Wednesday, December 16, 2020

Advent Evening Prayer in the Week of Gaudete (Advent 3)


Titus 3:1-8; Galatians 3:23-29

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.

God is holy. He is perfectly righteous, sinless, and good. In fact, God is the measure and definition of holiness, righteousness, sinlessness, and goodness such that we are all found in comparison to be wanting. Those who are not holy, those who are sinners, cannot see God or stand in His presence. To do so would mean destruction as Isaiah, Zechariah, John the Evangelist, numerous others, and even Mary, feared when greeted by the LORD’s holy angels so that the angelic messengers had to proclaim the absolution of the LORD saying, “Do not fear.”

Because God is holy, and we are not, we cannot enter His direct presence or behold His glorious face. Still, God’s proper will is to dwell amongst His people as He did with our First Parents in the Garden. Therefore, the LORD comes to us who cannot approach Him through means, veiled in non-threatening forms: The Word proclaimed by a man, holy water, bread, and wine. Through these Means of Grace our LORD comes to us who cannot come to Him to forgive us our sins, create and strengthen our faith, equip and send us bearing His gifts in our lives, words, and deeds in service of others to the glory of His Name.

In Holy Baptism, our LORD works through the means of common water to save us. It is not the water that saves us, however, but it is the Word of God in and with the water, received by faith, which itself is a gift and work of the Holy Spirit. St. Paul refers to Baptism as “the washing of rebirth,” linking it to Jesus’ teaching that one must be “born again” “of water and the spirit.” Still, baptism is not merely a washing away of sins, but it is truly a rebirth into a new life, even incorporation into Christ Himself. Thus St. Paul teaches in Romans 6, “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.”

The lives of the baptized are truly new, truly born again. They look different, talk different, act different, and are different. St. Paul instructs the baptized “to be submissive to rulers and authorities,” “to avoid quarreling,” “to be gentle” and courteous toward all people, for in baptism you have “put on Christ” like a garment that clothes your body. Indeed, in baptism you have been grafted into Jesus, His death and resurrection, and have been clothed with His righteousness that covers all your sins. “In baptism we now put on Christ – our shame is fully covered with all that He once sacrificed and freely for us suffered. For here the flood of His own blood now makes us holy, right, and good, before our heav’nly Father.”

Our reading from Titus is also assigned as the Epistle reading for Christmas Day, for it speaks of Jesus saying, “But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.” In His advent the Lord came to deliver us from our foolish, disobedient, straying lives and to heal, cure, and save them. It is the powerful Word of God that breaks through sin and death to pour out His grace and awaken new life in us by the Holy Spirit.

“…when he appeared,” writes St. Paul. Jesus appeared quietly and unexpectedly, in lowliness and humility, “when all was still and it was midnight,” as we confess in our Christmas Eve liturgy. No prophet has spoken for four hundred years before John the Baptist came as the new Elijah to prepare His way. And, when He came, He did not come as a mighty king or emperor, leading a legion of troops, having great wealth or worldly might, but He came as a helpless infant born in less than ideal circumstances to a humble maiden and a virtuous man who was not His father. The Magi were given an star to lead them, not to Herod’s palace, but to a family home in Nazareth, and the shepherds were greeted by a multitude of the heavenly host proclaiming, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!” And, they were given a sign, “You will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” The shepherds went to see and found it just as they had been told.

As the Christ came to us peaceably, gentle, with lowliness and humility, so are those to be who are baptized into Him and born again to a new and holy life. When He appeared, He saved us, not by works done under the Law, but by His goodness, loving kindness, and mercy. He saved us, not by good works, but for good works. St. Paul writes that “the Law was our guardian until Christ came,” “but now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian, for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. […] And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise.”

God is holy. He is perfectly righteous, sinless, and good. Because God is holy, and we are not, we cannot enter His direct presence or behold His glorious face. Thanks be to God that in Christ’s appearing He has saved us by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit in Holy Baptism that we being justified by His grace might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

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