For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in the present age… (vv. 11, 12)
God binds himself to us in water, blood, and Spirit. Perhaps as children a Godparent spoke our baptismal assent to the verities of the catholic faith; still as appropriate to guardianships, Satan and his ways were renounced.
Baptism’s new begetting reverses a former allegiance with sin 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 into another registry.
At birth we inherited alignment into rebellion against our Creator. By God’s action in water and word we are restored to the bond of intended sonship, freed from rule of the “prince of this world”.
So pervasive was our align with Satan, that apart from God’s intervention we were incapable of effecting, or even desiring release. We were born into Adam’s flesh destined to powerful enthrallments against the Lord.
In our nature we are no better off than those people enslaved by Pharaoh. God sent Moses, though a Hebrew, a man outside themselves for rescue. Likewise, God sent Jesus, a man like us in all but sin out of heaven for rescue.
In light of our subjection to spiritual rulers, powers, and “kings of the earth” today’s Gospel reference to Caesar’s census is ironic. On the eve of Jesus’ Nativity, mother and Child were recorded as belonging to Caesar.
On birth, Jesus out of heaven fully engages all men under the axis of the world, flesh, and “powers”; in the words from St. Paul, “[God’s]… Son… born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law” (Gal. 4:4b, 5a).
Later, Jesus on the cross burst the cords of sin and the righteous demands of the law for our death, inviting release and a new allegiance in cords of the Father’s love.
Like Israel’s wash through the Red Sea, Baptism releases from sin’s bondage, spiritual rulers, and worldly authorities. Baptism is God’s powerful Speech in the water, commanding all captors, “Let my people go, that they may serve me” (Ex. 9:1).
On the Child’s birth, his angelic host echoed the command, countering Caesar’s registration of men by proclaiming the Babe’s superior authority and word, whose “name is above every name” (Phil. 2:9), “Savior”, “Christ”, and “Lord” (Luke 2:11).
Seven hundred years earlier, Isaiah prophesied of the virgin born Child’s superiority: he is, “Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace” (9:6), of whose government every other allegiance must be renounced.
Today we look about; the world, whatever its motives, declares this day an amalgamated “happy time”; well I guess so, but Christmas does not belong to lounge singers who peddle vapid happy tunes. It is, in the church’s mass, where we recall that the Nativity is God’s long-awaited solution to man’s worldly struggles that do not disappear in a day.
The Nativity is not a day; it is a season in context that the Babe comes amid worldly hatred. This will be made clear next Sunday when Herod and all Jerusalem are distressed at the Child’s coming rein.
Not only will they endorse Jesus’ death by the slaughter of the “Holy Innocents”, but their new born king will be killed at the precise place where we greet God’s sorrow on the cross, who by nature is above human sorrows (this is a great mystery).
On Christmas Day, the church makes the introduction of us to our true God, not only for a season but finally wrapped in the Passion of his Son’s abandon and the Resurrection. Given the push and tug of allegiances, St. Paul expressed our problem and God’s “dolorous” at our condition, “I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.” (Rom. 7:15).
Baptized to God’s holiness, we nevertheless remain under the world’s sway; from the beginning of sin our roots were planted in corrupt soil. With Adam’s fall we were separated from the Bread of angels (Ps. 78:25); consigned to food from a cursed ground through our own efforts, so at the end of days we breathe our last of the dust from which we came.
But St. Paul assures the antidote, the power of Baptism, justifying us in the blood of Christ and “training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions… in the present age.”
With the Nativity, a great Light has entered our darkness. The Babe, swaddled and lying in a manger is revealed to be heaven’s Bread for men who, under Satan’s thrall had become beast-like. Of this Bread we acclaim with angels, Gloria in Excelsis Deo, who is greater than all “rulers and authorities”.
By the power of their acclamation on Christmas night, the Babe calls us to what we cannot do of ourselves, a new enrollment by the HS into his host; to receive his name in a new begetting by water and word, participate in the Babe’s victorious warfare at the cross, the place of atonement for the sin of the world and true worship of God.
On this day, after brief hiatus, “the Gloria in Excelsis” returns to the church’s mass, which gives us pause to inquire, “Who are those upon whom God’s favor rests?” Certainly, the believing shepherds, Joseph, Mary clasping her treasured son, and later worshipping Gentile magi; thus, the end of the Christmas season.
But today, as the Babe is received in faith to be “God with us” by his improbable coming; so we who improbably receive him in word and Sacrament according to his command, are those upon whom God’s favor rests.
Think of what renunciation “gives up”. In Christ we deny all authority and strength over our own righteousness, concupiscence, and sanctity. We make no “decision for Jesus” because we are unable to do so apart from qualification, condition, or vain hearts that, by sin always stands contrary to the will of God.
Of God’s unmerited grace, Jesus would concur with his and our Father, “[N]evertheless, not as I will, but as you will” (Mt. 26:39c). The incarnation’s union of God and man has been fully executed on the cross for our adoption as sons and daughters of the Father for all who believe and are baptized.
On the cross Jesus was bound to serve God in a deserted environment; and like Him whom the Father raised to life, we are joined to be the expressions of his counsel and good works in the new creation coming into being by word and Sacrament. Amen.