Sunday, December 18, 2011

Sermon: Rorate Coeli (Advent 4) – 2011

18 December 2011 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA

Text: Luke 1:39-56

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

There is a belief about Christianity among the unbelievers in Christianity that the first Christian was St. Paul.  What they mean by this is that Paul invented the Christian religion, that the Jesus he preached was not the “historical” Jesus, and that we are really more followers of Paul than of Christ.

This is an interesting theory that awkwardly tries to explain the origin of Christianity.  But if we believe Christianity is true, the question of who is the first Christian becomes interesting.  Some might argue that the first disciple, St. Andrew, was the first Christian.  Others might say that Abraham, as the first man called by God under the old covenant would be the first Christian.  We could even argue that Adam was the first Christian, the first to see God face to face.

It all depends on how you want to define “Christian.”

The Blessed Virgin Mary was the first human being to be in the physical presence of the fleshly incarnate Jesus, and immediately, she confesses Him as both God and Savior.  In that sense, Mary is the first Christian.  She is not only the beloved mother of Jesus, but also the beloved elder sister of every Christian.  And this young girl, a lay person: not a rabbi or a priest, not an apostle or a pastor, not a deaconess or a professional church worker – blazes a trail for all Christians in confessing the Christ within her very body: “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior.”

“God my Savior.”

Dear friends, this confession of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the mother of God, is the beating heart of the Christian faith.  For the Christ child within her is not only a savior, a prophet, a deliverer like Moses – but He is also God.  And equally important, she is not merely worshipping a God who is afar off, but a God who has come into space and time, becoming an embryo within the womb of His mother – even as have been every one of billions of human beings ever born (with the exceptions of Adam and Eve).

And notice also that the Blessed Virgin confesses Jesus as not only “God” and as “Savior” – but also as “My.”  For even the devil has to confess the truth that Jesus is God and that He is a Savior.  But Christians also confess the “my” part.  Mary’s threefold confession is a complete confession of Christ: Almighty God, humble human being, our Savior.

This “first Christian” is utterly unique in all of human history.  For she is indeed as we confess in our Lutheran confessions and with the Church of every age: “holy” and “pure.”  She is the mother of God.  And yet she too needs a “Savior” – a rescuer from sin.  Mary is pure because Jesus has made her so.  Jesus is born because He came to our world through His mother.  God created Mary, the God the Father called Mary, God the Holy Spirit overshadowed Mary with His presence, and Mary conceived God the Son within her womb.  And from this created creature emerges the uncreated Creator.  From one descended from sin comes One who is sinless.  The tiny embryonic Christ child conceived miraculously within the virgin is also the Savior of the Virgin who created for Himself a pure portal into our impure world.

Christians sometimes squabble over how this can be.  Such arguments happen when fallen man attempts to impose reason on a miracle.  Was Mary conceived without sin?  God did not reveal this to us to be either true or false.  He did something to protect His Son from inherited sin – beyond that, God is silent.  But we know this much: Mary calls her Son her Savior, and Jesus was born of a pure womb.  Rather than argue over dogma, we Christians, like the first Christian herself, would do well to fight less and rejoice more!

“For He has looked upon the humble estate of His servant… all generations will call me blessed.”  Mary is not a goddess, but neither is she a nobody.  She is God’s mother.  She is the first to confess the man Jesus as God and as Savior.  For she also confesses: “He has done great things for me, and holy is His name.”  Mary is holy because of the holy name of Jesus, not the other way around.

There is also a lot of squabbling over Christmas.  Of course unbelievers use Christmas as an excuse to try to control the free speech of Christians, even to the point of firing people and expelling school children for uttering the word “Christmas.”  The confession of the Christ child, of the one who is “God my Savior” divides people to this very day.

The Lord continues to come to us in His Word – which all Christians continue to confess, and also in His sacraments – which causes Christians to fight among themselves.  Indeed, the Lord’s coming in our midst in the repeated weekly Christmas miracle of the Sacrament of the Altar also causes Christians to squabble.  Some mock by asking: “How can God be a wafer?”  The answer is, of course to ask right back: “How can God be an embryo, an infant, a barefoot preacher, and a condemned criminal”? 

Some Christians even squabble over the terminology of the sacrament.  Is it the Sacrament of the Altar, the Eucharist, the Lord’s Supper, Holy Communion, or the Mass?  It is indeed all of these.  Christmas is a contraction of two words: “Christ” and “Mass.”  Christmas is the coming of God to His people in the flesh – not only in Word, not only in Spirit, not only in our hearts – but in all of these and more: in His fleshly physical body, in the miracle of the Christ Mass.

This, dear friends, is the beating heart of Christianity: Christ Himself, EmmanuelL God with us.  Just as the Lord was present within the body of Blessed Mary in the mystery of the Holy Incarnation, He is also with us in our bodies in the mystery of Holy Communion.  Indeed, all generations will also call us blessed.

We are blessed by the coming of Jesus at Christmas, in His Word, in the Sacrament of the Altar, in absolution, in baptism, and in the proclamation of the Good News because “His mercy is for those who fear Him from generation to generation.”  Again, dear friends, rather than squabble, we Christians should confess and rejoice with St. Mary and with all the saints of every time and place.  For the Lord is merciful!

He came into our world not to make a show of force, not to do some parlor tricks, not to serve Himself – but rather as a demonstration of mercy, to reveal the miracle of Himself, and to serve us as our God and Savior. 

He has “exalted those of humble estate,” we who are humbled because of sin, because of sickness, because of death, because of disappointment, because of sadness, because of anxieties and addictions, because of pain and depression, because of the realization that we are broken and headed to our own deaths, separated from God by our sins.

But, dear friends, this is why He came!  This is why Mary rejoices!  He is God our Savior!  He has come on a rescue mission to save us from ourselves, from our iniquities, from our greed, from our wicked hearts, and to pluck us out of this broken world and to place us in a perfect kingdom, a paradise restored, a new heaven and earth.  This is what it means that Mary confesses her Son, God’s Son, as her Savior – our Savior.

For He will indeed “fill the hungry with good things” once and for all, and the rich – those who trust in worldly possessions instead of the riches of the kingdom – will be “sent away empty.”

Dear brothers and sisters, let us squabble less and rejoice more.  Let us confess what we know and let us rejoice in the mystery of the Incarnation and our Salvation.  Let us sing with Mary not only at Christmastime, but every time that our Lord mysteriously comes to save us, both spiritually and physically, throughout the year when He comes to us in both Word and Sacrament.  Let us follow the lead of the first Christian by also submitting and following the lead of the only Christ – our God and our Savior.  Let us never be too proud to confess and sing with the Blessed Virgin Mary, with all the saints in heaven, and with all of us here on earth who need rescued: “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.

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