In these last days the Father has spoken to you by His Son. His Word has become flesh and dwells here with you. Indeed, that Word is the almighty and eternal Son of God — He is Yahweh, the Lord — and He has come in the flesh to save you from your sins, from death, and from the power of the devil; to atone for your sins and redeem you by His holy and precious blood, and by His innocent suffering and death; and to reconcile you to Himself and to the Father in heaven forever.
It is by His Word of the Gospel that He now bestows all of these works of His great Salvation upon you. It is the Word of forgiveness, first of all, which He speaks to you from His Cross, which also brings you into the life and salvation of His Resurrection from the dead. And by that Word He has established His Kingdom forever and ever, already in His Church on earth as it is in heaven.
It is by His Word of the Gospel that Jesus your Savior comes to you and calls you to Himself, to live under Him in His Kingdom in the righteousness, innocence, and blessedness of faith; to live with Him within His Holy Christian Church, here and now and forever and ever.
But this life to which He calls you by His grace is presently by faith, and not by sight or sense or feelings or experience. It is by faith alone, because it is hidden under the Cross, and it is seemingly impossible. It contradicts everything you know (or think you know) from the world around you. It is hidden in the womb of the Church, as Christ Himself was hidden in the womb of His Mother.
It was hidden in more ways than one, from the start, from St. Mary herself in her life on earth. Dear, young St. Mary. Teenaged, unwed, and pregnant. She bore within her body the very Son of God, the Savior of the world, and for this she was suspected, ostracized, and burdened.
For St. Elizabeth to be pregnant in her old age, expecting a son, was how the Lord removed her shame in the presence of man. Yet, even for her, I daresay it was a cross to bear. The curse of sin was not lifted for St. Elizabeth. Ladies, if you have known the pain and anguish of labor and delivery in your youth, consider the pain and anguish of labor and delivery in her old age.
To bear a son in the so-called “golden years” had to be hard on that old lady’s body. But she at least was already married. Her friends and neighbors marveled and rejoiced along with her. For her young relative, though, there were inevitably suspicions and awkward questions. Even after St. Joseph responded to the Word of the Lord by taking St. Mary to be his wife, their neighbors would still have raised their eyebrows and wagged their fingers. The appearances were deceiving.
That is how it is for the Church, as well. She is such a little flock, a mere remnant, and she too bears the reproaches of the world. She is always struggling on earth, barely getting by, suffering want, and facing more than she can handle. For the life of the Church is hidden under the Cross.
So how are you to deal with any of this? How shall you know the Word and promises of Christ to be true? How are you to live by faith alone in Christ? You do not have the reason or strength to believe in Him of yourself; that is not something you can choose or decide to believe and trust.
Saving faith in Christ is obtained in you by God the Lord. It is worked in your heart and in your life by His Word and Holy Spirit. And it is conceived in you in much the same way as the Son of God was conceived in the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary. It is by the speaking of His Word. The Father speaks to you by His Son, and faith comes by the hearing of that Word of Christ.
You have no faith, and thus you have no true or lasting life, except by the hearing of that Word of Christ. Just as St. Mary did not conceive the Son of God apart from the hearing of His Word.
But of course, St. Mary did hear and receive that Word which was spoken to her. She heard it, she believed it, and she gave her “Yes” and “Amen” to that Word. St. Elizabeth likewise heard and believed the Word of the Lord, and she rejoiced in it — along with little St. John, who leaped for joy at the voice of the Mother of his Savior, while both of those boys were still in the womb.
It is by the Word of Christ that you also now recognize and receive Christ Jesus in His Church. It is by His Word that you also rejoice in Him, within His Church on earth. And you are blessed in believing. Despite appearances, and despite feelings and experience, despite everything to the contrary, the Word of the Lord is true, and anything else that would deny it is a lie. The Word of Christ to you and for you is the Truth. It will be fulfilled for you exactly as He has promised.
Here, then, is how you live as a Christian (and there is no other way to live forever). You trust the Word of God in Christ, and you submit yourself to His Word, no matter how crazy it may seem. No matter how impossible it may sound. No matter what your feelings, intellect, or experience may tell you. When the Lord has spoken, faith says Amen! Let it be for me as You have spoken.
Even though it is spoken under the Cross and hidden under the Cross, and even though it lays the Cross of Christ upon you, as well, so that your life does not get better but worse — harder, more difficult, and seemingly impossible — even then, say Amen! Let it be for you as He has spoken.
Trust His Word, and cling to His Word, and do not look for Christ, your Savior and your God, anywhere else than in the womb of His Church, which is to say, in the preaching of His Gospel. In the Word of forgiveness, that is where you find the Lord Jesus. In the spiritual conception and new birth of water with His Word and Holy Spirit, that is where you find Him. That is where He is for you. And in the flesh and blood conceived and born of St. Mary, He is given and poured out for you at His Altar in the Holy Communion. That is where your Jesus is. That is where and how He is with you. That is where you find Him. Or, rather, that is where and how He finds you.
In these means of grace, in the Ministry of the Gospel, that is where Christ Jesus is. That is where and how your Savior comes to visit and abide with you, that you might live and abide with Him.
Consider, therefore, the significance and the importance, yes, the necessity of the Church and Ministry of Christ. Take to heart the great value of these things for you and for your neighbor. For your neighbors already in the pews around you, and for your neighbors in the world. Neither you nor they can really live without the Church and Ministry of Christ. These gifts are worth your sacrifice and support, because they are the very ways and means by which God comes to save you.
So also, then, perceive and serve your neighbors, not according to the eyes or the wisdom of this fallen and perishing world, but in faith and with love, according to the Word and Spirit of God.
In your lowly and despised neighbor; in the poor and decrepit; in the old and burdened, sometimes burdensome; in the young and pregnant — recognize there the presence of the Lord Jesus Christ. As He comes to visit and serve you in His means of grace, so do you love and serve Him in your neighbor, in the weaknesses and needs of your neighbor. For He has taken His place among even the least of these, and He raises them up from lowliness and humility to share in the glory of God. He does so by the scandalous ways and means of His own Cross and Passion. For He has also been despised and rejected by men. He has been seen as more of a worm than a man in the eyes of the world. He has taken His place with that sort of people, as He has taken His place with you.
Do not be scandalized, offended, or ashamed, therefore, to care for your fellow sinners as they suffer the burdens of the flesh and various crosses in their lives. For Christ the Lord, the Son of God, He loves them, He forgives them, He cares for them, and He calls them to life in Himself.
If you are hungry, know that the Lord feeds you. He has, He does, and He will. And so, when your neighbor is hungry, remember that the Lord is feeding you, and so feed your neighbor.
If you are alone and abandoned, know that the Lord befriends you. He is with you, and He comes to visit you, whether you are sick, in prison, or simply going about your days in loneliness and despair. He is with you. So also, when your neighbor is abandoned, left alone, or despairing, visit and befriend your neighbor, be with you neighbor under the Cross, and defend your neighbor.
Likewise, because you also are forgiven, raised up, and saved by the Cross, by the charity of God in Christ Jesus, do not presume upon His grace or take it for granted, and do not despise your needy neighbor, but live for others as the crucified and risen Lord Jesus lives for you.
You are able to do so — yes, you are able to love and forgive and serve your neighbors — and you are able to do so in joyful confidence — because the Lord Jesus is with you, and He sustains you. His Word also now becomes flesh in your body and life as you love and serve those around you.
This is what Christ Jesus does for you. And He keeps on doing it. He remains faithful even when you are not. He comes to you in love to save you from your sins, and He does not hold your sins against you. He does not keep track of them. He’s not counting or keeping score. He’s forgiving. He’s always forgiving. Only do not neglect to make use of His means of forgiveness.
He speaks to you His gracious and life-giving Word of the Gospel, His Word of forgiveness and reconciliation. And that precious Voice of Christ, that Voice of His Gospel, that is your single greatest treasure. There is simply nothing more precious, more valuable, more profound, or more important in your entire life. Not your spouse. Not your parents. Not your children. Not your home. Not your job. Not your car. None of that. As beautiful as those good gifts of God are, none of them are as precious as the fact that Jesus speaks to you in love and with forgiveness.
The very Son of God, your Savior, speaks to you. And such a Word He speaks! He declares that you are righteous, and that you are beloved and well-pleasing in His sight. And with His Word He clothes you in the garments of His great salvation. He decks you out as a beautiful bride, and He loves you as your Bridegroom. He glories in you. He exults over you in love. And so by His Word He has adorned you with Himself, He has dressed you in His own perfect righteousness.
In good times and bad, even in the greatest adversity, He cares for you, for both your body and your soul. And He feeds you. He feeds you with good things, both for this life and for the life everlasting, even with His own holy Body and His precious Blood. He could not give Himself to you or for you more fully and completely and intimately than He does.
In all of these ways and by these means He reign over you in love. And by His Word and Holy Spirit, He does sustain you in the one true faith, for life within His Kingdom forever and ever.
In the Name + of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.