here, wrapped up in the swaddling cloths of Christ and His righteousness.

In particular, as the Angels of God and the holy Evangelist have told you three times over in this Holy Gospel, you find your dear Savior in the manger, that is, in the feeding trough, from which the food is distributed.  For He is given to you as your Meat and Drink indeed.  He is your Savior because He feeds you with Himself, with His Body and His Blood, given and poured out for you here and now, from this manger, for the forgiveness of all your sins, for life and salvation.

It is quite appropriate, therefore, that the Divine Service (the Liturgy of the Lord’s Supper) begins with the Song of the Angels: “Glory to God in the highest, and peace to His people on earth!”
We hear and confess with all the hosts of heaven that God the Lord is in this place in His own flesh and blood, conceived and born of St. Mary for the salvation of sinners.

As we now approach the stable of this Sanctuary, as we draw near the manger of this Altar, and as we enter the Holy of Holies at the heart of this Bethlehem, we sing again with the Angels and Archangels and all saints, praising the Holy, Holy, Holy One, the Lord God, Yahweh Sabaoth, and worshiping the Lamb of God upon His Throne, our Savior Jesus Christ, in His Body and Blood.

Here you receive Him in the flesh; His crucified and risen, immortal and imperishable flesh into your mortal body, as the gift, guarantee, and down payment of your bodily resurrection, and as the true glory of your body and soul.  For by His Word, and with these Gifts Christ freely gives, your sin is truly forgiven, your death is conquered, and you are saved for the Life everlasting with Him.

It is with such sure and certain promises that you return from this place to your own office and stations in life — whether to the shepherding of your own flocks, as it were, to the carpentry and craftsmanship of your own trade, or to whatever it is that you are called and given to do.  In all such tasks and occupations, you praise the Lord your God, your Savior Jesus Christ, not only with your lips but with your very life in deed and in truth.  You confess what you have seen and heard at His Altar, and you serve your neighbor in love with words and deeds that echo those of Christ.

Beloved of the Lord, He honors you with His own glory by preaching to you His forgiveness and  by feeding you with His flesh and blood.  As you go about your days and nights, ponder this Word of His Gospel in faith, and treasure it dearly and deeply in your heart and mind.  It is, indeed, your hope and your salvation, and by His grace and tender mercies it will return you, again and again, to this House of Bread and to this Manger, until you shall feast with Him in His Kingdom forever.

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

23 December 2015

To Be Turned to the Lord

Over this past week or so, we have considered the centrality and importance of St. Mary to the Incarnation of the Son of God, to the coming of Christ in the flesh.  That seems obvious enough, I suppose, and all the more so if you’re a mother with babies of your own.  There would be no Christ Child or little Lord Jesus without His Mom!  Even the U.S. Post Office makes a place for the Blessed Virgin Mary — the Madonna and Child — as an alternative to its Santa Claus stamps.

What may or may not be so obvious, but not nearly so comfortable in any case, is the place and importance of St. John the Baptist.  I’m fairly confident that we’ll never see that fiery preacher of repentance on any U.S. postage stamps!  The world has little patience for the Season of Advent, and even less desire for repentance.  The world doesn’t want to hear about it, doesn’t want to think about it, and certainly doesn’t want to do it.

No, the world is far too eager to celebrate its own version of what it calls “Christmas,” beginning earlier every year.  Bright lights and decorations; parties and pastries; shopping and wrapping, sending and exchanging gifts; and the proverbial “Christmas spirit,” which frankly has nothing to do with Christ, nor His Mass, nor His Holy Spirit.  It’s all really something, except that, by the time the days of Christmas actually begin, the world is already tired and ready to be done with it all.

For the moment, the world has time and energy for all its much-to-do about nothing, in the interest of the economy, if for no other reason than that.  But the world has no use for Advent, and it has no stomach whatsoever for St. John the Baptist.  Sad to say, neither do many would-be churches.

But do not be bothered by that.  The world will always go its own way, but let us not go with it.  In any case, the Word of God will not allow us to leapfrog over Advent and St. John the Baptist in our hurry to get to the Christ Child.  All four of the Holy Gospels begin as much or more with St. John before they get to Jesus.  And long before either one of them appeared, St. John had already been the object of various Old Testament Prophecies, according to which it would be necessary for the Forerunner to come first and go before the face of the Lord to prepare His Way.  The Angel Gabriel, righteous Zacharias, and the Lord Jesus Himself all affirm that Word of God.

As there would be no Christ Child and no Christmas without the Blessed Virgin Mary, so would it be impossible to receive the Christ in Christmas or at all apart from His Forerunner, St. John.

But, why?  Doesn’t everybody love the little Baby Jesus?  Who would not receive Him gladly?

Well, to begin with, No, not everybody loves the Baby Jesus, as the stories of the Gospel make painfully clear.  Not only that, but it is neither correct nor sufficient to love the sweet little Baby apart from the bitter agony and bloody sweat of His Cross and Passion.  For He has come in the flesh to sacrifice Himself on the Cross, to bear away in His own body the sins of the whole world.

It is also necessary to understand and believe that it is no mere man who suffers and dies for you, but the true Man who is at the same time the almighty and eternal Son of the Living God.  And His true beauty and divine glory are not to be found in the romanticized images of Hallmark greeting cards and holiday specials, but in His gracious mercy and His humble obedience even unto death.

The Lord Jesus comes, not only in the flesh, but under the curse of sin and death, in order to obtain forgiveness, life, and salvation for sinners, like yourself, who do not deserve a bit of it.  He comes and takes your sins upon Himself and atones for them by the shedding of His blood.  He suffers your death and damnation in your place, and shares with you instead His own divine, eternal life.

The sad fact of the matter is, though, that in your sinful ignorance and rebellion, you do not want these divine gifts of your dear Lord Jesus Christ.  You don’t want to give up your sins, nor even to admit your bondage to death and the devil.  For it is at the very heart of your sin to deny and reject the Word of God and the Life to which He calls you.  And you are so blinded by your sin and by the devil’s hold on your heart, mind, and mortal flesh, that you are not even capable of realizing your own situation.  It is a trap from which you cannot free yourself, no more than anyone else can.

Such is your predicament apart from the Word and Spirit of God.  And it cannot be turned around without a lot of kicking and screaming on your part, because you are the core of the problem.  So it is that everything you are apart from Christ must be put to death: crucified, dead, and buried.  Only then can you be raised up to a new life in Christ in His own Resurrection from the dead.

Dying and rising, being put to death and made alive.  That is the shape of your Baptism into Christ, and that is the pattern of your Christian faith and life in this world.  It is the shape of repentance, which is where and why St. John the Baptist enters the picture with his preaching and baptism.

Now, to be sure, the “rising” part of this equation sounds attractive.  But you do not rise and live with Christ unless you have first been put to death and have died to yourself through repentance, and that on a daily basis throughout your life, until your body returns to the dust of the ground.

And the thing of it is that neither the dying nor the rising is a do-it-yourself exercise.  You cannot will it to happen nor make it happen.  Not by choices or decisions.  Not by personal reflection or pious meditation.  Not by good works or sincere efforts.  Not by your own self-imposed guilt, and not be making yourself feel really bad about your past sins.  None of this is right, nor does it work.

What you need — and what has to happen if you are to be saved — is that the Forerunner must go before the face of the Lord to prepare you for His coming by the preaching of repentance.  He must level your mountains of pride.  He must straighten out your crooked ways.  He must slay your old Adam, nailing you to the Cross of Christ, and drowning you in a Baptism of repentance for the remission of your sins.  In short, he must put you to death by the preaching of God’s Law.

Only by that Word of God do you die to your sins, and die to the world, and die to the devil, death, and hell.  Only by that Word are you turned away from all of your self-chosen self-destruction.

But that is only the beginning of repentance, and only the first part of the ministry of St. John the Baptist.  For along with his preaching of the Law, he comes also with the preaching of the divine Word of the Gospel.  Indeed, as fundamental and necessary as St. John’s preaching of the Law is, he is most distinctively the one who ushers in the Christ of God, who is the Savior of the world.

When Advent comes along each year, and St. John comes to you with the Word of the Law and the preaching of repentance, they are announcing and declaring the coming of the Lord your God.  And He comes, indeed, to save you, to redeem you from sin, death, and hell, and to grant you the eternal life of righteousness and holiness with God, which is found only in Christ Jesus.

When the preacher of repentance exposes your sins and your sinfulness, he does so to prepare you for the forgiveness of all your sins.  When he puts you to death with the sharp Word of the Law, it is to raise you up with Christ by His sweet Word of the Gospel, His Word of Holy Absolution.

So, too, when he preaches and administers the Baptism of repentance, it is for the forgiveness of your sins.  For it is the death by drowning of your old Adam, that the New Man might daily arise in you, and you in Him, to live before God in His righteousness, innocence, and blessedness.

None of this is possible, nor is it even available to you, except by the Word of God.  Of course, it has all been accomplished for you, obtained for you, and manifested for you by Christ Himself.  But all of this that He has done would be for nothing, if it were not actually conveyed to you, delivered to you, and bestowed upon you by the preaching of His Word, His Law and His Gospel.  Only by that Word — in which Christ and His Spirit are actively present and at work — are you put to death and raised again to newness of life.  Only thus are you turned away from your sin and death, and turned to the Lord by faith in His forgiveness of your sins, in order to share His Life.

Which is why, from the Old Testament Prophets to St. John the Baptist, from Christ Himself to His Holy Apostles and Evangelists, and to this very day, the Lord in His mercy has never failed to send His messengers before His face: His preachers of repentance, who prepare His way, who give the knowledge of salvation to His people by the forgiveness of their sins.

And so now also unto you.  By the preaching of this Word, the Dayspring from on high continues to visit you, and to shine upon you — to give you His Light, even when you sit in darkness or walk through the valley of the shadow of death — and to guide your feet into His Way of Peace.

It is in this way that the Lord who loves you brings you through this penitential Season of Advent to the feasting and celebration of His Holy Nativity.  God grant you, by His grace, by His Word and Holy Spirit, the repentance and faith to receive that most precious gift, unto life everlasting.

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

21 December 2015

Wounded for the Weary, Weak, and Wounded

The first mistake that St. Thomas made was in not being gathered together with the other disciples — whatever his reasons may have been for not being there.  His sinful doubts and fears and unbelief are not relieved but fostered and exacerbated by his absence from that fellowship of the Church.  He does not see the Body of Christ on the First Day of the week, because he is not gathered with the Body of Christ in the company of his brothers.

He is there on the Eighth Day, however, on the Octave of the Resurrection, the Second Sunday of Easter, because of the confession and witness of the other disciples who have seen the Lord.  In this, they begin to serve their office and vocation as holy Apostles of Christ Jesus.

So also should you seek out your brothers and sisters in Christ when they have been missing from the Divine Service.  Search them out, and confess and testify to them what He says and does for you here in the fellowship of His Body, the Church.  Encourage them to come with you, to be here with the disciples of the Lord Jesus — even (or especially) if they are struggling with doubts and fears and uncertainty, and even though they may be weary, weak, and wounded in heart and mind, in body, soul, and spirit.  Invite them and encourage them to come, and bring them along with you.

The Church of the Lord Jesus Christ is precisely the place for the weary, the weak, and the wounded, for those who are hurting, doubtful, and afraid.

It is the place for you, no matter what your wounds may be that will not heal in this life on earth, and no matter the scars that you bear on the inside or on the surface.  The Body of Christ is where you belong, regardless of your personality, and notwithstanding your pain and skeptical sadness.

The wounded Body of Christ is the place for you.  Reach here, then, with your finger and your hand, to see and touch and feel and handle His holy wounds, to trace His sacred scars.  For He has been wounded in His love for you and for all, in order to love the weary, the weak, and the wounded with His sacrificial flesh and blood.

St. Thomas had that part right, even in the depths of his doubts, depression, and despair.  He looked for the Lamb who was slain.  He understood that the real Lord Jesus is the Crucified One — and that remains so, even in His Resurrection.  His glorified Body bears the scars of His Cross, because His Body has been glorified by the wounds He has suffered in love for us poor sinners.

He is recognized, rightly, not “in spite of” His wounds, but especially by His wounds.  Indeed, He is recognized in His wounds, not only as Jesus of Nazareth, but as the Lord your God, and as your Savior and Redeemer.

He is recognized in His wounds, and His disciples are brought to faith in His wounds.

So where do you see and touch those wounds of Christ in His Body?

First of all, you reach out and lay hold of them in His means of grace.  He approaches you by the preaching of His Gospel, which is the preaching of His Cross and Resurrection, the preaching of repentance for the forgiveness of all your sins in His Name.  That preaching breathes into your body, through your ears, the Spirit of Christ — from His Cross into your body — unto the resurrection of your body from the dust of the earth to the life everlasting.

His preaching of the Cross also brings you to His Baptism, whether to be baptized in the first place, if you have not been, or to return you to the significance of your one Holy Baptism by way of contrition for your sins, repentance, confession, and faith in His Absolution or forgiveness.

By that ongoing significance of your Baptism, you are daily united with the crucified and risen Lord Jesus in His Cross and Resurrection.  You die and rise with Him, as you are baptized into His riven side, and you are washed and cleansed in the water and the blood that are poured out from the wounds of His Body upon your body and soul.

He has drowned your old Adam in that death-dealing and life-giving flood of Holy Baptism.  He has brought you through those waters of the Red Sea and the Jordan River, out of Egypt into the safety, peace, and rest of His Church.  Thus are you a member of His Body, and a sheep of His green pastures.  By your Baptism into Him, and by the Catechesis of His Word, He has made you His disciple, and so it is that you belong in this place where His disciples are gathered.

Here in His House, at His Table, He who is both your Good Shepherd and the Lamb of God, who has laid down His own life for the sheep and shed His blood for their Atonement and Redemption, feeds you from His wounded hands with His holy Body and precious Blood.

Not only have you entered His wounds through Holy Baptism, but you feast upon His wounded Body here in the Holy Communion.  And with His own flesh and blood, the fruits of His sacrifice, He enters into your wounded body to dwell with you and abide with you in peace, unto life eternal.

As He deals with you so kindly and so graciously, so do you also behold His wounds and reach out to them in His other disciples, your brothers and sisters within the one Body of His Church.

Do not be afraid to care for those who are so weary, so weak, and so wounded, for whom Christ Jesus Himself, your Lord and your God, has been so wounded and sorely scarred in love.

Rather, love your neighbor, as Christ Jesus loves you in both body and soul.  Tend your neighbor’s wounds, care for her scars, feed his hunger, quench his thirst, and soothe her doubts.

Love your brothers and sisters in Christ — whether with or without emotion, that is neither here nor there — but love them most surely with your words and works of mercy and of service.

Use your body to care for your neighbor’s body, as you care for the wounds in your own flesh.

And in so doing, behold the Lord Jesus, the wounded God, who has been slain for you and for your neighbor.  Recognize that He now lives in you and with you and through you.  If you are wounded for the sake of His love; if you are beaten and bruised, mocked and ridiculed and spit upon; if you are crowned with thorns, crucified, and pierced, well then, so do you live and become like Jesus.

But how can you possibly believe this?  And how on earth can you ever hope to live like this, as Jesus lives, in such love for your neighbors, even for those who hate you and hurt you?

How shall you survive even your own wounds, and how then shall you help to heal the wounds of others?  After all, such wounds are not pleasant or pretty.  The instincts of your sinful heart and of selfish self-preservation would have you turn away in fear and loathing.  So how shall you ever become otherwise?  How shall you believe and love?

It is by the apostolic ministry of the Gospel of Christ, carried out by those who are called and sent in His Name with His Word, His works, and His wounds.

It is by the witness and testimony of St. Thomas and his fellow Apostles, by the proclamation of the Prophets and Evangelists, and by the preaching and catechesis of the pastors and teachers whom Christ Jesus freely and graciously gives to His Church on earth.

You do not yet see Him, but His Apostles have seen Him, and have eye-witnessed His Baptism, His Life and Ministry, His preaching and miracles, His Cross and Resurrection and Ascension.  And as they have seen and heard and touched and handled the Word-made-Flesh, so by their confession of His Word are you blessed by His grace, and you believe in Him and love Him, sight unseen, hidden under His Cross, and revealed not yet in power but in His wounds.

Here within His Church, as a member of His Body, whether you be a joint or ligament, an arm or leg, a hand or foot, a mouth or an ear, an internal organ or a weaker member, you taste and see by faith the Glory of the Lord in His flesh and blood.  You see the bread and wine, which by His Word are His Body given and His Blood poured out for you for the forgiveness of all your sins. You hear, too, His Gospel of forgiveness.  You touch and handle, and eat and drink His wounded Body, conceived and born of Mary, crucified under Pontius Pilate, risen from the dead and glorified — who is here with you and for you, that you should also be with Him where He is.

By this apostolic ministry of the Gospel, your fellowship is with Christ Jesus, the incarnate Son, and with His Father and His Holy Spirit, and with all those who are His, with St. Thomas and all of the Apostles, and with all the saints in heaven and on earth, both now and forever.

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

20 December 2015

The Visitation of Christ in His Church

It is sung by inspiration of the Holy Spirit and recorded in the Holy Scriptures, that all generations will call her “blessed,” that is, the Blessed Virgin Mary.  Blessed is she among women, for blessed is the Fruit of her womb.  We remember her and honor her in this way, because God the Lord has looked upon her and regarded her with His favor.  He has blessed her, not according to our mistaken worldly standards of importance and worth, but according to His mercy.

We give thanks for this handmaid of the Lord, St. Mary, not because of her personal greatness, but rather because, in her lowliness, the Lord has done great things for her.  And so has He also, through her, done great things for all the generations of those who fear, love, and trust in Him.

We now sing and pray along with her, because the Blessed Virgin Mary is not only a fellow member of the Body of Christ, but also a living “icon” of the Church, to which we also belong.  For the Lord has come to her and given Himself to her, and by His Word and Spirit He has granted her the faith to receive Him, to serve Him, and to praise Him.  Along with all of that, He has given Himself to the world — and so also to you — through the frail means of her poor flesh and blood.

Hence, the Holy Church, to whom the Lord has come to give Himself by grace, to whom He grants the faith to receive His forgiveness and life, and through whom He shares Himself with the world.

St. Mary’s Song, therefore, has for generations been the Church’s song, as well.  For it is a song of faith and a confession of the Cross of Christ, by which death is destroyed and life is granted.  It is a confession of faith in a reality you cannot see or feel, but one that you can only believe.

Such is the great contrast or reversal which centers in the Crucifixion of our Lord.  It is the contrast between all that you see and feel and experience, on the one hand, and what is really true for you in Christ on the other hand.  Such things you cannot distinguish or discern within your heart, nor in your head.  Faith clings only to the Word, as did St. Mary at Gabriel’s Annunciation: “Let it be for me,” she said, according to the Word that God the Lord had spoken to her by His messenger.

So then, let us hear and listen to His Word in that which St. Elizabeth has sung by inspiration of the Holy Spirit in her greeting of St. Mary: “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the Fruit of your womb!  But how is it granted to me, that the Mother of my Lord should come to me?”

Thus does the Spirit declare that St. Mary is “the Mother of our Lord,” which is to say and confess that St. Mary is the Mother of Yahweh.  Not of the Father, of course, nor of the Holy Spirit, but of the One who is God the Son from all eternity.  He truly is God, and St. Mary is truly His Mother.  And that is most significant, indeed, because it is the way and the means whereby true God has become true Man, and so also our Savior and Redeemer.  It is for this reason especially that Holy Scripture and the Church have always held the Blessed Virgin Mary in highest esteem.

What is thus confessed in the words of St. Elizabeth is that St. Mary has become, by the Word and Spirit of God, the fleshly means by which the Son of God is given to the world and comes to visit His people with His forgiveness and life and salvation.  It may be helpful to think of the Blessed Virgin Mary in this regard as a kind of living “Sacrament” of Christ, since He comes to abide in the waters of her womb, and He takes her flesh and blood to be His own, that He might give His Life, His Body and His Blood, for you and for the many.

That is also implied in the very way that St. Luke describes the greeting of Elizabeth.  For in the Greek he writes that she “intoned” or “chanted” her blessing of St. Mary.  It is a liturgical song of the sort that was sung in the Old Testament by the priests as they served around the Ark of the Covenant.  And this description is one of several ways by which St. Luke indicates that, because she bears the Word-made-Flesh within her, the Blessed Virgin Mary has taken the place of the Old Testament Ark as the vehicle of God’s glorious presence in the midst of His people.

Hence the irony, and this beautiful and most profound, divine paradox: The Lord, our God and Savior — whom St. Mary magnifies and praises in her Canticle — He is in fact the tiny, frail, helpless Fetus in her womb.  For do not suppose that St. Mary praises God in heaven apart from the one true God who is conceived and growing within her.

Nor do you and I have any other Lord, nor any other God, nor any other Savior, than this very One who is conceived and born of the Blessed Virgin Mary.  We know of no God the Father, nor do we receive any Holy Spirit, apart from this incarnate God the Son.  For He alone is the Way, the Truth, and the Life, and no one comes to the Father but by Him.  So also, it is only by His Word of the Gospel that His Spirit is given.  And thus, when we praise and magnify the Lord, we must do so in the flesh and blood of Jesus Christ, who is conceived and born from St. Mary’s womb.

It is the Lord God Himself who has chosen St. Mary, alone among all women, to be His Holy Mother, according to His steadfast love and faithfulness, in remembrance of His mercy.

But what did St. Mary do to deserve such an honor?  In truth, she did nothing to deserve it.  And that, dear friend, is precisely the point.  She was chosen by God because He desired to show mercy, and for no other reason than that.

She didn’t earn it by her virtues, nor by her poverty and humility.  She did nothing at all but to receive what was given to her by grace, and that by faith alone, which is itself the gift of God.

And all of this, not only for her, but also for you and your salvation.  For He who is true God, begotten of His Father from eternity, has also become true Man, born of this Blessed Virgin Mary.  And He has now become your Lord, because He has redeemed you from sin, death, and the power of the devil.  Not with gold or silver, but with His own holy and precious Blood, and with His innocent suffering and death.  He has done it all for you by grace, that you might be His very own, and live under Him in His Kingdom, and serve Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness, just as He is risen from the dead and lives and reigns eternally.

Whatever else you might see or think or feel or experience, it is this that is most certainly true!

Your past may be full of regrets; your present may be hard to bear; and your future may be scary and uncertain.  There are so many times when your sinful heart will tell you, in so many ways, that God has turned His face away from you, or that He is punishing you for your sins as you deserve.

But when those doubts and fears arise, consider that your Lord has set before you the example of His Blessed Virgin Mary, His most highly-favored Lady, who lived under the Cross of her Son: Suspected of adultery by her fiancée, who plans at first to divorce her.  Then threatened by her king and forced to flee to Egypt with her precious newborn Son.  And warned by faithful Simeon that a sword will pierce her soul, cutting her to the very quick with which she magnifies the Lord.

So, is this any way for the Holy Mother of God to live and to be treated?  Actually, yes, it is.  It is the only way for the Mother of a Crucified God to live, that is to say, by faith alone, and not by sight, even when she is found mourning at the foot of His Cross when His Hour has fully come.

Who shall say to her, then, that the almighty arm of God has done “great things” for her?

But it is just so that He does put down the mighty of this world from their thrones, as He ascends the throne of His Cross.  And so does He exalt the lowly, as surely as that poor young Mary has become the Mother of God; for her crucified Son has conquered death by His death in our flesh.

You cannot see or feel it.  You can only believe by the Word & Spirit of God.  We do not have His perspective, whose thoughts are not our thoughts, whose ways are not our ways.  We are not God but His servants and His handmaids.  It is for us according to His Word.  But in that Word, you are given the blessed perspective of Christ and His Cross, the incarnate Son of God, who makes sense of it all.  You live by His Word, by faith in His Word, and He remembers His mercy toward you.

As He was conceived in St. Mary by the Word and Spirit of God, so does He come to abide in you by the proclamation of His Word and by His Holy Spirit.  So does He make your life His own.

And as He was given birth from the waters of St. Mary’s womb, so has He given birth to you in the waters of Holy Baptism, for the baptismal font is the womb of His Church.  There, in the washing of those waters with His Word, you were crucified, dead, and buried with Him, so that you are also raised up with Him, as well.  For as you were born from those waters, united with Christ, you were born again as a son of God in Him, a dear child of His own dear Father in heaven.

And as He received His flesh and blood and human life from the virgin body of His Mother, so do you receive His Body and His Blood from His servant in His Church for divine Life & Salvation in Him.  It is the same flesh and blood of the same true God who was conceived and born of Mary, who was crucified for you and for the many, who feeds the hungry with good things, here at His Altar, for life with God both here in time and hereafter in eternity.

All of this you are given to receive with thanksgiving, in and with His Church, in the same way as the Blessed Virgin Mary, that is, by grace alone, through faith alone, according to the Word of God.  St. Mary did not choose this for herself.  It was not her decision to make.  Nor did she do anything to earn it or deserve it.  It was the good and gracious Will of God and the remembrance of His mercy, that He should choose this poor girl to be His dear Mother.

So has He remembered you and chosen you to be His own, to live under Him in His Kingdom, to serve Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness.  Always and only out of His divine mercy, without any merit or worthiness in you, but with His steadfast love and affection.

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

16 December 2015

Blessed Are You Who Believe

The visit of the Blessed Virgin Mary to her relative, Elizabeth, in the final trimester of the older woman’s pregnancy, is at once the most profound Mystery and the most practical work of mercy.  And now the Son of God, St. Mary’s Son, our Savior, Jesus Christ, visits us in this Word of His Gospel, no less so than He visited St. Elizabeth and the unborn John the Baptist in her womb.  Indeed, He visits you here in this place in much the same way that He visited them.

It was, in many ways, a very practical visit to begin with.  St. Mary was given the sign that barren Elizabeth had conceived a son in her old age, and so she went straightaway in accordance with that Word to see the fulfillment of that sign.  But she also went in love to help and serve her elderly relative — and in turn to learn and benefit from St. Elizabeth’s wisdom, to be strengthened in her faith and vocation by the witness of St. Elizabeth’s faithfulness and righteousness.  Thus, these two women, in some respects at opposite ends of the spectrum, yet bound together in faith and by their sons, love and serve and care for each other in mercy.

Consider what it would have been like for that dear old lady in her final months of pregnancy: Heavy with the weight of the child growing inside of her, weary from the work of it, her frail mortal flesh stretched and strained by that burden under the curse of sin and death, her bones no longer so resilient as they were in her teens and twenties.

We hear nothing of St. Elizabeth after the birth and circumcision of her son, but she likely did not live long, perhaps only a few more years in which to nurse and wean the boy.  It is no stretch to suppose that her pregnancy, her labor and delivery, might have broken her health and led to her decline and death.  Her child grew and became strong, but he lived in the deserts until his public appearance some thirty years later, dressed in camel’s hair and eating locusts and wild honey.  There is no indication that St. Elizabeth ever saw the Christ Child following His holy Nativity.

What she did see and receive was a welcome visit from her young relative, the Blessed Virgin Mary from Nazareth.  The dear young Mother of our Lord came and spent the final three months of Elizabeth’s pregnancy with her.  And along with everything else going on in this beautiful story, her visit was no doubt a source of help and comfort.

For St. Mary, too, there was the blessing and benefit of being with and learning from the wise and faithful St. Elizabeth.  We know nothing from the Holy Scriptures concerning St. Mary’s father and mother, but it is possible that she may already have been orphaned, even at her young age.

She was probably in her early teens, old enough to be engaged by the standards of that culture, and her body able to conceive and bear a child.  But now she was pregnant before her wedding, before the consummation of her marriage.  Hence, the wonderful Word of God that she received in faith, by which the Lord was fulfilling all His promises and granting His tremendous blessings, was also throwing everything up into the air for St. Mary and putting her life into jeopardy and danger.

The Son within her womb was conceived miraculously by the Word and Spirit of God, and she herself remained a chaste and pure virgin, faithful and righteous by God’s grace.  But who was going to believe that?  What was Joseph going to think or say or do?  And what was she to do?

What she did was go with haste in the direction the Word of the Lord had pointed her, in the same faith with which she had prayed, “Let it be,” and in love for the Lord in her womb and for St. Elizabeth.  This was her vocation set before her, and just as she believed that the Lord’s Word to her would be fulfilled, so did she trust that He would care for her and provide for all her needs.  And as she believed, so was it done for her, one step at a time.

Zacharias the priest — and Elizabeth his bride, a daughter of Aaron, the mother of the Lord’s forerunner — they believed St. Mary’s story.  And they strengthened and sustained her faith in the days ahead, even as their own faith was strengthened and sustained by her confession and witness.

You should learn from this to seek out your brothers and sisters in Christ, not only your close relatives but your fellow members of the household and family of God, to love them in faith, and to be loved by them.  Resist the temptation to withdraw into ever narrowing circles and personal isolation.  Faith and love, body and soul are strengthened and sustained — and both you and your neighbor are comforted and helped — through fraternal fellowship and in the mutual conversation and consolation of those who are bound together by the Gospel in the one Body of Christ Jesus.

To be faithful by God’s grace, and to be righteous by such faith in Christ, does not mean that you will never be lonely or afraid, that you will never be confused or doubtful, that you will never be worried or anxious.  Even the Blessed Virgin Mary and Righteous Elizabeth bore the burdens of their mortal flesh, the frailty and weakness of their sinful hearts and minds, along with the bodily burden of their baby boys.  Righteous Zacharias, too, had doubted and questioned the Word of the Lord when it was first spoken to him by the Archangel Gabriel.

Do not suppose, then, that you shall simply stride forward in confident faith and never falter.  Nor despair when your mind balks, your heart quails, your body trembles, and your frail flesh falls short.  Rather, follow the example of St. Mary and St. Elizabeth in hearing and heeding the Word of the Lord, and proceed in faith upon the path that He lays before you.  You live and walk by faith, and not by sight, by the hearing of the Word of Christ.

Hidden in the womb of his mother, St. John the Baptist is already filled with the Holy Spirit and begins to fulfill his vocation and office as the forerunner.  He kicks and leaps for joy inside his Mama at the presence of the Christ, the little Lord Jesus, deeply hidden in the womb of His own Mother, and therefore doubly hidden from John!  But little John points to Mary’s little Lamb and proclaims that He is the Coming One, because that is what St. John’s whole life is all about.

St. Elizabeth heeds the non-verbal preaching of her son, as she hears the verbal confession of the young Maid Miriam, that is, her beautiful song, the Magnificat, which the Bride of Christ continues to sing to this day.  By this double testimony of her Lord, the Christ — who, even as a Fetus in His Mother’s womb, is nothing less and no one else than Yahweh in the flesh — by His gracious Visitation, St. Elizabeth too is filled with the Holy Spirit.  In faith and love and with great joy she cries out with a loud voice, singing a priestly chant of praise in the presence of the Lord.

Here the Ark of the Covenant of Yahweh Sabaoth comes home to a city of Judah.  Great David’s greater Son has come to save His people from their sins, to set them free from all their enemies, from death, and from the devil, and to establish the House of His God and Father forever in the midst of His true Jerusalem, with peace and rest and perpetual felicity.  For the body of St. Mary bears the very Son of God, and the Church rightly confesses that she is the Mother of God.

He thus comes in and with a body of His own, of the same flesh and blood as St. Mary and as all of you, in order to bear your sin and be your Savior.  He bears all of your iniquity, guilt, and shame in His Body to the Cross, where He sacrifices Himself once for all — the Lamb of God, indeed, who takes away the sin of the world.  So does He shed His holy and precious blood to atone for all your sins, to make propitiation for you and the whole world, to cleanse your conscience and to seal His Covenant with you.  So does He also feed you with His flesh, to strengthen and sustain you in body and soul as He leads you out of Egypt, through the desert, into Paradise.  For He is the living and life-giving Bread from heaven, the very Word of God made Flesh for you.

With all this grace and every blessing, He comes to visit you in great lowliness and meekness, wrapped up in frailty, and hidden in deep humility.  You cannot see Him with your eyes, nor do you discern the glory of His Resurrection in the present experience of your body and life on earth under the Cross.  You share His lowliness, His weakness and humility.  Or else, when you presume to exalt yourself, He scatters your pride, empties your hands, and brings you down from your high horse.  He calls you to repentance.  He closes your mouth and shuts your lips, until He shall open them to confess, to pray, and to show forth His praises by His Word.

He does all of this in remembrance of His mercy toward you.  He does not forget you, even when you have forgotten Him.  He remains faithful even when you are not.  Therefore, He humbles you, in order to exalt you in Himself, in His own Resurrection from the dead.

His promises to you, His gifts and benefits, His life and salvation for you, are no less miraculous, no less amazing and remarkable than the pregnancies of a very old woman and a young virgin teen.  Nor are they any less true, but just as sure and certain as Christ Himself is the Truth incarnate.

What has been spoken to you by the Lord has been fulfilled for you, already in Christ Jesus, the Son of Mary, and it shall be fulfilled in you, in your heart and mind, body and soul, just as He has promised.  For by your Holy Baptism into His Cross and Resurrection, you have been born again to a new and living hope.  Blessed are you who thus, by His grace, believe His Word and promises.

Here He has brought you to His House by His Word and Spirit.  And as soon as you hear the sound of His greeting, the proclamation and confession of His grace, mercy, and peace, you also are filled with His Spirit, with the great joy and gladness of His Gospel.  So do you sing and chant and pray and confess in the confidence of Christ the Lord, in the presence of His holy Ark and Altar.

From this Altar, in this place, by His Word and with His Spirit, hidden in the womb of His Church, the dear Lord Jesus Christ visits you with His own flesh and blood.  He feeds your mortal body with His own Body, conceived and born of Mary, crucified under Pontius Pilate, dead and buried, risen and ascended.  And by this gracious Visitation, He feeds you and He fills you with good things, His mercy rests upon you, and He is borne in you unto the life everlasting of your body and soul.  For He has done great things for you, even by the nailing of His strong hands and outstretched arms upon the Cross.  His mighty deeds of salvation are manifested and given to you in His deep compassion for you, in His tender mercy and kind pity on your misery.

Blessed of the Lord, do not be afraid.  He shall exalt you at the proper time.  Behold, He is with you even now, and you have found favor in His sight.  Surely, He will help you at all times and in all places, for He will never leave you nor forsake you.  Just as He has spoken, so shall it be done.

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

13 December 2015

Vindicated by the Justice of God

It seems unjust and so unfair.  St. John the Baptist, a righteous and innocent man, is imprisoned because of his faithfulness, while Jesus welcomes tax collectors and other sinners to Himself and eats with them.  Not only that, but St. John will remain in prison until he is finally beheaded, all the while Jesus is helping other people, healing the sick and even raising the dead.

But do not be offended.  This seemingly upside-down and inside-out reversal of things is the foolish wisdom of God, giving birth to the children of God by His grace.  It is the justice of God, whereby He justifies sinners and brings them from their sin into His Kingdom in peace.

So it is that Christ Jesus Himself will be arrested and imprisoned and put to death in due season.  For wherever St. John the Forerunner goes, there Jesus follows after.

It is true that He does cure many people of diseases, afflictions, and evil spirits.  He opens blind eyes and deaf ears.  He cleanses lepers and raises the dead.  But He does it all by taking all of this infirmity upon Himself, by removing the iniquity of sinners and bearing it in His own mortal flesh.

He acknowledges God’s justice against the sins of the whole world, and He affirms God’s purpose for Himself, for the forgiveness, life, and salvation of sinners, by going to His death on the Cross.

So now the question is, what sort of prison are you locked up in?  What are the shackles and chains that bind you?  And if not iron bars, what is it that has you trapped behind closed doors?

Is it your lust, or greed, or jealousy?  Hurt feelings or unrequited love?  Perhaps it is loneliness, disappointment, personal failure, or your own pride which imprisons you.  Or maybe your sin and shame, your poor health, or depression.  Or, do you rather find yourself locked up in a dungeon by your vices and bad habits, by addictions you can’t shake, or by impatience and a short temper?

It may be that, like St. John the Baptist, it is precisely your faithfulness within your office and station in life that has become your prison and your cross to bear.  Perhaps your faithfulness in submitting to a husband who is not thoughtful, kind, and loving toward you.  Or your faithfulness in serving a needy wife who nags and complains and never seems to be happy.  Your faithfulness in taking care of children who demand all of your time and energy.  Or your faithfulness in meeting the needs of aging, ailing parents, who no longer remember your name or face.

Whatever it is that imprisons you, no matter how suffocating it may be, the Lord your God declares to you: Do not be afraid, and do not be anxious over anything.  For He Himself is with you in the dungeon.  He is at hand to help you.  Only call upon His Name, and pray to Him in every need.

Follow the good example of St. John the Baptist, and ask for a Word from the Lord, for a word of hope and promise — even a word that simply tells you again what you already know and believe.

Ask Him to send His preachers to preach, for He comes to you by the preaching of His Word.  Ask Him for the Gospel.  And as you hear that sweet Word, know that He keeps His promises forever.

Whatever your affliction and infirmity, Christ has borne it for you, and He now bears it with you.

Whatever the wilderness in which you live, Christ the Lord is with you there.  He is at hand to feed and clothe, to guard and protect.  He is your Pillar of Cloud by day and your Pillar of Fire by night,  going before you as your King and following after as your Rearguard.  For He is a victorious Warrior, who has set Himself not against you, but with you as a Champion against your enemies.

Listen to what He says.  Take it to heart.  Believe it to be true, and confess it to be so.

There is both a time to mourn and a time to dance; a time to eat and a time to fast; a time to repent and a time to rejoice.  For it is by death and resurrection that you enter the Kingdom of God.

Repent, therefore, and believe the Gospel.  Turn away from your sins, and follow Jesus.  Die to yourself, to your pride and ambition, and live instead by faith in the promise of His Resurrection.  And as He comes to you by the way of the Cross, by and with the Cross that He also lays upon you and calls you to carry, acknowledge the justice of God, and do not reject but affirm His purpose.

When He sings a dirge, then weep.  When He plays the flute for you, dance.  Weep for your sin, but dance for joy in His forgiveness.  Do not eat the bread and wine of mortal princes who perish with their food, but now feast at the Table of the Son of Man who gives real Food to the hungry.

Such is the wisdom and justice of God, which He accomplishes for you and gives to you in peace.

Your sense of justice may cause you to retreat and run away from Him in sorrow and shame over your sin and failure.  And your sense of justice may cause you to hold yourself aloof and far away from your neighbor, because of your neighbor’s sin.  But God’s justice is perfected in mercy.  His justice is what moves Him to come, to draw near to you in love, to draw you to Himself in peace.

He has taken away His judgments against you by the Cross and Resurrection of Christ Jesus.

And He has cleared away all of your enemies by the same Cross and Resurrection of your Lord.

He is with you now in quietness and gentleness.  And yet, within that peaceful calm, He also exults and rejoices over you with shouts of joy and gladness.  So here is an amazing thing.  This Sunday calls you to rejoice in God your Savior, but here His Word declares that He rejoices over you!

He rejoices over you in peace, in spite of your many sins, because He has made atonement for your sins and does not hold them against you.  Repent of your sins, but do not be afraid.  The Lord shall not permit them to harm you.  For He rejoices over you.  That is true, no matter what you suffer.

He is a friend of tax collectors and sinners, of gluttonous men and drunkards, and of the demon-possessed who neither weep nor dance.  He has made Himself the friend of all who are poor and afflicted and oppressed, whatever their personal demons and prisons may be, of wealth or want.

Child of God, He is your friend: in joy and sadness, in misery or merriness; for better or worse, for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health.  He pledges you His faithfulness even against death.

And He delights in your faithfulness, too, even if you do find yourself imprisoned by it and for it.  To serve faithfully in the place where He has called you to be, whether in a palace or a prison, and to suffer patiently whatever He may give you to suffer for His Name’s sake, that is a worthwhile calling and purpose in life.  It is not meaningless or pointless, but a testimony to His faithfulness.  It is where you are given to rejoice and be glad in Him, as He rejoices over you in gracious love.

It does not matter if your neighbor fairs differently, nor if the Lord shows favor to those who are less faithful.  Do not be offended by Jesus, and do not take offense at the company He keeps.

As Jesus draws near, you will find yourself surrounded by tax collectors and other sinners, by crazy men and lepers, the hurting and despised, the wounded and forgotten, and by Pharisees and lawyers, too.  He does not despise the children of men, but He calls them to be children of God.

Do not evaluate the crowds on the basis of their pedigree and social stature.  Do not ask about how much or how little, how big or how small.  Do not count or compile those stats, neither in yourself nor in your neighbor.  This mortal life on earth is temporary; it is fleeting and always fluctuating.

One day you or your neighbor are a prince or a princess, the next you are a pauper or in prison.  Or it may be that you pass away in your royal dignity, and that you are buried in your fine apparel and soft clothing — and then you return to the same dust as all your friends and foes alike.

By contrast, everyone who is born again of the water, Word, and Spirit of God — everyone who is crucified, dead, and buried with Christ Jesus through Holy Baptism — he or she is raised up with the same Lord Jesus Christ, born again to a new life in the Kingdom of His God and Father.

That is the greatness that you share with Jesus, and with all who eat and drink with Him in faith.

With a gentle spirit, therefore, be at peace.  Be at peace in your own heart and mind before God, and, in so far as it depends upon you, be at peace with all people.  Love your brothers and sisters in Christ especially, no matter what the prison house that either you or they may be living in.

For the wisdom of God is vindicated by all of His children.  The One who raised Christ Jesus from the dead has justified you, a sinner, by your Baptism into Him, into His Cross and Resurrection.  As He is risen from the dead and lives and reigns eternally, so are you vindicated and righteous.

Whether He sets you free from your afflictions and infirmities while you are still making your way through this wilderness, or even if He permits you to remain in your personal prison until you die, He will surely release you at the last from all the burdens and the bondage of your mortal flesh.

Whether in frailty and weakness, or in faithfulness and strength, the Lord who has drawn near to you in the Cross of Christ, now draws you to Himself forever in His Resurrection from the dead.  For He has reconciled you to Himself.  And that Peace of God, which is yours in Christ Jesus, guards and keeps your heart and mind, your body, soul, and spirit, unto the day of His appearing.

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

09 December 2015

By the Word and Spirit of God

All of these things are from God, by His grace, according to His Word — delivered to you and accomplished for you by means of His Word.  Indeed, it is the Word of God — the only-begotten Son, begotten of the Father from eternity, by whom all things are made — who is conceived by the Holy Spirit in St. Mary’s womb, and from her flesh and blood becomes flesh and blood Himself.

Therefore, do not be afraid, for you have found favor with God, who comes to you in mercy and speaks to you in peace.  He has given His Son to be conceived and born of this Blessed Virgin, to bear your sin and to be your Savior.  So is He named Jesus.  For Yahweh saves His people from their sins, and He calls you to be His own, to be one of His beloved people, to live with Him in His Kingdom.  And as He lives and reigns eternally, so shall you also live and abide with Him forever.

To be sure, these are incredibly great and precious promises that are given to you by the grace of God, and a truly remarkable Word that is spoken to you by the mouth of the Lord.  It is seemingly impossible that a virgin should conceive and bear a Son; that the very Son of God should thus become true Man; and that He should save you and all His people from the devil, death, and hell.

All of this seems impossible.  And it is impossible for you to believe and trust these words and promises of God, except by the power of His Word and the work of His Holy Spirit in your heart.

Blessed are you who thus believe this Word of God, according to His grace.  And blessed is she — to speak as Elizabeth will sing of Mary by the Spirit of God — blessed is she who believed all that the Lord had spoken to her, every Word that proceeded from His mouth into her ears, into her mind and heart, into her body and her life, all for the sake of our life and salvation in her Son.

In all of this, aside from everything else, St. Mary is and remains such a beautiful example of faith.  Behold the handmaiden of the Lord, who prays and confesses so rightly and well, “Let it be to me according to Thy Word!”  God grant that you should also have such faith and speak in this way.

Indeed, to have and confess such faith is perhaps the most miraculous and incredible grace of God, above and beyond all of the other miracles at work in this Holy Gospel.  But so it is, according to His steadfast love and mercy, that you trust His holy Word and boldly confess what He has said and promised in the face of all adversity, even (and especially) when it all seems so impossible.

The way and the means by which the Lord God grants to you such faith are, in fact, the very way and means by which He bestows His gracious gifts upon you.  And in this He deals with you in the same way and by the same means as He dealt with dear St. Mary.

He sends His servant, His messenger, to speak and proclaim His Word and promise to you.  The Liturgy confesses and declares this point each time you hear the Salutation from your pastor, the very same Salutation that St. Mary received from the Archangel Gabriel: “The Lord be with you!”

With that greeting He announces not only His gracious presence, but also His works of mercy for you, and His good gifts of the Gospel.  He speaks the forgiveness of all your sins, and He bestows the salvation of your body and soul by the body and blood of the Incarnate Son, Christ Jesus.

It is that Word of God — that Word of Christ, the Word of His Gospel — that Word by which and through which the Holy Spirit is actively present and at work — it is that Word which opens your ears to hear, your heart to believe and trust, your mind to understand the Truth, and your lips to confess the same Son of God, your Savior, Jesus Christ.

So do God’s Word and Spirit also embrace and comprehend the chosen elements of His good creation, as the Word and Spirit embraced and comprehended the body of the Blessed Virgin Mary, in order to manifest and give His Salvation “in the flesh” unto His creatures of flesh and blood.

As the Son of God was conceived and born of St. Mary, so are the children of God conceived and born by the washing of water with the Word and Spirit of God in Holy Baptism.

And as the Son of God took flesh and blood from St. Mary’s body, in order to become flesh of our flesh and blood of our blood as true Man, so does He give that same Body and Blood to you when His Word comes to the bread and wine of the Holy Communion and He unites Himself with them, in order to be “conceived and born” in you, as it were, as you eat and drink at His invitation.

In these means of grace, within the Holy Christian Church, the Incarnation and the great Salvation of God continue to happen — for you — to the praise of His glorious grace.

Beloved of God, the Son of God has come in the flesh to cast away the works of darkness and to destroy the works of the devil; He has come to purify you in body and soul, for now and forever, that you should live no longer in sin but unto righteousness, by His grace through faith in Him.

As He has prevailed over sin, death, and the devil in His Body of flesh and blood, by His Cross and in His Resurrection from the dead, so does He accomplish His purposes in your body and life — not by your own reason and strength, but by His Word and Spirit.  Though it is not yet obvious to the world, nor even to your own perception, nevertheless, you are the Lord’s, and He is yours.

And so it is that, as St. Mary presents you with a beautiful example of faith within her vocation as the Mother of the Son of God, so do you now live by faith within your vocation as a child of God.

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