It's a Miracle That This Water Does Such Great Things
Growing up in Michigan I understand why my idea of Christmas is linked with snow, but I can't see why it is for people in the South. I've had 25 Christmases in the South, and I've yet to see snow on Christmas Eve or Day, yet Christmas is always linked with snow, a form of water. There's something about water. A college textbook entitled The Western Experience says, "Both Near Eastern and Greek mythology seems to imagine water as the first principle of all things." Thales, the first Greek philosopher, sought for a substance that persisted through all changes. He said it was water (57).
There's something about water. For those born again by Water and the Word water is even more special. Church father Tertullian says, "'We are born in water, nor otherwise are we safe than by remaining in it'" (The Catacombs, 90). And church father Cyprian, says, "'As often as water by itself is mentioned in Holy Scripture, Baptism is proclaimed,'" (67). I say as often as you hear of Christmas snow, Frosty the snowman, or one foggy Christmas Eve, you can think of your Baptism.
When you hear "water" you should think of Baptism because it's a miracle that this water can do such great things. What great things? One, "It works forgiveness of sins." Really? The spot Lady Macbeth couldn't get out is removed by Baptism? That's what Peter says in Acts 2, "Be baptized every one of you for the forgiveness of sins." That's what Paul says in Acts 22, "Be baptized and wash away your sins."
Baptism doesn't just work the miracle of forgiveness it also rescues from Death and the Devil. You should see both Death and Devil capitalized. They're concrete enemies. Death crouches by your bedside to swallow you. But the waters of Baptism have joined you to Jesus more tightly than Super Glue bonds anything. Paul says in Romans 6 that baptismal water unites you to Jesus so that you went into the grave with Him on Good Friday and came out with Him on Easter.
As far as the Devil, you and I are no match for him, but Baptismal water is. It's not true that the waters of Baptism are like acid on the Devil's skin, but it is true as Galatians 3 says, "As many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ." Remember how demons cowered before Jesus? Remember how with just one word He sent the Devil away? On the night He was betrayed Jesus said that the Devil was coming but "he has nothing in Me." He has nothing in those covered with the waters of Baptism either.
But Baptism does more than work forgiveness and rescue from Death and the Devil. It "gives eternal salvation." Not only do baptismal water remove the spot Lady Macbeth saw staining her, it stops that spot from damning her. Isn't that what 1 Peter 3 says? "Baptism does also now save you." If Jesus says that no one can enter heaven unless they're born of water and the Spirit, then those baptized in the water which gives the Holy Spirit do enter heaven.
Okay, the waters of Baptism work great things. The Scriptures themselves say this, but how can this water do them? Titus 3: 5-8, the passage we use in Baptism III answers. St. Paul calls Baptism "the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit." Watch the "Cocoon" movies; what those old people found in swimming pool waters hit by a meteor, Paul says you really have in Baptismal water. You may not look physically reborn or renewed as in the "Cocoon" movies, but God says in baptismal waters you are. The fountain of youth Ponce de Leon searched in vain for and died without, you have in the font of Baptism. With this difference, those reborn and renewed by the Holy Spirit aren't given back their youth but eternity.
I still haven't told you how Baptism is a washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit; I've only showed you that Paul says in Titus 3 what he, Peter, and Jesus say elsewhere. The how is in Titus 3. Paul says that Baptism does such great things through the Holy Spirit that God poured out on us who have been justified by Christ our Savior. God can pour out on us water that rebirths and renews us by the Spirit because we've been justified by Jesus' grace to become heirs of eternal life.
Almost all religions have some sort of baptism, but they don't work forgiveness, recues from Death and the Devil, or give eternal salvation because they aren't attached to the Person and Work of Jesus. Jesus, true God and true Man, is the only one who ever deserved salvation. Think of all that you do wrong every day. Think of all the ways you fall short not only of God's glory but of human decency. Jesus never fell short either of God or Man.
But that wasn't enough for Jesus. He saw us, His brothers and sisters, mired in sin, at the mercy of Death and the Devil, and damned to hell. He like a solider that has gotten safely across a combat zone turned back to get us. He like a father who swims out of the raging flood dived back in to get us His children. To save us, our sins had to be paid for, our death had to be died, the Devil had to be defeated, and the hell we earned had to be suffered. Jesus did all this by being a Man of griefs and sorrows. Jesus did this by suffering the Death we fear at the hands of the Devil.
Jesus perfect life and innocent death won God's grace for us. Jesus' holy life covered our unholy ones, and His sinless death satisfied the demands of the Law. Jesus won for us forgiveness, rescue from Death and Devil, and eternal salvation. The Waters of Baptism apply all that Jesus won for us. The Waters of Baptism do such great things because they are the means, the channel, the path, the way God's grace for Jesus' sake is applied to us.
Where would we be if this Water didn't do these things? Baptism would be just a symbol, just a sign, not a power. It would not be something that actually "works, rescues, or gives" anything. If Baptism doesn't work forgiveness of sins, what in your life does? If the Waters of Baptism don't rescue you from Death and the Devil, what does? If this Water doesn't give you eternal salvation, where do you go to get it?
If Baptism doesn't work, rescue, or give anything, then stop bringing your babies to be baptized. But if the Waters of Baptism don't give your infant forgiveness, how will he or she get it? If Baptismal waters aren't able to rescue your babies from Death and the Devil, do you have the strength to wrest them away from these evil creatures? If this Water can't give eternal salvation to our babies, do you know of another thing God Himself has called a "washing of rebirth and a renewal by the Holy Spirit?"
And what about you? Where's your certainty of forgiveness, of rescue from Death and the Devil, of salvation, apart from these Waters of Baptism? You better know the answer to this one for when your sins and sinfulness are heavy, when Death and the Devil are on the march, when you're next step is into eternity, the question how do you know you're forgiven, rescued, and saved' will be howling in your ears. Answering, "I'm a member of the church," will only cause you to remember that you're really not much of one. Saying, "I've accepted Jesus into my heart," will only cause you to wonder if you were serious when you did that or if Jesus ever accepted you. And even the "Lutheran" answer, "I know I'm forgive, rescued, and saved because I believe, " will be shipwrecked on the small question of, "Do you really?"
My faith is no more certain than my works. Baptism, however, is not my work or the work of any man. Baptism is the work of God. Just as no one can give birth to himself, just as no one can give birth to a human child but a human being, so no one can give birth to a child of God but God Himself. Furthermore, just as a teen is being quite foolish and doesn't undo his birth when he angrily declares, "You're not my mother," so neither sin, Death, Devil, nor hell can undo your rebirth in the waters of Baptism.
Ah but you're about to shipwreck this certainty by misunderstanding the catechism and focusing on faith. Yes, we confess that Baptism works forgiveness, rescues from Death and the Devil and gives eternal salvation but don't we also say "to all who believe this?" And doesn't Christ our Lord say, "Whoever believes and is baptized?" Yes, we confess "The word of God in and with the water does these things," but don't we also say, "along with the faith which trusts this Word of God in the water?" And Paul closes by saying, "This is a trustworthy saying" isn't that another way to say, "This is to be believed?"
Do you think all the weight, all the power, all the miracle of this Water depends on your faith, your believing? If so, then why be baptized? Just focus on the faith going on in your heart. But surely you know what happens when you do that. Focus on anything going on in you - happiness, peace, hope, love, confidence, etc. and what happens? It makes wings. It withers.
All the weight, power, and miracle of this being a Water that does such great things is placed in our Catechism where Scripture itself places it: on "the words and promises of God." "Christ our Lord says in the last chapter of Mark: Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved." These words declare that all the forgiveness, all the rescue, all the salvation that Jesus won for sinners is in baptismal water, and it's yours for the believing. No works, no promises, needed to receive it. Faith receives it all. As the Large Catechism says, "Faith does not make Baptism, but receives it" (LC, IV, 53).
When you take a Christmas gift does your receiving it make the gift? Does your receiving the gift cause it to be there? If you refuse the gift, say you won't open it, is the gift still there, valid, and real? Do any of us think that Christmas gifts are only as sure as we believe or that our belief makes them real? Of course not. If the gifts of men don't depend on our faith, let us not think the gifts of God in the waters of Baptism - forgiveness, rescue, and salvation - depend, rely, or even rest on our fragile believing.
Therefore let us not focus on our believing this Christmas. Rather let us focus on Christmas snow. Let us see in every snowy Christmas special, card, song, or decoration a reminder of our Baptism. Water in the solid form of snow evokes powerful memories of Christmases past. May it also remind us of the present power of Baptismal Water to forgive, to rescue, and to give. Amen
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Advent Vespers II (20101208); Baptism II & III