Genesis 1:1-5; Psalm 29; Acts 19:1-7; Mark 1:4-11
I believe there have been at least three times when all of creation was hushed to observe what was happening here on earth. The first time, of course, we celebrated a couple of weeks ago: the birth of Jesus, the Son of God, the second person of the Holy Trinity taking vulnerable mortal form. We have a big celebration at Christmas.
The third, by my reckoning, was at his death on the Cross, completing the work of the redemption of Creation, which was followed by his vindication in the Resurrection. We celebrate pretty big for Easter, too.
Today we celebrate what I believe was the second time all creation hushed: Christ’s baptism by John in the Jordan River. We don’t seem make as much of this celebration as we do of others, but it’s a pretty important event. In the Old Testament reading for today older translations say that “the Spirit of God hovered over the face of the waters.” In today’s Gospel, that same Spirit – the Spirit that was present at the Creation of the universe — descends on Jesus like a dove. Add in the voice of the Father and we have the entire Trinity represented at this event. That’s pretty major. So why don’t we spend more time on it?
My personal theory is that we’re always just a little bit tired by this time. We’ve had a whirl of events starting in Advent, followed by Christmas then the Wise Men arriving on Epiphany. We’re burned out. A simple baptism seems somehow…anticlimactic.
But this particular baptism is anything BUT anticlimactic. The baptism of Jesus, the redeemer of all Creation, could hardly be more important.
But Jesus having to be baptized seems so silly. John baptized for repentance of sins right? What did Jesus have to repent of?
There are a lot of theological ideas about why Jesus wanted to be baptized – that he was setting an example for us, for instance. I think there are three reasons.
First, Jesus was standing with us. No, he didn’t need to repent and be forgiven of sins, but he knew that WE do. In accepting baptism from John, he showed that he understood OUR need for repentance. It wasn’t an example so much as a sign that he was jumping into human life right alongside us. He showed that he would continue to live as one of us, sharing everything about being human. That he would experience everything we do.
Second, Jesus’ baptism pre-figures his death and resurrection, just as our own baptisms pre-figure our own death and resurrection. In his letter to the Romans, St. Paul said “Therefore we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life.” In baptism, we essentially die to a worldly way of life and take up the way of the kingdom of God.
Third, Jesus was exemplifying God’s new Creation – the work that he had come to do. The Jordan had special significance for the people of Israel. At the end of their exile in the wilderness Joshua led them across the Jordan River, as an end to their wandering. Jesus knew this, as did John. I’m sure John’s baptizing people in that particular body of water was significant. Both John and Jesus were signaling a return from exile, a return that many were still waiting for. You see, the Persians had allowed the Jews to return from their exile in Babylon, but many felt that they were still in exile, because they were still living under the thumb of a foreign power. They were still waiting for God to fulfil his promise – his Covenant. For many, that fulfillment of the promise would involve a new creation. God would set everything to rights. Exile would be ended. Jesus was signaling the beginning of that end, and the beginning of something new.
It’s natural for us to look at Jesus’ baptism – joining in solidarity with our need for repentance and forgiveness, inaugurating his ministry here on earth, and prefiguring his death and resurrection, and wonder what it means for OUR baptism. What does it mean to know that Jesus stands with us, that we died and were given a new life, and that Christ brought us new Creation?
Now, if I had written this sermon a week ago, I would probably be going a totally different direction at this point. But stuff happens. It’s impossible to ignore the elephant in the room – the events that unfolded in Washington D.C. on January 6, the Feast of the Epiphany. I imagine a lot of preachers are desperately trying to find something to say, to find some positive message to give
A mob broke into the Capitol while the Senate and the House were working to certify the electoral vote count. A perfectly normal process that happens automatically every four years. But this time an armed mob broke in with the intent of overturning the results that had been duly and legally certified by their respective states. The mob vandalized the capital. Some among them had previously stated the intention of doing harm to elected officials.
In watching the news coverage, I was horrified to see that some people in the mob carried signs or flags that made the claim that they were followers of Jesus. Seeing those signs on the news, the question occurred to me “Is it any wonder people see Christians as hypocrites?”
I am not going to approach this from a political perspective. But let me be crystal clear. This was not the work of Christ. It was in no sense the work of the kingdom of God, no matter what anyone claims.
You see, there are consequences to following Christ and for claiming his name.
Claiming Christ means we claim the things he did. It means that every decision we make must be made in the context of our faith. Regardless of what we want, what our politics are, we must act as if we are already living in the kingdom of God, because we are.
We must live our lives – every part of our lives – as if Jesus is walking beside us. Because he is.
We must live our lives as if we have died to the way the world does things and have been reborn into the way GOD does things. Because we have.
We must live our lives as if we are part of, as if we are participants in, God’s new creation, in which he sets everything to rights. Because we are.
Anyone who claims the name of Jesus and does not do their best to show God’s image to the world, or who uses Jesus as a pretext for violence is, to put it bluntly, lying. As Jesus said in Matthew 7, “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will know them by their fruits.”
When we bind ourselves to Christ, we take upon ourselves humankind’s original vocation as bearers of God’s image in the world. We cannot, we must not lie to the world.
We must bear God’s image as seen in Christ, who walks with us.
We must bear God’s image as seen in Christ, who died and rose again.
We must bear God’s image as seen in Christ, who began the new Creation.
If we do these things, we will be telling the truth. We will show to the world that Jesus’s death was not the end, that just as he came up out of the water at his baptism, he came up out of the grave. That he still walks with us and helps us to continue his work. That he offers new life and new Creation.
People will see God in us.