(painting: Trinity by Jusepe De Ribera 1618)
Today we observe the feast day of the Holy Trinity. We confess that we believe in the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost. We believe in the one true God. It’s also the day that we confess that really long creed that starts with an “A” that no one knows how to say.
But we can never get bored with confessing God as He has revealed Himself to be. He is not just Elohim or YWHW or I AM who I AM. In our context, God is not by any means “the big guy upstairs” – looking down on you but rather God is the little guy down here – born in a barn of a virgin mother – a baby, wrapped in diapers and lying in a feed trough.
God is no longer speaking from a burning bush but is now speaking more loudly and clearly than ever before, declaring his undying love for sinners. God is fully revealed. YWHW, the God of Israel is a baby boy – born into the world to redeem the world. Conceived without sin, yet bearing sin, that you might be conceived by the Holy Spirit, and born of holy mother church through baptism into Christ. With God as your father, the church as your mother, and Christ as your older brother. You have an honored place at the family table. You are valued, honored, and loved by God because He loves you more than He loves Himself.
God is not a shadowy figure. He is not unapproachable. He is a God of love. The Incarnation of His Son is unassailable proof of this. The birth of Jesus is verifiable evidence of His love for you. He is joined to your human flesh – joined to your weaknesses – like you in every way yet without sin. Yet he was baptized into your sins in the Jordan and schlepped them all the way up to Calvary’s bloody hill. Stripped, beaten like an animal, and cursed – He became the sinner that you are and bore the price for it. He forgave you from the cross and forgives you now. He who began a good work in you will complete it. He will surely do it. He will save you from your sins. With God, nothing is impossible – not even your own salvation because the Son of God has become a Son of man that we sons of men might be sons of God.
In today’s Gospel Nicodemus, a successful and rich man comes to Jesus in the middle of the night, inquiring in secret about Jesus identity. Jesus answered him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.”
Nicodemus is struggling with unbelief as we struggle with unbelief. He wants to believe but he is confused. Nicodemus is a smart man and perhaps that’s part of the problem. Human reason cannot believe that God is a man. Human reason cannot believe that the infinite and omnipotent God can be standing right before His face.
He doesn’t understand how a grown man like him can be born again. So Jesus tells him “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God…The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone is born of the Spirit.”
You see, the same Spirit who hovered over the waters at the dawn of creation, hovers over Jesus at the Jordan. The same spirit rests upon you at your baptism where even today your Father speaks the same words to you “This is my beloved Son…This is my beloved daughter with whom I am well pleased.” You are born again so that you can open your mouth and say by the gift of the Holy Spirit “Abba, Father.”
Like Nicodemus you too have a problem with unbelief, but even Nicodemus came around. He keeps coming back to Jesus with more questions which is the very nature of faith. He keeps coming back for answers and in humility he learns to be satisfied with the words of Jesus, believing that He is the way the truth and the life and that no one comes to the Father but through Him.
The last thing we know of Nicodemus is that he is at the foot of the cross. It’s seems likely he would have recalled the words of Jesus when he said to him “As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in Him may have eternal life.” Perhaps Nicodemus saw the water and the blood pour forth from Jesus side. Maybe he understood what Jesus meant when he said that we must be born again. Perhaps he too confessed boldly with the Roman soldier “Truly this man was the Son of God.”
No doubt he believed. Nicodemus takes the crucified body of Jesus down from the cross. He wraps the body in swaddling clothes and lays Jesus in the manger of the earth. All of Nicodemus’s questions will be answered when Jesus is raised from the dead. For only in the Resurrection is our baptism complete as we wake up and open our eyes when He comes again, gently lifting us from the womb of the earth to Himself in heaven – with the Father, and the Son and the Holy Spirit. In the name of Jesus. Amen.