Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Sermon: Wednesday of Rorate Coeli (Advent 4)

23 December 2009 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA

Text: Luke 1:39-56, (Mic 5:2-5a, Heb 10:5-10)

In the name of + Jesus. Amen.

“O Emmanuel, our King and our Lord, the Anointed for the nations and their Savior: Come and save us, O Lord our God.”

On this evening we pray this same prayer with millions of our brothers and sisters in Christ across the globe. We Christians are not just followers of a teacher, adherents of a philosophy, or members of a feel-good club of do-gooders. We are the Christian Church, a holy assembly of brothers and sisters united in the Body of Christ, transcending time and space, a kingdom of priests and a priesthood of kings, a holy nation of those who have overcome death, a family of believers who wait for the Lord’s return to save us from the decaying and dying world.

We acknowledge our Lord and Teacher to also be our God and our Savior – even as the Lord’s mother prayed and sang: “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior.”

God my Savior. “Come and save us, O Lord our God.”

And this is why the people of the world hate Jesus and hate the Church. We have rejected them. We are not comfy and cozy in this sinful, rotting world. We are only aliens living in this place, marking time until our true King returns to establish a new and better world, a world without evil, without pain, and without death. Instead of relying on the glories of science and technology, on wealth and self-reliance, we Christians look to the mercy of God, putting not our trust in princes and riches, instead seeking first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness.

This angers the unbelieving world. It is offensive to them.

For those who like this fallen world just fine are offended that we do not like it as well. And since the days of the Caesars, those whose allegiance is to their bellies and whose trust is in the kind of wealth that rusts away, have hated the Church. Who does she think she is, claiming to be the Bride of God, considering herself holier than thou, unhappy with all the pleasures of the flesh and the material benefits this world has to offer? In calling herself holy, the Church is tacitly calling the world “unholy.”

And in this day and age and to the world we live in, that kind of exclusivity is the unpardonable sin.

This same attitude was hurled even against the city of our Lord’s birth, even centuries before the first Christmas: “But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, who are too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be Ruler in Israel.” Nobody thought anything mighty could come from something so ordinary as Bethlehem.

But God has compassion on the little, the despised, the weak. In fact He chooses such a weaker vessel to carry His most precious cargo of all – His Word made flesh. The Blessed Virgin Mary was a girl of “humble estate,” a “servant.” She is one who knew hunger and humility; she is one who was gossiped about and scorned. Though she was of the royal line of David, she was poor. And in her motherhood of God in the flesh, the Blessed Virgin Mary would be harassed by the devil, even to the point of being pierced with a figurative sword in the heart as she watched her holy Son die on the cross.

And even as Mary is hated by Satan, she is loved by the Church. She is our “most highly favored lady.” She is hailed as blessed among women by Elizabeth and by Scripture, and she is blessed in every generation, the lowly one chosen to bear the One who bore the cross.

We sing and confess her, though so humble, to be: “higher than the cherubim, more glorious than the seraphim,” even as we sing to her: “Thou bearer of the eternal Word, most gracious, magnify the Lord.”

For as the Son prepared to take on flesh in her womb, Mary prayed, “let it be to me according to your Word.” And this very same Son would similarly pray, “not My will but Yours be done” as He prepared to sacrifice His flesh on the cross.

For this is why Jesus took on flesh in Mary’s womb to begin with, to offer Himself as a sacrifice of atonement: “And by that will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus once for all.” He entered the closed womb of Mary by the word of an angel in order to exit the closed tomb, appearing to another Mary after she received word of His resurrection from another angel.

What costly sacrifice
To cover human sin!
Who but Christ Jesus had the right
To enter in?
His blood, that sprinkled price,
So we might be assured
That our inheritance in light
Has been secured.

The world mocks such a notion as God taking flesh and paying for our sins. Those who scorn the Church’s holiness and faith in her Savior openly deride the Church as foolish, or even in some cases, evil. Tyrants and dictators always seek to abolish the Christian faith. Academicians and celebrity nonbelievers who are “proud in the thoughts of their hearts” try to brainwash Christian children and bully Christian adults into surrendering the faith once delivered to the saints. Satan, behind it all, wages war against Christ and His bride. And every Christian is caught in the crossfire of this warfare.

And even in the fiercest of attacks from within and without, we cling to Christ, to His flesh, to His blood, to His incarnation, to His crucifixion, and to His resurrection. And like those who waited for the Messiah to come in the days of Zechariah and Elizabeth, in the time of Mary and Joseph – we too wait. We wait for our Bridegroom to return. We wait in anticipation of a new creation. We wait praying the Magnificat in praise of God our Savior who emerged from the virginal womb, and pleading the “offering of the body of Jesus” in praise of God our Savior who emerged from the virginal tomb as atonement for our sins.

We proclaim the Good News that “He shall stand and shepherd His flock in the strength of the Lord.” We continue to preach the cross and the Crucified One whose blood frees us from the ravages of the devil as a once-for-all offering. We stand vigilant and sober in expectation of His coming, warning others and praying for our brothers and sisters and ourselves to remain steadfast in the Lord’s Word and promises until the end.

And in our weakness we find our strength. For the Lord is still using the lowly to humble the proud. His mercy is truly on those “who fear Him from generation to generation.”

Even as we find ourselves in these last days at the pinnacle of our waiting, closer to the Lord’s coming than at any point in history, we wait in joyful expectation, in humble anticipation, and in the “remembrance of His mercy” as we partake in His body and blood, in his forgiving Word, and in the cruciform remembrance of baptism. We sing with Mary and with all the saints, unashamed of our weakness and in the fervent hope that the world will repent of its folly and likewise pray with us in our hopeful expectation of God our Savior:

“O Emmanuel, our King and our Lord, the Anointed for the nations and their Savior: Come and save us, O Lord our God.” Amen.

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

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