Sunday, December 20, 2009

Sermon: Rorate Coeli (Advent 4)

20 December 2009 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA

Text: Luke 1:39-56, (Deut 18:15-19, Phil 4:4-7)

In the name of + Jesus. Amen.

“The Lord your God,” Moses prophesied, “will raise up for you a Prophet like me from among you, from your brothers.” In hindsight, we know that the Prophet of which Moses speaks is the promised Messiah, God in the flesh, our Blessed Lord Jesus Christ. And this Savior, who is God in the flesh, came from among us, as one of our own brothers.

And like all of our human brothers, the Lord Jesus has a human mother. And with the Lord’s mother, the Church continues to joyfully resound: “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior.”

This notion that God can have a mother is what separates Christianity from Paganism, and distinguishes the Christian faith from all forms of unbelief. For the idea that God can exist in human form, that a human being can be God, taxes our logic, offends our sensibilities, and violates everything our reason tells us about both God and mankind. The idea of a virgin giving birth to God the Son by way of God the Father through the Holy Spirit, is why Christmas is such a wonder, dear friends. The moment Mary became pregnant, the fabric of the universe irrevocably and wonderfully changed. The Holy Trinity acted in space and time, a virgin conceived, and God became a Man of both human and divine natures.

In one supernatural moment, God took on flesh. And from that moment, God became a baby. In this miracle, God comes to us, as one of us, “from our brothers.” God preaches, heals, and works miracles in our midst. God proclaims His kingdom. God forgives sins. God dies an ignoble death on the cross among our very flesh and blood. God Himself pays the price of the entire world’s sin and offers eternal life to all in fallen creation who are baptized and believe. God rises bodily from death and continues to be with us – in Word and Sacrament – until the end of the age – when “He will come again with glory to judge both the living and the dead.”.

This Good News is certainly why St. Paul tells us to “Rejoice in the Lord always, again I will say, Rejoice.” Given this startling and glorious reality of Emmanuel – “God with us” – how can we not “Let [our] reasonableness be known to everyone.” What is there to be unreasonable about? “The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything.” And in light of this Good News, St. Paul promises a “peace of God” that “surpasses all understanding” to guard our “hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.”

This is the center, the crux, of the Christian faith. And it is no accident that the word “crux” is Latin for “cross.” For we worship a God who is flesh and blood, the Crucified One, the One “conceived by the Holy Spirit” and “born of the virgin Mary.” We worship the “Prophet… from [our] brothers.”

That, dear brothers and sisters of Christ and in Christ, is the meaning of Advent and of the coming Christmas.

While the one that our Lutheran confessions call the “pure, holy, and virgin Mary” (and the “mother of God”) was pregnant and visiting her cousin Elizabeth, the nature of Him within her womb was being revealed. Elizabeth’s own miraculous and prophetic baby, John the Baptist, leaped in her womb as the unborn Jesus drew near. And Elizabeth exclaimed to the Lord’s mother: “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb!” St. Elizabeth’s baby did not leap out of fear or compulsion, but rather as St. Elizabeth confesses, he “leaped for joy.”

“Rejoice in the Lord, always!” John was doing so not only before St. Paul wrote this, but before he, John, was even born. “Again, I will say, ‘Rejoice.’” Even before being able to draw a breath of air, the infant John was himself confessing, “My spirit rejoices in God my Savior.”

And though St. Mary points out that “all generations will call me blessed,” she takes no credit. Though the Lutheran confessions call her “pure” and “holy” she does not point to herself as the source of this purity and holiness, but rather to Him within her. Her purity and holiness flow from the fountainhead of her Son, who is truly God her Savior.

Indeed, Mary’s yet-unborn Son is her Savior. He is God. He is the one who will die on the cross for the sin of the world. He is the one who dies for you, dear friends. He is Mary’s Savior, and He is your Savior. And Mary carried Him in her womb, nursed Him, raised Him, and was even with Him at His cross. And though the sword pierced her own soul as she watched helplessly as her Son, flesh of her flesh, died in unspeakable agony, she is truly “blessed among women” and remains so for “all generations.”

Blessed Mary is blessed because she has been blessed by God. She is the recipient of this great gift. In fact, just before she became the mother of God, she was greeted by the angel Gabriel: “Hail, O favored one!” St. Luke’s Greek for this “favored one” includes the very word “grace.” In other words, the angel hails her as being “full of grace.” Of all the virgins descended from the line of David, she is one who has been chosen, selected purely by grace, shown favor all apart from any works of her own.

Is there any better picture of grace alone?

And Mary’s unrestrained joy in this grace, in having not only a Son but a Savior within her, shines through in her prayer and song called the Magnificat. The Lord’s mother is of “humble estate” and she calls herself “His servant.” She is not mighty, nor has she done great things for God – but just the opposite. This is why she sings: “My spirit rejoices in God my Savior.”

Having a Savior is the greatest thing about which we have to rejoice. “And again, I say, rejoice.”

The humble, the lowly, those who acknowledge the Lord have much to rejoice over. But there is also a warning in Blessed Mary’s song. For God “has shown strength with His arm; he has scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts, he has brought down the mighty from their thrones.” And he has sent the rich away “empty.”

To those who are proud, mighty, and trustful of their own riches – the Song of Mary is Law. But to those like the Lord’s mother, full of grace, blessed, confessing God as Savior, being of “humble estate,” the Magnificat is a beautiful expression of the Gospel: the good news that the Fruit of Mary’s womb has died for the sin of the world, and that He and He alone saves us by pure, unbridled, beautiful, glorious grace alone, and takes away all pretense of pride and vainglory.

The Blessed Virgin Mary’s entire life is a pointer toward our Lord Jesus. Her Magnificat glorifies Jesus and points to Him within her own flesh. At the Lord’s first miracle at Cana, she told the servants: “Do whatever He tells you.” And at the Lord’s cross, the one all generations call “blessed” humbly submitted to her Savior when He placed her under St. John’s custodial care. The Blessed Virgin Mary never took upon herself the vocation to preach and administer sacraments. She never pointed to herself, nor ever even hinted that she could save anyone. She never claimed holiness or grace apart from her Savior, the Lord Jesus. And in so doing, she has left a saintly example for all of us to follow.

For though there is only one mother of God in the flesh, our Lord Jesus Himself has taught us that among all of us in His spiritual body, the Church: “Here are My mother and My brothers! For whoever does the will of My Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.” And though only one person ever carried the unborn Jesus in her body, a temple of the presence of God – all Christians’ bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, by grace, carrying Jesus within them in His Eucharistic flesh and blood, in His Word and forgiveness, made pure and holy by Baptism.

Let the Church ever sing, humble and unashamed, with the Blessed Virgin Mary for all generations: “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior.” Amen.

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

1 comment:

Theophilus said...

You are certainly correct in stating that “the idea that God can exist in human form, that a human being can be God, taxes our logic, offends our sensibilities, and violates everything our reason tells us about both God and mankind.”

Was it not St. Augustine who said that mysteries that cannot make it through out minds cannot penetrate our hearts? This is most certainly true for me!

What Jesus did throughout his public ministry of preaching and teaching is so much more meaningful and powerful to me when I perceive him to be an authentic human being, like I am, and not a deity. Otherwise I can never be sure which mode he is operating in, human or divine.
His invitation, “Follow me!” is possible only if he is authentically human. No human being can possibly follow a perfect deity. I have discovered that Bible verses that some claim point to Jesus’ deity can be explained in other ways that make sense to me. I prefer explanations that make sense to me, not just Bible verse quotes. So far, no one has been able to picture Jesus as a deity in a way that is meaningful to me. So I continue to wear the label of “heretic” along with other saints, like Martin Luther.

If Jesus is God, then Mary is the mother of God, as RC tradition teaches. How can it be otherwise?

At the same time, it is good that we celebrate Jesus’ birth, whether the Christmas stories are metaphor or literal history. It is important that we ponder over the “glad tidings of great joy” which the Christ Child came to proclaim. That is what is really important!!!

Christmas Blessings!