When Dr. Norman Nagel was asked, back in 1980, what the coming decade would hold for the Lutheran Liturgy, he answered in a way that was so typical of his whole evangelical theology: As always, he said, there would be God’s giving of His gifts. Always more gifts; sometimes more than we can manage, an embarrassment of riches. But still God keeps on giving, and what He bestows upon His people is nothing less than Himself.
Anything can be turned into a cliché, and all of its contours flattened into abstract generalities. But Dr. Nagel has it right. For such is the grace of God, that He pours Himself out — the Father in the Son, the Spirit by the Savior — so that His divine eternal Life becomes yours, that you might live forever in His Love, and that you should be a son of God in Christ.
Though it does not yet appear what all this means, and though you cannot fully comprehend its significance, because it exceeds your imagination, hopes and dreams, there is nothing abstract or generic about this Life and Sonship, which you have been given in Holy Baptism.
St. Paul, elsewhere, describes your Baptism as a circumcision made without hands. And today you have heard him say that, by your Baptism into Christ, you have become a descendant of Abraham, an heir of all the promises that God gave to Abraham — the promises he sealed unto him, in his flesh, by the covenant of circumcision. Thus are you blessed by God, and you inherit, not simply a plot of land in Palestine, but a sure and certain place in Paradise with all the saints in Light.
For your Holy Baptism unites you with Christ, in His Cross and Resurrection, and clothes you with His righteousness and holiness, so that everything that belongs to Him now also belongs to you. Just as He, first of all, by His circumcision, became the recipient of God’s promises to Abraham.
He lives by faith in those promises, as true Man, but He is also their fulfillment, as the promised Seed of Abraham. He is the very One to whom the covenant pointed: God’s Word made Flesh. The humiliation that He suffers, and the blood that He sheds, in His circumcision, culminates in the suffering and death of His Cross. Then and there He makes Atonement for the sins of the world, and He reconciles the world to God; so that, in His Resurrection, God justifies the world with the righteousness of His Son. That is what He gives to you, by grace, in your Holy Baptism.
Neither your Baptism, nor circumcision, were ever intended as works by which man would justify himself before God. These are, rather, the sacramental signs and seals of God’s Word and promises, all of which are fulfilled in Christ Jesus. He is subject to the Law of circumcision, so that, in His own flesh and blood, the covenant is completed and established for you and for all. That is to say, He is the Son of Abraham who receives everything God swore to give to Abraham, and in His Resurrection those gifts become the possession of all who are baptized into Him.
The promise is there, already, in the Name of Jesus, which God gave by the angel Gabriel. Like the Son of God Himself, this precious holy Name is also a pure gift of divine grace. It confesses that Yahweh saves His people from their sins; and that the Baby conceived and born of St. Mary is Yawheh in the flesh. Both God Himself and His promise become flesh and blood, for the Word of God from all eternity, now in time becomes true Man. Therefore, not only in Holy Baptism, but also in the Holy Communion, the promise of salvation is given to you in the flesh of Christ Jesus.
As the promise and the flesh of God are one and the same, in the Person of Christ Jesus, so are you redeemed and saved in both body and soul, in your flesh and blood, as well as in your soul and spirit. That has significance for the way in which you love and serve your neighbor with your body, in view of the fact that your body shall be raised from death and the grave to the life everlasting. What you receive and do with your body matters, because your body shall be raised up and glorified forever in the Body of Christ Jesus.
As He received His Name at His circumcision, so have you received His Name in your Baptism. Not that you are called “Jesus,” but that He and His salvation have become yours, by His grace. For, in naming you with His own Name — that of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit — He truly conveys Himself to you. In this, His face shines upon you (without scaring you to death!); He blesses you with His Glory (not for destruction, but for Life); and He grants you real Peace through His forgiveness of your sins. For where sins are forgiven, and God Himself does not condemn you, there is no longer any fear of death, but only grace, mercy, and peace, and life and salvation.
This is, indeed, what the Lord Jesus has accomplished for you. He is as good as His Name: By His Cross and Resurrection, He has saved His people from their sins, and He brings them into the safety of eternal Life with His God and Father in heaven. This is what your Baptism has given to you, to start with, and no less so the preaching of the Gospel. It is through such speaking of His Word that the Lord your God blesses and keeps you in His true Peace, both now and forever.
It is through this speaking of His Word that He keeps on giving more gifts, which culminate and center in this Holy Sacrament of His Body and His Blood. In this eating and drinking of Christ, you are living already in the eternal Eighth Day of His Resurrection and of the Life everlasting.
Which puts this New Year of His grace, and each and every day and night of your life on earth, into the proper perspective of eternity. For you are the Lord’s, and your Life and Salvation are safe and secure in Him, today, tomorrow, and forever.
A sword in the hat is better than a foot in your mouth. All the better if it is that double-bladed sword that slices and dices between bone and marrow. But I have always liked to sort things out by thinking out loud with friends and colleagues. And since my opportunities to do so are limited, I figure I can multiply my thinking and sorting here.
Married 28 years, my wife and I have had ten children born to us (six boys, four girls); we have another son and daughter by marriage, a son who went ahead of us to heaven from the womb, four grandchildren and counting. I was ordained in 1996, and have been the pastor of Emmaus since then. I have a Ph.D. in Liturgical Studies from the University of Notre Dame (2003), and an S.T.M. from Concordia Theological Seminary, Fort Wayne, Indiana