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“Celebrate Your Re-Birthday” Epiphany 1 – January 9th and 10th, 2010 Titus 3:4-7

Each year, there are certain days which are set aside for special observance and celebration, days which are commemorated because of a historical event that took place which has ongoing significance for us today. We observe and celebrate the 4th of July, because on that day in 1776, the United States of America declared its independence from the British monarchy, giving this country freedom which we still enjoy to this day. On a much lesser scale, there are days like Columbus Day, Martin Luther King Jr. Day and Veterans Day which may not produce the kind of full-scale celebration that you see on the 4th of July, but still commemorate important people and events in history which affect us even today in the 21st century. Each year, the calendar is full of days which observe and celebrate events of the past that have ongoing aftereffects for us today. But there’s one very important day that probably doesn’t appear on your calendar at home...in fact, you may not even know the exact date of its occurrence and yet its importance surpasses many of the days that we celebrate each and every year. I’m talking about the day of your baptism, the day that you were adopted into the family of God through that water of grace that was poured over you, which was connected with the power of God’s very Word. Today, as the Christian Church commemorates the Baptism of our Lord Jesus on this, the first weekend after Epiphany, we will take the opportunity to commemorate and celebrate our baptisms, noting what our baptism means for our daily lives, and remembering why it is an occasion to celebrate. With the Spirit’s guidance, we are directed to remember to “Celebrate our Re-birthday.” Celebrate, because on the day of our baptism, God showered us with the full abundance of his benevolence, and guaranteed by his adoption of grace our eternal inheritance as members of his family. I. Because you were showered with God’s generosity

Some of the holidays that we celebrate each year are accompanied by the tradition of gift-giving. We just finished celebrating one such holiday, Christmas, where it is customary to give gifts to certain loved ones. And even beyond Christmas, a wedding anniversary, Valentine’s Day and birthdays, among others, provide an annual occasion for generosity. Since our baptism day probably isn’t noted on our calendars at home, and perhaps we may not even know what day our “Re-birthday” is, (you may want to find out!) we probably would not consider it a day for gift-giving. Sure, almost all, if not all, of us perpetually receive annual birthday presents from loved ones. But how many of us have received gifts in subsequent years commemorating our “re-birthday”? And yet, the day of our baptism is a day to celebrate and commemorate because on our re-birthday, God showered us with the greatest of his gifts, showing to us the extent of his benevolence, and the limitlessness of his generosity. Listen to the way that St. Paul expresses this benevolence in Titus 3:4-6: “4 But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, 5 he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, 6 whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior...”

Did you take note of especially verse 5: “he saved us...not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy.” A gift is only a gift when someone else paid for it, when someone else worked for it and then gives it to you to enjoy without any expectation in return. If I were to say to one of you, “I’ll give you $50 IF you clean my house,” the $50 isn’t a gift, it’s a paycheck, because something is required of you first. You have to do something in order to obtain it. If I were to say to you, “I’ll give you $50 and then I expect you to clean my house,” that still requires something of you. It’s more of a bribe than a gift. And if I said, “I’ll give you $50 and then you can pay me back later,” the $50 isn’t a gift. It’s a loan which requires subsequent faithfulness under the threat of punishment. A gift is only truly a gift if someone else did the work to pay for it so that they could, in turn, hand it over to you without any strings attached. “He saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy.” How generous is our God in his act of gift-giving through baptism. He paid the very high price that was required for the gifts that he gives in baptism. The forgiveness of sins, which is given to the recipient in baptism, was paid for not with righteous deeds of the recipient (because that would make forgiveness of sins a paycheck instead of gift), but with the holy and precious blood of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. As the substitutionary Lamb of God, he was slaughtered on the cross of Calvary so that the sins of the world would be taken away, so that the holy anger of a righteous and just God would be satisfied by the sacrifice of his one and only Son and not in the just punishment and eternal death of all the world, as we confess with Dr. Luther in the 2nd article, “(Jesus) purchased and won me from all sin, from death and the power of the devil, not with gold or silver, but with his holy, precious blood and his innocent suffering and death.” Jesus paid the price of forgiveness on the cross, he did all the work. And then, in an act of incredible and immeasurable love, he turns right around and gives you what he worked for as a gift – forgiveness of all sins and eternal life, by also giving through Baptism, the receiving agent of those blessings, faith, which receives Christ’s benefits and then applies them to you personally for your salvation. How benevolent our God is, and how generous is his act of gift-giving, so generous that our “Re-birthday” should not just be a one-time celebration, or a one-time, and then forgotten kind of event, or even a yearly commemoration, but a daily celebration, where we are constantly calling to mind how one event in our own history, our baptism, has such far-reaching and continuous blessings for us, both now on earth and forever in heaven. II. Because you were guaranteed God’s inheritance

Let’s turn once again to our text from Titus 3 and pick up one more joy-filled and celebration-worthy truth in reference to our baptism, which moves us to give thanks each and every day that we have been blessed in our baptism: “He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life.” There are some people who like to go “over the top” when it comes to gift-giving. Maybe you’ve had an occasion where a family member just went all out for your birthday, or all out for Christmas, spending an exorbitant amount of money, or spending an incredible amount of time to prepare just the right gift for you – something so incredibly “over the top” that when you unwrapped the gift, you just had to say, “You know, you really shouldn’t have.” And of course, instead of saying, “You’re right, I really shouldn’t have,” and taking the gift back, the giftgiver might remark, “Well, you’re family. And I love you.”

God doesn’t need any more reason outside of those very reasons to be so generous and benevolent with us, his children. He loves us - with a kind of unconditional and self-sacrificing love that we could never even come close to mirroring, loving us to the extent that he was willing to send his own Son to hell to serve our sin’s punishment so that we would be set free from sin and live forever with him in heaven. St. John says that very thing in his first epistle: “This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.” He loves us – and we are his family. Think of your baptism day as your adoption day, and your baptism certificate as your adoption papers into God’s family. On the same day and in the same event where God showers his incredible benevolence on us, he also declares us to be his own, his children, belonging to him. And as God’s children, cleansed with holy blood which was applied to us at baptism, and wrapped in Christ’s righteousness that we may stand before our God and Father, as God’s children, we are also heirs, heirs to an inheritance that St. Peter describes as one that, “Can never perish, spoil or fade.” It’s a guaranteed inheritance. When Paul uses the word “hope” here, “having the hope of eternal life,” he isn’t describing something that we “might” receive if certain circumstances fall into place. He isn’t presenting to us a possibility of maybe what could happen. Oh, no, he is revealing to us the reality of what we can and should expect – glory in heaven for all who are God’s children. And how can we be sure of that? Well, just like an inheritance on this side of eternity, if you are a family member and your benefactor dies and names you in the will, you will receive what is promised without any contribution necessary on your part. Jesus, your brother in the flesh is your family member who died. And because God the Father has adopted you into his family through the Holy Spirit in baptism, you are a full recipient of everything that Jesus promises in his death. Because your heavenly Father has chosen to make you his own and to claim you as his child, and has written your name in the Book of Life, his family record, you can be absolutely sure that when the time comes for your earthly journey to end, He, the Father will distribute to you the glorious portion that Jesus, the Son has promised you in heaven. What wonderful reasons to celebrate our “Re-birthdays.” I know it isn’t likely that we mark on our calendars the date of our baptism. We celebrate birthdays, anniversaries, corporate holidays and things of that nature – but so often we forget about our 2nd birthday, our spiritual birthday, the day when the Lord poured his grace over us in water and word. As a bit of encouragement for you today, take the time to look up your baptism date – your re-birthday. Mark it on your calendar. Make a point to commemorate it with thanksgiving, in worship and prayer, never forgetting how generous and benevolent God has been to you, and what you have to look forward to because you are a baptized child of God. Amen.