“Humbled for a season, to receive a name from the lips of sinners, unto whom he came.” Jesus. Jesus Christ is the Name. Jesus is the One who carries us through every season: from Advent to Pentecost, from childhood to adulthood, from the cross to the empty tomb, from death to life. But notice from whose lips this Name is uttered: Sinners. “Christ dwells only with sinners,” Martin Luther said throughout his life. “You, Lord Jesus, are my righteousness, but I am your sin. You have taken upon yourself what is mine and have given to me what is yours. You have taken upon yourself what you were not and have given to me what I was not.” Now, in this life marked by the shadow of the cross, we acknowledge that we are sinners. At this darkest time of the year, we confess that we are dying. Dying not only in our bodies, but dying in our spirits even more. Spirits that are in bondage to sin that, inevitably, choke and suppress even our best intentions-the “verities” we thought were true and unshaken. But only here, suffocated by the power of sin, does God give us faith. Faith that revives our dead spirits, so we can “catch our breath and turn transfixed by faith.”
“What child is this?” This is one of the first questions that toddlers ask. “What’s this? What’s that?” But for we who dwell in darkness, this question is followed by another, more profound question: “Why?” “Why lies this Jesus in such mean estate, where ox and ass are feeding?” “Why must this Jesus be the feeding trough for the world?” “Why must this Jesus be pierced with nails and spear?” Ah, but we so quickly forget who this child is for: You. For you, is this child given. For you, “Good Christian,” will Jesus bear the cross and suffer. But oh, “Dear Christian”, remember who you are, “Dear Sinner.” “For sinners here the silent Word is pleading.” Pleading for your sins, pleading for your brokenness, pleading for your despair. But it’s all for you, Good Christian. All for you.
What is this love “beyond all thought and fantasy?” Can we not know this Love through the power of our minds, our wills, our imagination? We cannot. You see, not only in our brokenness are we unable to cook up within ourselves the Love of God. Even our greatest thoughts and fantasies cannot cook up the Love of God. This Love is too deep, too broad, too high for us. It is too much for us to contain, control, or keep to ourselves. But not for Jesus. Only in
Jesus do we know the God who is our Love. Only in his baptism are we brought from death to life. Only in his crucifixion are our best thoughts and fantasies put to death. Here, in this very Love, Jesus robes himself with our sin, and we robe ourselves in Christ. Here in our baptism, do we know the Love so Deep, so Broad, so High.
“This is my Body, given for you. This is my Blood, shed for you.” Jesus said these words to his disciples in the night he was betrayed, the night before he was put to death on a cross. But are these words not said to you, to me, to us? Today, now, here in this place? These are not words we simply remember, but they are words enacted upon us now, killing us with their power and raising us up with Christ. We are not among those people simply “looking on” to this man’s death on a cross, hoping that Jesus will save himself. No, when we behold the Crucified One, we see ourselves: Our own death to selfish, empty, meaningless lives. When we proclaim the death of Christ, we proclaim our own deaths, too. Yet, Behold the Crucified One, who saves not himself, but saves us. Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.
What do you see appearing on earth’s horizon? The destruction of war? The meaninglessness of wealth? The despair of death? Or perhaps your world has become so closed in upon itself, that you struggle to make it through the next day, the next hour, your next breath. But where we see the “Day of Wrath” or the “Day of Mourning”, God gives us a “Day full of Grace.” In the brightness of the resurrection of Christ, we walk not by sight, but by faith. Faith rooted in the presence of the Holy Spirit, which is also presence of Christ. Such a faith still recognizes the darkness of this world, but also believes that we are no longer alone. God is truly present “in this dark place” because, in the shadow of the cross, there is no place that Jesus Christ will not go for us. In this and every place, we are promised grace, mercy, and peace of Christ. So every day is a Day full of Grace, a Day full of Hope, a Day full of Christ.
In our baptism, our days and years are marked by the cross of Christ forever. So consider this rhetorical question about the cross: “Did e’er such love and sorrow meet, or thorns compose so rich a crown?” Of course, such love and sorrow that takes away the sin of world cannot be known just anywhere, but only in Christ. Such a universal claim does not call for exclusivity, but joyful love for the neighbor in the here and the now. The only universal answer we give to this question is “Love so amazing, so divine, demands my soul, my life, my all.” Only the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ can demand this. But thanks be to God, whose love in Christ already embraces our souls, our lives, our all.
Where does Jesus reign? In heaven? From the cross? In our hearts? In this life of “temptation’s hour,” how Christ is present is perhaps less important than where Christ is present. Where do we find this Prince of Glory, the true Presence and Power of God? It is, finally, in our suffering search for and wrestling with God. Through the cross, we truly find God, and God truly finds us. In our baptism, where we are daily drowned to sin and to ourselves, we find the Name of Jesus who holds us fast in the steadfast love of God, and “enfolds us in its light and power.” So let us confess this Name above all names who reigns not from afar, but above us, around us, underneath us, before us, behind us, and in us. For God’s steadfast love endures forever.