Sunday, January 04, 2009

Sermon: Christmas 2 and Baptism of Madeline Bates

4 January 2009 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA

Text: Luke 2:22-40

In the name of + Jesus. Amen.

This is the time of year when new replaces old, and endings become beginnings.

We don’t see the imagery as much as we used to, but the spectacle of the new year is often illustrated symbolically by the juxtaposition of a hunched over old man, representing last year, and a diapered baby, representing the coming year.

And since we Christians (and yes, even the whole world) mark time in relation to our Lord Jesus Christ, there is something profound to the notion that the yielding of the Old Covenant, the Old testament, to be fulfilled by the genesis of the New, would be marked by a baby in swaddling cloths.

Having once more celebrated the birth of God in the flesh, the world has yet again added another year to our universal calendar, 2009 A.D., Anno Domini, which in the Latin of the Empire that governed the holy land during the birth, ministry, death, and resurrection of our Blessed Lord, means “in the year of our Lord.” Jesus Christ is the world’s Lord, the Lamb of God that “takest away the sin of the world.” And what the world calls New Year’s Day, the Christian Church throughout the world celebrates as the Eighth Day of Christmas, the day after the Seven Days of Creation, the first day of a new era. The Eighth Day is the Old Testament’s appointed time, according to the Law of the Old Covenant, to circumcise male children, marking them in their flesh as parties to the Old Covenant. Our Lord Jesus, even as an eight-day old infant, is not merely an ordinary party of the covenant, but the guarantor – for it would be His blood that would be spilled – not only in circumcision, but at the cross – blood shed for you, for the forgiveness of sins.

And our Lord, as the holy firstborn, is declared by the Law of Moses itself to be “holy to the Lord.” And this fulfillment of the Old Covenant ushers in the New Covenant. “The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.”

And with the world, we celebrate another new beginning. But against the grain of the world, we, the Church, join St. Simeon in gazing upon the flesh and blood of Christ Himself and singing: “Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace.”

For the Old Covenant finds its fulfillment in Christ, as the Old Passover becomes the eternally New Eucharist, as the eyes of Israel looked forward to the coming Messiah, the eyes of the Church are always fixed on the same Messiah who has come, who comes, and who will come again.

The Old Covenant, and the passing of the baton to the New Covenant, the New Testament, the blood of which flows not only in our chalice but in the veins of our dear Lord, is shown so clearly in the persons of Sts. Simeon and Anna.

Both are elderly children of Israel. Simeon is a prophet bearing a promise, a priestly and holy man who was told he would “not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ.” Like his ancestor Abraham, the elderly Simeon clung to the promise, knowing that each passing year brought him closer to the grave, but also knowing that each year brought him closer to the Promise. And at last, while “in the Spirit” in the temple, Simeon held the very Promise, which he calls “salvation”, in his arms. He is now ready to “depart in peace” – not in fear, not in doubt, not in distress, but in “peace.” For our Lord and the baby in his arms is the very Prince of Peace.

After this momentous encounter with Simeon, Mary and Joseph behold yet another personification of the fulfillment of the Old Covenant, in the form of Anna. She too was elderly, a daughter of Israel, a holy prophetess and a godly widow who “did not depart from the temple.” And that temple was being moved – from the magnificent stone edifice of the Old Covenant to the fleshly temple of the New Testament of the infant Lord.

“Behold, I make all things new,” would that little Child, the one more ancient than the world itself, later prophecy Himself – the same One who would tell the world that to enter His kingdom, one must become as a little child.

And as the Church has done on our Lord’s orders since the day of His ascension, we have been receiving men, women, and yes even little children, into the Lord’s kingdom by baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Our dear little sister in Christ, Madeline Bates, has just been received into the Kingdom, made an heir of the Covenant that our Lord fulfilled and of the Testament that our Lord bears in His body and blood, by His Word, and according to His promise.

For Madeline’s eyes too have seen salvation “that [God] has prepared in the presence of all peoples.” Even as members of the body of Christ are born, live, and die – some after long lives like our beloved brother Simeon and sister Anna, some in their infancy – we are all claimed as His own through baptism and made heirs of the Kingdom by His Word and promise.

To Madeline, this date, January 4, 2009, is the greatest day of her life. It is superior even to the date of her physical birth – as great and wonderful as the birth of a child is, especially for mothers and fathers who witness anew the Lord’s creation miracle. This date is greater even than her wedding day will be – even as marriage is a miraculous fusing of two into one flesh – for today, Madeline joined the Church and became a member of the Bride of Christ. And today is even a greater day than the day Madeline will herself enter the glories of heaven – as joyful as that date will be for her (and of course, as we hope and pray that will happen when Madeline has lived a full and long life of promise in God’s Kingdom, like Simeon and Anna). For this day, by water and the Word, Madeline truly entered heaven, dying to the sinful flesh, being crucified with Christ, and rising to newness of life according to the Lord’s promise and pledge.

Dear brothers and sisters, even as we join Simeon’s song of praise of the baby Jesus nearly every Sunday together, as a Church, having just seen the Lord with the eyes of faith (even as our eyes see bread and wine), having just communed with the One who fulfills the ancient Covenant, the One who pledges new and eternal life to us guaranteed by the collateral of His blood – we too can pray with thanks to our Lord any time that we are ready to “depart in peace” according to His Word.

For what is that Word, dear friends? That Word is that you have been forgiven. That Word is that baptismal water bears with it the promise of Christ Himself unto eternal life. That Word is that we, the Church, live in communion with the Christ Child, that we have the privilege to do and see every Sunday what Simeon and Anna waited for decades to do and see, that every Sunday we are able to hear the fulfilled promises that generations of Israelites could only hope and wait for through the passing of centuries and centuries.

The Lord Jesus, born of the Virgin Mary, true God and true Man, brings you good news. He has come to swaddle you in the love of the Father. He has come to lay you in the manger of His grace. He has come to feed you with Manna from heaven. He has come to lead you by water through the perils of a sinful world in the ark of the Church. He has come to keep you in the one true faith year after year, decade after decade, until each one of us is ready to “depart in peace.”

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

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