The Baptism of Our Lord -- The 1st Sunday after Epiphany; Year A (1/12/2014)

Texts:Isaiah 42:1-9 Psalm 29 (3) Acts 10:34-43 St. Matthew 3:13-17

Prayer of the Day: O God our Father, at the baptism of Jesus you proclaimed him your beloved Son and anointed him with the Holy Spirit. Make all who are baptized into Christ faithful to their calling to be your daughters and sons, and empower us all with your Spirit, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

3.13 Then Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan, to be baptized by him. 14 John would have prevented him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” 15 But Jesus answered him, “Let it be so now; for it is proper for us in this way to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he consented. 16 And when Jesus had been baptized, just as he came up from the water, suddenly the heavens were opened to him and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. 17 And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”

St. Matthew 3:13-17, New Revised Version Bible (C)1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America.

Salvation is Proclaimed

There are very few symbols that stand as close to the heart of our faith as Baptism does. A helpless young baby is handed to the Pastor, who holds the child over a font. Water moves. Words are spoken. Perhaps the baby cries, or sleeps, or looks around in wonder… and a life is changed forever. Years before a child will ever understand what has taken place, God’s claim is laid on this one’s heart. God takes the first step in the long journey that becomes a life of faith. Grace is shared. Forgiveness is promised. Salvation is proclaimed. There are indeed very few symbols that stand as close to the heart of our faith as Baptism.

On this coming Sunday, the first Sunday in the mid-winter season called Epiphany, it is our tradition to turn our attention to the baptism of Jesus. From a visual perspective, there isn’t much that it has in common with baptisms we experience today. Jesus walks out into the heavy waters of the river Jordan with John, his cousin. John takes Jesus by the head, forces him under, raises him up again, and looks on with wonder as the Spirit bursts from the clouds, and the voice of God booms across the waters: “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.” The Spirit moves, and God speaks, and the world is forever changed. Immanuel has arrived. Salvation is at hand. The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world is about to begin his public ministry.

The baptism of Jesus (along with the descent of the Spirit, the proclamation of God, and the witness of John) is a sign to the people of his day – a sign that something extraordinary is having its beginning among them. Despite centuries of speculation, the church has never been able to agree on a reason that Jesus needed to be baptized. God simply desires to become one of us – fully and completely one of us. And so when the people of that day go out to hear the fiery preacher in the wilderness, Jesus goes with them. When they become convinced of their sin, and request the waters of John’s baptism as a sign of their new intent in life, Jesus goes with them. When John thrusts their heads into the current, and hauls them up into a new life, Jesus goes with them – fully and completely one of us.

Yet different. God’s Son. The One whom God loves. The One who pleases God. And as God’s Son, One whose life and death and resurrection and ascension give baptism an entirely new meaning. No longer does baptism signify our brokenness, and our hope to turn back towards God. Now baptism is a symbol of nothing less than the death and resurrection of Jesus. In baptism, we are joined to his death. In baptism we are promised his resurrection. The One who becomes one of us – fully and completely one of us – now promises we will become one with God – fully and completely one with God – in a resurrection from the death(s) we experience.

There are very few symbols that stand as close to the heart of our faith as Baptism does. In the waters of baptism, God’s claim is laid on our hearts. God takes the first step in the long journey that becomes a life of faith. Grace is shared. Forgiveness is promised. Salvation is proclaimed.

May the baptism of Jesus be a sign for us of the depths of God’s love, expressed in a sacred desire to become fully one of us.  May the waters of our own baptisms become a sign of the grace that we have received, and the call that God extends for us to be witnesses to that grace in our world.

Amen.

David J. Risendal, Pastor

Exploring This Week’s Gospel:

  1. What images does the church preserve of Jesus’ baptism?
  2. What did God’s announcement on that day mean?
  3. How is John’s “Baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins” different from being baptized “into the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ?”

Connecting with This Week’s Gospel:

  1. What do I know about the day of my baptism?
  2. What promises have I received from God in the waters of my baptism?
  3. How have I been anointed, through baptism, to be a witness to Jesus Christ in this world?