Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church, Creston & Mt. Ayr, Iowa;
Holy Baptism - Second
What benefits does Baptism give?
It works forgiveness of sins, rescues from death and the devil, and gives eternal salvation to all who believe this, as the words and promises of God declare.
Which are these words and promises of God?
Christ our Lord says in the last chapter of Mark, "Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned." (Mark 16:16)
Advent: a Babe, a Thief and a Font.
Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
It starts with a baby in a manger, and a mother and her husband, and angels and shepherd's. It is God come into the world in human flesh.
"Away in a Manger."
That's what we think about when you think of Advent. Maybe our talking about Holy Baptism in this pre-Christmas season seems a little off. We'd rather focus on the cuddly little baby in swaddling clothes, angels singing, shepherds kneeling at manger side, Mary and Joseph beaming at the birth.
"Angels we have heard on high."
After all that is what Christmas is about; joy and happiness in new life, comfort and joy.
"And little Lord Jesus no crying he makes."
We'd be perfectly happy to sit there in the manger with the strangely quiet newborn.
But the joy of the manger only comes from the knowledge of what the child is come to do. The joy we have at Christmas is in the rescue that God offers in the cradle that goes to the cross. The comfort, the Good News that Jesus is born, is in knowing that this tiny baby is the sin bearer of the world. He comes to bring forgiveness of sins, rescue from death and the devil, and give eternal salvation, to you, through faith and the font.
"God and sinners reconciled."
Without the promises delivered by God's Word and water. There is no comfort and joy in Christmas. Because in the font through faith God applies to you everything that Jesus did, from birth, perfect life, to perfect sacrifice on the cross. These are the benefits the baptism gives. These are the benefits that baptism gives for you! As Martin Luther says, "for where there is forgiveness of sins there is life and salvation."
"Nails, spear shall pierce him through, the cross he bore for me, for you;"
One of the criminals who were hanged railed at him, saying, “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!” But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed justly, for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.” And he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” And he said to him, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.” (Luke 23:39-43, ESV)
Funny then, that when we are considering the benefits of Holy Baptism, the example we give is a thief who on the cross died without it. One thief crucified with our Lord, curses the manger's child, the other begs to be remembered. One cries out in faith. The other rejects God on the cross.
"Of the Father's love begotten."
Faith clings to the newborn King who hangs naked and bleeding and dying on the cross. The thief there with him saw him for who he was. Jesus was present with him in his greatest need. He saw his Savior and the forgiveness that was there on the cross for him. He receives directly from Jesus exactly the benefit that baptism gives.
[Jesus] works forgiveness of sins, rescues from death and the devil, and gives eternal salvation to all who believe this, as the words and promises of God declare.
The thief had no doubt about his sin. It was there with him in the flesh, written in his own just, bloody punishment. And his only hope was hanging unjustly next to him.
"Born to give them second birth."
And your need is great. The babe born in the stable is proof. Your sin pushes you toward your own just death. Sin lives in your flesh and you see it every day. You see it in the family holiday gathering that should be joyful but instead is filled with angst. You see it when you know what you should do for your spouse. You see it when you struggle to crawl out of bed on Sunday morning. You see it when you try to push your own self interest aside for the sake of your neighbor. You see it in the excuses that come into your mind when you are called upon to support your church. And the just punishment for all these is death. Not because your sins are so grievous, but because you are such a grievous sinner. Sin is living in a broken relationship with God. Sin is not loving God with your whole heart, soul, and mind, as God demands. And the family gathering, your struggles to do what is right, your selfishness, and your laziness are the result. Your relationship with God is broken. Your sins cling to your flesh. You need to be washed clean.
"No more let sins and sorrows grow nor thorns infest the ground."
You stand by the font and see the water in it is what you need. When you see dirt on your hands, you look for water to wash them clean. When you see your sin, you look for forgiveness in Jesus and the water in the font. In the font, you see the cross and the one who forgives. He is present next to you there in the Word to satisfy your greatest need.
“Come now, let us reason together, says the Lord: though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool.” (Isaiah 1:18, ESV)
It is a cleansing flood of Word and water. Word: God's promises come true in Jesus Christ. Water: washing your sin from you. All in God's name: "I baptize you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit." All from God for forgiveness, rescue and life.
So we prepare for Christmas joy with repentance. Repentance is faith. Clinging in faith to the babe in the manger and the crucified and risen Lord. Having no doubt about our sin, and no doubt about our Savior.
"Joy to the world the Lord is come!"
The peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.