O give thanks unto the Lord for He is good, His mercy endures forever (1 Chr 16:34). Beautiful Savior Lutheran Church - Winnipeg, MB
How Has He Saved Us?
How Has He Saved Us?
Based on Isaiah 35:1-10
Preached on Dec. 17, 2014 - Midweek 3
Fellow baptized saints, almost sadly, the cradle hymn cries, "Be near me, Lord Jesus; I ask Thee to stay" (Lutheran Service Book, 364:3). How every Christian's heart burns with this desire! As we have heard repeatedly this Advent season, the Lord has heard our cry. Jesus became incarnate and lived among us: "We have seen His glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth" (John 1:18). And we know that He "will come with vengeance, with the recompense of God. He will come and save you" (Isaiah 35:4). He came once, born of Mary, and He has promised to come again to judge the world. But how does Jesus respond to our cry now, caught as we are between these two "comings"? Must we manage without His nearness now? Has Jesus left His Church without a head? Of course not. Jesus continues to come among us in the Word and Sacraments. There is no "best before" date on His promise to be with us always. The manger is never empty.
Even as the Christmas message always includes a crude wooden manger, so our Lord uses the familiar and seemingly crude means of speech and water and bread and wine to be among us. These means of grace have no outward beauty that should attract us to them. They, too, share the apparent weakness of the little Lord Jesus, "asleep on the hay." They, too, hide the Child, as did the clothes in which Mary, His mother, swaddled Him. But mundane words, water, wine, and bread are now employed by God to bear heavenly blessings to His people.
The Word of God bears God to us. Every time the manger of the Word is opened, it is a little Christmas as God comes to us. Our mouths are filthy hovels, yet God resides there through His Word. As we read and pray and preach Scripture, God comes through the Word. Martin Luther says of this coming: "It is in Scripture and nowhere else, that he permits himself to be found. He who despises Scripture and sets it aside, will never find him. We heard earlier that the angel gave a sign to the shepherds [Luke 2:12]; but to Mary or Joseph or to any other man, however pious they may have been, he gave no sign except the swaddling clothes in which he was wrapped, and the cradle into which he was laid, that is, the Scripture of the prophets and the law. In these he is enclosed, they possess him, they speak of him alone and witness to him and are his sure sign" (AE 52:171). Such a sense of weakness surrounds the Word of God that some among us choose to ignore, blaspheme, disregard, and ridicule it. Yet Christ places this Word in our hands, in our ears, on our lecterns, on our desks, and on our nightstands. But this Word is most powerful in our mouths and hearts, as St. Paul says, "The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart (that is, the word of faith that we proclaim)" (Romans 10:8). If we have the inscripturated Word, that is the divine Logos (John 1:1) swaddled in the pages of Holy Scripture, we have the incarnate Word.
Young children are often frustrated by the limits of their immaturity. For example, they may be able to stand, but they cannot reach the refrigerator handle or have the strength to pull it open. This is a matter of great frustration for my daughter Hannah. She will stand in front of the fridge banging on the door until she commands an adult's attention. Yet, as her Daddy I understand her frustration. And what do I do? I provide for my little girl by taking the grapes out of the fridge, cutting them in half, and placing them in a bowl on the table so that she can reach them.
Our heavenly Father understands our spiritual need far better than we, His children, do. Through the Sacraments, God brings to us Christ, our salvation and our heavenly food. God puts the gift of life into the bowl of the font and on the table of our church, so to speak. We do not have to fly up to the divine pantry; God opens the larder and pours out His abundant gifts to us here, where we need them. When we cry, "Be near me, Lord Jesus," He responds, "Here I am in the Sacraments." Water combined with the powerful Word of God is applied to us through the apparently childish means of the washing of Baptism to cleanse us and wash away our sin. Wine and bread combined with the powerful Word of God are placed in our mouths for the forgiveness of sins. Cradled in our hands, placed in our mouths, this precious gift of Christ's body and blood now resides within us. He comes no closer than this, until He comes to rescue us from this present evil age (Galatians 1:4).
Sinners constantly need to hear the words of God giving us forgiveness. We need to hear these words often and personally, because in our weakness we doubt that God could truly be gracious to the likes of us. Our pastors use their filthy mouths cleansed from the altar to speak for God, "I forgive you." We cry for the Lord Jesus to stay, and He sends ministers from whom "we receive absolution, that is, forgiveness, from the pastor as from God Himself" (Luther's Small Catechism, 26). Be so near me, Lord Jesus!
When the Messiah comes, Isaiah says "the eyes of the blind [will] be opened and the ears of the deaf unstopped. Then will the lame leap like a deer, and the mute tongue shout for joy" (Isaiah 35:5-6). Who has ever heard of blind people who now see, those who are deaf who now hear, or the lame who now leap like the deer? Such things are signs of the new age that is to come. God speaks them into being. And at this new age, a way of holiness will be raised over the desert wastes. What was once an unfruitful land, a land consumed by sin and its rage, will become fruitful in the hands of the Christ. In His first coming, Jesus has paid the ransom to make us His people. Now we receive the fruits of this ransom through the means of grace, God's Word and Sacraments.
Long before our asking, Jesus has determined to stay close by us forever. He has used the mundane means of Word and Sacraments so that between His first coming as the Babe of Bethlehem and His second coming on the Last Day there is still a coming of grace for us sinners. The manger is never empty. In His Holy Name, Amen.
Rev. Cameron Schnarr