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 on our behalf, they renounced Satan and his ways.
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 this “world’s 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 enslaved Egyptian Hebrews. God sent Moses for their rescue; though born a Hebrew, Moses lived outside of Pharaoh’s serfdom. 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 Caesar’s census, is ironic. On the eve of Jesus’ birth, mother and Child were registered subjects of Caesar.
At birth, Jesus had come out of heaven, to fully redeem all men subjected to the axis of “powers”, “the world”, and “the 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 death; inviting our release and a new allegiance in cords of the Father’s love.
Like Israel’s washing through the Red Sea, Baptism releases from sin’s bondage, spiritual rulers, and authorities. Baptism is the power of God’s Speech in water, commanding those desiring our continued 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 lawful registration papers, 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 allegiance must be renounced.
Today as we look about; the world, whatever its motives, declares today a “happy time”; well, I guess so, but Christmas does not belong to lounge singers peddling vapid and often irreligious tunes. Rather it is, in the church’s mass, where we respond in song to God’s long-awaited solution over the axis-powers that continue to afflict our lives.
Make no mistake, despite all the seasonal “happy talk” there is a decidedly disturbing context; that the Babe has come into the world’s hatred of him; all too clearly exhibited by Herod and “all Jerusalem” “shaken” at the Child’s coming rein by the slaughter Bethlehem’s “Holy Innocents” (Mt. 2:13-18).
Not only will secular and religious authorities endorse Jesus’ death, but their new-born king too would be slaughtered at the place where God, who is above sorrow, engages his “dolorous” at the cross, (this is a great mystery).
On 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 his Father’s love in the Resurrection. Of the push and tug of competing allegiances, St. Paul reflects on our desperate problem and cause of God’s “dolorous”, “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 “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 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, greater than all “rulers and authorities” in heaven and earth.
By angelic acclaim, the Babe, who is 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 and a new name; to participate in the Babe’s victorious warfare at the cross, the place of our atonement for resurrection worship of the only true God.
It is an Advent convention that the church suspends “the Gloria in Excelsis” awaiting this day’s restoration into her mass; thus, we are given pause to inquire, “who are those on whom God’s favor rests?” (Lk. 2:14): certainly, the believing shepherds, Joseph, Mary clasping her treasured son to her breast, and later the seeking Gentile “magoi”; thus far, the promise of Christmas night.
But we receive the Babe, “Immanuel-God with us” in faith by an equally improbable hospitality, in the power of Jesus’ resurrection word and Sacrament; today it is these upon whom God’s favor rests.
Think of what your “renunciation” asks to give-up; in Christ we deny self “righteousness”, “sanctity” of ourselves, and the concupiscence of flesh. 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 Anointed alone.
Jesus, God’s union with man, was executed on the cross; in the Resurrection we have adoption as sons and daughters of the Father, “believing and baptized” (Mk. 16:16).
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 the new creation. Amen.