14 December 2016

Living with Santa Lucia in the Light of Christ

Santa Lucia — St. Lucy — is an Italian saint, a martyr of the early fourth century.  She was put to death during the time of persecution under the Emperor Diocletian.  She has been especially well loved by Scandinavian Lutherans, perhaps because an emphasis on Light in the commemoration of St. Lucy is appreciated and welcome in those darker parts of the world.

There are a lot of traditions and legends concerning Santa Lucia, most of which could not possibly be true.  It does seem that she was a young girl, the daughter of a wealthy nobleman, whose father had died and whose mother may have been ill for a time.  In order to provide for her needs and for her future, Lucia was betrothed to a pagan.

St. Lucy, however, preferred not to be joined in marriage to an unbeliever.  Instead, she determined to give her dowry as alms for the poor.  Her mother protested that, even if she did not want to get married, at least the dowry would provide for her life on earth, and it could always be given to the Church later.  But Lucy insisted that it was better to do good and to serve the Lord in His people.

When her pagan fiancé learned that Lucy had found a better and more beloved Bridegroom in Christ Jesus, that she was not going to marry him after all, and that she was spending her dowry on the poor and needy, he turned her over to the authorities and accused her of being a Christian.  Which, of course, she was.  And in those days, that was a crime punishable by death.

The governor ordered Lucy to offer incense and sacrifice to the pagan gods, but she refused.  Her heart and her life belonged to Christ.  The governor threatened to have her hauled off to a brothel, and that her purity would be taken from her there.  She replied that, if they forced her hand to offer sacrifice and incense against her will, it would be their idolatry, not hers; and if they ravaged her body against her will, her purity and chastity would remain, while they would be guilty of a crime.

When the governor was finally fed up with this stubborn young woman, he sentenced her to die.

So how can Santa Lucia serve as an example for you?  Our Lutheran Confessions commend the remembrance of the saints because we are able to learn from their example and are encouraged in our own vocations and stations in life.  So what should you learn from the example of this young virgin martyr, who declined to be married and gave up her dowry to the poor?

If all Christians honored St. Lucy by following exactly in her path, then there would eventually be no more Christians.  But it is not to despise or forsake holy marriage that we remember her today.

Relatively few people are called to the vocation of celibacy, called to remain virgins dedicated to the Lord, committed with their whole heart, mind, body, and life to serving Christ, His Church on earth, and His people, without the comforts and benefits of a spouse and family.  There are those who are eunuchs for the Kingdom of God, our Lord Jesus says.  But they are few and far between.

Now, then, you have heard the Word of St. Paul the Apostle this evening.  Though what he says concerning virgins is not a command from the Lord, it is his apostolic counsel and advice, which we gladly receive from him as from one who is trustworthy and has the Spirit of God.

St. Paul cautions that marriage and family involve troubles and difficulties in this perishing world.  In contrast, he points to the benefits of celibacy, to the unmarried life, because of the opportunity and freedom that such a life allows for serving the Church and for serving the neighbor.  Even so,  he acknowledges that celibacy requires a special grace and dispensation of God, if one is going to attempt a celibate life and persevere within it without falling into sins of heart, mind, and flesh.

It is simply not possible to live a chaste and decent life outside of marriage without the special gift of God.  Therefore, so long as you are neither married nor given in marriage, rely upon the grace of God and on His Word to live a sexually pure and honorable life in all that you say and do.

Sadly, there is a perverse kind of “celibacy” in our world today.  That is to say, marriage is often despised, avoided, or delayed until a person has achieved his or her own self-chosen ambitions.  Yet, all the while, there is no longer even a pretense of chastity within our society.  All manner of sexual depravity is not only permitted, but tolerated, viewed as normal, and even celebrated.

On all sides, your eyes and ears are bombarded with ideas and images that should not even be mentioned.  Such things belong to the darkness of this present age.  It is a darkness that threatens to engulf you, as well.  A darkness that can frighten and dismay you, or else entice and snare you, so that your own heart and mind are darkened by it.

Sexual sins strike at the very core of your being as a creature of God.  They cut to the very heart of both your body and your soul.  Left unchecked, sexual sins will grow in strength and power.  They are a kind of spiritual, psychological, and physiological addiction by which many people are ensnared and badly hurt.  Often their lives are ruined, along with the lives of those around them.

Resist such temptations and flee from them.  Discipline your flesh and spirit, your body and soul.  Do not give yourself everything you want, whether it be excessive food and drink, entertainment, hobbies, pastimes, or whatever sort of pleasures you covet and crave and worship as your idols.

Discipline yourself.  Avert your eyes from sexual temptations and provocative immodesty.  Turn your attention instead to serving the people God has placed alongside you.  Work hard at your job.  Focus on what you are called to do.  Exercise your faith and love against covetous lust and greed, by occupying yourself with God’s Word and prayer, and by laying down your life in service.

To be sure, by no amount of effort will you save yourself, no more than Santa Lucia or any of the saints could rely upon their own righteousness to save themselves. You will not preserve your body and life, your chastity and purity, by the strength of your own determination.  Make the effort, yes, and steer yourself away from what is dark and evil to what is good and right.  Only do not rely on yourself.  Nor despise the body God has given you, which is His good creation.  But find your hope and life in the Light of Christ, which shines for you in the midst of deep darkness.

As already mentioned, Santa Lucia is commemorated with an emphasis on that Light of Christ.  For He rises like the sun and shines upon you by His Gospel, His forgiveness of your sins.  That is what saves you.  That is what snatches you out of the darkness.  That is what preserves your life.

It is by His forgiveness that you are rescued from your enemies, from your own sinful flesh, from the devil and the world.  It is by the forgiveness of Christ that you are delivered from the darkness of sin, death, and hell.  And it is by His forgiveness that you are cleansed and chaste, because you are clothed by Christ and His Righteousness, and your shame is fully covered by His holiness.

By this Light of the Gospel of Christ Jesus you live and work in this world at peace with God, and at peace with your neighbor.  Whether you are married or unmarried; whether you have children or none; whether you are orphaned or widowed — whatever your calling and station in life, you live by the peace of Christ, which is yours by faith in His free and full forgiveness of your sins.

If you are a Christian, then God is your Father, who has named you with His Word by His grace.  You are not an orphan, but a beloved and well-pleasing child of God in Christ Jesus.  And Christ is your Bridegroom, now and forever, to whom you have been given, and to whom you belong.

Whether or not you are joined to a husband or wife here on earth, you have been joined to Christ in the waters of your Holy Baptism, and you are knit together with Him as one flesh in the Holy Communion of His Body and His Blood.  Thus are your body and life redeemed and sanctified in His Body.  You live and die with Him who is your Savior and your Head.  And you confess Him with all of your words and actions as you go about your days and fulfill your duties here on earth.

In marriage, you confess Christ and His Bride by how you relate to your spouse.  You husbands, love your wives as Christ loves you and His whole Church; and you wives, submit to your own husbands in the fear and faith of God, for Christ Jesus’ sake.  That life of holy marriage is where most of you either live already or will live in the future.  It is a high and holy calling, by which you and your children and your neighbors in the world are given to learn of Christ and His Church.

By contrast, it is very possible that some of you may be called to live the unmarried life, perhaps not by your own decision or desire, but because the Lord so chooses and calls you in His mercy.  And if so — whether you are not yet married, or you are widowed, or you are called to a lifelong vocation of celibacy — you also confess Christ and His Bride, but in a different way than your married brothers and sisters.  You live faithfully unto Christ alone, your heavenly Bridegroom, as a member of His Church.  And as such, you confess that the form of this present world is passing away; that your attachments, your hope, your life, and your future are not found here on earth.

Times of persecution — such as St. Paul describes, and as when St. Lucy lived and died — teach much the same thing, that you might fix your hope on Christ.  When you know that your life may end at any moment; when you know that everything may quickly be taken away from you; when you know that your life is lived under the Cross — then you are prompted to cling to Christ Jesus alone, and you are far less inclined to rely upon the fleeting occupations of this perishing world.

Even when persecution is not so overt or obvious, it is still the case that every vocation, including both marriage and celibacy, bear the Cross and suffer temptations of heart, mind, body, and soul.  First of all, because this is a fallen world.  And because you are still a sinner, living in the midst of sinners.  And because your glory as a Christian is found, not in the escape of suffering, but in sharing the sufferings of Christ.  Suffering persecution sometimes, but also suffering the burden of care for your neighbors.  And suffering temptation within yourself, which you resist and fight by the work of the Holy Spirit, by the Word of Christ, by confession and Absolution.

Find your life in that Light of Christ.  It shines upon you with His Love in His Word of the Gospel, which He causes to be preached and spoken to you within His Church on earth.  And know that His Word is true.  It does what it says.  Your sins are forgiven.  They are not counted against you.

Where you are burdened and hard pressed, where you are weary and warn down by the cares of this life, and where you are pressured to conform to the wickedness of this world, take heart.  The Light of Christ continues to shine upon you, even in this present darkness.  Not only are your sins forgiven, but so are you raised up from the darkness of death to the Life and Light of Christ Jesus.

That sure and certain hope of the Resurrection is the hope in which Santa Lucia and all of the holy martyrs lived and died.  And that same sure and certain hope of the Resurrection is also yours, in which you also go about your life and serve your vocations in this world.  The promise of the Resurrection makes all the difference, as the example of St. Lucy teaches and encourages you.

You live not for this present age, but in the hope and promise of the age to come in the crucified and risen Body of Christ Jesus, your Savior.  Thus do you serve your station in life, whatever it may be, in love for God and for you neighbor, for however long you are given to live on earth.  And then you depart this mortal life in peace, whether quietly in your bed or on the battlefield.

For now, if you are free of the burdens and responsibilities of parents, spouse, and children, use your freedom to shine the Light of Christ upon His Church and upon your neighbors.  And if you are called to care for a husband or wife, for children or parents, do so in the joy and peace and confidence of the Gospel.  In every case, you belong to the household and family of God.

Though Santa Lucia lost her father and mother, and had no husband or children of her own, she belongs to that same household and family of God, and we remember her as our courageous sister in Christ Jesus.  Nothing has been lost, and no good thing is lacking to her or to any of us in Him.

Your Father in heaven has named you and made you His own dear child.  And your divine, eternal Bridegroom, Jesus Christ, has taken you to be His own dearly beloved.  He has wed you to Himself forever and ever.  Not even death shall be able to separate you from Him.  For all of your sins are forgiven by the Gospel of His Cross, and you are chaste and pure and holy in His Resurrection.

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

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