Sunday, January 9, 2022
Baptism of Our Lord / Lectionary 1, Year C

Prayer of the Day (ELW)

Almighty God, you anointed Jesus at his baptism with the Holy Spirit and revealed him as your beloved Son. Keep all who are born of water and the Spirit faithful in your service, that we may rejoice to be called children of God, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

Readings and Psalm
Isaiah 43:1-7 When you pass through the waters, do not fear, for I am with you
Psalm 29  
Acts 8:14-17 Prayer and laying on of hands for the Holy Spirit
Luke 3:15-17, 21-22 The baptism of Jesus with the descent of the Holy Spirit


Title:  Jesus Leading the Baptism Journey

There’s Jesus standing among the people.  They’re all dripping wet having been baptized by cousin John – the one they call the Baptist.  John’s had center stage for a while now.  His powerful preaching has been drawing them out of Jerusalem, pulling them to the banks of the Jordan to hear his words of judgment and his call to clean up lives burdened with sin.  He’s been putting on quite a show in the spirit of Jeremiah and Elijah from of old.  A real-life prophet was in their midst and folks didn’t want to miss it.  He sure wasn’t afraid to tell the truth.  He wasn’t even afraid to speak truth to power.  Even though it may be hard to hear sometimes, people did and do appreciate one who will tell them the truth. (Well, you hope people want to hear the truth.) Well anyway, the people who wanted to hear the truth came, to listen to John’s preaching, to be changed by his teaching, to be baptized by his hand.  It was a baptism to clean, to wash away the wrongs of the past.  Not so different from the mikvah – the ritual bath for cleansing that was a part of the temple system that was so well-established in first century Judaism.  But this was outside that structure.  There was a rawness to John’s work, a freshness to his baptism.  So, the people flocked to the wilderness, gathered on the river’s edge.  They waded into the water.  They put themselves in John’s hands for dunking, for the drowning of their sins, for the cleansing of their past.  Some even wondered if he might be the messiah.

And there’s Jesus standing among the people.  But what is he doing there?  He needs no cleansing.  He has no past that needs to be washed away.  The one who brings light and life, who is light and life, has no need to be dunked and drowned at the hands of this wooly and wild prophet.  Even John knows this.  Even John testifies to this when he says that one is still coming.  One for whom he is not worthy to untie his sandals.  One who will baptize in a new way.  But did John even know the depth of the truth he preached?  Did he know the details of the plan?  He knew that the one to come would baptize in a way that would make his dunking look like small potatoes, but what did that mean?  What were the particulars?  Being the last of the pre-messiah prophets, joining the likes of Micah and Amos, Hosea and Zephaniah, Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel, John boldly joined the ranks of those who had come before, those who had spoken out before, like them he speaks of a winnowing stick-bearing messiah, a thrashing messiah, a messiah bringing fire – fire to purify, fire to destroy – lots and lots of fire.  This was the image and experience of God pre-messiah.

But there’s Jesus standing among the people.  Dripping wet and drying in the desert sun.  And suddenly the heavens open and the Holy Spirit descends in the form of a dove and a voice is heard “You are my Son, the Beloved, with you I am well pleased.”  And with that, nothing will ever be the same again.  Not even baptism. While John knew the messiah would bring great change, while the people were filled with anticipation and looking for great change, while those newly baptized who were standing there with Jesus in their midst felt a great change had taken place in the river, did anyone – John, the people, the baptized – see this coming?  This baptism thing was no longer just about getting clean.  For the fullness of God was present in that moment.  And to make sure no one missed it, the three persons of the Trinity were each expressed in this monumental, dynamic, life-altering, world-tranforming – (no word seems adequate) – in this moment that is beyond words – the fullness of the God who creates and loves us, who redeems and saves us, who fills us with life and is ever present with us – this God in all glory and mercy is not only present, but is wonderfully expressed in that moment when Jesus is baptized and he is standing among the people.

And what happens in that moment so that John, the people, and the newly baptized might witness the fullness of God?  For one thing:  the voice of the Creator does not speak words of judgment and threats of destruction.  Rather the world hears again how precious is the gift of the Son that has been given for the sake of all creation.  The voice is that of loving parent who speaks tenderly of love and mercy.  This one – this Jesus – who will go from the river and preach and teach of a God who searches out the lost, who welcomes home the loser, who includes the one perceived to be the lowest and the last, who will heal and raise up, who will suffer and die, who will arise and save, this is the one that the loving parent calls “my beloved.”  This is the one who well pleases the Creator of all.  And this is the one who the Creator, out of love too deep to comprehend, gives to the world for the sake of our salvation.  We the people in whose midst he is standing would be wise to listen to him.

And it is this one standing in our midst, seeming so ordinary and so human, who also proclaims the fullness of God.  He is the redeemer who comes to fight our battle, to defeat our foe, to win us back to God from the power of sin and death.  He does not come armed to combat earthly might.  He is not invested with swords and shiny armor.  He will not seek to sort and separate.  Rather he comes speaking of love – the love of God and the love we are to share.  He comes with healing in his touch and forgiveness in his eyes.  He comes with a disarming smile that silences critics and stills angry mobs.  All this is embodied in this man Jesus, and here he is, simply standing among the people.  Not above, not over, not withdrawn, not aloof.  Jesus is standing among the people.  The Word of God incarnate dwells with God’s people, sharing our life, so that we might share his baptism (monumental that it is), sharing our death so that we, most graciously, share in his resurrection.

And just so that we don’t miss this most precious gift, this most essential word of life who is Jesus, because he is standing there among the people, coming to us in such ordinary ways, so mundane that we might miss it (we who are looking for the holy whirlwinds, craving a savior decked out for battle in earthly armor) just to make sure that we see Jesus standing among the people, the Holy Spirit descends upon him in the bodily form of a dove.  This bird is not for God’s benefit, it is not for Jesus’ benefit, it is for us, the people who Jesus is standing in the midst of.  We who need help in seeing that the presence of God is with us.  The God who creates and who saves also gives us the faith and the vision to take in this good news, to see the fullness of God in our midst, to have the hope that is ours in Jesus who is standing among the people – us.

Likewise, the fullness of God was there when you were baptized.  The heavens may not have visibly opened, there may not have been any audible voice booming out, nor a dove coming down, but in the water and the word God did call each of us beloved, God did name each of us a precious child, God did declare us free from sin and death, and God promised us eternal presence.  And so, we continue to live into the fullness of God that claims us, gathers us and sends us out to work for the kingdom that is our inheritance.  Baptism is not just an event.  It is a process, a journey, it is a life well spent, it is salvation.

Hear once again; hear anew the claiming promise of God in those waters.  Hear again and anew the comforting promise of Jesus to be present, standing among the people who are gathered (whether gathered in the same room or in spirit across time and space), gathered to hear God’s word and give thanks for its good news of grace and hope.  Hear again and anew the promised peace of the Spirit that fills us and empowers us as we are sent out to do justice, love mercy, and to walk humbly with the God who stands among us.

Hear it again and anew this day and every day of the New Year.  Whether standing in the shower, or with splashing water at the sink, whether sitting quietly in a room or with the masses on the subway, hear daily the fullness of God that calls each of us beloved, that invites us to be refreshed and renewed in the love and mercy of God that brings us through whatever confronts us, that strengthens us in grace and peace knowing that Jesus stands among us, this day and forever.

The Rev. Mark Erson,

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