New Birth

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The Fourth Sunday of Advent
December 18th, 2016
The Rev. Austin K. Rios
St. Paul’s Within the Walls

To all God’s beloved in Rome, who are called to be saints: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

These words come at the end of our second reading today from Paul’s Letter to the Romans, but form the centerpiece of his claim for new life.

He will spend the next 16 Chapters of his Epistle presenting his case to those in Rome “who are called to be saints” and while doing so, make some powerful analogies about what new life in the resurrected Lord can be.

My favorite is the inspired section in Chapter 12 where Paul talks about the gifts of the Spirit and his concept of the network of new relationships we share because of our baptism into the death and resurrection of Christ.

This community, which he calls the Body of Christ, is one which preserves the individual and her gifts, but sees them contributing to a larger entity that is organic, incarnate, and purposeful.

The Body of Christ is living and breathing…just like the living cells that make up our own bodies…and also, like us, has the capacity to bring life or to end it.

This Body of Christ…like the body of Mary and Joseph’s baby whose birth we will celebrate in a week…came into the world in all the beauty and fragility of our humanity.

Able to experience sadness and joy, gain and loss, pleasure and pain.

And just as Jesus’ body was born in the Incarnation, the mystical Body of Christ came into being with his Crucifixion and Resurrection, and eventually took on the name Church.

This mystical Body has a purpose, and that is to spread far and wide the love of God that we have come to know in Christ Jesus, and to welcome and help usher in the realm of God that was intended in creation’s beginning, yet which faces constant pressure from the many competing reigns of this world.

Jesus’ life was oriented toward making God’s realm more present to us, and reminding people of any social class and station and language and nation that God’s desire is to be in right relationship with this world…a relationship founded on grace, unconditional love, and mutual respect.

From the troubled days of King Ahaz of Judah, when Isaiah spoke about Emmanuel, God with us…through the days of Mary and Joseph who faced navigating not only a trying personal circumstance because of Mary’s mysterious pregnancy, but also an oppressive and occupying political regime that trampled the poor…the promise of God’s presence with us has been an enduring theme.

And I dare say that it undergirds everything we are doing today with the Baptism of these three candidates.

God with us…Emmanuel…we sing and pray today for God to enter into our world once more…while we also recognize and celebrate that God already has.

God has come into this world in the person of Jesus, but part of what Jesus revealed to those who had ears to hear was that God has ALWAYS been here…the kingdom of God didn’t need to come to being from afar, like a space shuttle might land on a strange planet, but only had to be revealed after years of forgetting had obscured it.

In the Garden of Eden, the primordial humans’ critical mistake after eating from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil was in forgetting that God was omnipresent in the Garden. They tried to hide from their new born shame, and that began a series of choices in which the realm of God was less apparent to subsequent generations of humans.

Jesus sought to pull back this veil…some have referred to this as sin (the primordial and experienced separation from God)…and when we are baptized into his death and resurrection, we vow to remember the truth of God being with us and to assist others who have been blinded to that truth to see it and live it.

The advantage of baptizing children, like Valentino and Liam, is that they have hardly forgotten this in the first place. For Camilla, it may be a more challenging journey, but one taken with eyes fully open and willingly.

Baptism has this very powerful spiritual component…we receive new birth into the Body of Christ…but is also requires a response from us.

The Mystical Body of Christ does not exist in some far away, insulated world or in some isolated ether, but is planted and rooted within this world like the Tree of Life that stood in the center of the first garden.

This means that we do not ignore the abuses of tyrants, and we do not turn a blind eye to suffering in Aleppo, and we do not tell the refugee or the stranger I have no need of you.

Being a faithful part of the Body of Christ does not mean being “perfect” in as much as perfection signifies following all the rules others have constructed in order to define what is religious for their own benefit.

Rather it means following the rule of love…against which no human law can ever stand…and doing all in our power to love God and God’s realm among us…which means loving un-loveable people, and even more, loving enemies, while actively working, sometimes subversively, to reveal the truth to them.

We say yes to this new birth, this new life…just as Mary said yes to the child that was to be born to her, and Joseph said yes to a mysteriously pregnant fiancé…acknowledging that it takes will and guts to do so, and God’s grace to accomplish the end goal.

As we stand on the verge of the season of Christmas, expecting the birth of the Christ child once more, we celebrate this opportunity to remember that God is among us and with us, because we are here and are part of the mystical Body of Christ that knows no time or limits, yet acts within this moment in history.

We rejoice that these three candidates will add their voices and unique efforts to our collective mission, and we pray that our own commitments as part of the Body of Christ will be strengthened and confirmed today.

We pray for an end to the blindness that infects our world and for God’s deep and powerful love to overcome us and overflow from us for the healing of the nations.

So that the new creation may be born. So that this creation may be filled with the radiance and glory that lit up the garden.

So that the Body of Christ might be a force for good in our time, rather than just another disappointing and dying institution.

Life awaits us dear people of God.

Let us go to the waters now and look to the Spirit and expect the fruits of new birth to come and animate us once more.

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