Many of you kids out there know this song better than me – and I’m sure you can sing it better than me — that song from Vacation Bible School: “Who built the ark? Noah. Noah. Who built the ark? Brother Noah built the ark…” And then it talks about the animals coming on that big boat two by two, right, just like we heard about in our First Lesson this morning. Since God had Noah build the ark, that’s why it’s called Noah’s Ark. It’s got his name on it… I have a question for you. Would you like an ark named after you, too? In fact, would you like your own ark? I hope that from God’s Word to us today through the apostle Peter you will be able to see how every single one of us here can say in a very appropriate way, “I Have an Ark, Too!”
This part of the Bible is talking about God’s encouragement to live our faith and to share our faith even when we are suffering for our faith. So why do you think in the middle of all that that God starts talking about Noah’s Ark? After all, St. Peter begins our lesson by talking about Jesus dying for our sins, the heart of our faith — and then look at what he says in the third line of our Lesson where he says that Jesus “went and preached to the spirits in prison who disobeyed long ago when God waited patiently in the days of Noah while the ark was being built.” And then he goes on to say that those eight people in the ark who were saved through the water keeping that ark afloat are meant to make us think about another kind of water that keeps our lives afloat. What is that water, everybody? Peter tells us in verse 21 at the end of the fifth line when he says that “this water (the water of the Flood) symbolizes baptism that now saves you also…”
For many centuries the Christian church has picked up on this connection between Noah’s Ark and our Baptism. In one of the old baptism prayers that is prayed as a child is being baptized, it goes like this: Dear Lord, please now “hold him or her safe and secure in the holy ark of the Church.” You see, you do have an ark. It’s a group of people that you are part of in God’s church that is just like an ark, meant to help keep you safe from all the waters of life – all because you have been saved through the waters of your baptism. When those waters came on me I could say – just like I can say every time I think back on that time when those waters came down on me – “I have an ark, too.” I have an ark, just like everyone of you has an ark in one another, the members of the holy ark of God’s church, baptized children of God, all of whom have what God says in these words – “the pledge” — the promise from God — that they have a“good conscience” – a good conscience that leads everyone of us to know without any doubt whatsoever, since it depends on God’s pledge and promise to us, that we are going to live in heaven with Jesus some day.
Okay, so I have an ark. What does that have to do with getting ready for Christmas on this First Sunday in Advent? Absolutely everything, because our baptism connects us to everything the coming Christ came to do and everything that the Christ who came is continuing to do before he comes again. In these words God shows us that the ark of the Church and our baptism is so important because it has given us the faith to believe — and it strengthens our ability to believe — the most important words ever written – the opening verse, verse 18 and following: “For Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive by the Spirt, through whom he went and preached to the spirits in prison.” And then skip three lines until where Peter says that baptism “saves you by the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who has gone into heaven and is at God’s right hand – with angels, authorities and powers in submission to him.”
Those words are the absolute heart of our faith, because they talk about the work of Jesus in the past to make us God’s children and the rule of Jesus in the present to keep us as God’s children. Let’s think about that for a few moments in connection with every single one of us having our own ark because we have been baptized.
What makes you or me different from those people who lived at Noah’s time, people described in our First Lesson as corrupt and having filled the earth with violence, causing God to say he was going to destroy the earth he had so lovingly created? What makes us different in one very real sense is nothing… That’s why our Lesson tells us that Christ died for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous. If we somehow think that we have found favor with God because we are not as bad as those people who died in the Flood, we miss the whole point of what the Bible is saying. It took someone who did not allow himself to be protected by an “ark” to rescue us from the waters of our sin against God which should have had us perish long ago, not to mention that we wouldn’t have a hope of not perishing forever down the line. But the one who was and is holy and righteous once and for all time put to death the sin that we commit by being put to death in his body and then rising from death and going down, Peter tells us, “to preach to the spirits in prison.”
Do you know what that is referring to – this preaching to the spirits in prison? This is what is meant by the words “he descended into hell” which we speak in the Apostles Creed. Earlier when he died Jesus suffered the pain of hell, but now after he rose from the dead – and before he actually showed himself to people outside the Easter tomb – he went down to hell not to suffer hell, but to show them down there that he was alive – that he was the winner – that everlasting life belonged to all who would put their faith in him. What a wretched day that must have been for them – a day beyond our comprehension – comparable in a similar way to those who had the waters of the Flood come upon them at Noah’s time, many of whom may have mocked the man who was building a big boat because he was told there was going to be a big rain.
That’s why as you and I now prepare for Christmas we rejoice and we are so happy, but we rejoice and we are so happy with very humble hearts, because it is only due to God’s grace and God’s mercy to us that he has led us to believe what Jesus did to rescue us, and that we also believe that right now Jesus is ruling over us, just like St. Peter says he is doing in heaven “at God’s right hand,” with everything on earth in submission to him, even if so often doesn’t seem that way. Do you get frustrated because every day there are crazier things going on than there were the day before? Do you get scared because the concerns for safety are concerns that we need to be concerned about more than in days before? Do you get worried because every day it seems like someone you know has gotten very sick or very sad or just doesn’t seem like they are the person you once knew – and maybe that person is you? Do you get depressed because every day you show in your own life how your good intentions remain only intentions and not actions, because every day you keep on doing the evil that you really don’t want to do?
If you do get frustrated and scared and worried and depressed about those things or so many kinds of things like those, then know that you are exactly the kind of person that the coming Christ came to earth for – exactly the kind of person who knows why getting ready for Christmas is such a truly important thing – exactly the kind of person who knows that the final Christmas is going to be the really great one. Because God poured the waters of baptism on you in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, you are exactly the kind of person who can let the waters of life roar all around you if they want to. God built you an ark. And because God built it through Jesus Christ your Lord, he put his name on it – right next to yours! Amen.
Stir up your power, O Lord, and come. Protect us by your strength and save us from the threatening dangers of our sins; for you live and reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, in whose name we have been baptized, now and forever. Amen.