Tuesday, January 27, 2015
Choking in the crunch. . .
It was the biggest moment of his life, indeed, John's whole life came down to this one, big moment. . . Jesus was there and waiting but John folded in the crunch. He hesitated. Overcome by it all he focuses on himself instead of Jesus. "Not now. . . not me. . ." But Jesus refused to be put off. He prodded John on. "It must be done for all righteousness."
So John baptized Jesus, the heavens opened, the Spirit descended, and the voice proclaimed, "You are my Son in whom I am well pleased..." Baptism is also our big moment. Jesus is there in the water. He is ready. Are we? He is focused on us and our redemption. Who are we focused on?
John's big moment was not about him at all – it was not about his worthiness or his willingness. It was about Jesus, about His worthiness and His willingness to take up the destiny of the cross for which He was born. Everything begins some where and Jesus' entrance to the cross begins with His entrance into the water. He has come not for Himself – He has no sins to confess and needs no repentance. He has come for us, to carry the full weight of our sins, to pay the full cost of their price, and to do so even if the only way was through the suffering and death of the cross.
Look into the baptismal water and you see the cross. Jesus' baptism shapes our understanding of Him and His mission and it shapes us and our redemption. It is not a small moment but of pivotal importance as Jesus first public act to save us happens in His baptism in the Jordan and our first public act as the saved flows from our baptism into Christ.
For just as His baptism was His public entrance into the cross shaped life, so is our baptism our public entrance into the cross shaped life. St. Paul put it bluntly. Do you not know that you were baptized into Christ's death and raised through His resurrection? In order to focus on ourselves, we must focus on Him. Before we can bring anything to Jesus, He brings us to the place where His redemption is given. Before we can claim anything for ourselves, He claims us for Himself in baptism.
We act as if baptism sets us free to be ourselves but it is just the opposite. In baptism we are free to be Christ's own and to live under Him in His kingdom – as Luther put it in the catechism. We are not for the display of our own righteousness but for the display of Christ's righteousness. We are set free not to live our version of a good or happy life but to live as Christ's own, indeed, as little Christs in the world. We are transformed from the lost into the found, from the guilty to the righteous, from the slave to the son, from the dead to the eternally alive.
John choked at his big moment. Don't we also? We forget to keep our eyes upon Christ and look at ourselves with but one result – fear. We hesitate at the altar when the full weight of marriage falls on us. . . we hesitate at the hospital when our child is first laid into our arms. We hesitate at all those big moments in our lives because we see ourselves instead of Christ. When we are fixed on ourselves, fear seizes us. Yet in those fears, Christ is still there. We are not our own nor are we on our own. We have been bought with a price. He has and still fulfills all righteousness for us.
Christ leads us from the font to live out the new life born in us there. From the font we gain the new vocation as the children of God. He who entered into the dirty stream of our sin and who embrace the full shame of our fallen humanity, now raises us up clean, to live new lives of obedience and faith, doing the good works of Him who has called us from darkness into His marvelous light. This is not some theoretical idea but the true shape of real life.
You are My beloved sons and daughters. . . Live not for yourself but for Me... You are not alone... You have been bought with a price... You do not belong to yourself but to Me... Go and sin no more... this is what the voice of God speaks into our ears as we go down into the baptismal water and rise up new. God did not give your life back to you, He has claimed it for Himself.
So husbands, live this new life by serving your wives and children as Christ has served us. . . And wives live this life by serving your husband and children by putting them ahead of yourself. . . Parents live this life by serving the children God has entrusted to their care and children live this life by honoring their parents as God's agents. . . And all of us live this life by serving God through serving our neighbor and seeing in our neighbor the very face of Christ who saved us.
God does not love us for what we can do for Him – Thanks be to God! He loves us to redeem us from the prison of self, to save us from the impossible burden of living holy enough to satisfy His Law, and to impart to us a new life rich with the possibility of living as His own people. He has given us this new life so that He might accomplish in us the full measure of His promise for a new and everlasting life. This is what we meet in baptism. We meet Christ. And we live this new baptismal life by keeping our focus off ourselves and always on Christ. Amen.