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A Wing and a Prayer

1/13/2019 Baptism of Our Lord The text is Luke 3:15-17, 21-22.

Grace and peace to you from God, our Father, and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  Amen.

As last Sunday marked the end of the Season of Christmas, today marks the beginning of the Season after Epiphany.  Last week, we heard the story of wise men and gifts and homage.  Today, we hear Luke’s version of the events that take place as John rebukes the idea that he is the messiah and as Jesus is baptized. 

Ah, baptisms…they are always special events around here…whether we are talking about the baptism of children or the baptism of adults…they are always special.  It is an important event in the lives of those who recognize Jesus as the messiah, the one anointed to take on the role of savior, an anointment that involves a wing and a prayer.

This morning, we hear Luke’s version of Jesus’ baptism.  There are little details in what he writes even though it is a special event in Jesus’ life, and it marks the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry.  Luke simply says that Jesus was baptized.

That is very different from that which we experience here at Emanuel.  For us, each baptism is treated as a special event and a Kodak moment.  According to Luke, Jesus’ baptism is part of a public event in which many are baptized.  There is no pomp and circumstance here.  There is no singling Jesus out.  There are no parents or sponsors present, at least none that we hear of.  There is no crowd oohing and aahing at the event.  So the details of the baptism seem to fade into the woodwork as a more important outcome of the baptism is highlighted.

To quote Luke, “When Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heavens opened, and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form as a dove, and a voice came from heaven, ‘You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” In calling Jesus the beloved, the personal nature of the relationship with the Father is emphasized. This isn’t just any Jesus.  This is the one Beloved from the foundation of the world.

That is Luke’s version of Jesus’ baptism. All four gospels portray this scene. But Luke’s version is a little different from the others. In each version, though, the Spirit descends “like a dove.”   The Holy Spirit is not a bird.  The dove is used as a metaphor for the Spirit’s coming into our lives. It is a beautiful metaphor. Have you ever seen a dove descend and land? It is graceful, gentle, and quiet. That’s the point being made. That is the way the Holy Spirit will enter into our lives. The Holy Spirit came to Jesus gently, quietly, and in Luke’s version, privately.

That is why Luke is different from the other three gospels. The other writers imply that the Spirit descends upon Jesus at his baptism, apparently when he is still in the water. That is the way this scene is often portrayed in religious art, especially those beautiful paintings out of the Middle Ages. Jesus, standing waist deep in water. John the Baptist standing next to him, pointing at Jesus, as if to say, “This is the one!” or, in the words of the Gospel of John, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world!” Above Jesus’ head in these scenes is the Spirit, as a dove, descending, hovering above Jesus’ head.

That’s the way all the other gospels picture it. But Luke is different. He says, “Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the Holy Spirit descended upon him.” Which means the Spirit comes to Jesus when he is by himself, praying.  This is a public event. It is a personal and private experience. No one else sees it. No one else hears that voice from heaven.  Jesus simply comes out of the water, goes off by himself, and prays.  And that is when it happens…the Spirit descends upon him as on the wing of a dove and as he is deep in prayer.

On a wing and a prayer, Jesus begins his public ministry.  On a wing and a prayer, we also begin ours.  For in spite of all the pomp and circumstance that we put into each baptism, the Spirit descends upon each of us gently, quietly, gracefully and yet, forcefully infusing faith.  Our prayers for the newly baptized are not private or personal for I doubt that even the adults who are newly baptized leave here to spend quiet time in deep prayer with God.  A dinner with friends or a party are more likely to take place.  So, we pray, “Sustain the newly baptized with the gift of your Holy Spirit:  the gift of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and fear of the Lord, the spirit of joy in your presence, both now and forever.  Amen.”  At the time of affirmation of baptism, the time in which the promises made for children are taken on by the child him or herself, we pray that these same gifts be stirred up within them.

We don’t know what Jesus prayed after his baptism.  I truly doubt that he prayed for the gift of the Holy Spirit.  This gift of God’s presence comes to him as he is praying – to help him in his ministry, to send him out into the wilderness to deal with temptation, to prepare him for his role which will lead him to a cross and a grave, to sustain and strengthen him in his faith and to help him endure all that is to come in his direction.  Jesus’ life will be hard and full of challenges and he will need the courage and endurance that is strengthened through the Spirit which anoints him for his role of Savior of the world.  We need the same gifts that come to us in our baptism to strengthen and encourage us in the struggles that we will face.   And we will need to live by the example of Jesus who comes out of the waters of baptism and prays.  For our life, like his, is sustained on a wing and a prayer.

Come, Lord Jesus, come.  Come, Holy and Life-Giving Spirit, come.  And enlighten our lives by your gifts.  And may the peace of God, which surpasses all human understanding, keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.  Amen.




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