January 10, 2010: 1st Sunday after Epiphany

Let us pray: Dear Savior, as we bask in the afterglow of Your birth, the warmth of Your goodness and love surrounds us. It helps ease the cold uncertainty of this world. It soothes our wearied and often worried souls. And it makes us realize that we are the most special people on this earth. All this comes as a result of Your love being poured out upon us. Dear Jesus, teach us to always, always, value this gift of Your salvation above all else. Amen

GRACE MERCY AND PEACE ARE YOURS FROM CHRIST, THE GIVER OF GOODNESS AND LOVE!

TEXT: Titus 3: 4-7

Fellow Redeemed Sinners:

Weddings, funerals, sick calls, shut in calls, counseling troubled souls, preaching, teaching various classes, attending meetings, distributing communion, and baptizing—of all this direct work of the ministry I do, baptizing infants is my most favorite. The second most favorite is visiting new parents and getting to know their new infant for the first time. This past Thursday I got to do just that when I first met little Sebastian and Juliet Cordes at Beverly Hospital a few days after their birth.

Being in the presence of a newborn infant is uplifting while also causing you to re-examine what’s really important in life. Funerals do that, too. But they have a different emotional flavor. New born infants, especially after Christmas, should cause all of us to look deeply into our own hearts and marvel at the fact that we’re Christians! We’ve been made that way by the infinite love of the Baby Jesus. We’ve personally been given His love in baptism.

Looking at those two little souls safely tucked away in their incubator made me marvel over their birth and my birth coming from Christian parents. Any of us could have been born to some unchurched, non-believing parents. And usually and unfortunately that would mean that we’d also grow up unbaptized, unchurched, and unbelieving. But, we weren’t and we aren’t. We have a heavenly future. We have God’s force-field of grace surrounding us throughout our lives. All this because God in love brought us into this world with Christian parents to guide, lead, and protect us. He gave us Christian parents to teach us right from wrong and to lead us to His safety. Yes, the Baby Jesus had all this in mind for each of us when He was born, and He carried it out during His life, and even now He is still putting this plan of salvation into daily practice. Little Sebastian and Juliet aren’t merely lucky, no they are eternally blest! And so are each of you. All these thoughts streamed through my mind last Thursday morning at the hospital. They stream through my mind whenever I baptize an infant at church. And it brings a warm glow to my heart.

To be sure, those two little ones don’t really have anything to offer God. They have no wealth, no fame, no acts of kindness towards others, no gifts like the Magi of old. And yet, God has already blest them with loving Christian parents. Even more importantly, He has blest them with the promise of eternal life in Christ.

In a sense, those two little souls are us. We all entered this world in the exact same way. Maybe we were bigger. Maybe we had more hair—although after seeing them I doubt that! Just like them, we were born with nothing to offer God. And yet, God knew that. So He decided in pure love to give us a priceless treasure to offer up to Him. He gave us the kindness and love, the forgiveness for all sins in and through the Baby Jesus. Yes, Jesus is the one gift we can offer God which makes His heart sing for joy. In fact, Jesus gave Himself to us so that we could give Him back to His Father. And this giving of Jesus’ love, of His grace, starts with our baptism and continues on throughout our entire life. This giving of Jesus’ love back to God makes the circle of eternal life complete.

St. Paul lays all this out to young pastor Titus in today’s epistle. Listen again to what he says with new ears: “But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life.”

If you were baptized as an infant you really don’t recall the event, really the most important event in your life. That’s right. Your birth wasn’t the most important event. No, your rebirth was! For as important and hope-filled as births are, eventually they end in death. However, through your rebirth in baptism, death is merely a change of scenery—for the better! I suppose that knowing that fact is what gives me such joy in baptizing little ones. I know that at that moment I’m making an eternal difference in their lives. Christ is using me, like the Wise Men of old, to hand out priceless gifts which will never lose their value.

Of course, after that rebirth is accomplished, the rest of my official duties come into play. Preaching and teaching are vehicles God has given to His people to foster and build upon that baptismal grace. Communion strengthens His hold over us. Absolution cleanses our souls. Providing everything from a Christian example of how to live to an ear that will listen and give Godly advice helps to advance those little souls throughout their lives and enlarge their faith. Yet, it all begins with baptism, doesn’t it?

My friends, value your own baptism. See it for what it really is: your rebirth to eternal life. Take comfort from it. For it means that when God says: “Never will I leave you, never will I forsake you”—He really meant YOU! And when, in a few weeks, Sebastian and Juliet are baptized here at church, see yourselves in them, see their humbleness and complete dependence upon Jesus, and embrace such humbleness and dependence as your own. Because it is! Amen