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.

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