December 30, 2012
You have some things in common with Jesus. You have a purpose. He did as well. You were born. He was as well. Unless He returns in glory first, you will die some day. Jesus died as well. You will be raised on the Last Day. He was raised from His tomb.
But there are important differences. You are a human being. While Jesus became a human being, He is God. You are sinful. Jesus is holy. You were created. Jesus, as Simeon says in the Gospel reading for today, was appointed.
It’s in this last difference that you meet up with Jesus in the first similarity you have with Him. You were created for purpose. He was appointed for purpose. The similarity here is not just that you have purpose even as your Lord has purpose. You have purpose because He carried out His purpose. That’s why He carried out His purpose, because He created you for purpose. He called you to eternal life so He brought eternal life to you by carrying out the purpose for which He was sent.
Simeon alluded to this: “Behold, this child is appointed for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is opposed (and a sword will pierce through your own soul also), so that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed.” The cross has since become the chief sign of Christianity. It is nearly universally recognizable as the symbol for Christianity. So when Simeon pointed to a sign off in the distance in which people would oppose it, we see how extraordinary it is that Jesus carried out His purpose for which He was appointed.
It is all love and mercy toward you. You were created for purpose and He accomplished what was necessary for you to carry out your purpose. The Collect gives guidance here. First there is listening to God. Then there is doing what He has called and given you to do. You were created for purpose. This is what we prayed in the Collect: “O God, our Maker and Redeemer, You wonderfully created us and in the incarnation of Your Son yet more wondrously restored our human nature. Grant that we may ever be alive in Him who made Himself to be like us.”
You were created for purpose, but the Fall changed all that. In
Romans 5:12 Paul says that “just
as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death
spread to all men because all sinned.” You have veered away from you purpose to
which God has called you by your sin. You have rejected His purpose for you by
sinning against Him. In the Collect we prayed that just as God has created us
for purpose, He has “wondrously restored our human nature.” How He has done
this is “in the incarnation of [His] Son.” Our prayer is that He “grant that we
may ever be alive in Him who made Himself to be like us.”
He became like you in all respects except for your sin. He took on human flesh but not sinful nature. On the cross He took on Himself all of your sin. This is the purpose for which He was appointed. It is the thing that gives you a re-creation. You are created anew for purpose. This purpose is “that [you] may ever be alive in Him.”
The events after Jesus’ birth are revealing as to what it means in the Collect praying our God to grant “that we may ever be alive in Him.” When Simeon talked of Jesus being appointed for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is opposed, so that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed, we are shown how the Law and Gospel do their work. It is clear from the way Luke and the other Gospel writers present the coming of Jesus that He came for the Gospel. He came to bring salvation. He came to bring life.
What this means is that you first must die. When the thoughts of your heart are revealed you are exposed. You are seen for what you are. This is why Jesus came. He knows what is in your heart. At the cross every heart is exposed. Every person is shown for who they are. You are sinful from birth. Your life is one in which you daily live in your sinful flesh. You fall short every day.
This is the work of the Law, and Jesus does not come except for the Law having done its work. He must come with His sword of the Law to pierce you through, otherwise you will die in your sin. When you are pierced through by the Law you are called to repentance. You still die, but you don’t die in your sin. You die to it. Your sinful nature is drowned, crucified, slain in Baptism. When Simeon had spoken his wonderful words of his eyes having seen salvation because he now held the infant Jesus in his arms, Luke says that “his father and his mother marveled at what was said about him.” When an infant is Baptized we, too, ought to marvel at what is said about that little baby. “I Baptize you in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” That baby is joined with Christ in His death and resurrection, the baby’s little life drowned to sin and raised to new life. That is something truly to marvel at.
And so along with the piercing of the Law He brings His precious sweet Gospel. This is, after all, the purpose for which He came! It is what He was appointed for. To bring salvation. To bring forgiveness and life. Even there in the temple when Simeon and Anna were speaking of His glory and His grace, Jesus was in the very act of bringing about salvation. It all culminated in the cross and the empty tomb. But it wasn’t just death and resurrection, it was an entire life, joining our human flesh, fulfilling the holy will and Law of God, bringing about restoration to fallen humanity, and ultimately, taking upon Himself the sin and guilt of fallen humanity.
All of that is the basis for the wonderful prayer we prayed, that our God “grant that we may ever be alive in Him who made Himself to be like us.” You were created for purpose. You were restored in the incarnation of His Son. You now live out this purpose. How? You are ever alive in Him. The Church down through the ages gives us great wisdom. There’s certainly freedom to pray from your heart. There’s also an immense blessing in going back to these prayers, these brief Collects, and being shown the rich wisdom the Church has drawn from the Scriptures in handing down these prayers to us.
Yes, you do good works. Yes, you serve others. Yes, you think and calm down before reacting in anger. Yes, you love and cherish those God has given you to take care of. Yes, you do all of these things and you beat down your sinful flesh instead of giving into it. All of this is good, right, and salutary. It’s also good to be reminded of it now and then; perhaps often. It’s good to be exhorted to these things. And so here you have.
Now hear the wisdom of the Collect of the Day. You don’t just do things. You don’t just strive to carry out your purpose. You don’t even simply try to get better and better. You pray your gracious God to grant you to ever be alive in your Lord, He who made Himself to be like us. This is your purpose! To be alive in Christ! You were crucified to your sinful flesh so that you could be raised to new life in Him. Live in that new life! Don’t just do stuff, live according to your purpose, which your Lord Himself has given you.
This is why you always go back to you Baptism. It’s why you need to partake of the Lord’s Supper often. It’s why you continue to hear the Gospel proclaimed to you. It’s why you confess your sins and receive Absolution of those sins. Without these you will fall back into your sinful flesh. You will be living in death. Your new life in Christ is something you live—He has given you new life—but it’s not something you sustain. The Means of Grace do that. The Gospel and the Sacraments, the very life-giving means He uses, are what brings you continually to new life from your sin.
Paul beautifully brings this out in a tightly-wrapped presentation in the Epistle reading, saying that we were “enslaved to the elementary principles of the world. But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, ‘Abba! Father!’ So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God.”
You were created for purpose. You were redeemed in order to be restored to this purpose. You now live in it here on earth and will forever in heaven. Amen.