The First Sunday after the Epiphany: The Baptism of our Lord
13 January 2013
A Sermon Preached by the Rev’d Dr Andrew C. Blume
Father in heaven, who at the baptism of Jesus in the River Jordan didst proclaim him thy beloved Son and anoint him with the Holy Spirit: Grant that all who are baptized into his Name may keep the covenant they have made, and boldly confess him as Lord and Saviour; who with thee and the same Spirit liveth and reigneth, one God, in glory everlasting. Amen.
Luke 3:15-16, 21-22
On the Third Sunday of Advent, suggesting that we were at that very moment living in Advent times, I exhorted us “to engage our lives and integrate our faith into our practice, our action.” “Christian thinking, Christian preaching, Christian praying,” I suggested, “demands Christian living.” I reminded us that, “each of us, baptised with the Holy Spirit and with fire has the power and the potential to respond.” I offered this perspective responding to John the Baptist’s words to his followers, his call for them to be baptised, and, as a consequence, live lives in just relationship with God and neighbour.
Today on the Feast of the Baptism of Our Lord, we hear some of these words again. We once again hear John’s pronouncement to his followers that, “I baptize you with water; but he who is mightier than I is coming, the thong of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie; he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire.” John’s baptism was one of a number of water rites in which Jews participated in the age of the Second Temple. John’s baptism was the baptism of repentance, the baptism that put you in right relationship with God and with other people, it was the baptism that demanded the ethics that I commended back in Advent. Last time I was talking about us, our baptism, how it changes us. Today we learn more. We learn of Jesus’ own baptism and find our answer to those perennial questions: why did Jesus need to be baptised? If baptism frees us from sin and unties us to God, why did Jesus need these graces which he already possessed in abundance? Today we learn how this baptism—one of the few events recorded in all of the four Gospels, along with the feeding of the multitudes, and his Passion, death, and Resurrection—is a foundational story about Jesus, essential to our understanding of who Jesus is.
Luke’s account is, perhaps, a bit oblique. Luke does not report a meeting and conversation between Jesus and John, as Matthew does. He does not even make Mark’s simple affirmative declaration that Jesus came to John to be baptised. Rather, and like John the Evangelist, Luke does not “show” us Jesus’ baptism. But unlike John the Evangelist, with his lengthy narrative describing the time Jesus spent in the Baptist’s camp, Luke simply reports that some people were baptised, and Jesus was also. Yet, as we have in each of the other three Gospel accounts, Jesus’ baptism occasions a signal from the heavens and a declaration of Jesus’ true identity.
Luke tells us that while Jesus was praying, “the heaven was opened, and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form, as a dove, and a voice came from heaven, ‘Thou art my beloved Son; with thee I am well pleased.’” In his own baptism Jesus is publically proclaimed to be God’s beloved Son. Jesus is publicly declared pleasing to God. Jesus is marked as someone special, marked as were the prophets as beloved, but even more, marked as God’s child, his son, an object of love and favour.
For this, then, was Jesus baptised with the baptism of John. This moment reveals Jesus’ true identity to the world and shows him at one with God. It is, if you will, a second Epiphany. Jesus takes John’s sectarian baptism and makes it universal, makes for all times and places, makes it something new, makes it ours. This new Baptism, still baptism with water, but now also with the Holy Spirit and with fire, becomes the nexus of our relationship with Jesus and with God. We are hereafter to be baptised with the same baptism with which he was baptised. This connects us with him and with God in a new way. It connects us with each other. It creates new community. Membership in this community is not based on any of the old markers of relationship. It is not based in kinship, birth, lineage, or ethnic origin. It is based simply in sharing baptism, sharing the gift of the Holy Spirit. In it is nothing less than membership in Christ's body, unity with God, atonement.
On this feast of the Baptism of our Lord we remember Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan by John. We remember the mysterious declaration from the heavens of Jesus’ relationship with God, his sonship, his grace, and his favour. We remember Jesus’ decision to share in this water rite and transform it into the very point of our entry into relationship with him. Implicit in these events is the realisation that from this moment in the story, Jesus embarks upon a difficult journey, a journey of love and healing, of feeding the hungry and teaching the people, a journey that will take him to the foot of the Cross, to the tomb, and to Resurrection of new life. Jesus’ baptism marks the beginning of the journey that will allow the whole world to be reconciled with the God of Israel, reconciled in the waters of baptism and nourished in the bread and wine of the Eucharist. As we, the community of the Baptised, united with God in Christ and with one another, gather to receive the bread and wine that sustains our lives, let us never forget that such unity calls us to lives of Christian action in the world, showing forth the love of God into the world, conveying in our unique ways that each of us is a beloved child of God, each of us is pleasing to God.
Andrew C. Blume✠
New York City
Feria, 11 January 2013
© 2013 Andrew Charles Blume