Friday, December 12, 2014

Vocation and Incarnation

Baccalaureate Service
Concordia University Chicago
December 12, 2014

✠ In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit ✠

    Last weekend at the Lessons and Carols service, we heard the reading from John’s Gospel, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. . .  The Word became flesh and dwelt among us.”  This is a foundational truth of the Christian faith–the Son of God took up into Himself your flesh and blood; He became fully human.  He not only became a man, He became man, mankind, all of humanity joined to His divine nature.  This is why the angels sing of peace on earth, good will toward men.  Where the fellowship of God and man had once been ripped apart by sin and the curse, now God and man are rejoined and brought back together again in Christ, literally; for Jesus is both God and man in one undivided person.  Heaven and earth are reunited in Him.

    “The Word became flesh.”  There is the truth that sets you free.  There is no higher honor that God could give to you than to make your flesh His own and to share in your nature.  Jesus is your flesh and blood, your blood brother.  And that is true, of course, not just of you but of every single human being, every person of every tribe and race and nation and language.  There is no human being whose nature Jesus has not shared in.  All of humanity has been graced and exalted by the incarnation, from the unborn in utero to the dying in their last moments.  For Jesus Himself experienced every stage of life on your behalf–a holy embryo in the womb all the way to a holy corpse in the tomb, now bodily risen and glorified for you and for your salvation. 

    This is in great part what gives your vocation meaning, whether your calling is going to be within the church or outside of it–for everyone here.  Those whom you serve are people whose nature the Son of God shares in, whose flesh He has made to be His own.  As a Christian you know that to care for them, to minister to them, to edify their hearts and minds and lives in your work is done as if to Christ Himself.  Now of course, unlike the sinless Jesus, those whom you serve will be ones frankly just like yourself, whose natures are infected with sin, which will manifest itself in many challenging and sometimes painful ways.  But even and especially then, we see in those suffering from sin the One who suffered for sin, who put it to death in His body on the cross in order to take our sin away.  The incarnation of Jesus demonstrates and shows not only that your lives in the flesh are worth living, but that the flesh and blood people around you are worth loving. 

    This is the first half of my message today, that in your various vocations you look at others with Christian faith to see them in the light of the Word made flesh.  Let your work be enlivened by that truth.  Let your desire be that none dismiss Christ in unbelief and thus lose their humanity apart from Him forever, but rather that they come to share fully in the saving reality of who Jesus is and what He has done for them.

    The second half of today’s message is simply the other side of the same coin–that you see
yourself and who you are in the light of the Word made flesh.  Jesus shared in your human life even to the point of death that you may share bodily in His divine resurrection life.  Christ has taken your place in order that you may take His place.  That’s true first of all in the presence of God the Father.  Scripture says, “You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus.  For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ” (Gal. 3:26-27).  The Father receives you the same as He receives Jesus.  And that’s also true, then, in the presence of your neighbor.  Your calling is to stand in the place of Christ toward your neighbor, to put on the One who came not to be served but to serve and to give His life, a ransom for many.  The Word became your flesh; and now in baptism you have become His flesh.  Baptized into His body, partaking of His body and blood in Holy Communion, you are His flesh and blood to love and serve others. 

    St. Paul uses this sacramental, baptismal language when he says in Galatians 2, “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.”  Christ is at work through you in the callings He gives you.  That may be the most readily apparent for you who are going into church work, as you will be given to preach or teach the words of the Word made flesh or uplift them in music.  Pastors actually get to come right out and say it, “In the stead and by the command of my Lord Jesus Christ, by His authority, I forgive you all your sins; I baptize you in the name. . .” and so on.  But the fact is that every Christian is given to stand in Christ’s stead according to the duties of your particular calling, to serve as His instruments in both word and deed for the benefit of others and for His glory.

    And once again, at the heart of all of this is the flesh of Christ.  He gives His body and blood for you to consume that you may be filled with His mercy and His life.  And His life is at work in you to offer yourselves to be consumed in merciful, life-giving love.  Romans 12 exhorts us, “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service.”

    Your vocation is not simply a matter of what you do; it’s about who you are in Christ, and what He is doing through you by His Word and Spirit.  Christ is all in all.  That’s why Jesus can say, “I am the Light of the world,” and then to His Church, “You are the light of the world.”  The light that is radiated is not yours but Christ’s, the love that is shared is not yours but Christ’s, the life that is given is not yours but Christ’s.  It’s all about Jesus, from beginning to end, Alpha and Omega.

    With that in mind, as we give thanks to God for bringing you to this milestone and for the knowledge and skills and wisdom He has imparted to you here for your calling, let me conclude with these words from 1 Corinthians 1.  That Scripture declares, “You are in Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God–and righteousness and sanctification and redemption–that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.”

✠ In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit ✠

No comments: