Posted on Tue, Jan 12, 2016
Luke 3: 15–17, 21‒22
January 10, 2016
Baptism of Christ Sunday
FIRST READING Isaiah 43: 1–7 – “Jesus > Everything!”
1 But now thus says the LORD, he who created you, O Jacob, he who formed you, O Israel: Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. 2 When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be 3 burned, and the flame shall not consume you. For I am the LORD your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.
I give Egypt as your ransom, 4 Ethiopia and Seba in exchange for you. Because you are precious in my sight, and honored, and I love you, I give people in return for you, nations in exchange for your life.
5 Do not fear, for I am with you; I will bring your offspring from the east, and from the west I will gather you; 6 I will say to the north, "Give them up," and to the south, "Do not withhold; bring my sons from far away and my daughters from the end of the earth — everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory, whom I formed and made."
GOSPEL Text: Luke 3: 15–17, 21‒22
As the people were filled with expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Messiah, John answered all of them by saying, "I baptize you with water; but one who is more powerful than I is coming; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire." 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."
If Jesus was sinless, and one of the purposes of baptism is for the forgiveness of sins, why was it necessary for Jesus to be baptized? What was the purpose of Jesus’ baptism? And what is with the crowd? There really is no such thing as a “private” baptism. Whenever someone is baptized they are immediately given a new identity as a Child of God, and they become part of the Body of Christ. But what is going on with Jesus?
Luke gives us a very brief description of this most momentous day. There is no dialogue between Jesus and John, even though they are related. All the activity of the day even seems to have come to an end and then the heavens open up. God speaks for the sake of the crowd standing around Jesus, "You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased." It is a real voice that people can hear, and in order for us to understand that this is a real event, and that Jesus wasn't some kind of ghost, the Holy Spirit even showed up in “bodily form” like a dove… the universal symbol for peace…
The purpose of Jesus’ baptism was so that God could tell the crowd, and us, who Jesus REALLY was, God’s only Son, our Lord and Savior… and we should listen to him.
The sacrament of Baptism is a very real physical, and sometimes messy, event! I have the greatest job on earth because I have the honor of God working through me to help people receive their true identity as a Child of God that will stick with them through every, and all circumstances. God is faithful when God makes a promise.
But the Baptismal Promise is a promise that can bring hope and healing our entire life long. When I meet someone who feels very discouraged, guilty, or absolutely worthless, the first thing that brings real meaning to the person is when I remind them of the promise of their baptism. Most people never even think about the fact that they were baptized. Ask them when they were baptized and most people have no idea! But when we hit bottom, the reminder of their Baptismal Promise sometimes changes everything. Maybe there were drugs involved, a crime, a relationship that went wrong, we can be our worst judges and we are sometimes the last ones to allow us to be free from our mistakes, even if we have repented, and heart absolution over and over again.
One of my favorite Christian Musicians is John Michael Talbot, and his album; “The Lord’s Supper” will always be one of my favorite albums. The album is essentially a worship setting, but when the Absolution is proclaimed the worship leader simply says, “Simply say the Word, and we shall be Healed.” Forgiveness can lead to healing and real peace.
God is all about being faithful to God’s people, but that doesn't mean that once we believe everything will be hunky dory. Just listen to the stories in our community of job loss, housing lost and the difficulty of finding housing, being able to feed our families, care for our elders and all issues with our medical system. Those are modern day problems that the faithful as well as those who don’t really know the Lord go through. The only difference is that the ones who walk with Christ, know that no matter what the challenge, we are not alone in the fact that God is with us, and we can gather with brothers and sisters and praise God even during, maybe ‘especially’ during challenging times.
In our Old Testament text we have another promise given to the people of Israel, returning from exile back to their homeland. Have you ever looked at a map to see just where they had to walk? Most of them were in Babylon, which is just south of modern Bagdad. There is no road back to Jerusalem, and the bus system wasn't very reliable. They had to walk along the Euphrates River bank up to an area north of Damascus before they could walk down the Jordan valley to Jerusalem. In those days people believed that if you were rich, you must have been blessed by God and there special… sadly there are many mega-church pastors preaching the same thing today, and people are eating it up, or should I say, “really buying it.” But it really looses it’s meaning when things go south, and the only answer you have is, “suck it up,” or “just get strong, buy this book, and pick yourself up!”
The Chosen People, the Israelites, hardly looked chosen or blessed. They had nothing as they were forced to walk through many towns and villages as poor aliens, living off the land or the generosity of people who may have been considered conquers, and certainly people living outside the Law of Moses. There were bandits and constant danger for them along the road back to Jerusalem. And then, through all this, they had no idea if their homeland was even inhabitable… but that didn't discourage them, for their hardships did not define who they truly were. As they walked along, the words of the prophets, Jeremiah, and Isaiah spoke to them that even in their hardships; they were blessed because God had chosen them as God’s people. You are blessed not because of WHAT YOU HAVE, BUT WHO YOU ARE! It was a hard time, but it was a totally hopeful time as the words of the prophets reassured them of whose they were.
Isaiah proclaims to them: “But now thus says the LORD, he who created you, O Jacob, he who formed you, O Israel: Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. 2 When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be 3 burned, and the flame shall not consume you. For I am the LORD your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.”
They have been REDEEMED! In their relationship with God, they have been HEALED! Life hasn't become easy and filled with pleasure and riches, but they know whom they are and whose they are for all time, because it is a Promise that God has made to them!
And to make sure all of Israel separated because of the exile, and the promise of God is for everyone Isaiah proclaims: 5 Do not fear, for I am with you; I will bring your offspring from the east, and from the west I will gather you; 6 I will say to the north, "Give them up," and to the south, "Do not withhold; bring my sons from far away and my daughters from the end of the earth — everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory, whom I formed and made."
The Promise is for everyone! And Jesus would say, this Gospel is for all those WHO HAVE EARS TO HEAR! YOU belong to the Lord, now and forever.
This is a very real and tangible gift. As real as there is water, word, wine and bread, Jesus has redeemed us, and God has healed us and made us One People.
Jesus’ baptism was as real as the doves we see everyday, and the promise that Jesus is God’s Son and we are to listen to him, is the best commandment we could receive, because that promise of Baptism, your true identity as Children of God will belong to you, where ever you go, and in all joys and challenges we may face. Amen.
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