Such a lovely room

Such a lovely room

Sunday, January 8, 2023

YEAR A 2023 baptism of our lord

Baptism of Our Lord, 2023
Isaiah 42:1-9
Acts 10:34-43
Matthew 3:13-17
Psalm 29

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

So today we are celebrating the feast of the Baptism of Our Lord.  Which might make you wonder, “Why is this a ‘feast’?  They didn’t have a feast when I was baptized.”  But actually, they probably did, if you think about it.  There was likely some kind of special meal or something to celebrate your baptism.  And if there wasn’t, well there should have been!  Because the day you were declared God’s beloved child is certainly worthy of a feast!

Today we heard Matthew’s account of the time Jesus was baptized in the Jordan River by John the Baptist.  It’s an important story.  And you can tell it’s important because it is in all three of what we call the “synoptic” gospels:  Matthew, Mark, and Luke.  The details in the three accounts vary a little bit, but the basic gist is the same:  Jesus comes to be baptized by John, when he comes out of the water, the Holy Sprit descends, and there is a voice from heaven calling Jesus God’s son.  It’s one of several cases where all three members of the Trinity are tangibly present in one place at the same time.

And in Matthew’s version of the story, which we heard today, the voice from heaven says, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.” Now let me take a moment to remind you what has happened previous to this in Matthew’s gospel.  Matthew opens with that long genealogy, then the angel tells Joseph not to be afraid to take Mary as his wife, then Jesus is born, the Magi come to visit, the despot Herod has all the young boys killed, Joseph and Mary take Jesus to Egypt, Herod dies, and the family moves to Nazareth.  Next scene, John the Baptist is standing at the river, yelling at people, and Jesus comes to be baptized.  And when Jesus comes up out of the water, there is a loud voice saying, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.” 

I tell you all that in order to note that, up to now, Jesus hasn’t done anything that we could call “belovedy.”  Nothing to make the Father “well pleased.”  There’s no sense in which Jesus has accomplished anything yet, beyond letting his earthly parents cart him around the middle east to keep him alive.  And yet, there is a voice from heaven, saying, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”  That voice could have appeared at the manger when he was born.  Or it could have appeared when the Magi confirmed that Jesus was the boy King who was to be born.  But there is silence.  Only after Jesus rises from the waters of baptism do we hear, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”  Hold on to that thought.

So, when Jesus comes to John to be baptized, John says, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?”  That makes sense, right?  I mean, if baptism is for the washing away of sin and so forth, and since we believe that Jesus is without sin, then yeah, John needs to be baptized by Jesus, not the other way around.  But here’s the thing:  The point is not that Jesus is baptized like we are baptized.  No, rather, the point is that we are baptized like Jesus is baptized.  Jesus does not share in our baptism; instead, we share in the baptism of Jesus.

And that is important, because as Paul writes in Romans, “ . . . all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death. . . .  For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.”  We are baptized like Jesus was baptized.

And do you know what happens immediately after Jesus is baptized?  Well, I’ll tell you.  The last verse of the third chapter of Matthew is the voice from heaven saying, “ . . . the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”  And the first verse of the next chapter is, “Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.”  Nothing in between.  Jesus comes up out of the water, the Holy Spirit descends upon him, the voice announces his identity, and “Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.”

And here’s why I think that’s important.  As I said, up until this point, Jesus has not done anything “belovedy.”  His baptism by John is not some reward for achievement; his baptism is not the finish line for having done something to make him worthy of being beloved.  No, the Baptism of Jesus is the beginning of everything that matters in this world.  It’s not a “well done,” so much as a “get ready.”  The baptism of Jesus, and the declaration of him as God’s beloved, is preparation for living a life as God intends.

Let me rephrase what I said earlier: the point is not that Jesus is baptized like you.  The point is that you are baptized like Jesus.  Like Jesus, you were baptized with water.  Like Jesus, the Trinity was there, as the minister invoked the names of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  Like Jesus, you had done nothing but present yourself (or be presented) to be baptized.  And like Jesus, God declared, “This is my child, the beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”

Your baptism is the start of your life as a proclaimed child of God, a declared beloved of God, one with whom God is well pleased.  That’s why we tend to baptize children as soon as possible.  Because baptism is not a reward for a life well lived, or the finish line after decisions we make to follow God.  No, baptism is the start of a holy and mysterious relationship with the creator of all that is.  So why not get that relationship going at the first opportunity?!?

Now, to be clear, I am not saying that the unbaptized are not also beloved children of God.  Far from it!  As we promise in our Baptismal Covenant, we will seek and serve Christ in all persons, with God’s help.  If we promise to seek Christ in all persons, that implies Christ is in all persons, baptized or not.  All people are beloved children of the one who created us, and who loves us beyond measure.  What makes baptism different is that our identity is announced.  We are publicly and openly declared to be beloved children of God.  We are marked with the sign of the cross, as Christ’s own forever. 

And then, to celebrate, we mark the occasion with a feast.  Even if there’s no cake, or roast beef, or mashed potatoes, there is bread, and there is wine.  And at this feast, all the beloved children of God are welcome and fed.  No matter how you got here, no matter where you’re going, you are always welcome at this feast.  Because at your own baptism, a voice from heaven also affirmed, “This is my child, the beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”


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