New Year’s Eve, 2001| Rev. Rolf Preus| 1 Peter 1:22-25
St. Peter points to three things at once. First, he tells us that our souls have been purified by holy baptism. “Obeying the truth” was how St. Peter would refer to being baptized in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Ghost. Secondly, St. Peter tells us that this obedience to the truth involves us in a sincere and fervent love for one another. Third, St. Peter reminds us that we are born again by the gospel, the word of God that endures forever.
We will enter the year of our Lord 2002 as saints. Baptism makes you a saint. Mere water only makes you wet. The water that is joined by Christ’s command to the name of the Holy Trinity is the water that purifies the soul. The water is poured over the body, but this sacrament cleanses the soul from sin. The body in which we live right now cannot live forever because it was born in sin. Baptism promises resurrection from the dead. In Holy Baptism we died to sin and rose to live the lives of saints. We were purified. And as many times as we soiled our souls by sin, so many times our God graciously washed us again in the waters of Holy Baptism. The reason the absolution we receive here in church is valid is because it applies to our souls the same forgiveness of sins first given to us in Holy Baptism. Obeying the truth is not obeying laws and rules and codes for living. Obeying the truth is dying and rising. Obeying the truth is being joined by Holy Baptism to the true and only God: God the Father who created us; God the Son who by his blood redeemed us; and God the Holy Spirit who sanctifies our bodies to be the Temple of God. We enter 2002 as saints.
We enter the New Year as brothers and sisters who love one another. The Son was begotten of the Father’s love from eternity. The Father’s love sent him to be our Savior. Love incarnate was conceived in the womb of the Virgin Mary. It was revealed in the manger. It was love that sent this holy Child to the cross thirty-three years later. Love kept him there as he bore all of our griefs and carried all of our sorrows. Of this love Paul Gerhardt writes:
O wondrous Love, what hast Thou done!
The Father offers up His Son.
The Son, content, descendeth!
O Love, how strong Thou are to save!
Thou beddest Him within the grave
Whose might the boulders rendeth.
The strong love of God is the love to which we were bound when we obeyed the truth. This is the love that binds us as well to one another. For if I have what you have and you have what I have we have the same thing and we have it together. To hate your brother or sister is to deny the love into which you were baptized and which saves your soul from hell. This is why St. John wrote, “He who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him.” This is why we must return to the washing that purified our souls, not just once in a while, but constantly. We must receive God’s love by faith in the gospel. We must love one another. Nothing else comes close in importance as we consider the lives that God has given us to live.
Only love is eternal. St. Paul wrote, “Now these three remain: faith, hope, and love, but the greatest of these is love.” Love is the greatest because love is eternal. It comes from the eternal God and it is revealed here in time and then it takes us to the eternal joys of heaven. Love does all this. This is why we love one another. This is why we forgive one another. This is why we bear one another’s burdens and live patiently together as God’s children. This is why we explain each other’s actions in as kind a way as we can within the bounds of the truth. This is why contending for the truth without loving one another is a dead orthodoxy that, far from honoring God’s name, blasphemes his holy name.
But we are born again and we are born again to live forever. The word of God is from everlasting to everlasting. Christ Himself is the Word incarnate, and the written word of the Holy Scriptures points to him. The oral word, that is the word that is preached to us, points to him. From him comes the new birth because he is the Seed of the woman who crushed the head of the devil, that liar and murderer who brought death into this world. In Jesus is life, and so in his words are life. As Jesus said, “The words I speak to you are spirit and they are life.”
Only the truth has any power to bring life. Lies bring death. The word of God that has the power to bring us to life is entirely true. It is eternal truth. Just as God’s love is eternal, the word of God lasts forever. We aren’t born again to die. We are born again to live forever. We sang a few moments ago, “Time, like an ever-rolling stream, bears all its sons away; they fly, forgotten, as a dream dies at the opening day.” But we are not sons of time. We are children of the eternal God. We are born from above by the word preached here below and this is a birth to eternal life.
As 2001 turns into 2002 we see time expressed in the destruction of man’s glory. That a few Muslim fanatics can wreak havoc on a magnificent city of amazing glory, wealth, and prestige is undoubtedly the most significant event of the year that is now nearly gone. But the glory of men is never any more secure than were the Twin Towers on September 11. There is no power in heaven or on earth that can equal the power of the word by which we are born again. The power to keep us in the true faith is the gospel because the gospel derives its power, indeed is the power, of Christ’s righteous obedience and holy death. Every sin you and I did during this past year and all the guilt that we brought upon ourselves was covered up by the obedience of Jesus and washed away by his blood. When God gives us to eat and to drink of that body and blood of Jesus, God puts into our bodies and souls the eternal life that is Christ. This holy Sacrament is rightly called the medicine of immortality, because it guarantees us who receive it in faith the forgiveness of sins once and for all purchased for us by Christ’s body and blood. And where there is forgiveness of sins, there is also life and salvation. Amen.