Advent 4 C

Some interesting hits in the confessions this week reflecting on our relationship with God and how we know God is at work. Seems appropriate for a time of remembering the story of the Visitation. 

Hebrews 10:5-10

Verses 5 thru 16 are cited en bloc in an editor's footnote to Melanchthon's call out of "the Letter of Hebrews" in the Apology of the Augsburg Confession, Article 24: The Mass (AP 24.20 n. 500).

And it is by God’s will that we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.
— Hebrews 10:10

Verse 10 in particular is quoted in the same area with an insert calling out the citation verse (AP 24.22). Melanchthon's argument in this part of AP 24 is about types of sacrifice.

Now there are two, and no more than two, basic kinds of sacrifice. One is the atoning sacrifice, that is, a work of satisfaction for guilt and punishment that reconciles God, conciliates the wrath of God, or merits the forgiveness of sins for others. The other kind is the eucharistic sacrifice. It does not merit the forgiveness of sins or reconciliation but is rendered by those who have already been reconciled as a way for us to give thanks or express gratitude for having received forgiveness of sins and other benefits.
— Apology of the Augsburg Confession,
Article 24: The Mass, Line 19

This argument with the citations for Hebrews and elsewhere explain a significant difference between the reformers' understanding of the eucharist and the Catholic understanding in their time. Jesus's sacrifice is the atoning sacrifice so that we who are reconciled to God thereby might offer our sacrifice of thanksgiving for God's action.

Luke 1:39-45[46-55]

Verses 41 thru 44 are cited in an editor's footnote as part of a long string of biblical passages that Luther runs through in the Smalcald Articles, Part 3, Article 8: Concerning Confession (SA 3.8.12 n. 154) for his argument against unmediated activity of the Spirit.

Technical terminology reminders! 

Luther was writing against "enthusiasm" and the "enthusiasts" in this section while arguing for the mediation of God's activity.  Enthusiasm is a claim of direct revelation of God's Spirit without need for the scriptures or connection to the practices of the Church (depending on the practice), which Luther is set against. Mediation is the idea that God's Word comes to us through some thing or some person so that the Spirit moves in proclamation and formation, not independent of what God has already done.

"In short: enthusiasm clings to Adam and his children from the beginning to the end of the world--fed and spread among them as poison by the old dragon. It is the source, power, and might of all the heresies... Therefore we should and must insist that God does not want to deal with us human beings, except by means of his external Word and sacrament. Everything that boasts of being from the Spirit apart from such a Word and sacrament is of the devil" (SA 3.8.9-10). 

This might sound a bit much, but Luther's focus is on supposedly direct revelation from the Spirit that is individually received and against the Word, which comes to us from outside of ourselves. The verses cited here, along with many others, point to this necessity--the external Word, or the Word proclaimed, leads to Spirit-led action. John leaped in Elizabeth's womb because Mary, the bearer of the Word, spoke. This is no small issue for Luther, but goes beyond the scope of this project. If you want to learn more, check out SA 3.8.


The simple proclamation of God's grace as response to our sin is not some made up ideology in response to psychic trauma we could simply lay aside with a different thought. If it is, then it is not the Gospel. The Gospel comes to us through Word and sacraments empowering us to give thanks for God's work in Jesus, the Word made flesh, and how this same Word before it became flesh called together a people who raised up a daughter who was open to the proclamation of her bearing God into the world.

  • How do we raise up the importance of God's reconciling activity in Jesus so that the Spirit might draw us into thanksgiving?

  • Are we preachers asking the congregation to trust us or to trust the Word? How do we make this clear?

  • How do we, like John the Baptist, respond to and proclaim God at work in Word and sacraments and then get out of the way so that others might offer their own sacrifice of thanksgiving?