Such a lovely room

Such a lovely room

Sunday, January 9, 2022

YEAR C 2022 baptism of our lord

The Baptism of Our Lord, 2022
Isaiah 43:1-7
Psalm 29
Acts 8:14-17
Luke 3:15-17, 21-22

In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

I don’t know if you are familiar with the tradition of chalking your door on Epiphany.  (If not, that probably strikes you as a very strange question.)  For those who don’t know, the practice involves writing the initials of the names given to the three Magi, interspersed with crosses, inside the current year.  Which sounds super confusing.  But to simplify, this year we wrote 20 + C(aspar) + M(elchior) + B(althazar) + 22.  The letters CMB also stand in for the Latin phrase, Christus mansionem benedicat (Christ bless this house).  The practice is supposed to keep evil spirits away from the house until next Epiphany, when we will do it again.

In the years 2020 and 2021, I kept thinking that maybe we had been doing it wrong.  As virus surges and new variants kept coming at us, as political discord reached fever pitch and common decency and kindness seem to have left the land, as we kept having to close the church doors a mere few weeks after opening them again, as loved ones continued to get sick and sometimes not come home from the hospital . . . well, maybe we hadn’t been chalking our doors correctly these past few years.

But, of course, I don’t really believe that chalking the doors keeps evil spirits away.  That’s not why we do it—at least not in the Baumhaus.  We put chalk on the door to remind ourselves that God is with us, not to dispel demons.  As I say over and over again, God does not save us from trouble; God saves us in our troubles.  We worship a God who specializes in resurrections, new beginnings, hope for the hopeless, love for the unloved.  All the miracles of Jesus are about setting things right: restoration of sight, healing of disease, raising the dead back to life.  Chalking the door reminds us that Jesus is with us; that’s why we do it, despite the troubles that might come our way.

And today we celebrate the Baptism of Our Lord.  It’s a big deal in the Christian Church; it gets its own Sunday every year.  And in today’s version, from Luke, we have John the Baptist with his dramatic speech to set the stage.  He’s really building Jesus up to be a scary guy, baptizing with fire, a winnowing fork in his hand, with unquenchable fire!  The drama is off the charts here!  “Ladies and gentlemen, I give you JESUS!”

And then Luke writes, “when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also was baptized and was praying . . .”  That’s it.  That’s the entrance.  Jesus gets baptized right along with everyone else—a parenthetical thought of the Feast Day of Our Lord’s Baptism.  Luke doesn’t give us any details about the baptism.  Jesus is just . . . baptized along with everybody else.  Or, as Luke says, right along with “ALL the people.”  All the people were baptized, and Jesus also was baptized.  Kind of an understated entrance for the one for whom John the Baptist has been stumping, isn’t it?  I mean, the set-up seems a little overblown, doesn’t it?

But, of course, you know what happens next.  Jesus is praying, the heavens open up, the Holy Spirit descends in the form of a dove, and there is a voice from heaven saying, “You are my son, the beloved; with you I am well pleased.”  Whole theological careers have been built on this sentence.  And mine will not be among them.  There are too many questions about what this means for Jesus’ own sense of his Messianic identity for me to wade into.  But this voice from heaven sounds remarkably similar to what comes just prior to the reading we heard from Isaiah this morning.

In Isaiah 42 we read, “Here is my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights; I have put my spirit upon him; he will bring forth justice to the nations.”  Of course, we might conclude that Luke intends for it to sound remarkably similar, and that’s why it does.  But the echo is certainly there, and it would make the connection clear for anyone familiar with the writings of Isaiah.  

And just after that prophecy, in today’s reading from Isaiah, we have a series of promises.  I have called you by name and you are mine.  Do not fear; I am with you.  You are precious in my sight.  I am the Lord your God, your Savior.  These are promises to God’s people.  These are promises to you and me.  

And these texts from Isaiah parallel the announcement at Jesus’ baptism along with the people.  ALL the people.  Isaiah 43:2—When you pass through the waters, I will be with you.  When you pass through the water, God is with you.  You are God’s beloved child.  In you, God is well pleased.  And how do we know God is with us when we pass through the water?

Because as we heard, Jesus meets the people being baptized in the water, and God is well pleased.  Jesus joins with each of us in the waters of baptism, just as he meets all of us at this Altar in the sacrament.  When Jesus meets us in the water, the water overflows with promise--forgiveness, new life, God calling us by name, God proclaiming us beloved. Like Jesus, we are named precious, honored, and loved. God is with us always; we do not need to be afraid. 

And, after meeting us in the water, Jesus meets us in every circumstance, every season of life, even in the moment of death—especially there. From the water, Jesus meets us in the journey of our lives, ending at the cross, and the empty tomb. Jesus has gone before us, and walks with us, whether we chalk our doors or not.

But there’s a sticky point in the Baptism of Jesus, and maybe it’s a thought you’ve had yourself, and it is this:  If Baptism is for the remission of sin (you know, forgiveness of sin), and since Jesus is without sin, then why does Jesus have to be baptized?  Why does Jesus get baptized along with ALL the people?  Well, two thoughts on that . . .

First, we kind of have the shoe on the wrong foot here.  It’s not that Jesus is baptized like us; it’s that we are baptized like Jesus.  Jesus isn’t doing what we do in baptism; rather, in our baptism, we are doing what Jesus does.  We are joining in the baptism of Jesus.

And secondly, baptism is not a requirement; baptism is a gift.  God doesn’t love us because we have been baptized.  Instead, we get to be baptized because God loves us.  And that’s particularly clear when we remember those words from Isaiah.  God says when you pass through the waters I will be with you.  Which is quite different from saying, after you have passed through the waters, I will consider loving you.

And as we saw in today’s gospel reading, when ALL the people were baptized, Jesus was with them.  Not just watching them from the shore, nodding in approval.  No, Jesus also is baptized with them.  Not in some special, private, rock-star baptism, but right along with them.  

In our own Baptismal Covenant, we make this crazy promise to seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving our neighbors as ourselves.  We renew that covenant every time we witness a baptism.  Every time we see someone get confirmed.  Every time the Bishop visits.  Every Easter.  And today.  And, as with all the promises we make in church, we make the promises along with the phrase, “with God’s help.”  We promise to do the impossible, with God’s help.  To seek and serve Christ in all persons, with God’s help.  Because God is with us.

I encourage you to hear these words again, especially in light of what we all have been through these past two years:

God says to you, Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine.  When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you.   For I am the LORD your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior. Because you are precious in my sight, and honored, and I love you.

God loves you.  Exactly as you are.  Whether there is chalk on your door or not.  Jesus is with you.



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