Archive for the tag “incarnation”

When God Winked

michelangelo-71282_1280Already in the opening chapter of the Bible, God is dropping hints about a Christmas to come. After he’s fashioned the sun, moon, and stars; after he’s poured out the oceans and rivers; after he’s given flight to the birds, leaves to the trees, and fields to the cattle—after every detail of creation is perfected, he makes his crowning achievement: man and woman.

But he doesn’t make us in the image of the angels, or according to the likeness of cows, cats, or crawfish. The Father says to the Son, and the Son echoes to the Spirit, “Let us make man in our image, according to our likeness…So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them,” (Gen 1:26f).

And in so doing, God not only reveals that we are like he is; he also is winking that he will become as we are. As Luther writes, “Because [Adam] was created in the image of the invisible God, [we have here a hint] that God was to reveal himself to the world in the man Christ,” (AE 1:87).

On the birthday of Adam and Eve, the angels filled their lungs with the breath they’d exhale centuries later as they sang the Gloria in Excelsis in the fields outside Bethlehem.

In the beginning was the Word. The Word was with God. And that Word with God became God with us, our Emmanuel. The Creator becomes a creature while yet remaining Creator. “Upon a manger filled with hay, In poverty content he lay. With milk was fed the Lord of all, Who feeds the ravens when they call,” (TLH 104:5).

The Word becomes flesh, our flesh and blood, our bones and sinews, our heart and soul. He becomes like us in all things, except sin, that he might redeem all of who we are.
In his body is life for our bodies.
In his heart is life for our hearts.
In his blood is life for our blood.
The Image maker becomes the image made that he might recreate us in his own image, according to his likeness. The Son of God becomes a son of man to make us all the children of our heavenly Father.

*This reflection is part of a series of mediations on hymns that I presented at the “Day of Singing Boldly” at St. John Lutheran Church, Seward, Nebraska. It draws from the language of John 1, especially verse 14,”The Word became flesh and dwelt among us. And we beheld his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.”

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What we need in our fragmented world, full of hurting people, is the love of Jesus Christ, who InfantPriestfrontcoverwelcomes home sinners with a grace that knows no bounds. My book Christ Alone: Meditations and Sermons, is packed with reflections that go that extra mile of grace. Again and again, they present the Christ who is crucified and risen for you. Please take a moment to check it out here. You may also be interested in my collections of hymns and poetry entitled, The Infant Priest, which you can purchase here. Both books are also available on Amazon, as is my booklet Why Lutherans Sing What They Sing (also on Kindle). Thank you for your prayers and support!

Why March 25 Is the Most Important Day in History

marypregnantWe tend to assume that big problems require equally big solutions. You don’t send a child to do a man’s job. That would be foolish.

If anybody should realize this, God should. I mean, it’s not like he needs a remedial course in being a divinity. He’s had all eternity to figure this stuff out. Nothing is his first rodeo.

Yet if the Almighty is consistent in anything, he’s consistent in being Unmighty in his most important missions. In what seems foolhardy to us, he sends tiny solutions to solve big problems.

Few days illustrate this better than today. What is today? Count forward nine months and you’ll find yourself in a Bethlehem stable. So today, March 25, is the Annunciation, the Conception Day of the Christ. Today’s the day you find yourself shaking your head at the crazy, bassackwards ways of God, who leapt from his throne above and landed as a two-celled embryo inside the fallopian tube of an unwed teenage virgin. God becomes no bigger than a dot to save a cosmos. He doesn’t just send a child to do a man’s job; he sends an embryo to do a God’s job.

We certainly can’t say that he didn’t know what he was getting into. After all he engineered the female reproductive system. And we certainly cannot say that he was not really an embryo, but only appeared to be one. Nor can we claim that he was a superhuman kind of baby, for he was just as human, if not more, than we are. No, when the Word became flesh, the potter the pot, the artist the canvas, he knew exactly what he was doing. He was becoming one of us, for us, for good. Jesus did not come down to earth to walk a mile in our shoes. He chose to live for the rest of eternity in our skin. He wasn’t interning; he was incarnating.

Didn’t he know how precarious a pregnancy can be? Yes, he knew. Didn’t God know he’d soon be sucking his thumb and pooping his diaper? Yes, of course. And didn’t he know, quite frankly, that sometimes being a human being means you get treated like a dog, kicked around, hated, lied about, stabbed in the back, slapped in the face, unjustly accused, falsely tried, publicly flogged, and unmercifully executed? Oh, yes, he knew that, too. But for the joy set before him, he entered the womb, suffered through puberty, fought the good fight, endured the cross, exploded the tomb. For what joy? For the joy of calling you brother and sister, flesh of his flesh and bone of his bone. For the joy of your salvation.

It all began inside a virgin, when her womb became the new Holy of Holies, where an embryo named both Jesus and Yahweh rested beneath the wings of those two virgin breasts. There God became man while yet remaining God, in order that we might become sons of heaven while yet remaining sons of earth.

And, in some ways, it ended there, too, for what remained to be accomplished? Yes, he would go on to be born, live, die, and rise again, but already in that womb, when he joined himself inextricably to our nature, we were assured victory. If there was ever any doubt about God’s commitment to humanity, the incarnation removed that doubt. God became a man forever. And thus he is our brother, our kinsman redeemer, the God who would move heaven and earth to save us.

In that unmighty dot of a human embryo dwelt all the fullness of the Godhead bodily. And that’s all we needed.

I suppose God knew what he was doing after all.

A Prayer for the Annunciation of our Lord: We implore you, O Lord, to pour forth your grace on us that, as we have known the Incarnation of your Son Jesus Christ by the message of the angel, so by his cross and Passion we may be brought to the glory of his resurrection; through our Lord Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen. (Lutheran Worship, 107).

christ alone coverWhat we need in our fragmented world, full of hurting people, is the love of Jesus Christ, who InfantPriestfrontcoverwelcomes home sinners with a grace that knows no bounds. My book Christ Alone: Meditations and Sermons, is packed with reflections that go that extra mile of grace. Again and again, they present the Christ who is crucified and risen for you. Please take a moment to check it out here. You may also be interested in my collections of hymns and poetry entitled, The Infant Priest, which you can purchase here. Both books are also available on Amazon, as is my booklet Why Lutherans Sing What They Sing (also on Kindle). Thank you for your prayers and support!

Hollywood, Nashville, and the Lord’s Supper

Jubelnde Konzertbesucher auf Rock-KonzertThis past fall, Willie Nelson’s hair braids were sold at auction for $37,000. A tissue into which Scarlett Johansson blew her nose on the Tonight Show fetched $5,300 on eBay. And X-rays of Marilyn Monroe’s chest—just the X-rays, mind you—once brought in a whopping $45,000. If you’re lucky enough to be the proud owner of any item once worn or used by a celebrity—and the more intimate the better—then you’re sitting on a mountain of cash. People crave this stuff; and they’re certainly willing to open wide their wallets to add it to their collection.

I don’t know about you, but I like to think that I’m above all that celebrity worship nonsense. But I like to deceive myself about a whole host of other things, too. My home is right outside San Antonio, TX, not far from the stomping grounds of George Strait. I guarantee you that if I ran into George and he invited me over for a BBQ at his place, then I’d be a name-dropping, Facebook-boasting, Twitter-bragging fool for the next three months. Everybody I know—and probably total strangers—would get to hear all about how George and I drank a cold Shiner Bock together late one evening on his back porch in the Texas Hill Country.

What is that magnetism that pulls us toward celebrities? Why do people stand in mile-long lines, worm their way into throngs of people, or pay big money simply for the chance to rub shoulders with the famous? No doubt the motivations vary from individual to individual, but I would suggest that at the core of these motivations is the desire for intimacy with one we deem greater than ourselves. Such closeness, such confidentiality, one might even say such communion with a person exalted by fame or fortune makes us feel better about ourselves. It’s like we share a little in what they have. While we’re with them, we’re more “them” than “us.” Our identity, however briefly, migrates into the sphere of their identity. I am no longer just Chad; I am a guest, one might even say, a friend at George Strait’s table.

The Good Picture Behind the Warped Image

Many of the basic human desires that God formed within us have, like bent arrows, gone in directions the Creator never intended them to go. Hunger becomes gluttony, thirst becomes drunkenness, love becomes lust, worship becomes idolatry. Nevertheless, if we look behind the warped image that man has revised we find the good that God has devised. And that good is indicative of the gifts God gives, the people He has made us to be, and the image in us He wants to restore.

In the case of celebrity worship, behind the almost idolatrous fascination that some fans have with a person of fame, we discover a desire that, in and of itself, is not sinful. It is the desire to connect with one who is greater than we are. We feel small but they make us feel big; we feel unimportant, but our connection with them makes us feel like we matter, we have purpose. To be singled out by them, to take a seat at their table, invests our lives with a sense of worth and transcendence.

That hunger to connect with one who is greater than we are will be satisfied only in the one who created that hunger within us in the first place. We may look for it in people of power or fame or fortune, but they will all fail us because, in truth, they are pilgrims traveling the same road we are. The stars of Hollywood and Nashville are searching for the same goal. Like we are, they too are restless until they rest in the one who finally and perfectly completes them.

A Down-Below-Divinity

The reason we so easily miss the God who is greater than we are is because that great God comes in such an unexpectedly tiny, humdrum package. We are staring up at the stars while the star is pointing down to the no-account town of Bethlehem, to a baby that looks like every other baby. We are looking up for a big and awesome God while the little and humble God is looking up as well—only He looking up at us from down below, wanting us to turn our eyes downward. None of us are really near-sighted or far-sighted, we are all up-sighted. Our eyes scan the heavens for the great one while we’re blind to the great one humbly hiding within arms reach.

But I’m not just talking about Christmas and how easy it is to miss God since He comes into our world as a baby. He remains in our world, He remains active in our lives, as a down-below-divinity. You won’t find Him in heaven’s version of Hollywood glitz and glamour. You won’t find Him riding in limos and hounded by paparazzi. If you’re searching for a God with razzle-dazzle, who’ll knock your socks off with His cool awesomeness, then you’re in for a lifetime of deceptive disappointments. In this world, God is hidden in His opposite. He is cloaked in the simple, the down-to-earth, the seemingly boring and unawesome stuff of this world.

The Old Rugged Table

One place we find not only God, but intimacy with this one greater than ourselves, is at a table. The thing is, the table is kind of like that manger in Bethlehem or the old rugged cross. To the eye, there’s nothing attractive or awe-inspiring about it. In fact, on the surface it’s downright disappointing. A little bread, a sip of wine. Why, even when you invite your friends over, you might have bread on the table and wine in glasses, but along with them you serve ribeyes and baked potatoes and steamed vegetables with pecan pie for dessert. Not God. The great and powerful king of all creation puts bread and wine on His table. That’s all you get.

No, that seems like it’s all you get, but it’s not. Like in that rough and simple manger lay God hidden as a common newborn; like on that bloody and gruesome cross hung God hidden as a common criminal; so in this inconspicuous and everyday meal is God hidden in common food. In that bread He has placed His Son, Jesus, so that when you eat that bread you take the body of Jesus into you. When you sip the wine, you take His blood into you. The Lord almighty is swaddled in bread and wine, the old rugged cross becomes a table. And here, while eating and drinking, you receive intimacy with God above and beyond anything imaginable. He and you merge as one. You take Him into you even as He takes you into Himself.

The Meal That Tells Me Who I Am

This is a closeness, a confidentiality, a communion that does infinitely more than a friendship with George Strait could do for me. It does more than make me feel better about myself. This meal of God, with God, consuming God, establishes my identity. Much as the act of marriage means that a man and woman are now one flesh, so this meal means that I am now one flesh with God. I am bone of His bone, flesh of His flesh. My identity as Chad has been subsumed into His identity so that I can no longer understand myself except in connection with Him. I am a son of our Father. I am the brother of Jesus. I am part of the bride of Christ. And all these are not mere figures of speech but statements of reality. This is who I am, this is who you are, in God through Jesus Christ.

There’s no need to stand in mile-long lines, worm your way into throngs of people, or pay big money to achieve intimacy with one greater than you. Simply take and eat the body of Christ; take and drink the blood of Jesus. Here is the costliest treasure on earth given to you free of charge. It cost Jesus His life, but that life He gives to you gratis. And with that life, comes all that God is and all that you need.

Looking down at Jesus’ humble table, at His humdrum food, I see that as His guest I will be more than an admirer, closer than a friend. Since I will consume Him, it will be no longer I who live but Christ who lives in me. And that life in and of Christ gives me infinitely more than worth and transcendence; it gives me peace and wholeness and joy of such enduring quality that it spills over from this life into the life to come.

If you’d like to read more of my writings, please check out my two books: Christ Alone: Meditations and Sermons and The Infant Priest: Hymns and Poems. Click here if you’d like to purchase Christ Alone or here for The Infant Priest. They are both also available on Amazon, as is my booklet Why Lutherans Sing What They Sing (also on Kindle). Thank you!

What to Expect When Mary’s Expecting

maryelizabethAn uncreated God
Of blood and skin and bone.
A Lord within a womb
Who sits on heaven’s throne.
The Father’s only Son
Who’ll nurse at Mary’s breast.
The ever-watchful King
Asleep on Joseph’s chest.
Creator of the stars,
With diapers on his bum.
The right hand of the Lord
Who’ll suck his tiny thumb.

 

This poem is included in my collection entitled, The Infant Priest: Hymns and Poems. If you’d like to purchase a copy, it’s now on sale to the end of 2014. Click here to purchase your copy. When you check out, enter this code, YLECQSWE, for a 25% discount. Thank you!

Four Reasons Why the Virgin Mary Deserves More Attention in Protestant Churches

virginmaryIn the tiny Texas town where I grew up, a Bible-belted and beer-banned community, the virgin Mary had her annual fifteen minutes of fame when December rolled around. You had your shepherds, your angels, and your young maiden kneeling beside the swaddled babe. But after the presents were unwrapped and the nativity brouhaha had quieted down, Mary drifted back into the shadows once more. Why the Catholics made such a big deal about her never made sense to my Baptist mind. Yes, of course, she had a sweet, heart-warming part to play in the Jesus story, but, to me anyway, she was merely a minor character.

My appreciation for Mary’s place in the Gospel story has changed significantly over the years. When I became a Lutheran, I was introduced to the early church fathers, who opened my eyes to see how Mary’s place in the story of salvation was far from a footnote. I delved more deeply into the Scriptures to discover amazing parallels between Eve and Mary. I pondered the Incarnation, the fact that God became man inside Mary’s womb, and grasped more fully that Mary was indeed the mother of God. All of this has led me to understand a bit more about why the Catholics make such a big deal about her. And although I believe my Catholic friends say more of Mary than can be biblically justified, I also believe that many of my Protestant friends say less of Mary than the Bible demands.

Here are four truths about the virgin Mary that I wish would find a prominent place in more Protestant pulpits, songs, and classrooms. Each of them, by telling us more about Mary, actually tell us more about Jesus, and our saving relationship with Him.

1. Mary is the mother of God. The baby who was miraculously conceived in this virgin’s womb is the Son of our heavenly Father. As such, Jesus shares His Father’s nature, even as my human son shares my human nature. Jesus is fully divine; He is not only Lord and Savior but God. Now if Jesus is God, and Mary is the mother of Jesus, then Mary is the mother of God. It’s that profoundly simple. No other woman had been, was, or ever will be God’s mother except this Israelite virgin. If we say less of Mary, then we say less of Jesus, for if we are not willing to confess that she is the mother of God, then we cannot confess Jesus is God. And if Jesus is not God, then His saving work is insufficient to save us, and we are lost. It is therefore the best of news that Mary is God’s mother, because that means we are the Father’s children in Jesus Christ.

2. Mary is the first person to be one flesh with God. John says that the Word became flesh and dwelt among us (John 1:14). The Word, the Son of God, was embodied inside Mary. Everything human about Him derived from His mother. She was literally one flesh with God. Divinity not only dwelt in her, like God did in the temple’s Holy of Holies, but in the deepest part of her being she was united to God. As such, she was the first person to share this most intimate union with the Savior. But—and this is vitally important—she not the last. For we who partake of His body and blood in the Lord’s Supper are united with Him in the most intimate of unions as well. We are bodied and blooded with Him, one flesh with God, even as He became one flesh with us. In Mary, therefore, we see what the Father desires for all of us, and provides for all of us in the Supper of His Son.

3. Mary is the model hearer of the Word. When the archangel Gabriel appears to Mary to tell her she will be the mother of the Messiah, that God Himself will become incarnate in her womb, she responds, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word,” (Luke 1:38). She does not put forth a string of rational arguments against such a preposterous claim. She acknowledges her place as a servant of the Lord. She takes God’s messenger at his word for it is the divine word he utters. She knows that God cannot lie, so anything He promises is true and trustworthy, even if it seems irrational or downright crazy to the human mind. As such, Mary is a model hearer of the word of God, who shows us as Christians how we are to receive the divine message. God speaks, we hear, we believe, we confess with Mary, “I am a servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.”

4. Mary is like a new and better Eve. When our first mother ate of the forbidden fruit, her sin was not one of consumption but of rejection. When the fallen angel twisted God’s words, she believed his lie and so disbelieved divine truth. Her rejection of the word, as well as her husband’s rejection, ushered sin and death into our world. Yet to Eve God gave the promise that her seed would crush the head of the serpent, even as the serpent would strike that seed’s heel (Genesis 3:15). Mary is like a new and better Eve in two ways. First, when the angel spoke God’s words to her, she believed. Her reception of that word was the reception of the Word Himself, who became flesh inside her, thereby initiating His ministry of ushering forgiveness and life into our world. Second, Mary was the “Eve” who bore that promised seed, who crushed the power of our ancient foe, even as the venom of death struck that seed in His crucifixion death. Indeed, if any woman should have the name Eve, it should be Mary, for the Hebrew word for Eve means “mother of life.” And such Mary is, for she gives birth to the Savior who is the way, the truth, and the life for us.

These four reasons for Mary’s importance in the Scriptures could be multiplied. And I encourage you to add your own thoughts (or objections) in the comment section below. If you haven’t given much thought to the Virgin, or thought that was only a Catholic thing to do, or fear that such attention to Mary will distract from Jesus, then I encourage you to reconsider.

To talk about Mary is to talk about Jesus. To give our attention to Mary is to give even greater attention to Jesus. What Mary shows us, again and again, is that the child she bore is the Son of God, who became one with us, dies for us, and rises on our behalf, that in Him we have life in abundance with the Father. The good news about Mary is the Good News of Christ.

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christ alone cover

What we need in our fragmented world, full of hurting people, is the love of Jesus Christ, who InfantPriestfrontcoverwelcomes home sinners with a grace that knows no bounds. My book Christ Alone: Meditations and Sermons, is packed with reflections that go that extra mile of grace. Again and again, they present the Christ who is crucified and risen for you. Please take a moment to check it out here. You may also be interested in my collections of hymns and poetry entitled, The Infant Priest, which you can purchase here. Both books are also available on Amazon, as is my booklet Why Lutherans Sing What They Sing (also on Kindle). Thank you for your prayers and support!

God’s Throne Is Not Unmanned: Why Ascension Thursday Almost Out-sundays Sunday

There are two Thursdays a year which out-Sunday just about every Sunday in the church year. The first is during Holy Week, Maundy Thursday, when our Lord prepared a supper in which He is host and meal. The second is this Thursday, which will be forty days from Easter, the Thursday when Jesus ascended into heaven. What Jesus did and gives on these two days encapsulates His whole life and mission.

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Last Supper

On the Thursday of Holy Week, we meet the Jesus who gives you His everything. He doesn’t merely give you love or life or forgiveness; He gives all, down to the very blood pulsing through His veins and the meat affixed to His bones. “Is not the cup of blessing which we bless a communion in the blood of Christ? Is not the bread which we break a communion in the body of Christ?” (1 Cor 10:16). He gives His everything into your everything. You are welded to the iron of His very existence, bonded whole and inextricably to God. You eat Him. You drink Him. He everythings you.

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Ascension of Jesus

If on Maundy Thursday we meet the Jesus who gives you everything, on Ascension Thursday we meet the Jesus who takes your everything into Himself. He doesn’t go up into heaven alone, nor does He slough off His humanity like a snake his skin. Because He has taken all you are into all He is, and made it everlastingly His own, you ascend with Him. God “raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places, in Christ Jesus,” (Eph 2:6). God’s throne is not unmanned; it is occupied by the man who contains all men within himself. The divine throne is crowded with humanity. One small sitting down for Jesus, one giant uplifting for mankind.

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Adoration of the Lamb

These two Thursdays, Maundy Thursday and the Ascension, merge into a single day every time the church encircles her Lord’s altar. There we physically partake of the God who has physically partaken of our humanity. The altar is a throne, the throne is an altar, where the crucified King enthrones within us His body and blood, even as He has enthroned our body and blood within Himself. We lift our hearts to the Lord who has dropped His heart into our own.

Sundays are great days for the church. But I daresay these two Thursdays deserve to be elevated alongside any Sunday, for in them incarnation, atonement, resurrection, and glorification unite in a single voice to proclaim, “This is who Jesus Christ truly is.”

God Has a Mom

You may not be able to get blood out of a turnip or make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear, but if you’re God, Blessed Virgin Mary, The Helper in Childbirthwell, no sweat. His daily occupation is making something out of nothing. From dead dirt He molds a living man. And from a piece of bone He builds a lovely bride.  Ninety-year-old Sarah giggles when out of her desert womb sprouts a flowering Isaac. Aaron’s staff buds, out of fleece Gideon squeezes a bowlful of dew, and a boulder becomes a drinking fountain at which all Israel may slake their thirst. This is no divine magician pulling a rabbit out of a hat; this is simply God, all in a day’s work, always pulling everything out of nothing by means of His almighty Word.

“When all was still, and it was midnight, that almighty Word descended from the royal throne” to fill a tabernacle of virgin flesh with all the glory of the Godhead (Wisdom 18:14-15). He pulled everything human—body and soul, eyes, ears, and all our members—all this He pulled into God. “Not by conversion of the Godhead into flesh, but by taking the manhood into God,” (Athanasian Creed). Therefore, God sucked His thumb and God dirtied His diaper; God learned His ABC’s and survived puberty; God ate and drank, sneezed and cried, walked and talked, lived and died.

And it all started when out of the nothingness of Mary’s womb, the Word who makes all things, made for Himself a body, human through and through. From the virgin soil of Eden the first man came and from the virgin womb the last man came—came to re-genesis you. If you want something done right, do it yourself; so the Word who created men came Himself to make all men new as the Word-made-man. If it seemed like God was getting awfully close to people when He set up His tent smack-dab in the middle of Israel’s camp, how much closer He came when He shifted the holy of holies beneath the bulging belly of a young maiden from Galilee. Now that’s Emmanuel—God-with-us, God-in-us, God-who-is-one-of-us.

For Mary is greater than Sarah, promised son though Isaac was. Mary is greater than Samson’s mother, savior though he also was. In Mary’s womb and nursing at her breast is the Lord of all. So it had to be, for if Mary had given birth to one who was less than God, then more would have been needed. To put it simply: if Mary is not the mother of God, then God is not our Father. For He must, and He did, become like us in all things, and yet remain like His Father in all things, that in all things He might redeem us by His blood.

Simultaneously virgin and mother—Mary is the icon of the virgin bride of Jesus who bears all her children in the image and likeness of her husband. She was the first to be in communion with the flesh and blood of Jesus. She is the preeminent receiver of the Word from the Father. Higher and more glorious than the cherubim and seraphim, this bearer of the eternal Word gives voice to the praise of all creation as she sings the most heavenly hymn ever uttered by an earthly tongue.

But Mary is not alone, for what she received, of Him you have partaken. The Word became flesh to make your flesh into Word. Into your sin-infested body is placed the body of the Word, the antidote for life, to make you new by union with Him. The Father wraps His Son in the swaddling clothes of bread and lays that bread from heaven within the manger of your mouth. The rock from whence Israel drank is pierced so that a lifeless corpse becomes an ever-flowing chalice that pours into you the liquid of life.

You who deserve nothing good are given everything good and more. For you are given Jesus. The Jesus born of Mary, the Jesus who bore your iniquities, the Jesus who was borne on the clouds to God’s right hand—this Jesus is yours and you are His. You are woven into His divinity through His humanity and this cord of three strands cannot be broken. It is the rope of salvation that binds you to the Father in the unity of the Spirit. Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ for the blessed virgin Mary, because through her womb came the One makes everything out of nothing for you.

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