The Best Gift Of All
December 9, 2017
Verse: Mark 1:8
Christ Lutheran Church
December 10, 2017
by: Rev. Dean Kavouras
The Best Gift Of All
I baptized you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit. Mark 1:8
When God formed Adam “of dust from the ground,” (Genesis 2:7) his work was not yet complete. The final step was to breathe “the breath of life” into his nostrils, and only then did Adam become a living soul.
That’s the difference between a person who is alive, and one who is dead: the one is breathing, the other is not. Take away a person’s breath, and left untouched, he will soon revert to the dust from which he came just as we learn in Genesis 3:19, “You are dust, and to dust you shall return.”
When we speak of the “breath” of God we mean the Spirit of God, and so it is no mistake when confess in the Creed, “I believe in the Holy Spirit the Lord and Giver of life.” With him you are alive; without him you are dead.
Understanding this the early church fathers taught that when Adam sinned he lost the Holy Spirit; and not only he but all his descendants as well! We are those descendants! They further taught that in holy baptism God restores the Spirit to us, breathes the Breath of life into us anew, making us fully human again; and restoring us to the image and likeness of God. And so to hear the words of today’s Gospel, “he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit,” should make all Christians leap with joy.
But a word of caution is in order. Contrary to what our Pentecostal cousins surmise from this verse there are not two baptisms, “water baptism” and “spirit baptism,” but one. John’s baptism was preparatory. But the baptism you receive in and into “the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,” that one gives life! By it you are born anew, and begotten from above, to indestructible life.
But if this is the case, what was the Baptizer up to? He was preparing the world for the entrance of its Savior. He was preparing the Road and clearing the Path for the King of kings and Lord of lords who was about to make his Royal Appearance. The Lord of Life who would soon ascend the Throne of the Cross from where he reigns unchallenged over sin, death and Satan. From where he won the victory over all that vexes you, and fills your days with sorrow. Over the wickedness and injustice of earth.
This is why the cross, and not some lesser icon of the holy Christian religion, occupies the highest place in God’s House. Where it sets the tone for our worship in this golden hour; and the tone for our lives when we leave here -- only to be assaulted by every manner of temptation, trouble, anxiety, distress and misfortune. When that happens let this image of the victorious Lord on the cross come into your mind’s eye; of him who delivered himself into evil, in order to deliver us from evil, and you will experience great peace.
But as we hear today’s Gospel please realize that we are not simply engaging in a history lesson; because the church today still performs the work that John carried out then. She still prepares the way for the Lord, and makes his paths straight. John did it by preaching and baptizing. So do we.
But it isn’t the Lord’s first coming that we prepare the world to receive today, though we annually celebrate that definitive act of God’s love. But, rather, his present intervention into the affairs of men that occurs at every Eucharist. And, his final Advent when he will return to judge the living and the dead. Though these three Advents are separated by time they are the same event. All three are intended for the salvation of sinners. You are those sinners. And so prepare the way for the Lord, and make his paths straight.
But how is this done? We’re doing it now. As John preached repentance then, so the church calls for repentance today. Yes, the baptized need to repent! Christians need to pray the prayer of confession “I a poor miserable sinner confess unto you all my sins and iniquities …“ every day, if not hour.
And we need to receive absolution, too. Both general absolution administered here on Christ’s Day. And if we want to experience the greatest peace, for our darkest sins, then we need private confession and absolution with the man who is your spiritual father. Ask and it shall be given.
Does that surprise you, to hear that we need to exercise the same repentance that the Baptizer called for? It should not. Did you ever know of a plumber, landscaper or auto mechanic to show up for work in a suit and tie? Probably not, because you can’t do that kind of work without getting dirty. Nor can you, a Christian, live in this world, and carry out the demands of your daily vocation, without getting dirty. It is impossible!
But we have soap!
But while we need to repent daily, and believe in God’s forgiveness daily, we don’t need to be baptized again. We believe in “one baptism for the remission of sins,” it is enough. But though we are not rebaptized each day, we do live in our baptism each day. And that means that every day we drown the old man with all of his evil desires, and arise as a new man to serve God in righteousness and purity forever.
But that’s not the end of the story. Because the baptized cannot live for very long, or remain strong and healthy unless they commune with their Lord. Not just in their minds, or emotions. But at this altar. This is the family table. It is where you are served the bread of life. Where those who are “in Christ” by baptism, receive “Christ into themselves.” Literally. And so do not cut yourself off from the Flesh of Christ, or from his Blood.
And it is also where we “watch and pray” for the Lord’s final return. Because each Eucharist is an installment of the Lord’s final coming. It’s not just a parable or parallel of it, but each Eucharistic celebration is actually the end of the world coming to God’s people in small portions. Here, at the altar sin, death and Satan are judged, and you the sinner are saved, placed on the Lord’s right hand with his Sheep, and taken into heaven. And so you will ever remain with the Lord. Therefore encourage one another with these words. Amen.