Bigger Than Christmas
I sure hope the stores aren't packed today. I hope the traffic isn't too bad. You probably won't be able to get into some restaurants. Neighborhoods will be full of cars what with everyone having family and friends over. That's how things SHOULD be today, but of course they won't be. No one cares that this is the day the Church has chosen to celebrate the Baptism of Jesus. Do you?
I know what bothers some of you. How come we jump from the visit of the wise men to a toddler Jesus last week to Jesus being 30-years-old this week? Why not go through the life of Christ in order? Well, even if we did that, there would only be 1 other thing between the coming of the wise men and His baptism. That would be the 12-year-old Jesus in the Temple. Scripture doesn't give a day by day account of the life of Christ. It covers the 18 years between a 12-year-old Jesus staying behind in the Temple and a 30-year-old Jesus getting baptized with these words: "And Jesus went down to Nazareth and was subject to His parents." Scripture doesn't tell us the things we would like to know but the things we need to know. The Baptism of Jesus is something we need to know.
It will be hard for you to believe, but, at one time, the Baptism of Jesus really was bigger than Christmas in some areas of the church. The Eastern Orthodox celebrated the Birth and Baptism of Christ on January 6th calling it the Day of Light with the greater emphasis being on His Baptism. The Western Church, the part we're from, gave up celebrating the Baptism and focused on the wise men instead. Luther always regretted losing the Baptism of Jesus from the Church Year. Those of you who grew up Lutheran don't remember celebrating it because you didn't. It didn't come back into our Church Year till 1978.
All this is fine, well, and good, but still you say, so what? All of these historical details only bore you. You still don't see why anyone would make such a big deal out of the Baptism of Jesus. How could anyone consider it BIGGER than Christmas? Well it's bigger than Christmas because of what Jesus did. Matthew tells us in chapter 3 that the Jesus of chapters 1 and 2 who is the Holy One of God and worshiped by wise men, comes to lowly, John the Baptist. John doesn't come to Jesus; Jesus comes to John.
But that's not all. The Holy Jesus isn't just coming TO John, He's coming to be baptized, literally, UNDER John. Demons, mortals, and angels are under the feet of Jesus. He holds together all things by His powerful Word says Hebrews. Jesus is the One the Psalms say uses the entire earth as His footstool. This Jesus, says Matthew, journeys out of Galilee to the Jordan River, follows the River down to John, in order to be baptized UNDER him.
You may not understand how big this is, but John sure did. The bulletin says, "But John tried to deter Him, saying, 'I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?'" That's not strong enough. John didn't just say, "O, I'd rather not." No, he argued and protested with Jesus repeatedly maybe even for days. He was upset about exactly what I told you. He says to Jesus, "I have a need to be baptized under you, but you come to me." John says it really would be more fitting if he made the journey to Jesus and if he put himself under Jesus.
But Jesus does more in His Baptism than humble Himself although that in itself would make it bigger than Christmas. It's one thing to see a Baby humbled and lowly. It's quite another to see a full grown Man humble Himself. But there is more going on than this. Not only is Jesus humbling Himself He's fulfilling all righteousness.
Go ahead; dwell on "righteousness." Righteousness is the state of being acceptable to God. Righteousness is what God requires. Righteousness is perfection, holiness, purity. Nowhere does it say the birth of Jesus fulfilled righteousness, but it does say His Baptism does. Right here in the Jordan is where Jesus says He fulfills righteousness. But don't forget that little word "all." Jesus doesn't say that some, part, most or the majority of righteousness is being fulfilled but "all." There is no part, aspect, or degree of righteousness that remains yet to be fulfilled by you or anyone else.
Bigger than Christmas? You bet. At His baptism Jesus humbles Himself, fulfills all righteousness, AND He opens heaven. At Christmas the Holy Trinity slipped the Second Person of the Trinity, God the Son under the door of heaven and into the womb of the Virgin. But heaven, in a sense remained closed. At least Scripture doesn't record the heavens opening. But look what happens at the Baptism of Jesus? The heavens are opened, "torn open" according to St. Mark. The Baptism of Jesus rips open the closed heaven and the Holy Trinity, Father, Son, and Holy Ghost come tumbling out to redeem humanity.
Folks in the Old Testament hellfire and brimstone come out of heaven, but today a gentle Dove comes fluttering out. In Genesis God speaks to Adam demanding, "What have you done?" In Exodus, God thunders from heaven do this and don't that, and the people cower. In the Baptism of Jesus, God says He is pleased as punch in Jesus. No hellfire or brimstone, no thunderous demands come from heaven just a smile upon Jesus and His work.
Do you believe me now that the Baptism of Jesus is bigger than Christmas? Probably not. You just don't get what it means for you. This may be my fault. I might not be applying clearly to your life what Jesus does. If the Baptism of Jesus doesn't lighten your load, ease your mind, and forgive your sins, I know I'm not applying it correctly. Let me try again.
The Baptism of Jesus is bigger than Christmas because of what it means to you. As I said, at Christmas the Second Person of the Trinity is slipped under the doors of heaven. He comes as your Brother. He stands beside you before the bolted doors of heaven. But when Jesus puts His holy head under baptismal waters meant for sinners, the doors of heaven burst open. That's because once Jesus takes on all of your sins - go ahead take a few seconds and think of them - once Jesus takes on all of your sins, heaven's doors have no reason to be shut to you, so they spring open.
You still don't get what that means, do you? It means there is no doubt that God in heaven is really hearing your prayers. They fly from your mouth into heaven through the doors opened by Jesus' Baptism. Heaven is wide open, so there can be no doubt that God hears and sees every detail, every problem, every need in your life. Through heaven's opened doors God clearly sees what is really going on in your life.
Friends, the Baptism of Jesus didn't open up a peep hole, so God could get a glimpse of what is going on in your life. No, the double doors swung wide open. His Baptism didn't open up a mail slot for God to slip in a few blessings to you. No, the doors of heaven have been propped open and all the blessings of God tumble down on you. At His Baptism Jesus didn't open a pet door in heaven's doors. He didn't open a place for you to squeeze through on hands and knees. No, Jesus threw open the doors all but ripping them off their hinges. You can walk into heaven as if it belongs to you, because in Christ it now does.
Why? Because in the Baptism of Jesus you're righteous. Isn't that what we should conclude if Jesus fulfilled all righteousness? Or do you think that "all" doesn't really mean ALL? Or that Jesus fulfilled all righteousness for everyone but you? Or that there is still something you need to do before you can claim the righteousness of God? But what could there be if Jesus fulfilled it ALL?
Don't argue with God as did John the Baptist. Don't claim it would be more fitting if you struggled awhile with guilt over your sins or at least tried your best to do away with them. No, what is fitting is for you to give your sins to Jesus and to get all righteousness from Him. It was fitting for John to do his part: put the forgiving waters of Baptism on the Holy God who had no sins to forgive. Just so, it is fitting for you to give your very many and serious sins to Jesus. That's what Jesus wants from you today: not your faith, not your love, not your good works but those awful, disgusting sins of yours.
The Baptism of Jesus IS bigger than Christmas because it humbles you. Christmas shows you a humble Jesus but it doesn't humble you; the Baptism of Jesus does. Let me explain: Do you see how Jesus humbled Himself to undergo a sinner's Baptism? Do you see all that waits for you as a result of Jesus' baptism in the waters of your Baptism? This whole sermon, this whole holiday leads to your Baptism. But Baptism looks like plain water. It appears silly to think 3 handfuls of water could do anything but get you a little wet. It isn't very sophisticated for an adult to rely on something that happened to him or her when they were a little baby too young to even remember it. It's downright humbling to take comfort in 3 handfuls of water sprinkled on you in the name of the Triune God when you were just a kid.
No one can be comforted by something so lowly unless the Lord makes it happen. Jesus comforts you by your Baptism by taking you to His, but we want to avoid a misunderstanding at this point. You don't go to the Baptism of Jesus, so you can be moved to be humble like Jesus. You go to His Baptism to see what grace, what power, what joy is in your lowly, long ago Baptism. Our Lord moves us to stoop to pick up our Baptisms, by showing us His because looking at His Baptism is like looking in a mirror. Everything that happens in Christ's Baptism is the opposite of what happens in ours.
Jesus was humbled by His Baptism. Your Baptism while looking lowly and worthless in the eyes of the proud world and human reason, does not humble you. It exalts you. In your Baptism, says Galatians, you were clothed by Christ being given all the rights and privileges of the Son of God.
All righteousness was fulfilled in Jesus' baptism by Jesus taking on all sins. He had no sins when He came to the Jordan, yet He came for a sinner's baptism which required that sins be confessed. Friend, it was your sins that He confessed. He confessed what bothers your conscience, blushes your face, and pricks your heart. He stood in the Jordan saying, "I did that. I thought this. I said that." So you see Jesus GOT sins when He was baptized, but you got forgiveness of sins when you were baptized. When the water splashed over Jesus, it left sins behind. When the waters of Baptism ran over you, it left righteousness behind.
The Baptism of Jesus makes the humble waters of your Baptism tempting, inviting because what happens to Jesus is the opposite of what happens to you. But how does that work for heaven being opened? Heaven is opened at Jesus' baptism because the Father is pleased that Jesus is taking on your sins in His Baptism, but having taken on your sins means that heaven will be closed to Jesus and it was on the cross, wasn't it? But in your Baptism heaven remains open because God can't find a trace of your sins. Try as He might God can find only righteousness in your Baptism because Jesus carried all your sins away in His.
Go home, have a big meal. Drink a toast or two. The Baptism of Jesus is BIGGER than Christmas because today Father, Son, and Holy Ghost unmistakably take the side of sinners like us. They say we want Jesus to be their Savior. We want Jesus' Baptism to give Him sins, deliver Him to death and the devil and give Him eternal death, so their Baptisms can forgive their sins, rescue them from death and the devil, and give them eternal life. What an occasion for sinners to celebrate! Amen.
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
The Baptism of our Lord (1-13-02) Matthew 3: 13-17