To begin with, God created the heavens and the earth by His Word and Holy Spirit — out of nothing — out of love. He started with the waters of a great cosmic deep (brought into existence by His will), and over those waters His Spirit hovered and His voice sounded, bringing forth all things in good order. He spoke, and it was so: “Let there be,” and there was! And it was all good. Divine Love brought forth Light and Life.
The Lord crowned His good work of creation with Man, made in His own Image and Likeness — male and female He made them, the man and his wife, as living icons of Christ and His Bride, the Church (from the beginning, it was always about Christ Jesus and His people).
Created in love, for the sake of love and friendship — with God and with each other — the man and the woman were permitted the freedom to fall; and all of creation fell with them.
Disregarding and disobeying His Word, fleeing His Voice and His Spirit, man fell (and fled) back into the formless void and deep darkness of existence apart from the Word and Spirit of God.
From the lush and fertile Garden into a tough and barren wilderness they went. Everything became hostile and hard. The ground from which the man was taken doesn’t cough up food easily or for nothing, but only with hard work and bloody sweat. The water without the Word and Spirit of God is not just simple water only, but a dark and dangerous deep, a chaotic abyss. Then again, life without water is no better, but deadly; for that is to wander in the desert, in the waterless places to which the demons flee in fear.
That is where you find yourself — or, rather, that is where you are lost — except the Lord Himself come and enter in, to find you and to save you, to bring you back to life.
Apart from His Advent and Epiphany — His coming and appearing — you exist, to be sure, but you do not really live. Until He fills you up, you are empty and void on the inside. Until He grants you His peace, there is chaos surrounding you on all sides, hounding you and haunting you, and always threatening to swallow you up and consume you. Until the Lord shines His light upon you, there is only darkness, within and without. And without His forgiveness of your sins, there is only death; not that you die once, and then it’s over, but perpetual dying.
That is the wilderness — outside of Paradise, outside of Canaan — in which John the Baptist appears, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. He comes announcing the solution. He has the answer to all your hurts, confusion and fear. His appearance, his preaching and his baptism, as you have heard from St. Mark this past month, are the beginning of the Gospel. This is the dawning of a New Creation — the promise of Light in the midst of deep darkness — this voice now crying in the wilderness.
So all the people go out to him in hopeful expectation. Judah and Jerusalem make their way out to John in the wilderness, seeking a fresh start; looking for salvation; waiting on the redemption of Israel. They hear his preaching of repentance, and so they are baptized, confessing their sins.
In this you see the practice of Confession & Absolution, and its connection to Holy Baptism. It is the way of repentance, which seeks and receives the forgiveness of sins.
The Absolution and the answer are not found in John the Baptist, but in the One to whom he points, whose way he prepares, and of whom he preaches. For John is not the Christ. He is not your redeemer, nor could he be. He is not your rescuer, your savior or solution. But his preaching and his baptism usher in the One who is all of these.
Enter Jesus of Nazareth. He is the Mighty One who comes, who is greater than John. And though John cannot take His place, this Jesus takes the place of all the people in submitting Himself to John’s preaching and baptism of repentance!
He stoops down to be baptized by John in the Jordan River. And what does such baptizing with water indicate? It signifies His death and burial, His sacrifice for the sins of the world. Not merely as a symbol, but as a Sacrament, which actually gives what it says and does what it declares.
In submitting to John’s baptism of repentance, Jesus assumes responsibility for the sins of Adam and Eve and all their children, and He commits Himself to die their death. As surely as He enters into the waters, so shall He be crucified, dead and buried.
He dies for all the people, because the waters of His Baptism have soaked Him in their sins, and soiled Him with all their sins. That is why the waters of your Baptism wash away all of your sins — because He absorbs them into His Body, like a sponge, by submerging Himself in the waters of Baptism. You get clean, because He gets dirty.
But now, also, He comes up out of the water. He emerges and arises from the waters of His Baptism, as He shall also arise from death and the grave. And because He does so as the One who has taken your place in the water, your sin and your death, so do you also emerge and arise from the waters of your Baptism, unto faith and life and righteousness in Him. For so intimately has He united Himself to you in the waters of Baptism, and so tightly has He bound Himself to you, once and forever.
Everything that Jesus receives from His Father through His Baptism, He receives for you, so that you also receive it through your Baptism into Him.
Thus, it is first of all true that you are buried with Him through Baptism into His death. You are crucified, dead and buried with Him; so that sin is put to death in you, and your body of death is done away with.
But then you come up out of the water with Him; you are risen with Him in His Resurrection, and the heavens are opened to you. If you want to know for sure and certain what will happen to you when you die, remember that you are baptized, and consider this Baptism of our Lord for you, and then you will know that heaven has been opened to you — and it will not be closed. Only do not abandon your Baptism, but return to it; for there the door stands open forever in Christ Jesus.
He proceeds from the waters of His Baptism — on the way to His Cross and Passion — in that same faith and confidence, in that same promise of His Father. Having taken your place in His Baptism, He lives your life, as a Christian lives, by the Word and promise of His Baptism.
When He received the Spirit, who hovered over the waters and descended upon Him, He received the surety, the guarantee and down payment of His Resurrection from the dead. And though He had taken upon Himself the sins of the world, and bore them in His Body as the sacrificial Lamb, He also received the Word of His Father: “You are My beloved Son, in You I am well-pleased!”
Here is the Word and Spirit of God, by which all of Creation is resurrected and renewed in the Body of Jesus. And that Word and Spirit are given to you, and they are yours, by your Baptism into Him. Thus, you are resurrected and renewed, in both body and soul, unto the life everlasting.
Indeed, you have been reborn as a beloved son of God in Christ. You have been recreated in His Image and Likeness, as a member of His Body and Bride, the Church. And your God and Father in heaven is well-pleased with you. Do not let go of that Word, nor forget that declaration:
You are beloved and well-pleasing to your Father.
Though you still feel and experience sin and death in yourself, in your thoughts, words and actions, there is no sin or death in you that Christ Jesus has not taken upon Himself, and made His own, and suffered and died for you. Therefore, just as sure and certain as He is the beloved and well-pleasing Son of God — even as He bears your sins in His Body from the waters of His Baptism to His death upon the Cross — so sure and certain are you beloved and well-pleasing to your God and Father in Him. And as surely as God raised this same Jesus from the dead, so surely shall you also be raised. Because you are His own, and He loves you.
This voice of the Father from heaven is the Light that shines upon you in the darkness, which also causes the Light of Christ to shine within your heart.
This pledge and promise of your Baptism is the dawning of the New Creation for you — and now in you, in your heart and mind, body and soul, by the grace of God, through faith in the Gospel.
It has already been accomplished for you in Christ Jesus, the Son of God: by His Incarnation and Holy Nativity, by His Baptism in the Jordan River, by His Cross and Resurrection, and by His Ascension to the Right Hand of the Father in His glorified Body of flesh and blood.
And all of this that He has done and accomplished for you, He has given to you in your Baptism. It fills you up and gives you peace. It is all yours. For Christ is yours, and you are His forever.
Now, then, you live in the New Creation — in the Resurrection of Christ Jesus — by living every day in His Baptism, and in His Body.
What does that mean? And how do you do that? By living in your own Baptism: through daily contrition and repentance. Which isn’t something you can do for yourself, but it is worked in you by the Word and Spirit of God. So give attention to His Word, and live according to His Word.
Examine yourself, your thoughts, words and actions, and your place in life, according to the Ten Commandments. Then you will know how to live in faith and love, and what you should do, and what you should not do. You’ll also know what sins to confess, going to your pastor as the people went to St. John, that you might hear and receive the forgiveness of Christ Jesus, the Lamb of God.
Examining yourself and confessing your sins is the first way to use the Word of God, as an exercise of faith and a means of repentance. It allows the Word of God to expose your sins and put them to death — and to crucify the old Adam in you, with all your sinful lusts and desires. That sounds pretty scary and self-defeating, I realize, but it is the beginning and first step of repentance, which is the only way of life.
God identifies your sin and puts it to death with His Word — and He crucifies you, and puts you to death, by the Cross of Christ — in order to free you from sin and death, to save you for life with Himself, through His Word of Absolution or forgiveness.
That voice of the Gospel — that forgiveness of all your sins — rings out clearly in Confession and Absolution, surely. But it also sounds forth throughout the Church: in the preaching of Christ Jesus, and in the administration of His Body and His Blood with His own Word.
You live and abide in His Body — in His Resurrection from the dead, and therefore in the New Creation, in the Paradise of your God and Father — by listening to the Gospel and receiving the Sacrament. These are the bodily means by which Christ Jesus is with you, and by which His Holy Spirit descends upon you and rests upon you.
So does the Gospel of Christ Jesus, which reverberates throughout the Church, also resonate in you, in your thoughts, words and actions. The more you immerse yourself in its good vibrations, the more its sweet frequencies permeate your life and your relationships. The sound originates in Christ Jesus, in the voice of the Father speaking to you by His Son, but it echoes and reverberates and sings in you by the breathing of His Spirit.
For your Baptism not only puts you to death and buries you, but it also raises you up and gives you new life in Christ. This is not your work, but His work, and His free gift to you. Yet, it is now your life, which you live in Him by faith in His Gospel.
Thus are you also taken from the dust of the earth, and recreated in the Image and Likeness of God, and given to breathe the Breath of Life.
Thus are you a beloved son of the Father, well-pleasing in His sight.
For the Light of His Glory shines upon you, His peace is with you, and you shall be saved.
In the Name + of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.