Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Sermon: Feast of the Visitation

2 July 2008 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA
Text: Luke 1:39-56

In the name of + Jesus. Amen.

The fathers in the church have given us a little Christmas in July.

And what a joy to sing the haunting refrain of “O Come, Emmanuel” as we Christians have for nine centuries, only this time without the distractions of shopping and making preparations for the hectic season of Christmas.

Indeed, we receive Christmas gifts this sultry July evening, without the usual excuses for our minds to wander.

For today is the Feast of the Visitation, one of those festivals in the Church we call “Marian.” Our Gospel account calls to mind what might, in all fairness, be called the first miracle of the incarnate Jesus, who by the Holy Spirit, made his cousin John the Baptist leap in his mother’s womb. Our blessed and fetal Lord also did two more miracles in that moment: He made his aunt Elizabeth confess Him as Lord, and He made His own dear blessed Mother, filled with the Holy Spirit, sing the glorious canticle that would become part of Holy Scripture, a hymn that we Christians have sung ever since: the Magnificat, “My Soul Magnifies the Lord.”

And how can we ever contemplate our dear Lord in His blessed mother’s womb, and not think of Christmas? Indeed, this wonderful little summer feast is a mini-Christmas. And just like every other “Marian” festival, the Visitation isn’t really about Mary so much as it is about the incarnate God contained within her, the God she birthed, the God she nursed, and the God she raised to manhood, the Man who died on the cross, the God in human form, the Son whom she confessed as her Lord, God, and Savior. The God who emerged from the closed womb, and the Man who emerged from the closed tomb.

And not only is every such church festival related to the Virgin Mary a mini-Christmas, so is every time we participate in the Holy Supper. Each and every Eucharist is a Christmas feast – not of meat, but of flesh, not of lamb, but of the Lamb. Not merely wine, but of the sacrificial blood of Him who is both victim and priest. And the gifts we receive at the Christ’s Mass of the Lord’s Supper, celebrated week in and week out, are not treasures of this world, subject to moth and rust, but rather heavenly treasures, the gifts of forgiveness of sins and eternal life, a foretaste of the feast of the New Creation, fleshly tokens of the eternal communion given to us by the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Just as the Lord’s tiny cousin leaps for joy, so are we who are in the Lord’s presence filled with cause for elation. And just as Elizabeth embraces the Lord’s mother, the very mother of God, calls her blessed, and declares the fruit of her womb to be blessed, so do we also call Mary, our “highly favored lady”, blessed for the sake of her holy Son, giving thanks to God the Father for the Son’s incarnation, and for the Holy Spirit’s work in spreading the good news. And, along with Elizabeth, we confess our own unworthiness, and yet confess our gratitude with loud voices with a joyful noise unto the Lord.

This is why it is customary for pastor and people alike to drop to one knee at the point in the Nicene Creed where we confess that Jesus: “Became man.” This is the mystery, the glorious mystery, the mystery of the infinite God entering finite space and time, of the perfect Word of God taking flesh in an imperfect world, of the fleshly God willing to die for those who were willing to kill Him.

All of this wonder is wrapped up in the mystery we celebrate today, not only in the Word, not only in prayer, but also in the reception of the divine mystery under bread and wine.

And not only do we emulate St. John and St. Elizabeth, but also the Blessed Virgin herself. For like Mary, the Lord deigns to come to us in a tiny form that is placed into us, bodily, in a humble, and yet miraculous way. Like Mary, we carry around our Lord, God, and Savior in a mysterious form, in a bodily form, in a form where the One without limits humbles Himself, in the words of the ancient hymn: not spurning the Virgin’s womb, and by extension, not spurning the sinner’s unclean lips and mortal flesh.

And with His dear mother, we too sing:

“My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior. For He has regarded the lowly state of His maidservant; For behold, henceforth all generations shall call me blessed. For He who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is His name. And His mercy is on those who fear Him from generation to generation.”

The entire point of the incarnation, of these miracles, of this incident being recorded in Scripture, of our being here this evening to hear the Word of God and partake of the Holy Sacrament is to because of His “mercy.” For “He has done great things for me.” He has given me a Savior, “born of the Virgin Mary,” given to me to eat and to drink, given to me to hear His mighty Word, given to me for forgiveness and life.

And this mercy is on those who fear Him “from generation to generation.” It has been more than two thousand years since our Lord took flesh and made His mercy incarnate. The world has seen empires and nations rise and fall, entire languages have risen up and been driven to extinction, the climate has changed back and forth, the balance of nature has seen radical shifts over the centuries, horrible plagues wiped out entire populations, and senseless wars and brutal dictators drove entire peoples, entire generations, into non-existence.

And yet, as we pray the words of the Psalm, at the table, and in the liturgy: “O give thanks unto the Lord for He is good, and His mercy endureth forever.”

The mercy of God is a gift, a Christmas gift, a gift rooted in love and expressed in sacrifice. It is a gift given to you in forms you can see, hear, touch, smell, and taste. It is a gift that comes to us in space and time, and yet transcends all matter and temporality.

“O give thanks unto the Lord for He is good, and His mercy endureth forever.” Amen.

In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.” Amen.

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