It is most certainly true — I confess and do not deny — that I am not the Christ. I am not the Lord’s Anointed, the Messiah. I am not the very Son of God in the flesh. I am not your Savior and Redeemer. Nor could I be. I am neither worthy nor sufficient to save you.
So, why am I here? And why do I do what I do? Why do I preach and teach? Why do I baptize? Why do I absolve your sins? Why do I commune the disciples of Jesus? There is only one real answer. There is only one legitimate reason. It is because the Lord has called me to be your pastor and has sent me to do these things. Indeed, this is how He chooses to come and do His work.
So has it been from the start. For example, St. John the Baptist preaches this morning that Christ Jesus will baptize with the Holy Spirit. And surely He does. Within a few chapters, the Evangelist indicates that Jesus was baptizing even more people than St. John. But then he goes on to clarify that, actually, Jesus Himself was not baptizing, but His disciples were baptizing in His Name.
Not only does the Lord choose to send men like St. John, the Apostles, and even me, to preach and to baptize in His Name, but this is precisely the way He deals with His Church. You do not have Christ Jesus except by the Ministry of His Gospel, carried out in His Name and stead to the close of the age by those men whom He has called and sent to speak His Word and to work His works.
That is how He shines His Light upon you, the Light of the knowledge of the Glory of God, so that you might believe in Him and have life in His Name. By the preaching and Baptism of His sent ones, He comes and makes Himself known to you, as He truly is. He thereby reveals and gives Himself to you who did not recognize or know Him, who could not find Him or lay hold of Him.
Thus, He has called me and sent me, and He has anointed me with His Spirit for this office and ministry. To baptize and teach, to confess and point to Him. To say, There is the Lamb of God, who takes away your sins! There, on that Altar, in that Bread which is His Body, in that Cup which is the New Testament in His Blood. And there, in that Font, in which you and Beatrix have been born again; to which you are returned in repentance; and from which your sins are forgiven.
He has called me and anointed me for this office and work, as He has also anointed me with His Spirit in Holy Baptism to be a Christian. To be like Him, to live in Him, and He in me, within my various vocations in life, not only as a pastor, but as a son, as a brother, as a husband and father. To be your pastor. To be my wife’s husband. To be my children’s father. To be my parents’ son.
And by this work of the Holy Ministry — whoever your pastors have been over the years of your life — He has also called you to be His own dear child in your Holy Baptism. God the Father has anointed you with the Spirit of Christ Jesus, His beloved Son, so that you also are a Christian.
So, then, even though you are not the Christ, yet you are a Christian in Him. Though you are not a baptizer, yet you are baptized into Christ Jesus. And in the waters of your Baptism the Lord has named you with His Name. Just as He named St. John before he was conceived in his mother’s womb, so has He named you. As Nathaniel has named Beatrix Irene and given her his name, so has the Lord named her and you with His Name. He has done it by His Word, by His grace alone.
He has called you by name, and He sends you, as well. He sends you to work and to serve your neighbor in His Name, to be like Christ in loving your neighbor, as the Lord Jesus Christ loves and cares for you. He has planted you as an oak of righteousness, that He might be glorified in you.
All of this within your own place, wherever the Lord has stationed you on earth. You need not go hunting and searching for what the will of God is for your life, or to figure out where you ought to be or what you ought to do, because the Lord your God has already positioned you where He would have you live and love and serve, and He has set you in relationship to particular people. That is where you are to be like Christ in caring for your neighbor. Just as it is for each of you married men, that you are called to be like Christ in loving and caring for your own wife.
For each and all of you, whatever your stations in life may be, you are to be like Christ for your neighbors. Not as though you were Christ Jesus; and not as though you were worthy of yourself to be or do any such thing; but because the Lord your God has chosen to come and to work for your neighbors in this way. He delights to serve your neighbors through you, as He delights to serve His whole Church on earth through the ministry of His pastors and through the created means of water, bread, and wine. Indeed, He chooses and delights to care for His entire creation through the service of His creatures, no less than He has given life to Beatrix and continues to care for her through Nathaniel and Sarah. So does He also cause righteousness and praise to spring up in you before the world, that His glory may dwell in our land in your words and works of love like His.
For you, as for St. John the Baptist, you are called and sent to live and love out in the wilderness. You are stationed for now on the far side of the Jordan, that is, on the outskirts of the Holy Land. You are yet on your pilgrimage, living by faith and waiting on the Lord, just as Beatrix has been set upon that way of the Cross by His Word and Spirit. At every age, in every place that you are stationed on earth, you serve your neighbors in the wilderness, in frailty, affliction, and hardship.
Just so, it is also in the desert wilderness where the servant of the Lord is sent to you, and where the Voice of the Lord cries out to you, calling you daily to repentance, and bringing you to repentance by His Word and Spirit. Indeed, the wilderness itself is a preaching of repentance by which you are being crucified, put to death, and buried with Christ Jesus, that you might live no longer for yourself but for Him who for your sake died and was raised.
Thus are you called to bear the Cross and to persevere in faith, watching for the coming of your Lord Jesus Christ and clinging to the promise of your God and Father. You live by faith as you hope in the Lord. And loving Him, as He has first loved you, you love and serve your neighbor.
This preaching of repentance is not only the preaching of the Law. It calls you not only to stop doing what you should not, and to begin doing what you should. It does not only expose your sins and crucify you to yourself and to the world. The preaching of repentance is also the preaching of the Gospel, which is the free forgiveness of all your sins. It is the preaching of the Resurrection and the Righteousness of Christ, which are yours by faith in this preaching. It sets before you, not only what you should and should not do, but what Christ has done and is still doing for you.
This preaching of the Gospel is the bright and beautiful Light of Christ Jesus. It is your Life and your Salvation. For He is your Savior and Redeemer, and in love He has done for you what only He could ever do. He is the incarnate Son of God — true God and true Man — and in His own Body of flesh and blood (like yours) He has been anointed by the Spirit of God as the Christ, the Messiah. He has purchased and won you to be His very own at the cost of His own life.
Having done all that, do not suppose that He has left you alone to fend for yourself, or that He has left you to find your own way to Him. No, in love and mercy for you, He comes to you, He reveals and gives Himself to you through the ministry and preaching of His Gospel. That is not simply information about Him, but the real gift and knowledge of Himself. By the preaching of His Word and in the Holy Sacraments, God the Father opens His great heart of love to you in Christ Jesus, and He draws you to Himself in peace, in faith and love. He is with you, and He is for you.
Indeed, He has come and taken His stand here with you in this place, right here on the corner of Milton and Dale, South Bend. In this Font, from this Pulpit, and at this Altar. He is here with you, in the midst of the wilderness, in the Word and work of those He calls and sends to you in love.
Not only that, but He is likewise with you in whatever He sends you to do. It is not because He is absent or on holiday that He has chosen to love and serve your neighbors through your words and works of love. On the contrary, it is rather that He would have you live and love like Him, that you should be with Him where He is and in what He does.
Whatever your callings and stations in life, the Lord is with you in those things. He upholds you and sustains you in those offices, and He accomplishes His purposes in you and through you and for you, so that He is glorified in you, and you are glorified in Him.
Do not despair as you consider the demands of your place in life and the persistence of your own frailties, faults, and failings. For the Lord your God, your Savior Jesus Christ has bound Himself to you — and you to Him — in the waters of your Holy Baptism. So you are not alone, and you are not on your own in whatever the Lord has given you to do. Christ is with you in that work, as surely as He was with St. John the Baptist when He sent him before His face to prepare His Way.
Not only is He with you, but this same Lord Jesus Christ has already done all things for you. He has done all that you could never have done or accomplished for yourself or anyone else. He has done it all. He has fulfilled the Law. He has completed it and brought it to perfection in Himself.
That is what He gives to you, along with Himself, by and with and in the preaching of His Word. He credits to you all that He has done for you, and whatever He has received from the Father He gives to you by His grace. By the Ministry of His Gospel, by His Word of Absolution, and in all the ways and means of His grace, He gives to you His righteousness and holiness, His innocence and blessedness. As He preaches to you, as He absolves you, as He recalls you to your Baptism, and as He communes you with His Body and His Blood, He truly forgives you all your sins. And with that forgiveness, He gives you His own life in both body and soul, for here and for eternity.
So this is an excellent deal, you have to admit, and a better exchange than any store on earth will ever give. Christ takes away all of your sins, and He gives to you His righteousness and holiness. He takes away your death, and He gives to you His life. He takes away your slavery, and He gives to you His Sonship. He takes away your devil, and He gives to you His Spirit and His Father.
Not only that, but He also rejoices over you. Today is Gaudete, the Sunday of Rejoicing, and we rejoice in the coming of Christ Jesus. But true rejoicing begins with His rejoicing over you. Yes, over you! The Lord rejoices over you, and He delights in you, even as He robes you in His own righteousness. As Nathaniel and Sarah delight in dressing their baby girl, so does the Lord dress you in the garments of His Salvation. He washes you within and without, anoints your body and soul with the oil of gladness, revives your fainting spirit, and cloaks you with His mantle of praise!
He is the true and faithful Husband to each of you, as you are members of His Bride, the Church. In calling you husbands to love your wives, He is simply calling you to do for them as He does for you and for all who are baptized into Him. He has given Himself for you, even unto death, in order to cleanse and sanctify you by that washing of the water with His Word, to anoint you with His Holy Spirit, to name you with His own Name, and to adorn you with the beauty of His holiness. So has He done for Beatrix this morning, and so He does for her and you unto the Life everlasting.
By His Ministry of the Gospel, by His preaching and His Sacraments, the One who sacrificed Himself for you withholds no good thing from you. He commits no robbery in the burnt offering. For having given Himself wholly and completely to His Father throughout His life and in His death upon the Cross, so does He give Himself wholly and completely to you through the Ministry of His Gospel, especially in His Sacrament of the Altar. Here He gives Himself to you, He feeds you with Himself, He nurtures and sustains you with Himself, with His own flesh and blood, so that you are rescued and protected from every evil of body, soul, and spirit, and kept safe with Christ in God.
So does He preserve you blameless in His sight, and so shall He keep you blameless unto the Day of His glorious appearing, to the dawning of that neverending Day. He guards and keeps your going out and your coming in throughout your life, so that you are now and ever blameless, beloved, and righteous in His sight. The One who calls you is faithful, and He will surely do it.
In the Name + of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.