Baptism of our Lord
January 13, 2013
Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heaven was opened, and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” Luke 3:21-22
Luke’s sparse account of the Baptism of Our Lord and the other appointed texts for the day cause us to reach deep for a peg on which to hang a sermon.
Why not use the Sunday to recall our own baptisms and review again our faith tradition’s understanding of the sacrament? An instructional sermon on baptism would remind everyone in the pews of the promise of God’s grace bestowed upon them, the biblical command and the wonderfully ordinary element of water that God uses as a tangible sign of that grace. After all, everybody has their own lived theology baptism, whether or not they articulate it as such. And let’s face it, there are a lot of strange baptismal theologies out there — some of them simply naive and others downright harmful.
Some people see infant baptism as little more than “fire insurance” — in case something should happen to the child, her place in heaven is assured. (As if God withholds grace from the innocent!) Others see taking a child for baptism as a parental obligation best arranged as quickly and painlessly as possible. They want the pastor to “do the baptism,” rather than to baptize the child into the life of faith and community of believers. Some parents see baptism only as a rite of passage, one of many in their child’s life that will be celebrated with new clothes, gifts and a family celebration.
And then many people obsess over the mechanics of the ritual or the family life following. What if there wasn’t enough water? What if the parents never again darken the door of the church with said child in tow? What if the teen or adult was not “really serious” about baptism? I’ve heard all kinds of “ifs” raised over the years, and seen good people fret over whether salvation has been accomplished and just exactly what that means anyway.
Thankfully, baptism doesn’t depend on us to “work.” It has nothing to do with how worthy we are, how serious a parent or sponsor might be, or even how much water is used (although I encourage not skimping). Baptism is God’s business, and we are the recipients of this grace-full act. Even God incarnate, God-the-Son-made-flesh, came to wash in the waters of baptism. And God responds by expressing divine pleasure.
We should never take our baptism for granted. In water and the word God acts in our lives, adopting us and incorporating us into the family. In that instant, once and for all something wonderful happens and will always happen in our lives – even if we are too young or too spiritually immature to know. Amidst the presents and cards and cake and photos, one gift came that nobody witnessed with their senses. I doubt anyone felt a rush of wings or saw a dove descending, but the gift came nonetheless. In the instant of baptism, we receive the gift of the Holy Spirit, and promised that the Spirit walks with us into eternity. Talk about a gift that keeps on giving!
This is why, dear friends, we should make a point out of remembering and celebrating not only Jesus’ baptism, but also our own encounter with water and word. This Sunday presents some fine and creative opportunities to help everyone recall and give thanks for their own moment of adoption into the family of God. It’s also a great chance to help folks find ways to remember their baptism each and every day and to live as “wet Christians” in the world.
Baptism is well to remember, but better to live it, really live it, by walking each day in the knowledge of just how powerful word, water, bread, and wine really are when Jesus is involved. This world can be a pretty tough place, and there are distractions aplenty, but our Lord has set the example and by the Holy Spirit is actively shaping and molding us for mission and ministry. So let this day be one of joyous celebration, of water and meal, of hope and hallelujahs, and of equipping one another to go out and live as the baptized and beloved who tell all the world what God is doing.
Make sure to include lots of water in today’s worship. Incorporate sound, sight, and touch if possible. Water is necessary for life; it is elemental both to life and faith, so take all opportunities to make connections on this day. If your congregation takes part in a water charity, consider emphasizing that effort today. If not, why not consider a special initiative to help provide clean drinking water in honor and remembrance of baptism. Click here for a fairly comprehensive list of water charities.
Pointing to Jesus–Use this week’s gospel lesson (Luke 3:15-17, 21-22) as the basis for talking about how we can point to Jesus like John did. John may have looked and acted oddly by the standards of his day, but he was faithful to his purpose and successful in connecting people with the promises of God in baptism. How can we harness a little of John’s evangelistic zeal and commitment to point to Jesus today? What is difficult about doing so? What is easy? What one thing could a person do within the next week to point to Jesus?
God Promises to Love You–If you are celebrating the Baptism of our Lord today, try to find ways to involve the children in an affirmation of baptism (perhaps letting them sprinkle the congregation with evergreen branches dipped in the water of the font). If a baptism is planned for worship today, let the children help you set up and invite them to come sit where they can watch.
Finally, help them craft a banner or poster for their room at home that incorporates baptismal imagery (water, shell, dove). Consider using the heading “______(child’s name), beloved child of God lives here” and include Isaiah 43:4a “Because you are precious in my sight, and honored, and I love you…” somewhere as a key verse for the children to remember. Remind them that God will always love them and will never leave them, even if they do something wrong that makes God sad.