Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Sermon for January 8-9, 2011

The Baptism of Our Lord
Matthew 3:13-17
January 8-9, 2011

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

John the Baptist was called to baptize Jesus. That was it. That was his main purpose and duty in life. The other baptisms, the fiery sermons, the strange clothing and prophetic life were all passive to and even the consequences of this great duty: the anointing of the anointed one.

We see something of John’s fear, something of the curse of Eve that was upon him. For John’s desire was his falling. His desire was to be lord. All the sons of Eve fall under authority. It is the inheritance of sin, the ancient discontent that has cursed our race and marks us as fallen men. It drives us from the gifts of God to seek pleasure in evil and honor among liars. It is covetousness.

When John comes to the conclusion not only of his career but of time itself, he hesitates. “I need to be baptized by you.” He says. He means: “This isn’t quite right. I am only a man. How can I do such a thing? How can I, with my dirty thoughts, my secret laziness, my pride, how can I anoint the anointed One? Isaiah fell on his face and was afraid in the Temple. You have said no man can see the face of God and live. Yet, am I to place my hands on God and put Him in His place? Am I to mark the Lamb for slaughter, to ordain Him as the priestly victim when I know full well there will be no angel to stop the knife? This is too much for a mere man. He should just do it Himself.”

“Let it be so now,” says the Lord. “For it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” And by that Word from the Word made flesh John was given the strength to do what needed to be done. Jesus was plunged into the flowing sewage of our sins, was counted as guilty, stricken by God, driven from there into the wilderness to face the adversary with our sins strapped to His back, without angelic defenders, without food or water. The full force of God’s own just wrath will come upon Him that Barrabas the murderer would go free. And so is all righteousness fulfilled. And God keeps His Word and promise. He spares sinners, saves the world, by forsaking His own Son. He gives John a part of this. He says “it is fitting for US to fulfill all righteousness.”

It is easy to sympathize with John. For we are also the sons and daughters of Eve. We know what it is to buckle under our duties. We don’t want to do the hard work of parenting, of changing diapers and saying “no,” of enforcing order and discipline. We want to be popular, friends with our children, and wish they would learn to be a man or a woman from someone else. It takes too much time to talk to them. It is easier to buy them off, to give them candy or games, to amuse them enough to leave us alone. For it is more fun to talk to our friends or watch TV or likewise amuse ourselves. The same goes for husbands and wives. We just don’t want to do the work. If we want our children to be our friends, to entertain us and make us feel good about ourselves, we want our spouses to be our admirers and lovers, but we do not want to serve. We do not want to wash the dishes, rub the feet, listen to the stories about the hairdresser’s children, or whatever else it is that is needed of us. It is not merely the rich and powerful who use wives as trophies. Vocations are not defined by privilege, but by duty.

Now no one can knows John’s hesitation better than those who have been called into the Office of the Holy Ministry. The man who serves in this office without fear is the man who serves without faith. For to handle the holy things of God, not merely His Body and His Blood which so terrified our forefathers in the middle ages, but to dare to handle, to proclaim, to teach His Word, is to risk one’s very soul. The temptations are great, and great men of great character and learning have fallen prey to seductions of every kind. The road to Hell is paved with the skulls of priests. Those who aspire to such office: beware. Be on guard. Take care of your wife. Teach the Truth as though your life depended upon its purity, for it does. Such fear can easily paralyze mortal men. The only antidote is the Word of God. “Let it be so now; for it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.”

John did not make Jesus the Messiah. He was simply the instrument by which God in the Flesh was anointed for His work. Anyone could have done what John did. It wasn’t an mysterious or technical art, it didn’t require a lot training or experience, but God called John for it, to it, in order to fulfill all righteousness. It was John’s purpose. We’ll probably never know why Jesus didn’t just do it Himself. What we do know is that God gives us a share in His kingdom. It was fitting for Jesus and John to fulfill all righteousness. It is fitting for you, too, to cooperate with God in good works, in your vocations. God calls us to His kingdom, to rule alongside of Him, and He uses you for good in an evil world.

Children are a good example of this. The children that are born to us are not ours. They are His. He is their true Father. They are entrusted to us, and through us God provides for them. He could have given them to anyone, but He gave them to us. We are the perfect match, the exactly right mother for that child, and that child for us. We would be fools if we did feel inadequate for the task, but God provides. He says “Let it be so now. I know what I am doing.”

We can say the same of husbands and wives, of governments and citizens, of congregations and pastors. These vocations are all defined by duty. But fulfillment of them brings great joy and contentment. For nothing satisfies like being the person God has called you to be. It is what Paul spoke of when he said he had learned to be content. It is what the Stoics skated around and got so close to. It is wise enough to have become bad poetry in the form of clichés: “Bloom where you are planted.” or “Let go and let God.” Those sayings, though trite, are wise and true. What God gives is the opposite of that ancient discontentment passed on by Mother Eve. And what mother amongst us has not felt true contentment as her child read aloud or she watched her child help a younger sibling? What father did not feel at peace with all the world simply because he let go of the bike and the child rode down the road on his own? These duties are too great for us. We are inadequate. But God has called us to them. God will bless us in them, and in them God gives our greatest and best joys.

And of all the vocations, all the things to which God has called you, the first is Baptism. Before you are anything else you are Baptized. You belong to God. His Name is upon you. He has taken you to the Jordan river and joined you to Himself. He has buried you in His death and raised you to life in His resurrection. You have been anointed. You will bear a cross, but you have also been cleansed. This vocation is also defined by duty. But as with all godly vocations, like unto being a mother or a husband or a pastor, its validity is not determined by obedience or faithfulness, but by the call. John was not worthy in himself to baptize Jesus. But Jesus fulfilled John’s righteousness. He made it full. Where John was lacking, Jesus provided. Where John was failing, Jesus forgave. He declared John worthy, fully righteous, and then gave him a good work to do. That is how you live in your vocations, even in Baptism. God provides what you need. He fills your righteousness. You are baptized. That is a historical, indisputable reality. You belong to God and He is well-pleased with you. He will speak in His Word. He will show you the way. He will make you content.

In + Jesus’ Name. Amen.

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