31 December 2017

The Gift of the Son

From before the foundation of the world God the Father in heaven has planned to give His Son.  That is the decisive act of God, upon which everything else in heaven and on earth depends.

It is for the sake of the Son — by Him, through Him, and for Him — that all things are created, and that man in particular is created, male and female, Adam & Eve, in the Image and Likeness of God.  And it is by the giving of that same Son, even into death upon the Cross, that fallen man and all his children are redeemed from death and the grave and given life with God the Father in heaven.

The Lord your God has given His only-begotten Son for you, in order to redeem you, to buy you back for Himself, though you were already His own creation.  He has paid for you with this most costly gift — His Son, His Life, His Blood — so that you might become a son of God by grace.

That’s not just one bonus or benefit of your salvation.  That is the heart of it.  To be a son of God.  To be able to cry out to the Creator, the Lord, the Almighty, “Abba! Daddy! Father!”  To be able to pray, “Our Father who art in heaven.”  To have your life in Him, and to have with Him that special relationship of a child with his or her father, only better than any relationship here on earth.

God has given His Son for you, that you might become His own dear son.  That you might share the sonship of Christ Jesus.  That you might share His Name and His Life and His Father forever.

It is by the Word and Spirit of God that you receive this gift, and recognize it, and rejoice in it.  Otherwise you would be utterly oblivious to this grace and blessing of God in Christ, on account of the frailty and weakness of your sinful, mortal flesh, and on account of the frailty and weakness in which the Son of God is given by the ways and the means of His Cross.  Apart from the Word and Spirit of God, you would never know it or believe it.  Everything is by and with His Word.

As a powerful case in point, it is by the Word — and not by any accident or coincidence — that Mary and Joseph, Simeon and Anna, are brought together in the Temple of God.  St. Luke has gone to great lengths to emphasize, again and again, that every jot and tittle of this Holy Gospel has transpired in accordance with the Law of the Lord.

Here you should understand that the Law was not simply a collection of rules and regulations.  To be sure, it did include such rules and regulations, for a father must regulate, govern, and discipline his household and family in love.  But the Law was the full Covenant that God established with His people, encompassing His relationship with them and especially the promise of the Christ who would come — who now has come in the fullness of time, the Babe, the Son of Mary.  All that God the Lord had spoken, including all that He commanded, pointed to this dear Lord Jesus Christ.

It was by that Word of the Lord, His commandments and His promises, that Mary and Joseph brought the little Lord Jesus to the Temple.  And it was by the Word of the Lord that Simeon was there, anticipating the revelation of the Christ, the Glory of Israel and the Light of the Gentiles.  And it was by that Word of the Lord that Anna was there; for she was always in His Temple, day and night, calling on the Name of the Lord in faith and hope, in prayer, praise, and thanksgiving.

It was by the Word and Spirit of God that they were there together in the Temple — for the Holy Spirit was at work through the Word and promises of God to call, gather, enlighten, and sanctify them by the gift of the Son.  They were there that God might present His Son to them in peace.

And it was by the Word and Spirit of God that faithful St. Simeon and devout St. Anna were given to recognize the Lord their God, their Savior and Redeemer, the Light of the world, in the Baby Jesus.  They could not have fathomed this by their own reason or strength.  And neither can you.

You cannot behold the Glory of God with the eyes in your head, but only by the eyes of faith which are enlightened by the Gospel.  When you see what happens here in the Church, which is the Temple of God in Christ, you only know what it’s about by the hearing of God’s Word.  That the waters of your Baptism have given you the new birth of the children of God, so that you are now able to call upon Him as your Father.  That bread and wine are the same Body and Blood of the same Lord Jesus Christ that St. Mary carried to the Temple and St. Simeon held in his arms.

These blessed things are most certainly true, but it is only by the Word and Spirit of God that you see and believe.  The world does not recognize it.  Your sinful heart could not recognize it.  But the Lord in His mercy reveals it to you in Christ Jesus, as God the Father gives to you His Son.

Not only has He given His Son for you on the Cross, but now also, in the Temple of His Church, He gives His Son to you by the Gospel.  So does He also draw you to Himself and make you His own in the same Son, Jesus Christ.  But He does all of this by the way and the means of the Cross.

That is why this precious little Child, this beautiful baby Boy, shall be a Sign that is opposed and spoken against.  His Life will become a sword that pierces the soul of His Mother Mary.  For He shall die upon the Cross in public shame and humiliation, in nakedness and devastating pain.

It is by His Cross that He saves you, not only then, but also now.  It is by His Cross that Christ has atoned for all your sins, and for the sins of the world, and thereby defeated death and crushed the serpent’s head beneath His feet.  So is it also by His Cross that He reveals the secret thoughts of your heart, and exposes the deepest depths of your sin, and thereby calls you to contrition and repentance.  He lays the Cross upon you, in order to crucify you and put you to death.  But so also from His Cross does He forgive your sins, call you to faith, and raise you up to newness of life.

The Cross is the most basic Sign of the Christian Church.  From the earliest days, Christians have identified themselves, confessed the faith, and glorified God, by and with the sign of the Cross.  So was the Cross signed on you in your Baptism.  For it is by the Cross of Christ that God has done everything, putting death itself to death in the Body of Christ Jesus, that life might reign in Him.

His Cross does put you to death, as well.  To be a Christian is to be crucified and die with Jesus.  It is to bear the Cross — not only as a piece of jewelry or as a decoration in your home;  nor simply as a ceremony that you trace upon your forehead and your heart — but as that which puts your sinful heart to death and restores you to faith and life with God in Christ the Crucified.

It is because you bear that Cross as a Christian disciple of Christ Jesus that you are ready to die from this world, to depart in peace from this vale of tears to your Father in heaven.  You are ready to die, because in your Baptism with Christ you have already died.  You are ready to die, because the death that you have died, you have died to sin, so that henceforth you live unto God in Christ.

If you are a Christian, then you are ready to die at any time.  Not because you’ve reached a ripe old age or managed to check off all the items on your bucket list, but because you are the Lord’s.

Don’t count on your fingers or calculate in your head what has to happen yet before your life can be complete.  Your life is complete in Christ, because He has died for you and risen from the dead.  And as you have died with Him in your Baptism, so is your life now hidden with Christ in God.

But not to worry!  It is because you are ready for death in Christ that you are finally ready to live.  Because you no longer live for yourself, but for Him, who for your sake died and was raised.

The frantic pace of the world is driven by the fear of death, and by a vast array of futile attempts to avoid death or delay it as long as possible.  All the buying and selling, all the giving and taking, all the decorating and partying — all of this can be done with great joy in faith.  But how much of it is done in a desperate attempt to deny the truth?  To escape the harsh realities of sinful life in a sinful world?  How many people desperately strive to make a life for themselves by earning and spending, by seizing and grasping, or by dreaming of goals they may or may not ever accomplish?

That is not where your life is found.  Do not cling to your stuff, as though it were your life.  Do not even cling to your own health and safety, as though you could preserve your body and life in this world forever.  And do not cling to your family, to your parents, spouse, or children, as though you could not live without them.  Rather, rest yourself in Christ, knowing that you live and die in Him.

It is because you are in Christ that you are free to live — here in time, and hereafter in eternity — because the death of Christ has set you free from the tyranny and bondage of sin, death, the devil, and hell.  You no longer have to be afraid of death.  In fact, you have nothing at all to fear.

What can man do to you?  What can the devil do to you?  What can the world do to you?  Nothing!  Not really.  They can hurt your feelings.  They can hurt your body.  They can even put your body to death in this world.  But then what?  Nothing more!  They cannot take your life with God.

You are not a slave.  You are a son of God.  You are an heir of His Kingdom.  All of heaven is yours.  The riches of Christ are yours, because Christ Himself, the almighty and eternal Son of God, He is yours.  You are rich.  You are alive with God in Christ.  And so, you are free to live.

In that freedom, redeem the time that God gives to you here on earth.  Redeem it to the praise and glory of His Name; which is also to redeem it in love for your neighbor.  You are free to do so.

Sanctify your days with the Word of God and prayer, as faithful Anna did, by night as by day, with fasting and prayers.  Sanctify your life in this world by the fasting of faith, which hungers for God above all else.  And sanctify your life in this world by interceding for your neighbors in the Name of the Lord, and by giving thanks to your God and Father for all that He has done for you and all that He has given you in Christ, His Son, which is far more than you need or could ever imagine.

Your days are marked and measured by the Word of God, because it is the Word of God that gives meaning to your life, both now and forever.  Which also means that your vocations in this world, your offices and stations in life, are meaningful and purposeful.  They’re not just a spinning of your wheels, even if they might feel that way.  Do what you are given to do in the confidence and joy of Christ.  Going about your days and living in accordance with the Commandments of God is to live by faith in His promises.  Not because you must save yourself, but because you are saved.

I know the daily grind can be a drudgery.  I know that many of your days may be wearisome and tedious.  I know there are dark and gloomy days that threaten to undermine your joy with despair, and it can seem like those days will never end.  But none of that is the real truth of the matter.

You can do whatever God has given you to do in the joyful confidence of Christ, because the truth is that He is not far away from you.  He has not forgotten you, nor will He ever forsake you.  He has not left you without consolation and comfort.  He is near you.  He is closer than a brother.

He is with you in your callings and stations in life.  And He is here for you in the Temple of His Church, no less than He was in the Temple in Jerusalem when Mary and Joseph brought Him there, and Simeon rejoiced to take Him into his arms, and Anna glorified the God of Israel who had kept every single one of His promises and granted redemption for His people.

Your own redemption and salvation are right here in the One who is your Savior and your God.  Indeed, He is given into your arms, pressed into your hands, placed upon your lips and tongue, and given into your body of flesh and blood, so that you may live in Him, both body and soul, forever.

Here is the Light of the revelation of the Glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.  And in Him you have peace and hope and joy forever, even in the face of death and the grave.  For God has given you His Son, and you are a son of God in Him by His gracious adoption and by His Holy Spirit.

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

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