06 January 2011
Homily upon the Baptism of our Lord (2011)
Our Lord supplies the answer Himself: “to fulfill all righteousness.” You see, if He didn’t need a blame thing that happened there in the Jordan’s flood that day, WE needed it, desperately needed it all.
Since the moment our first parents disobeyed the words of God, and were ushered out of the garden, with the Cherubim and their flaming swords turning every which way, we’ve been a people in exile from the home that God had planned and intended for us – the joy of living in His presence and delighting in freely receiving His gracious gifts. An exiled people we are one and all, and the longer we live in this world, the more that truth comes home to us. No matter how much we try to settle down here and pretend that this is where the action is, the homesickness grows ever stronger. This world – a wondrous world in so many ways; a damaged and broken world in even more ways – this world itself preaches to us that this is not our final, lasting home. There is another. But we can’t get to it; we can’t make it home on our own. The door is shut to us. And the way is barred with angelic swords.
And even more, it’s not just that we’ve lost a place. We lost the relationship we were meant to have. We’ve lost our Father, at least, we’ve lost His good pleasure in us. For He is holy and He does not and will not ever delight in the sinfulness that we have embraced, that we still embrace, that we clothe ourselves in. It remains eternally under His curse. He cannot look at any human being who clings to sin and defies His word and will, and proclaim that person beloved and His delight. Such can only grieve His heart and provoke His wrath. And that leaves us fearing when we hear Him walking our way in the cool of the day.
And of course, the Holy Spirit cannot and will not and does not make His home in those who live in this rebellious state – this pride and arrogance that dares to set a puny human will against the commandments of the Lord God.
Aye, we needed what Christ received there that day. We needed it desperately, more than we could even dream or imagine. We need to be restored to our true home, to become beloved children who are the delight of their heavenly Father, and to filled with the Holy Spirit – all this is what we were made for. And in our fallen state, it was something not one of us could ever attain.
And so He came. Both into our flesh and then into Baptism’s waters. Pr. Petersen put it so bluntly: Baptism didn’t make Him clean; it made Him dirty. He steps into the water so that everything that is His can be given us in the water, and He does so promising that everything that is ours He will carry. Make no mistake about it, people loved by God: when He stepped into that water, He was embracing His cross and all that attended it. He was proclaiming that He would share our horrid lot fully in order to impart to us an utterly undeserved participation in HIS blessed lot. It was the great switcheroo of God.
Because He took all that is yours upon Himself, He really does reach you all that is His in Baptism. And please note the present tense. I didn’t say: “He reached you.” I said: “He does reach you.” For Baptism though it happens only once in a person’s life doesn’t give its gifts only once. The Word in the Water goes on giving. We don’t repeat it because it’s action never ceases once it has begun! Note how the Small Catechism put that so profoundly:
What benefits does Baptism give? (Present tense) It works (present tense) forgiveness of sins, rescues (present tense) from death and the devil, and gives (present tense) eternal salvation to all who believe (present tense), as the Words and promises of God declare (present tense).
When August Paul is baptized, then, or when are baptized, no matter how long ago it was, it’s not an over and done with deal. It’s a fountain that keeps flowing, a gift that never ceases to give, a promise from God that goes on holding you as His through every moment of your life right up to and even through death itself. You see, baptism isn’t done with you until you’re safe on the other side of death and raised in your body to partake of Christ’s resurrection life. Baptism embraces the whole of you and your life.
That means the gifts that our Lord put for you in the water are always there for you: that open heaven, that delight and joy of the heavenly Father in YOU as His beloved child, the gift of the Holy Spirit. There’s more life there for you in your baptism than you’ll ever be able to use up in an eternity.
And what if you’ve been a prodigal son or daughter? What if you’ve wandered far from the home that Baptism gives and moved into some squalid and filthy places of this world? What if you’ve disdained the gift of the heavenly Father’s favor and love and chosen friendship with this passing world? What if you’ve done like David and by your ongoing intentional and unrepentant sin driven forth the Holy Spirit so that you’re not even sure if you believe anymore? What then?
Oh, people loved by God, if we are faithless, He remains faithful, for He cannot deny Himself. His promise to you in Baptism stands as long as the day of grace stands. As often as you come back to Him in repentance, you will find Him standing with open arms to embrace and enfold you and renew in you once more all that He first promised and delivered when your baptism began and before you abandoned it. Do you see how great is His grace and mercy toward you in this holy washing, this blessed flood, this divine water?
So rejoice in the bright joy of this Feast, people of God! All your sin and death, your Jesus has borne and though He suffered and died, it did not conquer Him; He conquered them, and He lives forevermore. And risen from the dead He commanded the Baptism you have received: in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit! He commands it so that all that is His may most certainly be delivered to you as yours: an open heaven, the Father’s delight and joy in you, and the unspeakably precious gift of the Holy Spirit.
As His fellow baptized, made His sisters and brothers, wrapped in His righteousness, filled with His Spirit, the very delight of His Father, come and taste your inheritance today – the very body and blood of your Jesus, the joy of forgiveness, a participation in His divine and unending life, the pledge of your eternal salvation. It is the way your Lord says to you: "welcome home, fellow-heir!" And to Him with His Father and His all-holy Spirit be the glory now and to the ages of ages. Amen.
Posted by William Weedon at 5:23 PM