Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Homily for Advent Midweek Evening Prayer In the Week of Gaudete (Advent 3)

Luke 1:39-56; Malachi 3:1-6

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
Malachi lived near the end of the 5th century BC, about one hundred years following the prophet Zechariah and the return of the Jewish exiles to Israel from captivity in Babylon. The temple complex had been rebuilt in Jerusalem, and the the priesthood and the sacrificial system had been reinstated in the temple. Malachi, whose name means Messenger of the LORD, was the last of the Old Testament prophets, and he proclaimed a specific Word from the LORD to the people of Israel: Repent! Repent from your sensual, selfish, and careless ways, and return to the LORD, before it’s too late. Malachi proclaimed the LORD’s unchanging love and faithfulness to Israel, and he prophesied that the LORD would send His Messenger to prepare the way before His sudden coming to His temple to judge His people. Though Malachi was himself a Messenger of the LORD, the Messenger of whom he prophesied of was still yet to come. Then the LORD was silent. No prophet prophesied in Israel for four hundred years – until John the Baptist.
Then, another messenger of the LORD, the angel Gabriel, appeared to Zechariah the priest as he burned incense in the temple and proclaimed to him that he and his wife Elizabeth, who was barren, would conceive and bear a son whose name would be John. The angel proclaimed to Zechariah that his son would “be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother’s womb” and that he would “turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God” “to make ready for the Lord a people prepared.” John would continue the prophetic ministry of Malachi, and of all the prophetic messengers of the LORD. However, John would be the final Word before the coming of the Messiah. John would be the prophesied Messenger of the LORD who would come to prepare the way before the coming of the Lord.
Elizabeth did indeed conceive and bear a son, and when Zechariah, who had been stricken mute because he did not believe the Word the LORD delivered through His messenger Gabriel, indicated that the boy’s name would be John, his mouth was opened and he praised God for keeping His promise to raise up a “horn of salvation … in the house of His servant David,” and that his own son would be called the “prophet of the Most High; for [he would] go before the Lord to prepare His ways, to give knowledge of salvation to his people in the forgiveness of their sins.”
Indeed, John began preparing the way for Jesus long before he donned camel’s hair and lived in the desert wilderness eating locusts and honey, for in the sixth month of his mother’s pregnancy, filled with the Holy Spirit, John leapt for joy in the presence of Jesus while both he and his Lord were in their mother’s wombs. Indeed, Elizabeth herself was filled with the Holy Spirit and exclaimed with a loud cry concerning her cousin Mary, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb!” And, Elizabeth proclaimed the reason that Mary was blessed, for she “believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord.”
Yes, truly this is why the Church and all Christians venerate Mary – for her faith. The Church does not venerate Mary because the LORD chose her to be the Mother of His Son. The Church does not venerate Mary because she was sinless, or holy, or in view of her faith. But, the Church venerates Mary because of her faith, because she believed the Word of the LORD spoken through His angelic messenger saying, “Lord, may it be to me as you have said, according to your Word.” Mary is, for the Church, the very icon of the kind of faith we are each called to – faith that trusts and believes and clings to the LORD and His Word and promise even when it seems ridiculous and impossible to human reason and wisdom. Thus, Mary is an icon of the Church as both the Mother of all Christians born again through the womb of the baptismal font, nourished upon the  sustaining milk of the Word and Sacraments, and the Bride of Christ, having a one-flesh union with Her Bridegroom and Savior Jesus Christ.
Mary confessed her own lowliness and humility in her song the Magnificat saying, “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for He has looked on the humble estate of His servant.” Mary viewed herself as an instrument, even a magnifying glass, showing forth the goodness of the Lord and His Light and grace, mercy, compassion, and forgiveness. These were not things for Mary to give or to dispense to others, but that which she, herself, was the humble recipient of. Further, Mary confessed her own need for a savior in Jesus Christ, the source and cause of her unassailable faith and hope. “For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed; for He who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is His Name.” The reason all generations call Mary blessed is because of the many things the Mighty One, the LORD, has done for her: “His mercy is on those who fear Him from generation to generation. He has shown strength with His arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts; He has brought down the mighty from their thrones and exalted those of humble estate; He has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent away empty.” THESE are the reasons that Mary, the Mother of God, gives for her blessedness! She is completely meek and mild and self-effacing. She stands in awed wonder of her awesome, loving, and merciful God. She is everything that Eve, our Mother, failed to be. Mary is truly a symbol and type of the Church of Jesus Christ, from whom all Christians are born again of the Holy Spirit through the water and the Word of Holy Baptism and are nourished and strengthened, sustained, and protected in faith through the Word and Blessed Sacraments. Mary treasured all these things and pondered and kept them in her heart throughout her life. So must you, her children.
“Behold, I send my messenger, and he will prepare the way before me. And the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to His temple.” John the Baptist was this Messenger of the LORD, and he prepared the people for the coming of Jesus by preaching repentance unto the forgiveness of sins and by pointing them to Jesus, the Messiah, who is God’s forgiveness in human flesh and blood, born of Mary. John began this holy work while in his mother’s womb, pointing to the temple made without human hands, Jesus, conceived by the Holy Spirit in the virgin womb of Mary.
“For I the LORD do not change,” declared the prophet, “therefore you, O children of Jacob, are not consumed.” Thanks be to God our LORD for His faithfulness, mercy, love, grace, compassion, and forgiveness, because of which He sent His messenger John to preach repentance and turn hearts to Jesus that they might be forgiven their sins. “Blessed be the LORD, the God of Israel, for He has visited and redeemed His people and has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of His servant David, as He spoke by the mouth of His holy prophets from of old, that we should be saved from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us; to show the mercy promised to our fathers and to remember his holy covenant, the oath that he swore to our father Abraham, to grant us that we, being delivered from the hand of our enemies, might serve Him without fear in holiness and righteousness before Him all our days.”
In His faithfulness and mercy, the LORD has provided us a Savior, our Lord Jesus Christ. He is both Redeemer and King and Judge. How will you receive Him? Hearken to the Messenger of the LORD still, and be turned in repentance that you may not be consumed. For, the LORD has favor for the meek and the mild and for those who empty themselves of all pride and self-righteousness. Truly, they are blessed who have nothing, for they will receive all.

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

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