Video of Evening Prayer here.
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
It’s always good to be reminded that Christ’s life and work are not simply things that happened in the past. The Church Year is not simply for hearing and thinking about things that happened a long time ago. If Christianity is true, then it means that what Christ did is what Christ does. His salvation that was fully accomplished there and then, with nothing for us to add to it, is what He delivers to us here and now. So often we make at least a mental distinction between Christ’s life and our life; between what is recorded in the Scriptures, and what we see and know. And then we make faith into the bridge between back then and right now. Our own believing has to reach back into history and connect Christ’s actions to our lives.
Thank God that’s not the truth. Jesus’ actions are not over and done with. He is not stuck in history—or in heaven, for that matter. It’s not up to us to figure out how to get His work back then into our lives now. Thank God He is still at work, still doing what He’s always done, still delivering to sinners His salvation by His means. It’s not our faith that bridges the gap between Jesus’ past, historical actions and our lives. It is Jesus Himself. How would you get to the cross or to the empty grave? How would you apply it to yourself? There is no time machine that can do that.
Blessedly, we don’t have to figure out how it might work, since Jesus has told us. And those words of Jesus, where He tells us how He has bridged the gap in time between what He did 2,000 years ago and our lives now—those words are going to be the focus of consideration and meditation these three Wednesdays in Advent.
First of all, He bridges the gap between His death and resurrection and our lives by taking us back to the cross and empty grave, not by some sort of time machine, but by the baptism He graciously gives. Paul is not speaking metaphorically in Romans 6 when He speaks of what God does in Holy Baptism. Don’t you know, he says, that when you’re baptized into Christ Jesus (by the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit) that you are baptized into His death? He doesn’t say that the main thing is going under the water and coming up again because that’s a symbol of death and resurrection (although it is). He says that you are actually, really, truly buried with Christ into death. Of course, you can’t be buried with Christ in His death and stay in the tomb, because Jesus didn’t stay in the tomb. His death means His resurrection, since you can’t have one without the other. Christ has been raised from the dead, never to die again. So we understand that we are, in Christ, already dead to sin and already alive to God in Christ Jesus.
And this is the beginning of our life in Christ, being born from above by water and the Spirit. Even if we hear the word prior to our baptism, there is a reason why those who begin to believe are instructed toward baptism. It is because baptism is something that is outside you. Jesus wants you to have a certainty about your salvation that doesn’t depend on you in any way. So He uses water, and words, and a pastor’s hands to apply it to you. Your faith doesn’t have to bridge the gap between Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. He does it Himself by His own Word and Promise. Water, in itself, can’t do this. Human believing, in itself, can’t do this. But God’s Word, attached to water, and given to faith to believe, certainly can and does do this. This is the Word of the Jesus who was dead, but who is alive forever. This is the Word of the God who spoke everything into existence and still sustains it by His life-giving Word. This is the Word made flesh in the womb of the Virgin, given to you in a concrete, physical way.
And from the moment that the water with the word is given to a sinner and makes a new creation, you live in Christ as a new creation yourself. Now the old, sinful life is dead and dying. Now your life is kept safe in Christ. He is your life, and when He appears, then both your baptized body and your believing soul will live as the person God always His human creatures to be.
For now, we walk by faith, marked by the Name of God and the sign of Christ’s cross. In this life, begun once in baptism and continuing ever after, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit sustain us and preserve faith by their own chosen, divine means. But Advent teaches us that faith will come to an end, and sight will begin. We will see the Jesus into whom we were baptized. We will see the resurrection. And we will see the work and promise of God brought to its fulfillment and completion, as our baptism is completed in the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting.
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7, ESV). Amen.
– Pr. Timothy Winterstein, 12/5/17