Saturday, December 17, 2011

St. Lucy Day Sermon -- Psalm 45

December 14, 2011 at Calvary Evangelical Lutheran Church – Mechanicsburg, PA

“Hear, O daughter, and consider, and incline your ear: forget your people and your father’s house, and the king will desire your beauty. Since he is your lord, bow to him.”

December 13 is when the Church commemorates St. Lucy, a martyr of Christ. Like many of the saints of old, not much is known of her. The records of time tell us that a young, unmarried woman named Lucy was executed for her faith in the Sicilian city of Syracuse in AD 304. A disappointed suitor reported her identity as a Christian to the governing authorities. This took place during the reign of the Roman Emperor Diocletian, an avowed enemy of the faith and Christ’s Church.

The acts of martyrs that have passed down through the centuries fill in some more details about Lucy’s fate. It is said that Lucy’s father had died and that her mother attempted to arrange a marriage for her, even having a man selected to become her husband. But Lucy’s desire was to be totally devoted to Jesus, even forsaking marriage to be so, especially marriage to an unbelieving husband. Instead of using the dowry money that had been saved to facilitate a marriage, Lucy convinced her mother to allow her to distribute it to the poor. Such giving away of wealth gave the appearance to her suitor that Lucy was rich. When told of her refusal to marry that meant none of the money would become his, the pagan suitor informed the authorities that Lucy was a Christian. That led to her martyrdom.

Other details have been added to Lucy’s story, including some of the gory details of her torture and demise. While some of these cannot be determined and some appear simply legendary, the death of people because of the faith is not a matter of dramatic fiction. It does happen. Likewise, the devotion to Christ exemplified by Lucy and the other martyrs is not just a tall tale. Many who will go nameless through time have suffered the same. But they did so, knowing like Lucy that they had a greater treasure than all the dowry money in the world. They held to the words of Jesus that you heard this evening: “The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field. Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls, who, on finding one pearl of great value, went and sold all that he had and bought it.” The laying down of one’s life for the sake of the faith can certainly be described as selling all that one has.

There is another aspect of Lucy’s life that illustrates another truth of Jesus’ identity and work. Remember how Lucy spoke of being totally devoted to Jesus, so that she was not united in marriage to an unbeliever. Lucy’s action helps to depict the connection that Jesus has to His followers. The paradigm of husband and wife is used in the Scriptures to speak of Jesus and the Church: Jesus being the groom and the Church being the bride. It is a comparison also used in the Old Testament to describe the relationship between the Lord and His people Israel. Sometimes it is used positively to speak of the bond that Jesus has with believers; other times its used negatively when speaking about the Lord’s people being unfaithful, an adulterous wife.

Tonight, let us focus on the positive aspect. You heard Paul’s description of the Corinthian Church this evening: “I wish you would bear with me in a little foolishness. Do bear with me! I feel a divine jealousy for you, for I betrothed you to one husband, to present you as a pure virgin to Christ.” This is the way Paul speaks of the followers of Jesus. He has arranged a marriage for them. They are to be bound forever to Jesus. But this husband is not like the suitor that Lucy was betrothed to. He is not interested in obtaining wealth or status from them. This is not a marriage of convenience or an attempt to marry up. No, you and all believers in Jesus have been brought into a relationship where He bestows you with all that is good. A new life has been given to you, so that all the faults and failures of your sin are removed and you are presented as pure to your groom Jesus. That is the way that the Lord considers you and acts for you.

The Psalm prayed this evening extends that same paradigm. In it, a picture of Christ, the Church’s husband is given to you: “You are the most handsome of the sons of men; grace is poured upon your lips; therefore God has blessed you forever. Gird your sword on your thigh, O mighty one, in your splendor and majesty. In your majesty ride out victoriously for the cause of truth and meekness and righteousness; let your right hand teach you awesome deeds! Your arrows are sharp in the heart of the king’s enemies; the peoples fall under you.” This goes beyond the fairy tales and their descriptions of Prince Charming. You are united to a husband who has more than just chiseled features or a striking appearance. Christ’s virtue and abilities go beyond that. His words speak grace to you. His cause is for truth and meekness and righteousness, a cause that He fulfills for your benefit by dying and rising again. He strives and fights against His Father’s enemies, those who would do you harm, and He is victorious against them.

This is the true husband to whom Lucy and you have been betrothed. So the Psalm takes uses the picture of a wedding to describe you: “Hear, O daughter, and consider, and incline your ear: forget your people and your father’s house, and the king will desire your beauty. Since he is your lord, bow to him. The people of Tyre will seek your favor with gifts, the richest of people. All glorious is the princess in her chamber, with robes interwoven with gold. In many-colored robes she is led to the king, with her virgin companions following behind her. With joy and gladness they are led along as they enter the palace of the king.” That depiction does not describe what you are in your own nature, your own selves. But this is what the Lord makes you to be. It is the honor and status bestowed to you, as you are made righteous by the work of the bridegroom Jesus.

Betrothed and united to Jesus, you are given an identity greater than all the brides on earth. What has been given to Lucy and you is a truly royal wedding, something that no dowry could purchase. Instead, it has been divinely arranged and accomplished. It is purchased by the death and resurrection of God Himself. The groom has placed the finest of rings on His bride’s finger. The greatest of gifts—the pearl of great price—is granted to her. This union does not last until death does them part, but goes beyond it.

That is what you have been given as Jesus’ betrothed. So when you hear of your Bridegroom’s arrival during this Advent Season, you have great reason to rejoice. With Lucy and all the patient saints who bear cross and sufferings now, you will stand with Christ, your groom, before the altar of God the Father. Eternally you shall be with Him as the promised end spoken of in the Psalm comes to pass: “I will cause your name to be remembered in all generations; therefore nations will praise you forever and ever.” That is certainly worth being totally devoted to your husband Jesus, faithfully awaiting His arrival.

+ In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

No comments: