Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen. This morning we meditate on the Gospel Lesson, previously read. Especially Mary’s words in the Magnificat: “Holy is His Name.
Of all of the things that are said in this passage, you might be wondering why I would pick that to talk about. Here we are. It’s the last Sunday before Christmas. Mary is pregnant with the Lord Jesus in her womb. We’re going to celebrate the birth of this Christ Thursday and Friday. But of all of the things in this passage pertinent to that, I chose those words, “Holy is His Name.” Why?
Well, to be fair, it’s not a super easy answer to give. But I was reading Luke here and in the passage we have for next week, and I was struck by something. You see, I remembered when I preached on Luke a lot a couple of years ago, when it was up in the Three-Year Lectionary. And I remembered how I was constantly fascinated with how much Luke referenced things pertaining to the Old Testament. Now that might not seem that weird on the surface. But you see the understanding is that Matthew and John are the really Jewish Gospels. But Luke is more a Gospel to the gentiles. But yet it seems like Luke is where you see the closest connection of Jesus to the temple—like when He’s left there at age twelve. And you also see Luke making a lot of strong connections to the fulfillment of the Old Testament in Jesus.
So, I had that floating in my memory, then I read these readings for this week and next, and it struck me all over again. Especially as you look at how Luke does treat Jesus and His connection to the temple. But then you have to understand that you can’t separate the temple from the proper understanding of holiness. You see the Temple is about God’s presence with His people, and that presence is about holiness. To be brief about the connection: because of holiness, when God is present, if the person is holy, His presence is life-giving and beneficial and if the person is unholy, the presence is death-dealing and detrimental. With that in mind, I thought it fitting to talk about those two things over the next two Sundays. This Sunday is holiness, and next Sunday is presence. And don’t worry, I’ll make sure to connect that to Christmas.
So then, holiness. “Holy is His Name.” Was ist das? What does this mean? I know this is something I’ve discussed before, but it’s worth bringing up again, because it’s not a category we really think in. We’ll talk about God’s holiness, we talk about God being holy, about holy communion, about the Holy Spirit, about the Holy Christian Church in the Creed. But what is it? Well, I’ve often heard it described as being set apart. Holiness is a state of being separated from ordinary things, especially in view of association with the things of the divine. But of course, that’s circular, isn’t it? God is holy because He’s set apart in His divinity.
But there’s something to that that’s right isn’t it? Because God is the One who is holy—and Scripture tells us He alone is the One who is holy; all other things made holy receive their holiness from Him—because He alone is holy it makes sense that the proper definition of holiness should center around God. It should center around Him and the ways that He is unique.
But before looking at that, what about this aspect of being set apart? You know one of the words that we still use a fair amount associated with holy things is the word sacred. Sacred historically meant about the same as holy. If something was sacred, it was so because of its unique aspects and how it was set apart. For example, marriage is a sacred bond. It’s unique and set apart—and of course instituted by God. That’s why living together outside of marriage even still isn’t a holy bond. Or what else do we speak of as sacred? Well, we speak of things like family or family time as sacred, don’t we? We sometimes make sure we set aside that specific time for family to ensure that we have that interval of time where our bond isn’t interrupted. Or think of how we treat things like sports or concerts, how we treat entertainment in our day? It’s almost sacred, isn’t it? When I was in Washington, there were more than a few people who would stay home from church when the Seahawks had an early game, because those games started at 10:00 A.M. there. That time for the Seahawks was sacred. And sports fits well too, because we even have rituals associated with it, don’t we? We wear special clothes, we sing special songs, we carve out time in our schedule, we have our feasts together. You can see how we treat it as sacred--sadly many treat it as more sacred than the holy things of God. But these give good examples of things that are set apart. They are treated as holy in some sense because of their uniqueness.
However, what really is important about holiness? Is it just that it’s set apart? No. It’s that association with divinity. As I say that, how can we, then, understand this holiness? I would say it’s something where we associate it not so much just with God
as He is powerful and almighty, and the like. Those things come into play with it. But I think it’s more associated with His goodness, with His purity, with His righteousness. As we sort of reflect on God, it seems appropriate that we sort of categorize all of these together. God is good. God is pure, He is righteous. In fact, He is perfectly good. He is perfectly pure. He is perfectly righteous. All of this is what makes His holiness so unique. To taint that perfection, to taint that goodness, to taint that righteousness, that is desecration.
Or as I say all of that, I often like to draw a very close connection between all of those things and God’s nature as love, that God is love. God is perfect love. He is perfect love and perfectly loving. His righteousness is actually grounded in that love, His purity is grounded in the purity of His love. His holiness is that it is Love’s pure light, as we sing this time of year. We can see this in the summary of the Law. To do good is to love God with all of one’s heart, soul, mind, and strength, and to love one’s neighbor as themselves. To not do those things is sin. It is unlove.
In fact, as we’re speaking of this verse “Holy is His Name,” look at the connection Luther makes with this and the Name of God. Think about the catechism and its description of the first petition of the Lord’s Prayer. “Hallowed be Thy Name. What does this mean? God’s Name is certainly holy in itself, but we pray in this petition that it may be kept holy among us also. How is God’s Name kept holy? God’s Name is kept holy when the Word of God is taught in its truth and purity and we as the children of God also lead holy lives according to it.” Thinking about all of this, how God’s Word is taught properly when it teaches about God as holy, good, pure, righteous, and loving. Think about how we who bear God’s Name in our baptism, how it teaches us to live holy, good, pure, righteous, and loving lives. And how it tells us that when we desecrate that Name, we desecrate the holiness of God.
I don’t want to get too far down the path, but that’s something we need to understand. Our holiness comes from God. We don’t make it from ourselves. But our sin does desecrate us. The point being we don’t seek to be moral in order to be holy. We don’t seek to keep God’s commandments that we would be made holy. Instead, we seek to keep them that we wouldn’t desecrate His holiness, wouldn’t profane His Name.
But you see that’s where we see the extent of the depth of God’s holiness. His perfection, His goodness, His purity are so deep that offenses against it are most problematic. When we desecrate His holiness, we make ourselves unholy. Like I said before, that means that we can’t come into His presence with that unholiness, or that will mean death and detriment to us. I always think about the Raiders of the Lost Ark, if you’ve seen that. You know I always joke about the Ark of the Covenant being that Ark, the Ark in the Old Testament temple, but that is what it’s based on. And of course, they Hollywoodized it by making it like the Ark was some kind of magical thing. But the aspect of the faces melting and that sort of thing was drawn from the understanding that if someone came before the presence of God and His holiness at the Ark in a way that was desecrated it would destroy them.
And so how is unholiness made right? By atonement. And hopefully you see where this connects to Christmas. As we look here to the birth of this child, look who He is. Do you remember how Luke described the conception of Jesus? How he wrote of Gabriel’s words? Gabriel came to Mary and told her what was coming, and she said, “How will this be?” And he responded, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy—the Son of God.”
Hopefully, you see the connection. This child, this Son of God, conceived by the Holy Spirit, and so also holy, is that Christ born at Christmas. And as He was born holy, He always lived in that holiness. He never desecrated it. He always did what was good, what was pure, what was righteous. He always loved God with all His heart, soul, mind, and strength. He always loved His neighbor as Himself. And so, He never desecrated God’s holiness. In fact, as He loved His neighbor, He loved even you. He took your unholiness upon Himself. He bore that unholiness in the gruesome death of the cross. He bore that that you would be given His holiness.
And He does give that to you, like I said. You were made holy in the waters of holy baptism. He sustains you in that holiness in His holy Word. He feeds you that holiness with His holy body and blood in His Supper. You are made holy in Him. He fulfills His own Word, which tells you “be holy as I am holy.”
In fact, as we reflect on the whole selection of Mary’s Magnificat here, we see this exchange. We see the exchange of the One who is lowly being exalted. That’s our Christ. He was made low, but now is exalted in His faithfulness. Those who make themselves low in hearing and trusting Him and His Word also will be exalted with Him.
But this all comes back to that holiness. He came into the lowliness of our unholiness, born into it that first Christmas, that He could give us the greatest gift of all: His holiness. Now, you are set apart in Him. You are perfected, made holy, beloved in His sight. In view of that, “My soul magnifies the Lord, my Spirit rejoices in God my Savior, He who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is His Name.” Amen.