Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Mary, Mother of the Church- Advent Homily

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

Tonight’s focus, Mary Mother of the Church, picks up where we left off last Wednesday as we hailed the Blessed Virgin as the Theotokos, that is the Mother of God.  You might recall, though it has been a week so we will refresh your memories, that we ended our reflections with a direct comparison between Mary and Eve.  Eve gave birth to sin and death.  Mary to life.  Eve bore a son who would slay his brother.  Mary bore the Son who would redeem and save his brothers.  Eve was kicked out of paradise.  Mary, through the fruit of her womb, made possible our return to paradise.  Now before we make the jump to speaking of Mary as the Mother of the Church and of the Faithful, we must first be grounded in the truth that we also have a first and prior mother, not simply a biological one, and that is Eve.  

Our baptismal rite makes this point abundantly clear for us, “In baptism our gracious heavenly Father frees us from sin and death by joining us to the death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ.  We are born children of a fallen humanity.”  Each of us, according to the flesh are born as fallen creatures of God.  From the moment of our birth we are conceived outside of paradise, outside of grace, and outside communion with God.  Luther liked to speak of this sinful nature of our bodies as “the Old Adam” in us, but he could just as easily have spoken about the “Old Eve in us.”  For it is from their fall from grace that you and I are from the moment of our conception sinful, fallen, and unredeemed humanity.  We are according to the flesh first born to our father Adam and our mother Eve.     

Because of this first and prior birth humanity is in need of a second birth, a rebirth.  As our Lord spoke to the questioning Nicodemus, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the Kingdom of God.”  And thus our baptismal rite continues, “by water and the Holy Spirit we are reborn children of God and made members of the Church, the Body of Christ.”  It is there in Holy Baptism that we are made a new creation through water we receive a second birth.  Please understand with all seriousness that baptism is NOT fire insurance.  It is not a solitary or singular event, but rather it is through the mysteries of God a bestowal of a new life with a new body and a new family upon each person washed in those waters.  Its a very joyous, sacred, and solemn when we welcome a new brother and sister into the faith.  It is literally watching and participating in their new birth.  

We, Lutherans, have always pointed to the salvific nature of baptism like our Orthodox and Roman Catholic cousins, because of what it does and who is acting in baptism.  It is the reason we baptize infants.  In and through the water the Holy Spirit unites to the eternal Son of God.  As St. Paul writes, “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death?”  In this new birth we are united to Jesus.  We are united to the entirety of His life, His death and  resurrection so that we are made to be like Him.  In death and resurrection and in parental lineage.  Children of the Father, brothers and sisters to the Son of God.  

So close is this unity between Jesus Christ and the Church, the second born, that she herself is even called the Body of Christ.  There is nothing which Christ posses that He does not share with his brothers and sisters, not even His own body.  We have already spoken of his death and resurrection, given to us in Baptism.  His being first-born from the dead, so that we might follow after Him.  His Divine and Human natures are given to us each week in the Eucharist, his body and blood, soul and divinity.  His mercy and forgiveness, given to us in eating and drinking that Eucharistic meal.  His High Priesthood he shares with us making us priests in His Kingdom.  His Shepherd-hood, He gives to the apostles, the bishops and priests/pastors He calls to serve.  His closeness to the Father, from which He constantly makes intercession for us in the heavenly temple.  Jesus holds nothing back from us, He gives us His Father as our own and He also gives to us His Mother.  As we heard tonight from John, “Woman, behold son!…Behold, your mother!  And from that hour [John] took her to his own home.” 

Tradition holds that Mary continued to live with the apostle in Jerusalem for the rest of her days.  While John carried out his apostleship, He did so in very close proximity and relationship to the Mother of God.  As Mary mothered Her Son from His earliest days in the ways of the faith, helping Him learn to speak the faith, and to know the prophets and the Law to trust in the Father and to teach Him the prayers, so too did she teach her new son and by extension the Church in the ways of Her Son.   Her relationship to the early Christians and in particular the apostles is one of utterly close devotion and love as mother to child.  She is there as they gather in the upper room to select a replacement to Judas recorded in the Book of Acts and when they receive the outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost.  She is with them throughout their apostolic ministry and according to tradition they gathered together on the day of her falling asleep in the faith sometime in the mid to late 1st Century.  Celebrated in the Church on August 15th.  

The Church looks to Mary as Mother, because she is the first and chief saint of all the saints.  The highest woman and the noblest gem in all Christianity.  Because still in the Church’s infancy she guided and nurtured them in faith and prayer.  Because she was the first to bear the Word of God in her heart and believe in the Lord.  Her life of faith has and will always be a model of faith for every Christian who dares to claim the title.  Acquiescing to the will of God, the lowly handmade in absolute and pure faith took the Word into her very body saying, “Let it be to me according to your word.”  She bore in herself the Word of God in full faith, devotion and reverence.  As Luke tells us twice in his Gospel, that she treasured all things regarding her Son in her heart.  Mary takes into her very being the fullness of Christ.  Her life is completely and totally consumed by the glory and majesty of His and He gives her the honor and dignity of being a woman forever blessed by all generations.  In her life of faith to the Almighty God revealed in her Son, she is and will forever be the Mother of all whom Jesus would call brothers and sisters.  

In this season of Advent, and in our weekly meditations these past three nights, I hope and pray that you have gotten a chance to get to know your new Mother a bit better.  We all are familiar with our first Mother, Eve, as we know well the affects of sin in our life.  Those we’ve sinned against and those who have sinned against us.  It is a common part of our life, but it is a part of our old life, one which is to be daily put to death.  As Luther writes in the Catechism, “[Baptism] indicates that the Old Adam [or rather the Old Eve] in us should by daily contrition and repentance be drowned and die with all sins and desires, and that a new man should daily emerge and arise to live before God in righteousness and purity forever.”  Perhaps that can in part be done by spending time reflecting on the life of the New Eve, Mary, honoring her and treasuring her in our own hearts as did the beloved disciple.  Taking her into our home and being shaped by the witness of the faith that she lived and taught to both Her Son and later to the Church.  For Jesus giving Mary a son in John was not only to see that she was taken care of, but it was to see that the Church would be as well.  Even our own Lutheran Confessions make abundantly clear that Mary to this day, residing in heaven, continues to love and care for the beloved disciples of Jesus by praying unceasingly for the Church.  Christ has given Mary’s Motherhood to us as a gracious gift so that we could have a true, good, and holy Mother to be loved by.  A Mother from whom we can learn true obedience and discipleship as opposed to the disobedience of Eve.  A Mother from whom we can learn and be lead into the paths of righteousness and Godliness as she points all to the blessed fruit of her womb, Jesus the Christ.  

It is truly right to bless you, O Theotokos, ever blessed and most pure, and Mother of our God.  More honorable than the cherubim and more glorious beyond compare than the seraphim, without corruption you gave birth to God the Word.  True Theotokos, we magnify you.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Gaudéte Sunday Sermon- 12/16/12

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

Caivre sfo/dra, qu/gater Siwn.  “Rejoice greatly, O Daugher of Zion,” exclaims the prophet Zephaniah in the Septuagint, that is the Greek translation of the Hebrew Old Testament.  It is the counterpart to the Hebrew’s “Sing aloud,” with the connotation “sing aloud [for joy].”  Joy and rejoicing that is the repetitive refrain throughout our lessons today this 3rd Sunday of Advent, because of that it is traditionally marked by a rose candle and rose paraments and called Gaudéte Sunday.  Gaudéte from the Latin word for “Rejoice.”  Gaudéte in Domino semper.  “Rejoice in the Lord always.”

Joy and rejoicing surrounds our Advent and as we draw closer to the celebration of our Lord’s nativity.  We know the reason for the season and that brings us to the reality of joy that our biblical authors point us to.  But are we aware of the context to which these words from Holy Scripture come to us?  Paul urges the Philippians to “Rejoice always”, while he himself is under arrest in a Roman prison, likely awaiting execution.  Surrounded by darkness, he gives the word to rejoice!  For Zephaniah the situation is not any less bleak.  

He is prophet during the reign of King Josiah in Judah, proclaiming the word of the Lord from about 627-626 BC.  We heard this morning only a brief snippet from his book, yet we got nothing of the context.  If all we knew of Zephaniah were these final verses, we might think nothing but happiness and sunshine were abounding during his time.  But that couldn’t be further from reality.  The Lord has raised Zephaniah up to proclaim a most distressing message, Judah will be overthrown and Jerusalem will fall.  Zephaniah spends 2½ chapters of his 3 chapter book, warning of the impending destruction that is to befall the kingdom and the king.  The Daughter of Zion will lose everything she took pride in.  The temple, the city of David, and the land that had been promised to them.  Zephaniah’s prophesy will come to pass 40 years later as the Babylonians sack the Holy City, putting an end to the Davidic kings.  

But at the end of Zephaniah’s dire prediction, a word of hope and joy comes.  Rejoice greatly O daughter of Zion!  Cry aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem!  Be glad and rejoice with your whole heart, O daughter of Jerusalem  Why?  For the Lord has taken away your iniquities and ransomed you from your enemies.  The King of Israel, the Lord, is in your midst; you shall never again fear evil. Why?  Because the Lord will act.  He will redeem the Daughter of Zion.  Babylon will fall and those exiled will return and see their holy city again.  The temple will be rebuilt.  Though they will walk through darkness, the day of their redemption will dawn.  Their joy will be renewed in the power of the Lord and His salvation from the hands of their enemies.  

Yet the words of Zephaniah are not spoken just for ancient Israel.  We see how the prophesy from the ages finds a refrain centuries later in another daughter of Jerusalem, the blessed Virgin of David’s line.  The parallels between Zephaniah and the Annunciation are striking.  Zephaniah begins Caivre sfo/dra, qu/gater Siwn, Rejoice greatly, O Daughter of Zion!  The angel Gabriel speaks to Mary, “Caivre, kecaritwme/nh.” “Rejoice! O highly favored one.”  For both Daughters the word is the same, Rejoice!  Zephaniah and Gabriel both tell the Daughters, to “not be afraid,” “that the Lord is with them”, “The King of Israel is in their midst”, and that “the mighty one will come upon them”.    

Yet with all their joyous similarities, we too see that their context will not be that much different.  For Mary’s own life will be filled with heart-wrenching sadness as Simeon foretells that a sword will pierce through her own soul.  What evil she as a mother beheld hearing of the martyrdom of the Holy Innocents!  What anguish she held watching each lash from the whip tear into her Son’s flesh and as each nail pierced Him!  Yet she, like Israel is given a word: rejoice.  Even with what she will endure, rejoice, because she will see Zephaniah’s prophecy ultimately fulfilled.  She will see the Lord taking away the world’s judgment against her Son and clearing away the enemy of God, that is death, in His resurrection.  She will behold with her eyes what Zephaniah never was able to see, the restoration and salvation of Israel.  

An Orthodox hymn for Easter picks up on the language of the Annunciation and sings, “The angel cried to the Lady full of grace: Rejoice, rejoice, O pure Virgin.  Again I say: Rejoice.  Your Son is risen from His three days in the tomb.  With Himself He has raised all the dead.  Rejoice, rejoice, O ye people.  Shine!  Shine!  Shine!  O New Jerusalem!  The glory of the Lord has shone on you.  Exult now, exult, and be glad, O Zion.  Be radiant, O pure Theotokos, in the resurrection the resurrection of your Son.”  The language of the hymn moves from one daughter of Zion, Mary, to the next and final daughter of the New Jerusalem, the Church.  For Zephaniah not only speaks to Israel and to Mary he speaks to the new faithful remnant of Jerusalem the Body of Christ, the Church.  St. Paul echoes Zephaniah’s refrain: REJOICE!  Rejoice in the Lord always, again I say rejoice!  The Church is called to be filled with holy and abiding joy, even though we too like Israel, like Mary will encounter bitter sadness.

The events of this past week are a devastating reminder that the Church is always surrounded by suffering and pain.  The Church lives smack dab in the middle of a fallen world, under the influence of the evil one.  And yet she is called to rejoice, bless and praise the all holy God.  We are called to rejoice and to find our true joy not in the fleeting and fragile things of this world, but in the salvation of the Lord.  Thus even today in the midst of a community and entire nation’s grief we sing hymns and lift up our prayers to Almighty God.  Because it is only in Him that we have any hope of redemption for this fallen world.  Because here is profound joy watching God’s redemption take place again before our eyes in the washing of Baptism, welcoming another daughter into the Daughterhood of Zion.  For in that water Christ has removed our iniquities and saved us from our enemy and He gives us the assurance of everlasting life now in Word and Sacrament, even as we walk through the valley of the shadow of death.  Here we need not fear, because the Lord is with us.  For this is His feast and in the Holy Eucharist we are brought into the paradise of God, surrounded by the saints and angels.  Christ the King is with us!  Therefore we rejoice, for we are His and no evil of this world can separate us from Him!  Rejoice in the Lord and keep the feast always even as we wait for Him to come again.  Rejoice for He will bring judgment to this world and our enemies and give us the Kingdom of His peace, love and joy, together with the Father, and the Holy Spirit unto the ages of ages.  

Amen.  Come Lord Jesus.   

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Mary, Mother of God Advent Homily

Mary, Mother of God–Advent Homily
12/12/12- Year C

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

A little boy sat down one day to compose his Christmas letter with his Christmas wish list.  Now this was no ordinary letter which kids might address to Santa.  No, he was much smarter than that, for he knew the chain of command.  If Santa was good to write to, how much better then to write to God!  So having gathered paper and pencil, he began to write, “Dear God,  I have been good every day this year.”  And there he stopped, put down the pencil and began to think about what he’d just written.  God sees everything, he couldn’t write that!  So he crumpled up his paper and threw it on the floor.  Grabbed another sheet and started over, “Dear God,  I have really tried hard to be a good boy every day this year.”  Again he saw the problem with such a untruthful boast.  Crumpled up the paper and threw it on the floor.  Time passed and paper balls littered the living room.  Sitting opposite the fireplace, his eyes caught the nativity scene that the family had put up for the holidays.  And staring at it and all its characters it sparked an idea.  He went to his room and grabbed his backpack along with a towel.  And he carefully removed Mary from the scene wrapped her and put her in his backpack.  Then took great care to hide it.  He sat down one final time with pencil in hand and wrote, “Dear God,  If you ever want to see your mother again….”  I wished I could say I could never imagine this happening, but having lived with Justin these past four years I’m not going to put it past him.  

Form the earliest days of the Church, the faithful both in her leaders, the early Church Fathers such as Augustine, Ambrose, and Irenaeus, have referred to Mary as Mother of God.  Again that ancient Orthodox prayer, “It is truly right to bless you, O Theotokos (God-Bearer), ever blessed and most pure, and Mother of our God.  More honorable than the cherubim and more glorious beyond compare than the seraphim, without corruption you gave birth to God the Word.  True Theotokos, we magnify you.”  The title of “Mother of God” given to Mary was initially a simple logical conclusion, that went along the lines of something like this:  Mary is Jesus’ mother.  Jesus is God.  Ergo, Mary is the Mother of God.  And for a time the prevailing wisdom ruled the day, until Arius arrived along with his heresy, “Arianism.”  He held that Jesus was indeed not God.  His battle cry was, “There was a time when he [Jesus] was not.”  He thoroughly denied the divinity of Jesus and he amassed quite a following.  So large was his movement that even entire synods or dioceses were overtaken by Arianism.  And had it not been for the Orthodox fathers such as St. Cyril and St. Nicholas, the real one, it might have destroyed the Christian church.  In the rise of such heresies and others Mary was stripped of her title, because if Jesus is not God, then certainly Mary is not the Mother of God.  
Pope Celestine at Ephesus in 431, called a council of the Church together under the jurisdiction of her bishops to deal with not only the theological disease of Ariansim, but to restore the dignity and title to Mary that she had held for so long in the early Church.  Indeed Canon 1 of the Third Ecumenical Council states, “If anyone will not confess that the Emamanuel is very God, and that therefore the Holy Virgin is the Mother of God (Theotokos), inasmuch as in the flesh she bore the Word of God made flesh:  let him be anathema.”  Dr. Hahn in his book, “Hail Holy Queen” describes the proclamation of this canon to the masses writing, “Christians thronged the city, awaiting word of the bishops’ decision.  When the bishops read the council’s proclamation that Mary was indeed the Mother of God, the people gave way to their joy and celebrated by carrying the bishops (all two hundred of them!) aloft through the streets in a torchlit procession (p. 101).”        

This, as we can clearly see, was not just a theological concept of dogma for the hierarchy of the Church, but rather a foundational part of the piety of every early Christian’s faith.  But why?  Why did the early Church have this profound connection to Mary and took time to honor and venerate her?  I think many of reasons can come to mind, but to express them here would be too laborious so I will quickly name three.  The first is the reality that this Woman, flesh which shares our flesh was taken up into the life of God in a profound way and that God chose to redeem us through her life.  God as we know from our faith is not an eternal solitude, but rather an eternal family of Father and Son and the Witness of the Love between them the Holy Spirit.  God is one, but He is a trinity of persons.  Bound by an eternal relation to one another, Father to Son.  Son to Father.  Together with the communication of their love to one another, the Holy Spirit.  In complete humility and condescension the Father chose to make His Son like every son so that He could bring others into the eternal family of God.  Though Christ is eternal, begotten of the Father from the beginning, He will be born in humanity and in order for that to take place He needs what every man needs, a womb from which to be born.  For this He chose Mary, the virgin.  She is selected in a profound way to give flesh and bone to the Word Made Flesh, to be a Mother.  Her role is chiefly unique in all of history for from her has come the salvation of Man.  Indeed she gave birth to her own salvation.  Where we are brought into God’s life by baptism, she was brought into the divine life by an outpouring of pure grace and faith, not to be a mere child of God, but rather His Mother.  

Second, which picks up where we left off.  Mary gives birth to her own salvation and the salvation of all humanity.  We speak often in our faith about our salvation in terms of being washed in the Blood of the Lamb.  We even raise a cup, in accord with the will of Christ, and there proclaim in wine combined with the Word that it is the blood of our Lord shed for us for the forgiveness of sins.  It is the crucified body of Jesus which has taken away our sins and been offered as a perfect and lasting sacrifice for all.  It is that same body which rose from the dead and ascended into His glory in heaven.  But there is none of that, no body, no blood, if not for the humble obedience of the handmaid of the Lord.  The one who in pure faith and in pure holiness told the Lord, “Let it be to me according to your word.”  The blood of Christ shed upon the cross, is the blood given to Him by Mary.  The body broken for our sins is the body of flesh given to Him by Mary.  His eyes, His hair, His genetic makeup, all of it came from the womb of the Blessed Virgin.  As our own Lutheran Confessions state in the Formula of Concord of 1580, “Mary, the most blessed Virgin, did not bear a mere man.  But, as the angel testifies, she bore a man who is truly the Son of the most high God.”  And again, “Therefore she is rightly called and truly is the Mother of God.”  Theotokos.  God could have chosen to redeem humanity anyway He saw fit and He saw fit to honor Mary by overshadowing her, filling her with His divine life, making her “full of grace” and being born by her.  In this she is taken up into the divine life of the Trinity in a profound way, making the plan of God literally come to life.  

Lastly, Mary the Theotokos is lastly the New Eve.  She is the first of the New Covenant, by giving birth to the new covenant.  As we talked about typology last week comparing Mary to the Ark of the Covenant this week we do so comparing her to Eve.  Eve, who was called by Adam “Woman.”  Which is the same way in which Jesus refers to Mary in John’s gospel, addressing her in different places as “Woman.”  Eve obeyed the word of the serpent.  The New Eve, Mary has obeyed the Word of the Lord.  For this she is the fulfillment of everything Israel was to be.  As Eve gave birth to death by sin into the world, the fruit of her womb a murderer, Mary has given birth to life bearing the savior of the world.  As Eve was kicked out of paradise, Mary has made possible the opening of paradise through the fruit of her blessed Womb.  For all of this early Christians and the one holy catholic and apostolic church has continued to give honor and veneration to her, who is the Mother of our God and the Mother of our Salvation.  As she herself will prophesy, “all generations will call me blessed.”     

Thus even we Lutherans can offer up that ancient orthodox blessing, 

“It is truly right to bless you, O Theotokos (God-Bearer), ever blessed and most pure, and Mother of our God.  More honorable than the cherubim and more glorious beyond compare than the seraphim, without corruption you gave birth to God the Word.  True Theotokos, we magnify you.”

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Advent 2 Homily Luke 3:1-6

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

John the refined Theologian.  Mark the punctuated Preacher.  Matthew the Jewish Scribe.  And Luke, the salvation Historian.  If we can take a summation of the flavor of each of the four gospels and ascribe it to their traditional namesake, then we would get something of what I’ve just done.  John’s gospel is filled with layer upon layer of rich and delicate meaning and nuance.  His is the oldest and thus like a fine rare wine it is complex and full bodied, never ending in theological depth and wisdom.  Mark on the other is youngest of all.  Quick-fire and a straight shooter.  He preaches the Good news and that’s about it.  Little narrative detail, so he can spend most of his time talking about Jesus’ passion.  Matthew is apologetic in nature, spending his pages pointing to the Jewishness of Jesus and of His fulfillment as the Jewish Messiah.  He speaks in ,Jewish terms and is giving the Christians defense against Jewish critique of their faith in Jesus.  

Luke then, as he himself attests, is the historian of the group.  We hear that at the beginning of his gospel as he dedicates his two-volume work (Luke-Acts) to his benefactor, Theophilus the Greek.  It seemed good to me also, having followed all things closely for some time past, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus.  And we see it again in this morning’s Gospel lesson.  In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, Pontius Pilate being governor of Judea, and Herod being Tetrarch of Galilee, and his brother Philip tetrarch of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitits, and Lysanias tetrarch of Abilene, during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas.  This listing out of both civil and religious powers sets the historical landscape from which Luke will carry out the rest of his story.  Here characters that will pop up again later are first introduced.  For now they are simply a list, but will later emerge as the historical rampart against which Luke’s protagonist and his forerunner will later engage and conflict.  But that is later, now they are only a temporal setting for Luke’s profound revelation.  In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius, et al...the word of God came to John the son of Zechariah in the wilderness.  

For four hundred years God had withheld His word.  There was no prophet in Israel and there hadn’t been since Malachi.  Until now the Lord had been profoundly and utterly silent.  But He has once more stirred and spoken, calling forth a prophet.  A final prophet to herald the kingdom of His Son.  And the unity between this new prophet John and the prophets of old is two-fold; 1) This Word of God comes to them, that phrase is used verbatim in Jeremiah and 2) it changes and transforms them to bear the message to Israel.  For John it drives him to the wilderness.  To stand outside the comforts of the Holy City, away from the temple, and in almost a backward Exodus leave the promised land to return to the place of tempest and chaos.  Yet because his message is unique it demands a unique place from which to be spoken.  The place where the Old Covenant was fulfilled now becomes the place from which the New Covenant will be announced by John.  Preparing the way of the Lord, making his paths straight, so that all flesh might know and see the coming salvation of God.  Repent and be baptized for the Mighty One of God is coming and he is here, cries John.    

And now in the 4th year of the reign of Barak, John being Speaker of the House, Joe ruling as President of the Senate, and Terry Governor of the State of Iowa (again), the same Word of God that came to John now comes to us, to you and I.  Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight, for the Mighty One, Christ Jesus our Lord is coming.  This is the purpose and great joy of Advent, the return of Jesus.  In this the Church takes up the prophet John’s role.  It is she who now calls all who will listen to her to make ready the Lord’s way.  Making the mission and ministry of John ours.  You and I are called, and let us be absolutely clear about this it is to continue well past the season of Advent, indeed each and every day of our lives, to prepare the Lord’s way, both in our selves and our own life and then extending that towards all whom we encounter and meet.  But it must first begin in the interior life of every person, every one of us who have been called and marked by the cross in Baptism.  The call to repentance is never first spoken to the world.  It is first spoken to us, each of us.  For how can we help prepare the way for someone else to receive the Lord, if we ourselves have not been made straight and leveled by confession and repentance.  

As the Word of God came and moved him to carry out his most holy assignment, so to does that same Word of God come to us moving and transforming us for our holy task by first drawing us into a life of repentance and preparing our own lives to receive Christ in Word and Sacrament so that at the last we may receive Him when He comes again in glory.  Indeed this is essential to our keeping of this Advent season and partly why the original color of the season was purple not blue as a mirror to that of Lent.  We are called in this time and this space to spend time examining our own hearts and lives.  To dig anew into our souls and spend some time in the mirror, not admiring how good we look in our Christmas sweaters or reminding ourselves the weight we put on since Thanksgiving, but looking at who we are as a person.  What valleys in our life need to be filled and what rough places need be leveled.  Am I and is my life a highway for the Lord?  Thus Advent asks of us a most simple question are we sincere in our prayer, “Amen.  Come, Lord Jesus.”

And the whole of this spiritual discipline of Advent, examining our consciences, leads us to the recognition that we too like John’s first hearers need that work of repentance done in us.  To turn back from the life of the flesh which seeks nothing more than our death and towards the life of the Spirit which seeks nothing but giving us Christ, to give us the vision of our salvation in the broken body and spilt blood of our Lord.  To make us ready for our Lord because He is coming.  Indeed He is already here!  And He comes to us face to face in the Eucharistic meal.  Are we prepared to meet your Lord?  Or rather the question is better put, can we see Him?  For the Lord has drawn near to us as He has promised to do, therefore let us in this season of preparation draw nearer to Him, in faith, love and adoration of His all holy Name.  

Amen.  Come Lord Jesus.  

Friday, December 7, 2012

Feast of St. Ambrose of Milan, Bishop (340-397)

On the day of his consecration as Bishop, December 7th 

From the daily readings of For All the Saints: A Prayer Book For and By the Church, Volume I (p. 23):

"The patriarchs also live, for God could not be called the God of Abraham, of Isaac, and of Jacob, except the dead were living; for He is not the God of the dead but of the living.  And we, too, shall live if we be willing to copy the deeds and habits of our predecessors.  We marvel at the rewards of the patriarchs—let us copy their faithfulness; we tell of their grace—let us follow their obedience; let us not, enticed by material appetite, fall into the snares of the world...The patriarchs exchanged their homeland for another soil—let us exchange earth for heaven; they changed in earthly habitation—let us change in spirit.  To them Wisdom showed the heavens illuminated with stars [Genesis 15:5]; let that same Wisdom enlighten the eyes of our heart."     St. Ambrose, On Belief in the Resurrection

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Mary, Ark of the Covenant- Advent Vespers Homily
12/5/12-Year C
2 Samuel 6:1-15 Luke 1:35-45, 56 

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

Before there was a movie from the 1990’s to reference to the Church has always known that, There IS Something About Mary.  She has always held a unique role within the Church’s life of prayer and devotion to God and she has been from some of the very earliest writings that we have from the early church.  In the year 250 AD we get the first Hymn written concerning Mary called Beneath Thy Protection.  It sings, “Beneath thy mercy, we take refuge, O Virgin Theotokos (lit. God-bearer): disdain not our supplications in our distress, but deliver us from perils, O only pure and blessed one.”  Our hymn tonight, Ye Watchers and Ye Holy Ones, too borrows from the Church’s veneration of Mary in its second stanza.  “O higher than the cherubim, More glorious than the seraphim...Thou bearer of the eternal word, Most gracious, magnify the lord.”  It is a paraphrase of the Orthodox Theotokion or hymn to Mary which is sang and every Divine Liturgy in the East.  And of course our Dr. Luther too held high esteem for Mary hear again his words from 1531, “She is the highest woman and the noblest gem in Christianity after Christ...She is nobility, wisdom, and holiness personified.  We can never honor her enough.”  

And the Church throughout the ages as agreed with the good Dr, though in our time she seems to have taken a very very minimal place within Lutheranism.  Left in the 19th and 20th century battles between those darn Roman Catholics and all their Mary nonsense and look how purely Christian we Lutheran’s are because we don’t talk about her at all!  I know some of you may have witnessed some of that in your life time.  In fact there is a little comedic book based on such Catholic-Lutheran (scandinavian Lutheran of the MinnesOta type) engagements entitled, “They glorified Mary...We Glorified Rice.”  And I think American Lutheranism’s insistence at distancing ourselves from our Roman Catholic cousins has left us these decades later deficient of any understanding of who Mary is and how unique she is in salvation history.  Part of it is we have forgotten our history and the other part is we’ve forgotten our Bible.  And given the title that you all have seen from the bulletin tonight, you know where we’re headed Mary is the Ark of Covenant or rather the Ark of the New Covenant.  

As I’ve often said one cannot comprehend the New Testament without a knowledge of the Old and vice versa.  They both inform and illumine one another and bringing a full picture of the divine work of God chiefly in His Son, Jesus Christ.  Thus every page of scriptures echos, points to, or reveals the glory of Christ, both Old and New Testaments.  Holy Scripture is at the end of the day, as is our faith, all about Jesus.  And in the Old Testament we see all types and foreshadowings of the coming Son.  There is Joshua, He will save his people, Jesus namesake, who led Israel into the Promised Land.  There is the Bronze serpent lifted on a pole that will save all who look upon it in Numbers, foreshadowing the Cross.  There is the seed of Eve who will crush the serpent’s head in Genesis, a promise of Jesus’ defeat over the Evil One.  

These types or typologies fill the scriptures and indeed we heard another one tonight in our two readings.  The first was from 2 Samuel and the return of the Ark to Jerusalem.  We know the power of the Ark from Indian Jones, when it killed all of the evil Nazis, right?  Now fiction may be fiction, but its not far from the true reality of the true Ark.  We heard of Uzzah who in an attempt to keep the Ark from falling to the ground placed his hand upon it to steady it and was smote because of it.  Even one trying to do a seemingly good thing perished because he dared to touch the holy throne of God.  As you may remember the Ark was not just a box, it was throne upon which God resided among Israel.  It was from the mercy seat on the spread out wings of the cherub that God came down and spoke with Moses in the Tabernacle.  The Ark was the most holy dwelling place of God with man.  In fact the same work used to talk God overshadowing the Ark with his presence is the same word that St. Luke uses to speak of Mary, “the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy.”  Israel carried the Ark with them into every battle, bringing them victory.  It was carried around the walls of Jericho making the walls come a tumblin’ down.  And in the building of the Temple it was placed into the Holy of Holies that only the Chief Priest was allowed to enter and only once a year to make sacrifice for all the sins of Israel.  It was feared and held in awe by all of Israel.      

So how does this get us to Mary?  Well though the lessons are not printed for us tonight, go back home later and compare our two passages tonight.  The entry of the Ark into Jerusalem and Mary’s visitation to Elizabeth.  They are strikingly similar in their outline.  Mary and David both “arise and go on their journeys.”  Both Mary and the Ark are greeted by a eerily similar questions.  David asks, “How can the ark of the Lord come to me?”  Elizabeth asks, “Why is this granted to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me?”  Both Mary and the Ark are greeted with great joy.  David gets the band together and Elizabeth and her unborn son John leap for Joy at her presence.   Both Mary and the Ark are a blessing to those whom they visit.  “The Ark of the Lord Blessed Obed-edom and all his household.”  Elizabeth is filled with the Holy Spirit.  The Ark remains with Obed-edom for three months, the same length of time Mary remains with Elizabeth.  

St. Luke’s knowledge of the Old Testament abounds as it helps form and shape his Gospel.  He uses the pattern from 2 Samuel to help frame his narration of the Visitation.  He is getting us to make these connections that he is drawing, if we’re willing to search for them.  By his time the Ark of the Old Covenant had long been lost to history and battle after the Babylonian Conquest of 586 BC, but now God has raised up a new Ark.  A new throne by which God will dwell again upon the earth, no longer a golden adorned box for His mystical presence in a cloud, but rather a flesh and blood womb from the Blessed Virgin.  Where the Old Ark contained Tablets of the Law/Ten Commandments, Aaron’s Priestly Rod, and a bowl full of Manna; the New Ark contains: the One who fulfill’s the Law; The Great High Priest after the Order of Melchizedek; and the Bread of Everlasting Life.  By this new Ark God’s presence would abide forever, through this Ark He would prove Himself to be Immanuel!   

In this Mary is singularly unique, that she was chosen to bear the presence and be overshadowed by the most High in all His power and glory.  In all humility and devotion to God she becomes what Israel had once lost.  She becomes the dwelling place of God with Man until His birth.  The early church made this connection as did St. Luke and therefore exalted her in reverence and dignity, just as ancient Israel did of the Ark of Old.  If they treated a box with such reverence, how ought we treat the Mother of our deliverance?  She now, through her faith, becomes the bearer and deliverer of our salvation.  For this she can never be honored enough.  For this Luther calls her the most noble gem in all Christianity.  Her yes to God, is also her yes to her fellow brothers and sisters, us.  In our life of faith, then we too Lutherans, can give thanks and praise to God for Mary.  And do so completely faithfully and in all good Lutheran rightness to echo the words of the Archangel and her cousin Elizabeth, “Hail Mary, full of Grace, the Lord is with thee.  Blessed art thou among women and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus.”    


Saturday, December 1, 2012

Advent 1 Homily: Luke 21:25-36

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

Armageddon.  2012.  The Day after Tomorrow.  Terminator….All of the them.  The Day the Earth Stood Still.  I could continue, but I think you have quickly deduced where I’m going.  Hollywood has been perpetually occupied and enamored with stories about the end of the world.  There have been various movies of various stripes from various genres depicting the fate of our planet and its ultimate demise.  Whether it be an asteroid, man made machines rising up and overthrowing man, or those darn Mayan’s whose calendar ran out of dates, the idea of the end of the world makes a good basis or starting point for a blockbuster movie.  And in each of those films the point is always two fold—#1 the world will end and #2 WE MUST STOP IT!!!! 

For every arch-nemesis of the world there is the protagonist, the hero the John Conner (no relation, right Becky?), Harry Stamper, Jackson Curtis, or some version of Keanu Reaves. They each, hearing the pleas and cries from the world, begin a mission each lasting about 100-120 minutes to redeem and rescue humanity from itself or from nature.  We even see in most if not all of these stories the basic Christ-motif as Bruce Willis looses his life on an asteroid, dying just in time for the sake of the world.  But the hero may be a “Christ” figure in a literary sense, he or she is usually far from the authentic Christ and His response to the end of the world scenario.  

We now find ourselves in Luke’s Gospel, and will for most of the Church’s year.  The setting is Jerusalem.  The date is not quite for certain, but it is the final week of our Lord’s ministry in His 33rd year of life.  The palms have been waved, the chants cried, “Hosannah in the Highest!  Blessed is He Who comes in the name of the Lord!”  And now He is imparting his final divine wisdom to his beloved apostolic band.  The subject has turned from the upcoming and foretelling of the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem to a rather important topic, the coming or rather the return of the Son of Man.  In other words Jesus speaks about that famous Hollywood topic, the end of the world.  But there is a drastic change in both content and plot from the movie adaptations to the coming reality put forward by our Lord.  

There is a saying, “truth is stranger than fiction, because fiction at least has to make sense.”  If the end is coming, stop it.  That seems to make logical sense.  Rush forward Bruce!  SAVE THE DAY!  But that is not the truth of Christ’s witness and the Christian vision for that time.  In fact Jesus puts forward for us a rather simple and plotless response to such a time.  “Straighten up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing hear.”  There is no anxiety or fear in the falling of the world, but rather a dramatic pause and the only thing that truly needs to be done is to look up.  Now that would be a rather boring movie, but it is a powerful response of faith to the true even that is happening.  It is not the end of the world you see, my brothers and sisters, it is the in breaking of the New One.  The New Heaven, the New Earth, ushered in by our Lord’s return, bringing the New Jerusalem.  

  Nothing needs be done, for in the glory of Christ’s return everything has already been done.  The Church doesn’t wish to stop Armageddon or the End of the World, we actually pray for it to come.  Amen.  Come Lord Jesus.  This is the Advent of our God and in this season of advent we prepare, we keep watch, we stay awake, and we wait for our Lord’s return.  Lifting heads to the sky, looking up for our redemption drawing nigh as the world crumbles around us.  

There is no doubt that that great and glorious Day is drawing closer, in fact we are closer to it today than we were yesterday.  Though it still remains elusive and out of our comprehension as to when, we see the signs of this fallen world growing darker every day.  There is much in the world over which we too might faint with fear and foreboding.  War, plague, pestilence, and death surrounds us each and every day.  From the terrorist’s threat to the doctor’s diagnosis, death and darkness lurks around every corner and every moment of time.  As millions struggle to find work, struggle to provide for their family, there seems to be no hope of recovery on the horizon.  We are trapped in a time of bleak economics with even bleaker resources to straighten our fiscal cliff.  So what are we to do in this time of growing darkness?  Jesus tells us at the last, when the world ends, to raise our heads.  So what do we do now?  It’s simple…we practice.  Indeed all of the Church's life, her worship, prayer, and participation in the life of the Trinity is done as preparation for that great and final Day.

Jesus' command to his disciples, echoes the refrain of David in the Psalms, “I lift up my eyes to the hills.  From where does my help come?  My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth.”  In the time of Advent, in the generation of the Church we spend out time lifting our eyes upward, beholding our redemption which draws ever nearer to us.  As the candles are lit, we straighten up and stand.  As the Gospel is read, we stand again lifting up our eyes opening our ears to the hearing of the precious Word of God as it comes to give us life and redemption.  And as Bread and Wine are lifted up above the altar, suspended between heaven and earth, reminiscent of the holy cross, our heads and eyes are once more lifted up to behold our Lord.  His body broken, his blood shed.  Behold here is the Lamb of God.  Here is our salvation and our redemption.  For Christ does not wait until the end of time to come to us, but He comes now through holy Word and holy Sacrament.  Bringing about the end of this world, the end of the old adam in us, crushing sin and defeat the power of death in us, and raising us to new life in His kingdom today.  Here and now at this time and in this sacred place the Son of Man draws near to us with the holy angels and with His saints.  

For this reason we have absolutely no reason to groan and be fearful as the world is fearful.  Drinking itself into oblivion and weighed down by the cares of this life, because this life is not the end all be all.  It is transitory.  It is meant and destined for renewal since the fall and it will come when Christ returns in glory and power.  Light will banish darkness.  Life will obliterate death.  And the powers of this world will be vanquished, by the rule of the Son of God.  Therefore we watch with great joy and hope, standing up and praying with the whole church and all of creation...  
Amen.  Come, Lord Jesus.