1/7/2018 Baptism of Our Lord The text is Mark 1:4-11.
Grace and peace to you from God, our Father, and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
Today we begin a new season in the church year. It’s the season of Epiphany, a season of new beginnings. As with January, Epiphany is a time of putting away the old and beginning something new. It is a time for change as people resolve to put aside the old and to live new lives according to new habits. As with all resolves the changes begin with a kind of confession as we admit that we have not been the kind of people we want to be. We confess that we are not as slender, healthy, cheerful, thankful, generous, or productive as we would like to be. We admit our faults and our humanity and we make a commitment to do better in the year ahead.
All resolutions are signs that we want to turn our lives around. We make them with the best intentions in the world. Yet before long, the weeks speed by and old habits reassert themselves. That is why the gym classes you can’t get into at the beginning of the year have openings by the first of March. We backslide. And all too soon we find ourselves at the beginning of yet another year, making the same resolutions with great hope but with no greater chance for success.
Repentance is like that. It’s like making one of those new year’s resolutions. We begin by confessing that we are not as faithful, loving, forgiving, thankful, generous or productive as we and God would like us to be. We admit our faults and our humanity and make a commitment to do better. We want to turn our life around. But before long, old behaviors reassert themselves and we find that we have failed to maintain the changes which we vowed to make with all the best intentions in the world. We find ourselves needing to turn our lives around once more. For, we simply can’t do it alone. We need help to make permanent changes in our lives.
Through the grace of God, John the Baptist realized our need for encouragement and support as he preached repentance and baptized people in the River Jordan with a baptism for the forgiveness of sins. People were drawn to his watery chancel from the city and countryside. They came making resolutions which were certainly more spiritual than those we usually make at the beginning of each new year. At the river, John dunked these people as a sign of their resolve to turn from their sins and to turn back to the worship and service of God. But John knew that his work had its limits. For sin is a powerful magnet that draws us in whether we want it to or not. At best, our resolve is weak, and that is especially true when it comes to the struggle against those forces that draw us away from God. So repentance is a daily need. It takes something far greater than a washing in plain water and wholehearted resolve for permanent changes to take place in the human heart. It takes the handiwork of God. It takes the work of the Holy Spirit.
It was at the very beginning of his public ministry that Jesus entered the debris-filled waters of the Jordan. He joined the gathered throng in the water where they had dragged their sins and broken resolves that clung so closely to them. Jesus shared the beautiful but dirty water with beautiful but dirty people. And when Jesus rose from the river, the Spirit descended upon him like a dove. And a voice from the heaven declared him the beloved. The Spirit was infused in his life and it is this Spirit that is shared in baptism.
So, the saving work of Jesus not begin and end with the cross and resurrection. It began in the waters of the Jordan as Jesus was baptized for us. Jesus was baptized for us because God understood that we needed a savior who did not pity us from a distance.
In his baptism, Jesus fully identified with us. In our baptism, we became fully identified with him, and received the gift of the Spirit so that through him we can find the help we need to continue the struggle and the resolve to turn our lives to the worship and service of God.
This help comes to us in the gift of Holy Spirit. This Spirit is the gift of God that makes spiritual repentance something more than resolution. For with it God makes us new creatures and adopts us as his children. This is a gift which cannot be bought. It can only be received as it is infused into our lives as we are washed with the waters of rebirth.
We record our baptism as an important event in our lives. Yet our baptism is not an event of the past. It is a present fact. When we remember our baptism we remember that we have been united with Christ in his death through baptism and because of this we will be united with him in a resurrection like his. So our past baptism gives certainty to our future resurrection. This event marks us permanently and keeps our minds off our failures and gives us the courage to resolve to turn our lives around once more. For we won’t need to be perfect in order to impress our God of our worth. To quote a French proverb, “Years of repentance are necessary in order to blot out a sin in the eyes of men, but one tear of repentance suffices with God.”
So let us resolve this year to remember our baptism, and to turn our lives around in the direction of the Lord of our life. For we are new creatures in a new year bringing good news to all people. Amen.
And may the peace of God, which surpasses all human understanding, keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.