Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Sanctity of Life Sunday (Luke 1:39-45)

“Blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord.” Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, Amen. The text for our sermon this Sanctity of Life Sunday is from the Gospel lesson read a few moments ago from the first chapter of the Gospel according to Saint Luke. Dear friends in Christ, the first chapter of Luke is full of miraculous conceptions. The angel Gabriel first travels to the temple in Jerusalem, to the location of God’s presence amongst His chosen people, with a wonderful message to Zechariah. Whether this priest believes it or not, the truth remains: “Your wife will bear a son, and you shall call his name John.” Gabriel’s next appointment is six months later, when he makes a greater promise to a virgin named Mary. “Behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call His name Jesus.” John was conceived like you and me, but the miracle was that a woman who was old and barren would now carry a son in her womb. The greater miracle was that Mary would conceive of the Holy Spirit, in a way completely different from every other conception in history. But these miracles are simply the greatest and ultimate examples of the miracle that takes place each and every time that life is formed within the womb. There God creates life within a woman, just as He breathed life into the nostrils of the first man. Life is a miracle, whether we are speaking about John’s conception, Jesus’ conception, or ours.

In our Old Testament lesson for this morning, God makes a stunning pronouncement to the prophet Jeremiah: “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations.” The miracle of conception, the miracle of life took place within the womb of an Israelite woman, and it happened for a purpose. Because even while Jeremiah could be described by modern medicine in such cold terms such as an “embryo” or “fetus,” he was chosen by God, he was appointed as a prophet. Jeremiah had a mission to fulfill, and the marching orders were filled out when he was in a state that our nation considers sub-human! It was little different with John. The one who was to prepare the way for the Messiah was appointed even before conception for that task. Listen to this amazing statement by Gabriel: “He will be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother’s womb.”

John and Jeremiah were appointed from their mothers’ wombs to point forward to one man, One who was more than a man. Gabriel said to Mary: “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy—the Son of God.” In the miracle of the Incarnation, God took on human flesh, He became man within the womb of a virgin. At that time, God Incarnate could be designated by the lifeless term that too often describes our children today- ‘fetus.’ God Himself entered into the virgin’s womb, from the moment of conception our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ dwelt among us.

God Himself entered into that place that should be the safest domain for any human, the womb of His mother. But in our world today, that place of safety, that place of nourishment, has become a location of death, a place where others decide who lives and who dies. It is in our times that our own thoughts, desires, and choices have become paramount, exalted over everyone else. It is on our watch that God’s children have been murdered for personal convenience, for a multitude of reasons that all come down the wants and ‘needs’ of those outside the womb. But there is so much more than that. For the destruction of 50 million of God’s children in thirty years is simply the most graphic example of a culture that has no respect for life from conception to the moment of death. When our own wants and perceived needs are placed over and above everyone and everything else around us, we end up destroying life. God is not only concerned with our life in the womb, but also in the decades that follow. As Saint Paul says: “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.” We destroy our lives when we abuse our bodies through sexual immorality and adultery, when we damage that body which He gave to us. But, much more tragic is the other lives that are destroyed by our sin. We are in a ‘me first’ society, and as a child can be an inconvenience, so can any other human that has served his or her purpose in fulfilling our needs. In all this, God and His directive to protect our own lives and the lives of others is ignored. And the end of life then becomes little different. If our society ignores God’s gift of life from conception on, we can hardly expect it to protect the life of those who are no longer convenient for us to keep alive. Jeremiah, John, and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ all passed through the womb and every stage of life, showing us that from the moment of their miraculous conception, (for every conception is miraculous) they were chosen of God, chosen to proclaim life, and chosen to bring life.

Our text today is an Epiphany of sorts for Mary, for she is revealed for who she truly is, the mother of our Lord and the one who carries our Messiah in her womb. Having heard the promise of two miraculous conceptions, hers and Elizabeth’s, Mary acts immediately. “In those days Mary arose and went with haste into the hill country, to a town in Judah, and she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth.” John the Baptist makes the same confession from the womb that he would make throughout his life: “Behold, the Lamb of God!” “And when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, the baby leaped in her womb.” It was in that moment that Mary was revealed to Elizabeth for who she truly is, she was ‘Epiphanied’ to her relative as one who carried a gift that would be for all the people. “And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit, and she exclaimed with a loud cry, ‘Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! And why is this granted that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For behold, when the sound of your greeting came to my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy.’”

For the fruit of Mary’s womb was Jesus Christ, who at that very moment was living a perfect life on our behalf. Jesus’ life lived for us did not begin at a stable in Bethlehem, but instead it began with the words of Gabriel in the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy. For at that moment, life was created in the womb of Mary, life that would one day deliver life to us all. For nine months, the bodily frame of Jesus developed and grew, He matured in her womb just as we all did in our mother’s womb. Those nine months were for you and your salvation, they were part of God’s plan of salvation. For the same human beings who would use and abuse their own lives, and most tragically destroy the lives of others, were the same ones that God intended to save. It is not just our society that is corrupted and self-centered, you and me are also filled with sin. We cannot condemn the sin around us before we first confess our own. For it was for the sins of all that Christ became man in the womb of Mary.

Those nine months passed, followed by thirty years of a perfect life lived in our place, a life lived for us. Then the one pointed to by John in the womb stepped forth on the last journey which He would take. Elizabeth declared to Mary, “Blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord.” Mary’s faith would be tested as much more was revealed about what this child was to do. For the fulfillment of what the Lord spoke to her and all others through the prophets in the Holy Scriptures did not only include a perfect life. It involved death- a death that would destroy the very power of death. Jesus gave up His life so that we may have life, He shed His blood and died on the cross in order to wash away all of our sins. A society that throughout history has shown little redeeming value, but has simply spiraled deeper and deeper into sin, you and me who know how filthy we are, Christ died for all, and His blood was shed to cleanse. The One who dwelt in Mary’s womb for nine months for you was the same One who died in her sight, and He died for you.

However, Christ’s goal was not death, for Himself or for you. And so when He rose victorious on the third day, He rose to give you life everlasting with Him in heaven. And He bestows this life in a very familiar way. Elizabeth exclaimed, “For behold, when the sound of your greeting came to my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy.” In the same way that Jesus was conceived by the Word, so a word from the mother of our Lord caused John to make his confession from the womb. It is through the Word that life is given to us, the words by Pastor Werly: “As a called and ordained servant of Christ, and by His authority, I therefore forgive you all your sins in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” The words at your Baptism: “I baptize you in the name of the Father and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” The words we will hear just a few moments from now: “Drink of it all of you; this cup is the new testament in my blood, which is shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.” The word of Scripture, that you read in this place or in your homes, a Word that tells you that Christ died for you and your sins. It is through this Word that hurting souls are healed, the Word of forgiveness, the Word of life, the Word of Absolution. For God forgives with that Word every sin, whether it is the sin of ending or harming a life, your own or that of another. It is in that living and forgiving Word that you find forgiveness- this is where Christ comes to you.

This Word makes all blessed, but not because of anything we have done. Elizabeth declared, “Blessed are you among women and blessed is the fruit of your womb!” Mary is declared blessed because of what is within her, our Savior and Lord, who would one day shed His blood for her sins and the sins of all people. In the same way this fellowship here today, along with our brothers and sisters in Christ in every place and every time, the Church throughout the centuries, is blessed by the presence of that same Christ. He dwells within our midst through the Word, today He offers forgiveness once again to all for the sake of His shed blood, the blood that was shed on Calvary and now is given to all who need His forgiveness. So you say that your sin is too great for God to forgive, so you say that your heart is too filled with corruption? In response we can only say with Paul, “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost.” This table is the throne and altar of grace, and it is for sinners only. Come, all who see and repent of your sin, all who know that you need this forgiveness. The table is ready and prepared- come and eat and drink of the forgiveness of your Lord! Amen.

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