THE BAPTISM OF JESUS LUKE 3. 15-17, 21-22
On Wednesday, the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church throughout the world celebrated the Feast of the Epiphany with the Magi’ gift-bearing visit to Bethlehem to see the Christ-child. Today the Church’s calendar makes a quantum leap as we celebrate the baptism of the adult Jesus by John in the Jordan River some thirty years later.
The baptism of Jesus was a significant event in the life of the Messiah. All four of the gospels record it with varying detail. Luke alone, however, has Jesus praying afterwards as a prelude to the coming of the Holy Spirit upon him in the form of a dove. The descent of the Holy Spirit in bodily form points to the event as an actual act of God; a sign that Jesus’ vocation was affirmed while he is praying.
What Luke wants us to know is that Jesus has the Spirit; he is the one through whom God acts. The descent of the Holy Spirit was Jesus’ ordination to his earthly ministry. The voice from heaven “you are my Son, the beloved; with you I am well pleased,” serves to confirm the Divine nature of Jesus.
But all of this was preceded by the crowd’s expectation and questioning in their hearts whether or not John perhaps was really the Messiah; an expectation and question which John quickly dispels. “I indeed baptize you with water; but One mightier than I is coming…He will baptize you with Holy Spirit and fire.”
John stands, then, as a “sign” that points away from himself and to the one whose sandal John says, he is not worthy to stoop down and untie. From now on the focus is not on John but on Jesus, the one on whom the Holy Spirit descended.
Now that Christmas is over and a new year has begun what will our focus be? For many people a new year brings with it a bevy of resolutions that are normally focused on self, like losing weight, exercising more, spending less money, etc.
New Year’s resolutions, however, are easily made and just as easily broken. But the one thing that never changes for some people is the focus on self. The baptism of Jesus might help us to shift our focus. His baptism and ours might help us to broaden our horizons to see beyond ourselves.
Thus as we celebrate the baptism of Jesus, and in lieu of the Nicene Creed, along with the absence of candidates for holy baptism, we renew on this day the baptismal covenant we made with God at the font of life as a right beginning of the new year.
The baptismal covenant contains no resolutions, rather it is made up of solemn promises; promises we made to serve God faithfully in his Holy Catholic Church, beginning with the renewal of our commitment to Jesus Christ to follow and obey Him as our Lord.
By His death and resurrection the way to eternal life has been opened to us. For in the waters of Holy Baptism “we are buried with Christ in his death. By it we share in his resurrection. Through it we are reborn by the Holy Spirit.” (BCP 306)
Sadly these promises and vows can just as easily be broken as any new year’s resolution. They can only be kept with God’s help; a solemn reminder that we must look beyond ourselves and to the grace of a loving God who, in baptism adopts us as His “beloved” sons and daughters.
It is by His grace and the guidance and strength of the Holy Spirit given to us in baptism that we hope to keep the covenant we have made, and boldly confess Jesus as our Lord and Savior.
From the moment we are baptized the focus is no longer on us but on Jesus. To be called a Christian carries with it a tremendous responsibility to proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ. As Christians we are to be like John and stand as “sign-posts.” Through our words and actions we are to point beyond ourselves to Him who has come to give light and life to the world.
Advent begins a new Church year and the age old cycle of repeating the biblical stories of God’s saving help that culminates in the sending of His Son, Jesus. He humbled his divinity to share in our humanity. He lived and died as one us in order to redeem us from sin and death and make us heirs with him of God’s eternal kingdom, but He also came to teach us how to live as God’s beloved children in the here and now.
As we make his story our own in our own prayer, and in the living out of our baptismal vows we should expect both the fresh energy of the Holy Spirit and the still small voice which reminds us of God’s amazing, affirming love and of the path of vocation which lies ahead for each of us as God’s “beloved.”
If there are any resolutions to be made on this day, let it be to increase our vision, to improve our line of sight; to look beyond ourselves to include those whom we too easily overlook - the sick, the hungry, the homeless and destitute; to seek and serve them, even dare to love them in Christ’s name, thereby fulfilling our baptismal vow to love our neighbor as our self.
And so as we celebrate the baptism of Jesus and renew our own baptismal covenant let our prayer be that our focus in this new year in the Lord will be less self -directed and increasingly other directed by pointing away from ourselves in all that we do and say, and to Him who came not to be served but to serve, and give His life for the life of the world.
May God grant us, and all who have been baptized in his name, the grace to keep the covenant we have made, and boldly confess him as Lord and Savior; who with the Father and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, in glory everlasting. AMEN+