This past Sunday was the Feast Day and beginning of the Season of Epiphany, at which time we celebrated how the glory of Christ is revealed and manifested to the world. The Church commemorates three specific occasions of the Epiphany, beginning with the visit of the Magi who brought their gifts and worshiped the Christ Child. The other occasions are the Baptism of Jesus, which we celebrate today; and the third, next week, will be Jesus’ first miracle at a wedding at Cana.
Del Marbrook emailed me the other day, sharing an interesting fact he had read. That is, that this “trinity” if you will, of the three occasions all following one another on three consecutive Sundays, happens only once every 21 years! Britany and Christopher, do you realize what a special event is this day of your baby’s baptism?
As we remember Jesus’ baptism, we re-examine its significance to our own baptisms; our personal and corporate relationships to God and each other, and our call to Christ’s mission in this world. Luke tells us that, immediately after his Baptism, while Jesus was praying the heavens open, and the Holy Spirit descends upon Jesus, with a dove signifying the event. Then a voice from heaven speaks directly to Jesus, saying, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” Similar words will be spoken to Jesus at another critical moment in his ministry at the Transfiguration, when he is glorified on the mountaintop in front of his three closest disciples.
Empowered by the Spirit after his baptism, Jesus was then prepared to live out the ministry for which God had sent him. The passage from Isaiah expresses what we have come to understand as the essence of that ministry. Although Isaiah was referring to the release of the children of Israel from Exile, it is nonetheless significant because Jesus endows release from spiritual exile upon us in our own baptisms. He paves the way and shows us by example what is necessary to begin our lives as disciples. Then we, like him, are empowered to carry on his ministry. Jesus’ two natures: his humanity and his Divinity, his “flesh like us,” and his “oneness with God” were revealed. If God’s people could not turn away from sin to become righteous like God, then God would become vulnerable like the people and personally show them how.
In baptism we are immersed in the waters of baptism, signifying death to our old life and sinful nature. And, we rise up out of the waters to new spirit-filled life, in much the same manner as Jesus’ death on the Cross takes sin to hell where it belongs, and then he rises to resurrected new life. Because of his saving death, the waters through which we pass in our baptism are not deadly, but rather life giving.
Our baptisms are not only a sign of repentance in which we say we will try our best to turn away from sin. Nor are they only the moments of cleansing, but they are also the moments when we are joined to Christ, and thus to God. It is the closing of the circle that began when Jesus was baptized. We are part of that circle that has no end.
Let us consider several meanings that baptism has for us.
First, baptism is foundational. It is creation and redemption, life and new life. It is also the foundation of the sanctified life. Baptism is first of all a Kingdom of God event. God in grace breaks into the world of flesh and powers and principalities to create and re-create, to reverse all destiny and fate, to confound human common sense.
In baptism human helplessness is exaggerated until it becomes real. The cry of Peter when he was sinking as he tried to walk to Jesus on the water, “Lord, save me,” bubbles to the surface of the surrounding, death dealing waters. And Jesus saves him. And Jesus saves us.
Second, baptism is a Church event. While baptism is unique to each of us individually, it is not exclusive. It is you, it is me—it is us. And then linked to Christ at the depth of his life—death and resurrection, we are linked to each other in him at the depths of our lives—death and resurrection.
As we receive and give forgiveness, we are enabled to embrace each other with the sign of the peace. Vision is shared, and dreams are dreamed together. Our souls complement, integrate, and revolve to and with and around each other.
Third, we enter into Christ’s mission, God’s plan for humanity. We cannot be contained. If we are truly living into our baptismal covenants, our new song breaks forth in the sweat of our palms and the scream of our protest, in the plodding of our labors, the sound of our voices, and the bursting of our love. And then, indwelt and empowered by new life we have new vision and purpose. Complacency or neglect has no place in the lives of the baptized. We have been gifted. We have also been called and priested. We walk with each other, but we also walk for each other and for others.
The task sometimes is difficult, sometimes ridiculous, often quite arduous, sometimes humorous, but always luminous. We always learn, and sometimes we are stretched seemingly beyond our human limitations. It can be painful, but it is always illuminating. And we gain as we lose. As our egos are laid to rest, our spirits rise to new maturity. We are made strong as we give over our weakness. We carry a blessing that only sours if we savor and hoard it. It’s meant to be passed on.
It’s a blessing that leavens and lightens and spices our world and ourselves as we release, let go, contribute, and infiltrate everything around us with love, mercy, and sacrifice.
Fourth, and finally, baptism is a personal event. My humanity is revealed and secured. My task is set before me, and I am motivated. I am called to worship, serve, pray, love, give. Wherever I may be, whatever I may become, however I may end up; my feet are in the waters. Those waters flood the pulpit in which I stand. They flood the sanctuary in which your feet dangle, take root, and absorb. The words of the gospel are to you and to me—to us—because the waters are the same. They kill and they enliven all of us.
Friends, the Word of God is yours and mine. The waters for you may be swirling, for me calm, or vice versa. My toes may be barely wet; it might be up to your hips or your heart, or vise versa. Yet we need to understand that when we feel the most alone is the time we are most embraced. In the waters of baptism we are sealed as Christ’s own forever, and we are one with God. Nothing can snatch us from him.
We search the Word in the text, and in the context of our lives, in the Church, and in the world. We are on a journey, an adventure that may take us around and around the mountain. However, we shouldn’t be surprised that our discovery and our journey together always get us to one place. Golgotha they called it. Wherever, whatever, it is the Cross.
At the cross, all that is ours and all that is His is hidden and revealed. Nothing escapes. All centers on the Cross. The battle begins and ends. Victors become victims and victims become victors. The world is turned upside down. Life becomes death, and death becomes life with a capital L.
Might it be possible that our small or huge daily deaths come together here? Can the paradox of the Cross absorb the pain of a broken puppy love as well as the tragedy of a Holocaust? Can suffering be justified, or might it be that suffering is justifying? Is it true that wounds heal wounds? Is it really weird that in abandonment of the almighty self, true love and fellowship flourish?
In the paradox that is the symbolic death that leads to life, we find ourselves giving up what we cannot keep to gain what we cannot lose. It’s about discovery, the day-to-day “aha moments” as we seek to walk in Christ’s footsteps.
It’s about resurrection. Resurrection is the sign that Jesus’ death was real, that it did what he hoped it would—and what we hope it does. We walk by faith, not by sight. And Faith leads us to the Cross, where we die to self daily and live into Christ eternally.
It begins with baptism, with that first step of faith. Our faith and salvation are secured in our baptisms, because by following Jesus into the cleansing, healing, swirling, fearsome waters of baptism, we die to the old way of life and rise to new life with God. And, as we stay close to Jesus’ side, cling to his Cross, listening with our hearts and minds and souls, we hear the Father say, “You are my child, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased!”
And now, we have the Holy Privilege of baptizing Britany Angier’s and Christopher Proper’s baby girl Alayna Lee Proper.
Please turn to page 490 in your hymnals and sing the first verse of “I want to walk as a child of the light,” as Alayna, her parents and extended family, her godparents, and the lay Eucharistic ministers and I make our way to the baptismal font.