Ps. 96; Isaiah 9:2-7; Titus 2:11-14; Luke 2:1-20
Renounce, For the grace of God has appeared for the salvation of all men, training us to renounce irreligion and worldly passions, and to live sober, upright, and godly lives in this world … (vv. 11, 12)
God binds himself to us in water, blood, and Spirit; this is the import of Baptism. Perhaps as infants a Godparent spoke our assent to the verities of the catholic faith; and appropriate to guardians, they renounced Satan and his ways on our behalf.
Baptism’s new “begetting from above” (Jn. 3:3, 7) reverses our former allegiance to sin (Ps. 51: 5, 6) and “the kings of the earth [who] set themselves, and the [heavenly] rulers [who] take counsel together, against the LORD and against his Anointed” (Ps. 2:2).
Baptism enrolls us into a different registry. At birth we inherited rebellion against our Creator. By God’s action in water and Word we are restored to sonship, freed from the rule of the world’s self-proclaimed “prince”.
So pervasive is our alignment with sin, that apart from Divine intervention, we are incapable of effecting, or even desiring release. We are born into Adam’s flesh, destined to an enthrallment against the Lord.
Captured in sin’s nature we come into the world no better off than the enslaved Hebrews in Egypt. God sent Moses for their rescue; though born a Hebrew, Moses lived outside of Pharaoh’s capture. Likewise, God sent Jesus, a man like us in all but sin, out of heaven for our rescue.
Given our subjection to “spiritual rulers, powers,” and “kings of the earth”, today’s Gospel, describing the census, is ironic. On the eve of Jesus’ birth, mother and Child were registered as subjects of Caesar.
At his birth, Jesus had come out of the ark of Mary’s womb, out of heaven, to redeem all men subjected to the axis of “powers”, “world”, and “flesh”. St. Paul, puts it, “[God’s]… Son… born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law” (Gal. 4:4b, 5a).
On the cross Jesus would burst the cords binding us to sin and the law’s righteous demands for our death; inviting release and a new allegiance in the cords of the Father’s love.
Like Israel’s wash through the Red Sea, Baptism through the red of Jesus’ blood washes from captivity of sin, spiritual rulers, and authorities. Baptism is the power of God’s Speech in water, commanding those who would continue our captivity, “Let my people go, that they may serve me” (Ex. 9:1).
On the Child’s nativity, his angelic host echoed that command, countering Caesar’s registration list; proclaiming the Babe’s superior authority and power, whose “name is above every name” (Phil. 2:9), “Savior”, “Christ”, and “Lord” (Lk. 2:11).
Isaiah prophesied the virgin-born Child’s superiority, naming him, “Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace” (9:6) of whose government every other contrary allegiance must be renounced.
Today the world, whatever its motives, declares a “happy time”; well, I guess so, but Christmas does not belong to the lounge singers peddling often vapid and irreligious tunes. Rather it is, in the church’s mass, that we have our joyous time, responding in a new song to God’s long-awaited solution over the axis-powers continuing to afflict lives.
Make no mistake, despite all the seasonal “happy talk” there is this decidedly disturbing context; that the Babe has entered into the world’s hatred of him; exhibited by Herod and “all Jerusalem” being “shaken” at the Child’s advent rein.
As Pharoah murderously chased Israel through the Red Sea; Herod sought Jesus, God’s new Israel, and in process slaughtering the “Holy Innocents” of Bethlehem (Mt. 2:13-18).
Not only did the secular and religious authorities conspire in the Child’s death, but on the cross the new-born king would be slaughtered at the time and place where a passionless God, engaged in the sorrow of the “via dolorosa” (this is a great mystery).
This Christmas-eve, the church, introduces us anew to our true God, whose only Son would be wrapped in cloths of passion and abandon, waiting in faith on his Father’s love in the Resurrection.
Of competing allegiances, St. Paul reflects on our problem and the cause of God’s “dolorous” of our condition and toward those remaining loyal to his adversaries, “I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.” (Rom. 7:15).
Baptized into Christ, we remain under the world’s sway. With Adam’s fall we were separated from the “Bread of angels” (Ps. 78:25); consigned to food from a cursed ground; so, at the end we breathe our last of the dust from which we came.
Yet, St. Paul to Titus prescribes the antidote: Baptism’s power in the purifying blood of Christ, “training us to renounce irreligion and worldly passions, and to live sober, upright, and godly lives in this world …”
With the Nativity, a great Light entered our darkness. The Babe, swaddled and lying in a manger is revealed as heaven’s Bread for men who, under Satan’s thrall ate and acted as beasts. Of this Bread we join the sung angelic joy, Gloria in Excelsis Deo, who is greater than all “rulers and authorities” in heaven and earth.
By our acclaim, the Babe, who is the Power and Speech of God, calls us to what we cannot do of ourselves, a new enrollment by the HS into his heavenly host; to receive a new begetting in water and Word for a new name; to participate in the Babe’s victorious warfare at the cross, the place of atonement and resurrection worship of the only true God.
It is an Advent convention that the church suspends “the Gloria in Excelsis” awaiting its restoration in today’s mass; thus, we inquire of our joy, “who are those on whom God’s favor rests?” (Lk. 2:14): certainly, the believing shepherds, Joseph, Mary, and later the seeking Gentile “magoi”.
But today we seek the Babe, “Immanuel-God with us” in faith by an equally improbable hospitality, in promised resurrection power, by word and Sacrament; it is these upon whom God’s favor rests, affirming heaven’s new registry.
Think of what your “renunciation” asks you to give-up; in Christ we deny self-righteousness, self-sanctity, and fleshly concupiscence. Renunciation of these is difficult, they are of our nature. Yet, we make no “decision for Jesus” unable to do so without qualification, condition, or vanity, that argues against God’s work in his Anointed alone.
Jesus, on the cross and always, is true Son who serves God; and like Him whom the Father raised to life, we too are joined in witnessing the work of God’s “Wonderful Counselor” (Isa. 9:6b) for his new creation. Amen.