Text: Luke 1:35-46
God has created each of us in His Image and Likeness to live by His grace through faith in His incarnate Son, Jesus Christ. He was conceived and born of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Because of this, your entire life in body and soul—both now and forever—depends entirely on Him, on His Word and Holy Spirit. This is what you and I were created for.
But our sin at its root is a matter of self-worship and selfishness, whereby we make a god out of ourselves, we rely upon ourselves, and we love and serve the Unholy Trinity: Me, Myself, and I above all. All of your sinful thoughts, words, and actions flow out of that underlying cesspool of self-worship.
And the consequence of that is: the more we try to make a life for ourselves and to “live for yourself,” the more you are actually killing yourself. This is what our Lord is warning about in John 12: “Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. 26 If anyone serves me, he must follow me; and where I am, there will my servant be also.” Your sin is deadly and damnable, not so much because it is “naughty,” but because it turns you away from the only True and Living God, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. It cuts you off from Him who is your Life and your Salvation. When you reject and disobey the Word of God, you reject and spurn the Holy Spirit, the Author and Giver of Life. And the more you persist in your sin, the more dead you become, and the further removed from Life.
How, then, shall we be saved and live? How shall you receive and bear the Spirit of God in your fallen and perishing flesh, in your hostile mind and hardened heart?
Everything depends entirely on God. It is not for you to save yourself from sin and death. Indeed, left to yourself, apart from the Word and Spirit of God, you are at the heart of the problem and your own worst enemy. But the Lord who loves you, who created you in love, has taken every initiative to save you and redeem you. He seeks you out and comes to you, heals you from the inside out, and gives you His own Life.
God the Father bestows the Holy Spirit upon you by the preaching of the Gospel. He calls and brings you to repentance by and with His Word, and He breathes the Spirit into your heart, mind, body, and soul by the forgiving of your sins. He recreates you in the Image and Likeness of Jesus Christ [Colossians 3:10], and raises you up from death to Life in His Body.
By this work of God, the Lord turns you away from yourself, away from your self-idolatry, and away from your helpless captivity to sin and death, and He brings you to Himself, to the true worship of faith, and to eternal Life with Jesus.
This Way of repentance, faith, and Life with God has been opened to you and to all in Christ Jesus, your Savior, conceived and born of St. Mary, condemned and crucified under Pontius Pilate, put to death and buried, risen and ascended, now given and poured out for you and for all.
He has fought sin, death, and devil, and He has won for you! He bears your sins in His Body to take them away from you; He is the true Scapegoat who takes your sins away [Lev. 16:7-10]. He also bears the Holy Spirit in His Body in order to bestow the Spirit upon you. He has not been ashamed to become your Brother, in order to not just save you from your sin, but also to share His divine Life with you.
That is the very thing we celebrate with joy and thanksgiving at the Feast of the Visitation. His visitation in the womb of the Blessed Virgin is a pattern for how He comes to His Church even to this day and to this place. The Lord Himself comes to visit you here with His Word and Spirit, Flesh and Blood.
St. Mary is a living icon of the Lord’s Church, because she hears the Word of God, she is anointed by the Spirit of God, and she receives the very Son of God in the Flesh. He is received within His Holy Church on earth by the same Word and Holy Spirit, so that each of us, with faith created in us by the Spirit say, “I am the Lord’s servant. Let it be to me according to Your Word.” (Luke 1:38). Through this powerful Word, Mary became the Mother of God in the Flesh. That flesh was conceived and born for you and is now “for you” in the Sacrament of the Altar.
This is how God works. This is how He comes to you—in this humble and hidden way. Recall the ways that the presence of the Almighty was visible for people before the Incarnation—in a pillar of fire and cloud, in glory so bright and so holy that no one can see His face and live [Exodus 33:20], as the Commander of the Lord’s army [Josh. 5:13-15]. Now this same Almighty Lord has humbled Himself to come to you, not in terrors, but in grace, mercy, and peace.
You cannot see Him, any more than Elizabeth could see Him when Mary, barely in her first trimester, came to visit her elderly cousin. But Elizabeth saw Mary and heard her greeting, and by this Word of the servant of God, she believed. Indeed, not only Elizabeth, but the babe in her womb believed. She and her unborn son rejoiced in the Gospel and gave thanks to God for Mary, and with Mary. And Elizabeth praised God for the Fruit of Mary’s womb, for the Child in her body, “How has it been given to me, that the Mother of my Lord should come to me?”
We shouldn’t be jealous of the disciples and Apostles, that they got to see Jesus with their own eyes. They were given no better Jesus than we are given! Rejoice with Saints Mary and Elizabeth, that one and the same Lord Jesus Christ — in the same Flesh and Blood — is also here with you and given to you! He visits you in hiddenness and humbleness within His Holy Church on earth.
Do not be ashamed of, or despise, the simple Means of Grace by which He visits you. Do not be scandalized that He comes through the Cross [Rom. 6:3-4] and with the Fruits of His Cross. Do not turn up your nose at His sacred Flesh and Blood. Do not dismiss this Liturgy of the Gospel for its apparent foolishness. It is never boring, unless we come in unbelief. Rejoice because the Lord Himself comes to you within His Church to bless you with His Peace!
The Lord comes to you and deals with you in this way, that you should learn to live as a child of God the Father and as a member of the Bride of Christ. God the Father trains you, not only to love and serve and care for others (as you are called and given to do within your own vocations) but He trains you first of all to be and to live as His own dear child, living by grace through faith within His own household and family. Likewise, He also teaches us each how to be living and thriving members of the Bride of Christ, hearing His Word and receiving the Holy Spirit.
The Lord your God thus catechizes you to live, not by your own works and efforts, as though you were your own god, but by His gracious providence, by the hearing and receiving of His Gifts.
Yet even in emphasizing this hearing and receiving is far from saying that we are not given anything to do. As you receive the Lord in His meekness and mercy, who comes in such humble and hidden ways within His Church, so welcome and receive Him and care for Him in His lowly ones.
Recognize and serve Him in the poor, despised, and afflicted, and in your brethren, who are the brothers and sisters of the same Lord Jesus Christ. Receive Jesus in their needs and serve Him in their needs. Provide for Him and love Him by providing for and loving His family, as Mary and Elizabeth loved and served each other and their infant sons.
Do unto others as Jesus does for you. Do so for them, not because they have earned it or deserved it (they haven’t, any more than you have!). Do it by the grace of God. Do it for Jesus’ sake. And know that, in loving your brother or sister, you are loving the Lord who is your very Life. And if your whole life is spent in doing so, yet shall you live. You serve in the confidence of that great Salvation which God has gained for you and all people.
He will not send you away empty-handed. He will not leave you unclothed or naked in the street. He will not allow you to go hungry forever. If you are despised by the world, you are honored and exalted by God in Christ Jesus, your crucified, risen, and ascended Lord. If you are hated by others, you are loved by God. If others do not forgive you, nevertheless, God has forgiven you all your sins and trespasses at the cost of His own Body and Life upon the Cross. If others take your life, even so, God gives you Life.
Receive the Lord Jesus, who is here with you and for you with His Word and Holy Spirit. Truly, He is here present in and with His very Flesh and Blood like your own, conceived and born of St. Mary, given and shed out for you, for the forgiveness of all your sins, unto the Life everlasting for you—body, soul, and spirit.
In the Name + of Jesus. Amen.
Original sermon by Pastor Richard Stuckwisch, edited by Pastor Michael Miller.