Sunday, January 13, 2013

the Baptism of our Lord

May my words be in the name of the Holy & Undivided Trinity: Father, Son, & Holy Spirit. Amen.

Today is the Feast of the Baptism of our Lord, a day when it is 'good practice,' as it were, to renew our own baptismal vows … and so we shall be doing that later in this service … but first we have this sermon to get through! And for that, I thought it would be no harm to look more closely at the event we celebrate today … because the fact is that the Baptism of our Lord is a puzzling event for many people. This is not surprising, for we see baptism as having mainly two purposes: initiation into God's Church; and the washing away of our sins. And it makes little sense to us that Christ, the head and founder of our Church, should be initiated into his own Church; and it makes even less sense for the one who was like us in all ways, except that he was without sin, to undergo a rite whose purpose is to cleanse us from our sins.

If it is of any comfort, the evangelists who report on this event also display a degree of discomfort about it. Mark & Luke simply report it bluntly; Matthew 'softens' it somewhat, with his account of John the Baptist's demurral and Jesus' mysterious reply that it must be done to fulfill all righteousness; and John's Gospel mentions it not at all, even while recounting an event that took part during the baptism, the decent of the Holy Spirit.

Obviously there are things we can draw out of the incident. There is the example Christ sets us of the importance of baptism, humbling himself by submitting to it, even though he had no need of it for any of the reasons why we need it. And there is, as well, an element of foreshadowing … in baptism we have death and re-birth, which clearly resonates with our Saviour's own death and resurrection …

But it is also, very importantly, just at the beginning of Christ's public ministry a 'Theophany' – an appearance of God himself … now one might argue that in a sense the Gospels are entirely Theophany as they are almost nothing but an account of the appearance of the second person of the Trinity, the Word made Flesh, our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ … but what we have at the Baptism of our Lord is a very particular kind of Theophany … one where all three persons of the Trinity appear together: the Father in the voice saying 'this is my beloved Son'; Christ the Son himself; and the Holy Spirit descending upon him.

Such Trinitarian moments are very rare: we have only two: the Baptism and the Transfiguration. The particular importance of the baptism is that it marks, as I said earlier, the beginning of Jesus public ministry. Or perhaps another way of stating it is that it marks the end of his hidden years. For the previous 30 years Jesus has seemed to all the world an ordinary man, one who grew up no differently from those around him, who worked as a carpenter with his father Joseph and perhaps his other male relatives, celebrated the Sabbath with them, travelled to Jerusalem with them for the Passover festival, and was part of their ordinary, everyday lives.

Yes there were those who knew more. Joseph who had had dreams; and his mother who had had a revelation from an angel & heard other prophetic words which she pondered in her heart down through the years. Others also – the shepherds & the wise men ... but that had happened in Bethlehem and Jesus grew up in Nazareth. Simeon when Jesus was presented in the Temple as a baby for his circumcision, Anna the prophetess, and the teachers in the temple courts who were amazed at his wisdom when he was a boy of 12. But that also had been long ago and far away … and who remembered these incidents now save his mother who treasured them in her heart?

But all that ended with his baptism. The hidden years were over. In a moment of supreme drama the time of being like everyone else was left behind. Jesus the man walks out of the shadows and is revealed as the Messiah … and the Messiah is revealed as being more than just a man chosen by God, but God himself.

It is a moment of supreme glory … it is the moment when God reveals to the world that the Word has been flesh … and it is the moment when God reveals himself to us in a particularly intimate way … we are given our first understanding of the Triune God: that God while being one is also three person, Father, Son, & Holy Spirit … and this is revealed to set the absolute seal for us as to who Jesus is and what authority he has.

And that is worth keeping in mind when in a few minutes we renew our own baptismal vows … we are renewing our faith & commitment to God Father, Son, & Holy Spirit … And if we keep in our hearts the extraordinary event of Christ's own baptism, the appearance of God Father, Son, & Holy Spirit, then perhaps it will inspire us to renew those vows with increased fervour, so that we too may be filled with the Holy Spirit, as Christ was that day … It is something that I pray for for us all, in the name of God Father, Son, & Holy Spirit. Amen.

Sermon notes Epiphany 2013 

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