28 April 2013

Of Brides and Babies Dressed in White

(At the Holy Baptism of Cecilia Anastasia Osbun, Fifth Sunday of Easter)

So, Joshua, father to father, first of all: You have received into your arms your baby girl, borne of your beloved bride; and here, now, as a Christian father, you have brought her to the font of Holy Baptism, to give her into the arms of God the Father in heaven.  Here she has been given a new birth by another kind of labor and delivery, as it were; and here she has been dressed in white, as though she were a little bride, herself.

Well, let me tell you, Josh, “Don’t blink!”  In a little while — faster than you think — she’ll very likely be a bride, and then, if God is gracious, she’ll be giving birth to babies of her own.  You’ll see her dressed in white again, and you’ll entrust her to another man to be her head.  You’ll place her lovely little hand into his, and then you’ll wave goodbye; not as though she were gone, but you’ll be seeing her less often, and only for a little while at a time.  Everything will be different.

As my father-in-law warned me, and then I found out for myself four years ago, you’ll anguish with your “baby girl,” perhaps from a distance, on the other end of a telephone, but nonetheless, when her hour has come, and she is in labor and pain, giving birth to your grandchildren.  You’ve been through it with your wife, so you already have a certain perspective on what that’s like; but nothing breaks a father’s self-idolatry like having his daughter become a bride and then a mom.

You’ll hurt for her, Josh, and you’ll hurt for yourself, too, in much the way that you and Sarah have known suffering and loss in the bearing of children, who are but mortal, just like you and me and every other dad on earth.  Marriage and family are blessed gifts of God; weddings and births are happy events, to be sure; and yet, they are not without their hurts and sadness.

There is brokenness and pain, danger and death in the world.  The Bible tells you so, but you know it from experience, too.  The whole of God’s good creation has been subject to futility.  Everything is dying and decays; it all perishes and fades away; all on account of sin, which separates the man, his wife and children, from the Lord their God, who is alone the Author and Giver of Life.

It is the case that, as man turns away from God in disobedience, he is also turned away from his kin, from his own flesh and blood, or else he is turned against his neighbor in enmity and envy, frustration and fear.  There is tension, even within marriage, between the man and the woman who was made for him and given to him.  And there is pain in childbirth, as the curse of sin and death strikes the gift of life from the outset.  Sin begets more sin, and brings forth death upon death, as fallen man attempts to escape the curse by attacking childbirth itself, with fury and great violence.

From sire to seed the curse descends, and over all God’s wrath extends.  And yet, there is also the Lord’s promise of Redemption by the Woman’s Seed: the one Man, the new Adam, who atones for sin by His Blood, who puts death to death by His Cross, and who crushes the head of the devil.  He who comes from the Father, becomes the Everlasting Father of a new household and family.  In His own flesh and blood, He does not turn away from God in disobedience, nor turn against His neighbors in anger, but He proceeds in faith and love to reconcile the entire world of lost sinners to His God and Father, and to bring about the restoration and renewal of creation in Himself.

It is in view of that promise, by faith in that promise, that Adam’s beloved bride, the first Eve, became the Mother of all the Living.  And in fulfillment of that promise, the Blessed Virgin Mary has become the Mother of God in the Flesh.

For the almighty and eternal Son of God, our dear Lord Jesus Christ, has undergone the first birth, conceived and born of the Woman, in order to bring about the New Birth of repentance and faith, unto the life everlasting of body and soul.  He has done so by way of His own Holy Baptism, which is to say, by His Cross and Resurrection; for He, too, was baptized into His death, and buried in the earth as in the water, in order to be raised for our justification.

In faith and love, He underwent the anguish, labor, and pain of His Cross and Passion, bearing in His Body the curse of sin and death, in order to bring forth true joy and gladness, and bring life and immortality to light, in His rising from death and the grave.

It is this Cross and Resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ, into which you — and now Cecilia — are baptized; in which there is both the death of sin and the newness of life.  Cecilia’s “old man,” and your old man, is crucified, dead, and buried; and the New Man is conceived and born in you, unto life with God in body and soul, even now, and forever and ever.  For you are “born again,” and adopted by His grace, as a “son of God” in Christ Jesus, by way of your Baptism into Him.

As you have received and share the Cross of Christ in Holy Baptism, and you now bear His Cross for “a little while,” you also now have grief; you weep and you lament (as though at a funeral), even in the very midst of life.  You suffer anguish and anxiety for yourself and for your loved ones, for your bride, and for your babies.  And, so too, for your sins, you undergo the daily repentance, by which you are borne through the narrow passage of the Cross into the New Creation of Christ.

The constant recognition of sin and death, and your daily confrontation with sin and death, both in yourself and in others, denies and contradicts the Word and promises of God.  Your experience of this fallen world always presses upon you, and it threatens to destroy you, to drag you, kicking and screaming, body and soul, into deep despair.  For you look around, and you do not see Jesus, and you do not see the Father.  Rather, what you see is your own sin, your nakedness and shame.

But now, the Spirit of the Lord your God, the Spirit of His Resurrection from the dead, has come, to make of you a new creation, day by day by day.

The same Holy Spirit guides you and brings you into all Truth; which is to say, that He brings you into the Life of God, the Holy Trinity.  This gentle work He does, by speaking to you the Word of Christ, and by giving to you Christ Himself, the Incarnate God and true Man, crucified and risen.  So that, what belongs to Christ Jesus, the beloved Son of the Father, is given to you by the Spirit through the Gospel; which is how and why it is, that you are a Christian, a son of God in Christ.

It is by this Word of Christ, which I now preach to you in His Name, that the Spirit speaks to you: and by this Word, you are saved.  Not simply as true information for you to process and act upon, but as the very Truth itself, and as the gracious gift of God: The very Grace by which He works repentance in you, and brings you to faith, and gives to you Himself and His divine, eternal Life.

So also, it is by the washing of water with His Word, that you have been baptized with the Holy Spirit: cleansed and sanctified, and made ready as a Bride adorned for her Husband.

Beloved, what God has thus cleansed, do not consider unholy: Neither your neighbor, nor yourself.

For this holiness is not from within, nor from below, but from above: It comes down out of heaven from God, and it is poured out upon you freely in this blessed water of life, which is Holy Baptism, through Jesus Christ your Savior.  From His wounded side, as He has been lifted up in death on the Cross, this heavenly waterfall cascades over your body and soul, and covers you from head to toe, and you are thus anointed with His Spirit and His righteousness.

In this sacred bath, you have not clothed yourself, no more so than Cecilia has dressed herself in white this morning; but you and she are clothed by God Himself, and you are beautiful to Him, the Lord, who is your Bridegroom.  As the first Woman, Eve, was adorned with nothing else but the flesh and bone of her Man, Adam; so are you adorned, both inside and out, with the flesh and blood of Christ Jesus, your Husband and your Head.  For you are borne from Him; you are bone of His bone, and flesh of His flesh; you are His, to have and to hold, henceforth and forevermore.

It is for this very reason that the living and Life-giving Word has become Flesh, and that the Son of God has sacrificed Himself and shed His Blood as the Lamb of God: in order to become the Tabernacle of God among men, and to sanctify the people for Himself, and for the Father.

From heaven He came and sought us to be His Holy Bride; with His own Blood He bought us, and for our life He died.  Notwithstanding all the heated debates across our nation, the Truth is that Marriage is defined, and finds its meaning, in Christ the true Man and His one Bride, the Church.

Thus, all the baptized are clothed in white robes, in the most beautiful of wedding gowns, which are spun and woven from the righteousness and holiness of Jesus.  For all those who are baptized into Him, are members of His Body and His Bride; and blessed are they all, who are thus invited to the Marriage Supper of this Lamb, which is, indeed, the Inheritance of all His saints in light.

Here there is feasting upon the Lamb Himself, who was sacrificed for us upon the Cross; Who was slain, and yet, behold, He lives.  Not only has He made atonement for us, to redeem us from sin, to rescue us from death, and to reconcile us to His God and Father; but so does He also feed us with Himself, in order to abide in us, and we in Him.  For He is our Passover.  His Body and His Blood are Meat and Drink indeed, the Banquet of the blessed, in which there is Life and Salvation.

Here, then, in this Supper, there is the singing of the New Song: of God and of the Lamb.  For He has accomplished the new and greater Exodus, and He Himself has brought us, not only out of Egypt, but out of death and the grave, into the Resurrection and the life everlasting.

So it is that, here, your sorrow is turned into joy.  In the Body and Blood of Christ Jesus, crucified and risen from the dead, all things are made brand new.  The children of His Bride, the Church, are borne into the Kingdom of His God and Father; for those who belong to Him, belong also to the Father forever.  No one can take you from Him.  Nor can anyone take Him away from you.

Josh, in bringing Cecilia to this new and greater Joshua, Christ Jesus, the Son of God and Mary’s Son, you have entrusted her to the Husband and Head of the whole Church, in heaven and on earth.  You have given her over to the new birth of His Cross and Resurrection, by water, Word and Spirit, and so also to a new Father and Mother in Christ.

So shall Cecilia, with all the baptized, both here in time, and hereafter in eternity, rise up to sing and make music to the Lord our God, and praise Him forever for His mercy and His faithfulness.

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

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