Enthroned above the Waters (Psalm 29)
1. Many people are scared of thunderstorms. The flashes of the lightning. The booming of the thunder. Sometimes the house shakes with the proximity and strength of the storm. For some reason, we seem to be naturally afraid of thunderstorms. You can trace this idea through ancient mythology. Many of the great leaders and kings of the gods in ancient mythology were the gods of thunder--Zeus, Jupiter, Baal, Marduk and Thor. The god of thunder was generally considered the greatest of the gods in almost every pantheistic religion of the world. Why might this be? Thunder and thunderstorms are generally considered to be expressions of God's wrath. Each of these gods have plenty of stories of them hurling lightning bolts at those who had sparked their anger. This fear is probably the case from very early as the descendants of Ham, Shem and Japheth, Noah's sons, retold the story of the Flood to their descendants. You can see that especially among the children of Ham--from whom Cush (Ethiopia), Egypt, Babylon, Assyria and Canaan descended. The children of Japheth spread out all around the northern and eastern Mediterranean, including Greece and Italy. The Flood was seen from a very early time to be the first sign of God's wrath against sinful man. Man's sin grew to such a great height so that "every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only continually evil", God "was sorry that He had made man on the earth" (Genesis 6:6). This we will confess when we end our service this morning: "You were before your day of birth, indeed, from your conception, condemned and lost with all the earth, none good without exception" (LSB #596.2). So God sent the Flood to wipe out Creation and start over again with Noah's family. It was a sign of the wrath of God upon all Creation. King David picks this up in our Psalm this morning as he describes "the voice of the LORD" in its devestating wrath twelve times (vv3-8). Its this judgment that we're most afraid of. It's the sight seen in the lines we're looking at this morning: "YHWH sits enthroned over the flood; YHWH sits enthroned as king forever" (v10).
2. But God's sitting above the flood can also be good. As we saw in our Old Testament reading, it was His place in the very beginning: "The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters" (Genesis 1:2). It is the God we confess in the Creed, "I believe in God the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth." He was over the waters from whence the universe emerged. It is that God who created heaven and earth whom we have rebelled against with our sin. It is that God who brought the Flood to destroy the Creation as it was then. It was that God who made a vehicle of deliverance through the Flood. The ark which Noah build at God's command was used to deliver eight souls--Noah, his wife, his sons and his sons' wives--from the destruction of all flesh. This font is the reality that Noah's ark symbolized. This is the place where the children of Adam, the children of wrath, come and have the waters of the Flood poured on them and they are delivered from destruction. As we'll sing in our sermon hymn, "Lo, on those who dwelt in darkness, dark as night and deep as death, broke the light of Thy salvation, breathed Thine own life-breathing breath" (LSB #578.2). The font is where the children of darkness are made children of light. It's that light of the Epiphany of Our Lord that brings this about. We who have been baptized have been delivered from the destruction of this world because of its sin. We will be in the kingdom of God, praising Him for all eternity as our Psalm began. The light has shone upon us because Jesus submitted Himself to Baptism by John in the Jordan River. It is Jesus' Baptism in the Jordan River, the great festival we celebrate today, that makes our deliverance sure. It is the Baptism of the one who heard the words, "You are My beloved Son; with You I am well-pleased" (Mark 1:11), that brings about God's pleasure with you. He says to you, "You are My beloved Son, My beloved daughter." God sits enthroned over the Flood because He presides over it. He is the one who says who pleases Him and who does not. And those who please Him receive the benefits of His pleasure.
3. The first benefit David describes is strength: "May YHWH give strength to His people" (v11a). This Jesus gives in its most visible form: His own presence in the line of sinners confessing their sins to John and being baptized by him in the Jordan River. Not that Jesus had any sins to be forgiven. He was there providing the great strength that only a leader can give. An army that has suffered a serious defeat in battle is most times greatly strengthened simply by the presence of their commander, reassuring them that this failure was only temporary. That's what Jesus is doing at the Jordan. He's bolstering His army of soldiers in preparation for their next battle against the enemy that has continually defeated them. How can I say this? How do we know Jesus is doing this? We look elsewhere in the Gospels. We know from St. John's Gospel that Sts. Andrew and John the Evangelist, and possibly St. Philip, were disciples of John the Baptizer (John 1). They may have been there when Jesus was baptized and saw all the great things and the words which John the Baptizer spoke before and after that St. Mark doesn't record. Jesus' presence among those coming to be baptized shows that He is marshalling His troops for the battles and war against the Devil. A war that will take His death to finish and His resurrection to win. But His presence brings us great strength as He is declared to be God's Son by the voice coming from Heaven. Through His victory over Satan, death and Hell, we are bold to sing, "The Lord God is my strength and my song, and He has become my salvation" (Isaiah 12:2b). That salvation brings us the greatest benefit of Jesus' Baptism and God sitting above the Flood.
4. "May YHWH bless His people with peace" (v11b). This peace comes because of the great exchange that happened in the Jesus' Baptism. Having no sins to confess and therefore no need of redemption, Jesus' righteousness washes off of Him into the waters of the Jordan and the sins of those who had been baptized were washed upon Him. Even at His Baptism, Jesus began to carry the sins of the world upon Himself. As we prayed earlier from the rite of Holy Baptism, "Through the Baptism in the Jordan of ... our Lord Jesus Christ, [God] sanctified and instituted all waters to be a blessed flood and a lavish washing away of sin" (LSB p. 269). That washing away of sin through Baptism is the granting of peace that David prayed for in the Psalm. We learn from the Catechism: "Baptism is not just plain water, but it is water included in God's command and combined with God's Word" (SC IV, 1). It's that Word that "bespeaks us righteous" (LSB #578.3) as we will sing in a moment. It's that Word that allows us to "Ascribe to YHWH glory and strength. Ascribe to YHWH the glory due His name" (vv1b-2a). Therefore we pray in our sermon hymn, "Give us lips to sing Thy glory, tongues Thy mercy to proclaim, throats that shout the hope that fills us, mouths to speak Thy holy name" (LSB #578.5). We are able to do this because we have been granted the "peace of God which surpasses all understanding" (Philippians 4:7). Therefore we know that we have put on Christ in our Baptism as the righteousness washed off of Him is washed onto us. May that righteousness and the strength and peace that it delivers be with and protect you always. Amen.