06 January 2011

Homily upon the Baptism of our Lord (2011)

The key, of course, is that He didn’t need any of it. St. John the Baptist totally got that and so was utterly befuddled when our Lord presented himself at the water’s edge. It didn’t make sense. Heaven had never been closed to Him, why it was His home! The Father had ever delighted in Him and loved Him as His only Son since long before the ages came to be. The Spirit rested upon Him, indeed, proceeded from Him before ever this world stood. So why is He there? Why does He bid St. John to pour over Him the water? Why does He stand as a sinner when He is the only Sinless One?

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.


Anastasia Theodoridis said...

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.


So there is a boundary on God's Love after all? There is a limit?

And His love is conditional?

He doesn't love sinners? As in, "While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us"?

William Weedon said...

You know better. There is no boundary to His love; but neither is there an acceptance of the sinner's demand that his sin be accepted. It is His love for the sinner that refuses to accept the sinner's demand that his sin be accepted and blessed.

Anastasia Theodoridis said...

That is not the way it comes across, but I'm so relieved to see you say it.

So the sinner is still God's beloved and delight, yes?

His sin, of course, could never be...

Anonymous said...

What's the problem with saying that God abhors all that which is infected with sin?

I respectfully disagree A.T. God hates sin and the one who commits it.

Thanks be to God that He does. If He didn't, our Old Adam would never be defeated, never smashed against the rocks. How then could the new man have life?

...it relates to our condition as "simul justus et peccator:" at once saint and sinner.

God cannot love and always condemns our sin. As we grow in sanctification we see more clearly our damnable, disgusting, filthy condition - we likewise hate it!

NEVERTHELESS, because we are clothed in Christ's righteousness in Baptism, God looks on us in love.

We confess our sins and God, who is faithful and just, forgives us our sin and cleanses us from all unrighteousness.

The Gospel is most beautiful when the Law exposes our sinful reality in all its shame and brokeness.

Don't ya think?

Anastasia Theodoridis said...

Anonymous, I agree that God hates sin and is always working to defeat it. He comes to earth as Man to defeat sin, preaches and teaches and heals to defeat it, dies and rises to dstroy it, descends into hades and then rises into heaven to undo it.

He doesn't approve of what sinners do, and and sinners will always find God, far from blessing their endeavors, actually working at cross-purposes to them.

And one obviously cannot have a good relationship with Him while defying Him and rebelling against him.

That's why God hates sin, because He loves sinners and He hates the sin by which satan is estranging them, His beloved handiwork, from Himself, and destroying them. It is envious satan who hates sinners - and saints, and all humans.

If God hadn't loved sinners, He wouldn't have sent His Christ to save them.

God's love for us knows no bounds; it is infinite and unconditional, even while we are yet sinners.

Anonymous said...

"To fulfill all righteousness"
As I see it, all righteousness is the righteous demand of the Law which is death for the sinner. Baptism/crucifixion, the Incarnation, is Luther's "Happy Exchange." Christ is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. In his/our baptism our sin is taken away and placed upon him. He becomes the only sinner there ever was. We get his righteousness and are declared sons and daughters of the Father.

Anonymous said...

The icon is interesting too. Is the Jordan the tomb? Christ descending/ascending from death?

William Weedon said...

Water/womb/tomb run together, indeed.

As to the conversation between Anon and Anastasia, I'd put it thusly: IN CHRIST God has loved ever last sinner from before the foundation of the world. There is revealed in Christ the Father's heart-felt desire for each and every one to share in His divine bounty and love. Outside of Christ - which is where a sinner puts himself when he clings to his sin - is to remain under the wrath of the Blessed Trinity (see St. Augustine's penetrating insights on the wrath of God abiding on those who refuse faith!).

At the risk of perhaps being silly, it reminds me of the time our dog, Jake, caught a rabbit. I was not about to let him in the house with it. He would not come into the house if he couldn't bring it. And when I tried to take it from him, he snapped at me. Jake is like the sinner who refuses to let go his sin and yet claims that he wants "in" to the life that is in our Lord. The Lord wants everyone of us Jakes in the house - but the whole point of being in the house with Him is that He gives us infinitely more and better than the silly sins we foolishly believe we can't live without and have to drag along with us or we stay outside and sulk.

Anastasia Theodoridis said...

Please claraify what you mean by "in Christ"?

It sounds like you mean God loves everyone who is in Christ, but not those who are outside Christ. Is that what you mean?

William Weedon said...

No, I mean that in Christ there is not a single human being that has not been loved with a love eternal, vast, divine, unimaginable, and wanted and desired and welcomed, and for each and everyone of them (us!) a full and complete salvation has been wrought. "Good news of great joy for ALL people for to YOU is born this day a Savior!" Sadly, if they will not receive the life that is in Christ, if they refuse the summons to the generous feast, then the outer darkness is all that is left.

William Weedon said...

Oh, Anastasia, can you please let me know how Christos is doing. I still have him in my prayers, but I haven't heard in a while.

David Garner said...

Pastor Weedon,

I rather like the Jake analogy, (probably because I've always viewed it that way as well). My analogy is usually wayward children. They can run away, do things I don't approve of, etc., but they are still my children. That they absent themselves from the protection and benefit of my house may be on them, but it does not diminish my love for them, nor for that matter the protection of the house (which protection they have by their own actions placed themselves outside, but which remains for them nonetheless, even though they reject it entirely).

I initially shared Anastasia's concern with the "in Christ, love/apart from Christ, wrath" sentence because it seemed to say that which Anastasia articulated in her question to you. This is why the house analogy works so well for me -- it makes clear that God loves us always, and yet it also makes clear that outside God's house (or protection, or shelter, or however we term it) there is only danger and destruction. In this way, the analogy neither diminishes God's love nor leaves one feeling safe outside God's means.

Then again, there is no perfect analogy.

Anastasia Theodoridis said...

But even when Jake wasn't allowed in the house, you still loved him, right? Even when we discipline our children, we still love them, do we not?

So are we or are we not all agreed God loves every single person, inside or outside of His household?

Bill, you seem to want to put a qualification on it: "in Christ" and I'm still struggling to figure out what that means. It can't mean Christ loves us all but the Father only does because Christ does. Or do you mean through Christ the Father loves us? Or do you mean the Father loves us only because of Christ?


William Weedon said...

Oh, dear. I'm not sure I know how to say it any differently. I am saying that the Father has loved us everyone in His Son, and the gift of the Son into the flesh is the indisputable sign of that love. The gift of Christ is for all, and the Father gives this gift. The Father gives this gift so that we may not perish under divine wrath (which, according to St. John, is where we are apart from Christ and where any remain who refuse the love that is freely offered them in the Crucified and Risen Lord). But the love that the Crucified and Risen Lord offers us IS His Father's love. Hence, "in Him." It's so huge throughout St. Paul's epistles. I'm thinking particularly right now of Ephesians. We were by nature children of wrath, as the rest of mankind, but God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ - by grace we have been saved - and raised us up with Him and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages He might show the immeasurable riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.

Becky said...

Not to change the subject or anything, but how great a name is Anastasia Theodoridis?!! My great-grandmother's name was Cordelia Rebecca, and my mother wanted to name me Cordelia. Dad decided on Rebecca instead. I'm not complaing, but Cordelia is much more interesting.

William Weedon said...

Great name for a great lady!

Anastasia Theodoridis said...

Thanks, Becky! I think Rebecca is also wonderful and almost named my daughter that. Cordelia is great, too.

William, let's not give up yet on clarity. Your capitalized IN CHRIST must be meant to emphasize something and eliminate or restrict or contrast with something else...so let me keep trying a bit before we give up.

Perhaps you mean Christ has already given God's love to everyone; however, it can only be received in receiving Christ? So in that sense, those outside Christ could be said to be without God's love. Is that it?

But it wouldn't be because God ceases to love them, surely? It would be because they are still rebelling against that love, yes? We don't want to say divine wrath is anything that excludes divine love or is some alternative to it, or forms some boundary upon it, do we?

William Weedon said...

Of course, the emphasis on IN CHRIST, for all the gifts and love are given in and through Him.

And yes, God has loved everyone of us in Him and yes that love is received only in receiving Him as the gift of that love.

If you are asking if God loves the people that end up refusing His love all the way to hell itself, then my answer can only be: of course!

There's not a single human being excluded from the love reached us in Christ; not a single one for whom a full and sufficient ransom has not been provided; not a single one whom God the Holy Spirit is not actively and joyfully calling to faith. And all precisely because God desires that all be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth.

But none of that negates the terrible reality of His wrath, which Scripture also reveals to us, and which we dare anthropomorphize away without risking doing the same to His love.

His wrath is a reality, and a terrifying one that none of us ever want to experience; that all of us would be bound to experience apart from Christ; and that our Lord Himself came into the flesh to provide us deliverance from. And He did so because the Blessed Trinity loves us - us who by nature lie under the divine wrath due to our corrupted nature and our continual holding onto sin.

Anastasia Theodoridis said...

Not interested in negating the wrath. My concern here is that neither it nor anything else negate the all-encompassing, eternal love and mercy. (Agreeing that it will avail us nothing, have no practical effect other than to torment us, if we keep rejecting it to the end.)

Sounds like we may be in agreement. God never, ever hates anybody whomsoever at any time.

Anastasia Theodoridis said...

P.S. And He already has proclaimed every human being beloved.