IN NOMINE JESU
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, especially Donald, Gene, Raymond, Robert, Allen, and Sally,
Today is a celebration, not merely a day of mourning. Today we celebrate life. We celebrate today the birth of St. John the Baptizer and the new life Bernice now has, eternal life in heaven. We celebrate the Baptizer's birth today because Scripture tells us the he was six months older than his Cousin, the Christ, and tomorrow marks six months before Christmas. Today we thank God for the birth of the forerunner of Christ, and we thank Him for the life He granted to Bernice here on earth and the life she now has in heaven with her Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
Zacharias was a priest who was performing his duties in the temple of the Lord when the angel Gabriel visited him, announcing that the priest's wife, Elizabeth, in her old age, would bear a son. Zacharias doubted the angel's word and was rendered mute. After his son was born, the time came for him to be named and circumcised. The family thought the boy would be named after his father. Elizabeth said, "No; he shall be called John" (v. 60). His father wrote down the same thing, for the angel had told him that the boy's name would be John. The Lord blessed Zacharias with the ability to speak again, and Zacharias, moved by the Holy Spirit, praised God and prophesied concerning John, the words in our text we have come to know as the canticle called the Benedictus, Latin for "Blessed is [He]," which we sing at Vespers.
We are here today to sing praise to the God of Israel, for He has visited and redeemed His child Bernice, and that He has saved her from her enemies and from the hand of all who hated her, namely, the devil, the world, and her sinful flesh. This unholy triad waged war against Bernice for nearly 91 years. This war took its toll on her. We have seen the effects of this spiritual warfare upon her especially during the last years of her life as her condition deteriorated. Such is the life of the sinner. Zacharias, a priest who was righteous, even sinned by doubting the words of the Lord and was rendered mute until John's circumcision. The Lord dealt with him directly; yet in His wisdom God allowed Bernice's health to worsen. This was not God's will, for He does not will that anyone suffer. But He allows suffering and death as the consequences of our sins. As St. Paul writes to the Romans, "The wages of sin is death" (Rom. 6:23a). Death was the wages for Bernice's sin; it will be the wages for our sin, for we daily sin much and surely deserve nothing but punishment. We have ever offended God and justly deserved His temporal and eternal punishment. If we remain apart from Christ, despising the forgiveness He gives in His Word and Sacraments offered here in His house, we remain outside His grace and in a state of unbelief and in danger of eternal condemnation, forever sitting in darkness and the shadow of death. As King David wrote in our Psalm for today, "Our bones are scattered at the mouth of the grave, as when one plows and breaks up the earth" (Ps. 141:7).
To be saved from this eternity in hell, we need to be visited by the Lord, that He would hear our confession of sins and forgive us for Jesus' sake. The Lord visited and redeemed Bernice on December 17, 1950, when she became baptized in and into the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. The Lord visited her each time I went to see her, when I brought her the Word of God and, when she was able to receive it, the body and blood of the Lord. Through Word and Sacraments He gave knowledge of salvation to Bernice by the remission of sins, through the tender mercy of her God, with which the Dayspring from on high has visited her; to give light to her who sat in darkness and the shadow of death, to guide her feet into the way of peace, that peace which the world cannot give, the peace in which Bernice now rests into eternity.
This is how our Lord comes to us, too. He gives us His gifts of the forgiveness of sins, eternal life, and salvation in His Word and Sacraments, which He gives to us here in His house, where He has invited us to be so that we would receive His gifts, the gifts He won on the cross for all who confess Jesus Christ as their Savior and Lord, for Bernice, and for you and me. Our heavenly Father has remembered His holy covenant with us, which He made with us at our Baptism, even though we do not always remember it. He remembered the oath which He swore to the patriarch Abraham. He remembered the oath He made to Adam and Eve, in which He promised a Savior for all mankind, to deliver us from the hand of our enemies, from sin, death, and the power of the devil, not with gold or silver, but with His holy, precious blood and with His innocent suffering and death. Jesus Christ came to save Bernice, and He has come to save us. As St. Paul writes in Romans, "For when we were still without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly. For scarcely for a righteous man will one die; yet perhaps for a good man someone would even dare to die. But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from wrath through Him" (Rom. 5:6-9), and again to the Galatians, "But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, that we might receive the adoption as sons" (Gal. 4:4-5).
Not only has Jesus Christ died for us, He has also risen for us! He has risen so that we too would have life, life with Him, the life Bernice now enjoys, the life we through faith will one day enjoy. The resurrection of our Lord is the foundation for the hope that we have, as it was the basis for the hope that Bernice had, the hope that she now realizes to its fullest. On the Last Day, when the Lord comes again, the Holy Spirit will raise Bernice, us, and all the dead and give eternal life to her, to us, and all believers in Christ. This is most certainly true.
Blessed is the Lord God, for He has visited and redeemed Bernice and us. He has given the message of salvation to us through the reading and preaching of the Word, the Word He gave John the Baptizer to preach, the Word Bernice heard, and the Word you hear today in the house of the Lord. He has promised us, and we believe in, the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting. Amen.
Even so, come, Lord Jesus. Amen.
"And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus" (Phil. 4:7). Amen.
SOLI DEO GLORIA
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