The Baptism of Our Lord (B/RCL)
January 10-11, 2015
Holy Trinity Lutheran Church, Manasquan, NJ
This weekend two of our third graders are being baptized! Emilee Joan and Delaney Gale have been a part of our community, but now formally join the faith family through Holy Baptism. It won’t be a surprise to you that baptismal prep is different for older children than for babies!
The girls shared family photos to help me understand their story so far, and to learn who else is in their family. We talked about how we join a bigger family when we’re baptized, people who don’t live under the same roof or have Thanksgiving dinner with us, folks who aren’t related by blood or marriage, but who become our brothers and sisters through Holy Baptism!
We mentioned what a beautiful day Emilee and Delaney are being baptized on: the day we celebrate the Baptism of Our Lord Jesus Himself. So we read about the Lord’s baptism in The Jesus Storybook Bible:
One day, John was baptizing people in the Jordan River as usual when he looked up and saw a man walking down to the water’s edge.
God spoke quietly to John, “This is the One!”
John’s heart leapt. This was the moment he’d been waiting for all his life.
“Look,” John said, as Jesus came down into the water. But his voice came out as a whisper. He couldn’t make it any louder. It was all he could do to even speak. “The Lamb of God… God’s best lamb… who takes away the sins of the whole world.”
“Will you baptize me, too?” Jesus asked.
“Who am I,” John asked, “to baptize you?”
“It’s what God wants me to do,” Jesus said.
So John baptized Jesus.
Suddenly, it was as if someone had drawn back curtains in a dark room, as if heaven itself had opened, because a beautiful light broke through the clouds and shone down on to Jesus, bathing him in gold. Beads of water glittered and sparkled like tiny diamonds in his hair.
A white dove flew down and gently rested on Jesus.
And a voice came down from heaven. It was clear and strong and loud so everyone could hear. “This is my own Son. And I love him. I am very pleased with him,” God said. “Listen to him.”
Heaven had broken through.
The Great Rescue had begun…1
John urged everyone who flocked to that deserted place to hear him to be baptized as an outward sign of an inward change of heart, an act that said, “I am sorry, Lord. Please forgive! Please wash me clean of sin! Please set me on the path You want me to follow.” Baptismal dunking was not wimpy. The person being baptized came up spluttering. The Jewish and the Christian baptismal ritual symbolize drowning, not just cleansing. The old sinful self has to die before the child-of-God true self can be born.
Even though John implored everyone else to be baptized, when Jesus asked, John challenged both Jesus’ need to be baptized and his own worthiness to baptize Him. Other than John’s attempted refusal to baptize Jesus, what made Jesus’ baptism different than that of anybody else John dunked in the River Jordan?
1. And just as [Jesus] was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart…
2. … and the Spirit descending like a dove on him.
3. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” (Mark 1:10-11)
1) Matthew and Luke say the heavens were opened, which can make us think of a window that can be opened and then closed, or a shade that can be lifted and then lowered. Mark says the heavens were torn apart, rent asunder. It’s a violent, messy image. Something that’s torn is not easily put back together. Can you think of anything else that is torn apart in the Gospel?
· How about the high priest rending his garment when he accuses our Lord Jesus of blasphemy during the trial the night before the crucifixion?
· How about the curtain that separated the Holy of Holies from the rest of the Temple being torn in two from top to bottom when our Lord Jesus died?
The Roman historian Pliny said the Holy of Holies curtain was decorated like the sky. The symbolism of the tearing of that veil is that through the death of Christ God removed the separation that sin had created between God and humanity, healed the rift, removed the gulf between heaven and earth, forever. That was a beautiful answer to Isaiah’s complaint long before:
Why didst Thou not rend the heavens and come down? (Isaiah 64:1)
On the day of Jesus’ birth, God did come down. On the day of Jesus’ baptism and on the day of Jesus’ death, God did rend the heavens and come down.
2) And what about that dove? St. Mark says Jesus saw “the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove….” (Mark 1:10) What would make the Holy Spirit dovelike? I guess there was a sense the Spirit gently wafted down rather than divebombing like a seagull going after a fish or striking like an owl going after a mouse? The dove represents peace, of course… purity, because of its color… but also and most importantly the dove represents God’s creative power. Remember Genesis? The wind of God, the breath of God, the Spirit, hovered, brooded over the waters of chaos. Brood is a bird word! Think of it as incubate, keep the birth watch, coax into life. The Spirit descends upon Jesus and empowers Him for ministry.
3) Ah, and then there’s the voice from heaven, that Hebrew Scripture refers to as the bath qol, the daughter or the echo of God’s own voice. In St. Mark’s Gospel, only Jesus hears that divine voice of love and approval: “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” At the Transfiguration, a story we’ll hear on February 14-15, the weekend before Ash Wednesday, God’s voice announces this to Peter, James and John, after they are given eyes to see Jesus radiant in God’s light: “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased. Listen to him.”
Why is Holy Baptism important? Miraculously, through water and the Word, we share in Jesus’ death and resurrection. St. Paul says our sins are drowned in the baptismal flood. We mysteriously die with Christ; because we’ve shared His death, we’ll share His resurrection. Our old sinful self dies and a child-of-God self, true self, is born.
Emilee and Delaney know that God has always loved them, but that in Holy Baptism Jesus embraces them in a whole new way and we are related to them in a whole new way. They know that through their baptism the slate is wiped clean of sin, the blackboard is erased, and they get a wonderful, fresh beginning. Their baptism reminds us of ours….
Do we realize?
· Baptism is the basis for a daily, wonderful, fresh beginning .
· Baptism isthe first step in a journey that takes us through and beyond this life.
· The gift of eternal life begins now and doesn’t wait till heaven.
· Baptism isn’t a one-time cleansing. It’s a daily bath of forgiveness available to us.
· Baptism creates a lifelong relationship with our Savior and with His Body, the church.
· When we’re in communion with our Lord, Baptism transforms us.
“The Great Rescue” mentioned in The Jesus Storybook passage I read at the beginning is the Lord’s rescue of us from sin. That phrase especially caught my attention because Kristiane, Pastor Mark and I have a new puppy, Bear, whom we rescued from a shelter down South. Bear’s foster mother, who has rescued many pets herself, told us, “They all know they’ve been rescued. They love us for it.” We’ve been rescued. Are we as wise as these pups, realizing we’ve been rescued and loving our Savior forever for it? Amen
1Sally Lloyd-Jones, The Jesus Storybook Bible (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2007), pp. 204-206.
Pastor Mary Virginia Farnham