The Lord God does not leave Himself without a witness. Every breath and every blink happens under God’s gracious providence. Without God working among His creation, without His goodness among us, no one could earn a living. No wonder Saint Paul quotes the pagan poet Epimenides of Crete in Acts chapter 17 when he says in him we live and move and have our being.
God does all these things in order that people should seek Him, whether or not they would like to feel Him and find Him. Even when someone isn’t on a quest for God, they are looking for something or someone to be a touchstone of sorts in their life. Yet the one true God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, is known by more than His works of conserving and providing for His creation. That is why God comes to us in a different way in order that we rightly know Him and enjoy Him now and forever.
Holy Scripture calls this different way of God working in creation a “visitation of grace”. Not recognizing God’s visitation of grace, His working among people in the gifts of the Christian Church, is the worst thing that can happen to a person. If it’s a sad occasion for an individual, you see today how sad it is for the people of Jerusalem and indeed many of the Jewish people. Jesus weeps over Jerusalem and her inhabitants in today’s Gospel because they did not recognize their time of visitation.
We also do not recognize Christ’s time of visitation among us. We take for granted that the God Who reconciled the entire world in His only-begotten Son, Jesus Christ, comes among us to call us by the Gospel, enlighten us with His gifts, make us holy and keep us steadfast in the Christian Church. He leaves nothing undone when it comes to eternal peace.
If Joe Maddon, Robin Ventura, or even Pope Francis rang your doorbell, regardless of your favorite baseball team or your church affiliation, you would consider it a great moment in your life. If an angel or an archangel dropped into Divine Service right now, we’d consider it an even greater honor. But right now the King of Kings, the Lord of Hosts Who comes in peace among His people is here. He comes not in anger or in zeal to destroy us as we deserve, but full of love and kindness in order to make us eternally rich. People pay big bucks to attend conventions to see all sorts of famous people. The God Who saves you by His grace is right here, right now, for free, yet His presence among us both in and out of Divine Service is not a big deal.
Recall that this same God Who saves you also pursues sinful dust in heartfelt compassion. His pursuing you is not a one-time thing that happened in some sort of conversion experience. He daily pursues you, for He is merciful and loves His whole creation. That’s exuberant grace. That’s almost impossible to believe outside the testimony of Holy Scripture. Yet it is also true for you have seen Jesus time and again feed you and care for you, using humble earthly things to bring forgiveness and eternal life right before your eyes.
God’s gracious visitation was enjoyed by His chosen race, the Jews. The Dayspring from on high visits His people, as Zechariah sings after his son John the Baptist is born. He walked in their midst for three years, teaching and caring for them. Even in the hours before His arrest, trial, and crucifixion Jesus cries over Jerusalem, wishing she would see the things that make for her peace.
God’s gracious visitation is still among us here in this country. Very few places in the world have seen such blessings as our country. This is not because God loves us more than any country. It is because God’s guiding hand rests over us as it rests over every nation, even those nations where His Name is despised.
God’s gracious visitation is also a personal visitation. From the day of your baptism He has not ceased to pursue you, calling you to repentance and forgiveness every day. He pursues you to keep you close to His visitation in Word, water, bread, and wine. Many see it as God waiting to jump on them and punish them for something that has been done in the past. No, God’s visitation is Him pursuing you to love and care for you. The prophet Isaiah says, Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and he who has no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price. Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy? Listen diligently to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food.
There comes a time when this gracious visitation comes to an end. Scripture and the history of the Christian Church show the many times God’s people ignored Christ’s visitation among them. Jerusalem was destroyed. 1.1 million Jews died on that day in 70 A.D. The once flourishing churches in Asia Minor, many of whom visited by Saint Paul and other apostles, are now a thing of the past. The years after the Reformation show how fast Luther’s rediscovery of the Gospel was spoiled. You need not look any farther than the Czech Republic and other European countries that have all but turned their backs on the Gospel.
Martin Luther called God’s Word and grace a “passing rain shower that does not return where it has once been.” When the rain of the Gospel stops falling, it is God’s judgment at work. He has tried everything to lead sinners to eternal salvation, but people refuse to recognize it. They think eternal life is some sort of scam. God then comes in wrath, takes the Word of grace from them, knocks over the candlestick of the Gospel that lightens the dark places, and lets spiritual darkness take over. The end of God’s visitation of grace is the beginning of God’s judgment.
Don’t think this is something new in our country. God’s visitation among us has been slipping away for many years. Yet He hasn’t given up on us. Still the call goes out to repent and believe the Gospel. Still the call goes out to receive Christ’s gracious forgiveness won in the shedding of His blood. Still the light shines in a dark place, even when many see that light as the venom of hate. Beloved, the light is among you for a little while longer. Walk while you have the light, lest darkness overtake you. Pick up the harps laid down by Babylon’s water streams. Sing to the Lord the joy of the new song who is Jesus Christ. Welcome Him anew as He stands in our midst to put His peace and joy in your life.