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Baptism of Our Lord (C/RCL) "Baptism of Our Lord - and Ours" Jan. 9 & 10

Baptism of Our Lord (C/RCL) “Baptism of Our Lord – and Ours”

Luke 3:15-17, 21-22

January 9-10, 2016

Holy Trinity Lutheran Church, Manasquan, NJ

            “Pride goeth before a fall.”  What does that mean? 

I don’t know if that saying was actually quoted to me as a kid, and I never realized it comes from the Book of Proverbs, ch. 16, verse 181, but our family sure lived by it.  Maybe you can identify.  Praise was handed out very sparingly.  If you did well, you’d simply lived up to your potential.  If you didn’t do well, you’d fallen embarrassingly short.

In today’s Gospel Jesus hears honeyed words from the Father, which any child would long to hear and would cherish ever after:

“You are my Son, the Beloved,

with you I am well-pleased.”

Our Father in heaven isn’t worried about Jesus getting a swelled head, walking around pompously, stumbling about in a fog of self-admiration.  But the Father is not just affirming the Son; He is anointing Him, blessing Him, setting Him apart, announcing Him as the Messiah.  Something happened at Jesus’ baptism, and something happened at ours.

            The opening of the heavens, the descent of the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove, the voice from heaven: mystical stuff.  It happened on earth but it’s other-worldly.  It was a mystical moment.  Maybe you’ve had one: a time when God seemed so close, so real, so touchable – a moment when you felt like you knew what it is to look through God’s eyes and see life in the light of grace.

            The next sentence St. Luke writes is amazingly “every day,” given the important event he’s just described:

“Jesus was about thirty years old when he began his work. He was the son (as was thought) of Joseph…” (Luke 3:23)

Ah, but we know His true Father is in heaven, the Father who announced from on high:

“You are my Son, the Beloved,

with you I am well-pleased.”

We are reminded of Psalm 2, verse 7, in which the Lord also says:

You are my son;

today I have begotten you.

We hear, too, echoes of Isaiah 42, verse 1, in which the Lord talks about:

…my servant, my chosen

in whom my soul delights.

Jesus is the Promised One of whom the prophets spoke and whose coming is predicted in Hebrew Scripture.  The voice from heaven confirmed that.  Something happened at Jesus’ baptism, and something happened at ours. 

I was baptized at Holy Family Roman Catholic Church in Florham Park on April 14, 1957.  (Whenever I forget the date, all I have to do is refer to my baptismal medallion, just like those that our children and youth have received!  Many thanks to Rosalie Caruso, who kindly gave me this when I arrived at Holy Trinity.)  Like most of you, I was sprinkled over a font and not dunked in a river.  I don’t remember the event (I was only 3 weeks old!) but I’m quite sure the ceiling didn’t open up, there was no voice from heaven and nobody saw a bird fly down.  But I believe the visible and human act of pouring water in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit represented an invisible and divine act of salvation.  Something happened at Jesus’ baptism, and something happened at mine.  Something happened at Jesus’ baptism, and something happened at yours. 

            Christen is another word for baptize.  When we are baptized we are Christ-ened.  I was christened Mary Virginia.  I also received another name, though: Christian.  After the water is poured three times in the name of the Holy Trinity, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, the cross is traced with oil on our forehead.  We are marked with the cross of Christ forever.  The visible, glistening cross of oil will wash away, but the invisible cross remains always.  We are marked for Life.

            That tracing of the cross with oil has a fancy name: chrismation.  The oil symbolizes strength and healing.  Chrism is the name of the oil used to anoint.  The Hebrew word for that is Messiah.  It has the same root as the name Christ, which means the Anointed One.  Jesus Christ literally means the One who comes to save, the Anointed One. 

            God promised King David that he would have a descendant who would sit on the royal throne of Israel forever.  Psalm 2, verse 7, which I read earlier is a messianic psalm.  God says to the king:

You are my son;

today I have begotten you.

Jesus is that King.  In Hebrew Scripture, and still today, kings are anointed.  Prophets are anointed.  Priests are anointed.  At His baptism in the River Jordan God anoints Jesus with the Holy Spirit.  At our baptism God anoints us with the Holy Spirit.  Something happened at Jesus’ baptism, and something happened at ours. 

            We parents want everything that is good for our children.  I wanted Kristiane to be healthy, so while I was pregnant I was very careful about what I ate and drank, and after she was born I nursed her and faithfully took her for well-child check-ups.  I wanted her to love literature so I read aloud to her almost every day for years.  I wanted her to stay safe as she grew older and spread her wings, so as she’d recede from my sight I’d pray the angels would watch over her and bring her safely home.  (I still do!) I wanted her to enjoy heaven as well as earth, I wanted her to know and love my Savior as her Savior, I wanted her to know the sweet freedom of forgiveness, I wanted her to have resurrection hope in the face of deaths, great and small, I wanted her to have the strength of Heaven at her disposal, so I made sure she was baptized.  Something happened at Jesus’ baptism, and something happened at Kristiane’s.  As Pastor Frank Senn at Immanuel Lutheran Church in Evanston, IL, said, she was “sealed with the Holy Spirit and marked with the cross of Christ forever.”  Like you.  Like me.

            I started out talking about “pride going before a fall” and parents’ reaction to our not doing well and falling short.  Sin is missing the mark and falling short of God’s plan and God’s goodness.  In one of his early sermons on baptism Martin Luther reminded the people:

…[T]he judgment of God can endure no sin.  [In other words, God doesn’t put up with sin!!]  Therefore there is no greater comfort on earth than baptism.  For it is through baptism that we come under the judgment of grace and mercy….3

What greater gift could we wish for our children than God’s love and mercy, channeled through our baptismal communion with Christ, dying and rising in Him??

            There’s a beautiful poem called At the Crowning Anointed, by Pastor Kathleen O. Reed.  She reflects on how she was startled to see her daughter arrive in this world looking like she had been slathered with lotion:

My first child came into the world like all children come:

sliding into home, pre-greased

pre-anointed.

 

At Baptism

at our second birth, we are anointed with the Spirit

and again with oil.

 

Why?

Because royalty in ancient days were

anointed with oil at their coronations.

 

But why?

Because at our first crowning

we were anointed in the womb.

 

And so in Holy Baptism

we are salved

for salvation’s sake.

 

Greased

so that the Devil won’t be able

to get a good grip.

 

Balmed

so that we can walk

in the desert without burning.

 

Creamed

so that we can swim the channel

without freezing to death.

 

Oiled

so that we will be able to slip

through the eye of the needle.

 

Child of God, you have been sealed by the Holy Spirit

and marked with the cross of Christ

forever.2

Amen.

            1The actual verse in the King James Version is “Pride goeth before destruction, and an haughty spirit before a fall.

  2Luther’s Works, Vol. 35 (edited by E. Theodore Bachmann, Philadelphia: Muhlenberg Press, 1960), ”The Holy and Blessed Sacrament of Baptism,”

         p. 34.

  3Kathleen O. Reed, “At the Crowning Anointed” (Lutheran Partners, September/October 1994), p. 44.

Pastor Mary Virginia Farnham