Baptism of our Lord
January 10, 2016
Luke 3: 15-17, 21-22 You can click on this link to read the text in Oremus Bible Browser
How are you? I mean really, how are you doing after all the Christmas and New Year’s disruption and celebration? After all the craziness of the news of the world focusing on Burns of all things? After all the political rhetoric and simmering Middle Eastern conflicts and North Korean showing off?
I’m not so sure I’m doing all that well. The smallest things make me weep, and I’m so tired all the time. I certainly have no right to complain, but how I should feel doesn’t seem to matter in the face of how I actually feel. My friend Mary tells me that Mercury is in retrograde, and my reply is “Oh, so it’s something cosmic! Not something I could actually control!” That does feel a little better.
But getting ready to preach this morning’s reading has made me think again about who I am, and how God sees me. In celebrating Jesus’ baptism, we are summoned to remember what happens in baptism and to remember our own drowning and rising to new life. Dr. Luther explains that baptism is not simply plain water, but water used according to God’s command and connected to God’s word. It brings about forgiveness of sins, redeems us from death and the devil, and gives eternal salvation to all who believe it, as the words and promise of God declare. Paul says in the 3rd chapter of Titus that through the water of rebirth and renewal, the Spirit is poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life. This is most certainly true.
And so we see Jesus baptized along with others in the crowd, praying, when the heavens open, the Holy Spirit descends on him and God tells him that he is Beloved, and that he is a favored son. Beloved. What an identity!
When was the last time someone told you that you were beloved? I have come to believe that this is exactly what happens to each of us in that ceremony we’ve witnessed here twice in the last month. That splash of water conveys the deepest truth about us; God has claimed us as God’s own beloved. It’s an identity that you can never lose, because it is not something you have earned by good behavior or brilliant feats of intelligence. It is something bestowed on you, a recognition of your own individual Beloved-ness; a recognition that you are created to be exactly who you are, God’s gift to the world, and God’s blessing conveyed through your own actions as you grow and function in your world.
This is why we baptize babies in church nowadays instead of at home or in a special service after church. It’s because children are baptized into a community that will help their parents raise them in faith, teach them about Jesus, and help them develop in the gifts they are born to be to the world. With their parents, we reflect their belovedness among us, and surround them with the love that reflects God’s love for them.
So Dr. Luther says, thank God every day for your baptism. When you splash water on your face first thing in the morning, take a good look at who you are, God’s Beloved, a gift that has never been given before, nor will ever be given again. When the world is out of joint, or when you are afraid, remind yourself that you are baptized, called Beloved and a child of God by God’s own doing, not your own. It’s something you can never lose. When you feel that you have failed and wonder if God could ever still love you after what you have done, splash some water on your face and remember that you are Beloved for all time, by God’s promise, and that God waits to welcome you back into loving arms. When you feel that you can’t ever make the changes you want to get your life back together, remember that your baptism has given you new life, and turned you away from death forever.
In the reading after today’s reading, Jesus will spend the next 40 days in the wilderness, grappling with all those very questions that we struggle with. Who am I? What can I trust? Where’s the power to grow into the dreams I have for myself or what I feel called to do? How can I face all the headaches and mistakes and confusing choices that life will throw at me? We’ll hear that story in a few months during Lent. I have come to believe that these two stories are side by side for a reason: that God’s assurance that he is God’s Beloved is what sustains Jesus during those days alone, facing what will become his life and ministry, and eventual death and resurrection. The power to face it all comes from that naming – God’s Beloved. It’s your story too; God’s claiming you, anointing you as Beloved, and God’s continuing presence with you as you head out into the world to be the blessing you were born to be. So take heart, dearly beloved, you are the gift God gives to the rest of us, and to the world God loves. Amen.
Now may the peace of God which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, our Lord. Amen.