Baptism of the Lord
The story of our redemption is very quiet, starting in a stable, no fuss. A normal life in Nazareth.
Jesus went to John alone to be baptized. A baptism of repentance meant for those who were sorry for their sins. But why Jesus, what was He doing being baptized? Was He not the sinless one? Even John was surprised, shouldn’t Jesus baptize John?
For Jesus, this was the moment of decision, the moment to launch out. He did not just wake up one day and decide to start His ministry, He underwent an initiation. There was a movement toward God among the people and it started with the baptism of John. Jesus was aligning Himself with this movement.
Most important areas of our life start with an initiation. Joining something, following rules, wearing certain clothing. We all underwent the same kind of initiation as Jesus. We were all baptized, most of us were infants and do not remember it. Do we ever think about it?
By baptism we are initiated into a community, becoming part of a people, God’s people. To some of us, this God is a strange God and His people are a strange people. God may at times seem to be a God of contradiction, a person from outer space.
For our God is the God of Moses and Abraham, Ezekiel and Isaiah. The God of Joseph and Mary, of John and Judas.
We read in the scriptures that this God thunders His commands from a mountain, beckons from a burning bush and whispers love and forgiveness from a cross. He permitted Pharaoh to enslave His people, then divided the sea to save them. He leads them into a wilderness to face hunger and death, then feeds them with bread from heaven.
He is a strange God, He loves us even when we forsake Him and proves it by crucifying His Son. This God with whom we started a relationship with at baptism may at times seem like a strange God, but it might seem like an even stranger community that we were baptized into. We too, can be a people of contradictions.
We are proud, we are glad to call ourselves a community of faith, a community of love, but sometimes we show the world a weak faith, hopelessness, a lack of love. Week after week we say- I believe in God, in Christ who died, in the Holy Spirit, in one church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, life everlasting.
And we do, indeed, believe, but sometimes our faith is long on creeds and short on self-giving. We forget that without a “yes” to Jesus a “yes” to a creed is sterile.
As St. James says even the devils believe that God is One and Three that God became man and died for our sins and still they are severed from God.
As a community of baptized Christians, we say our hope is in the Lord, but very often it is not. Sometimes we do not quite trust Him to take care of things. We think we know best or we put our hope in something or someone else.
On the basis of Christ’s own command, we call ourselves a community of love…a new commandment I give to you that you love one another, by this, all will know that you are my disciples if you have love for one another.
So often baptized Christians fail in this commandment, one of the only two commandments that Jesus gave us. There is no evidence that we hate less, lust less, lie or cheat less than others. We are an imperfect community, this church of ours, made of the Divine and the human. Sometimes the human is far too much in evidence. This same community can tear and bend one another either physically, verbally or emotionally. While the unbelievers shake their heads and say- see how these Christians hate one another. Mahatma Gandhi the great Indian statesmen loved Christ, Christians he could not stand.
However, the community into which we were all welcomed at baptism is not just another sin-ridden establishment. There is a presence here that is not of this world- a presence that pervades and invades us at baptism. A presence that breaks through our smallness and our sinfulness, it makes us better than we are. A presence that is real because it is a person. A living, pulsating, risen person.
In this community, you will find Jesus, the Christ, the long-awaited, the ultimate. He is here in word and sacrament because where two or three are gathered in my name I am in their midst. And, hopefully, we will find Christ in each other, in the smiles and concern on our faces, in the joy that makes us look redeemed.
You were baptized into His presence, a presence that is real and vibrant, and a presence that can make all things new, a presence that if we let it, can change us and make us one.
In spite of our weaknesses, Christ is our hope and strength.
Perhaps, St. Paul puts it best when he sums it all up by saying “for in Christ Jesus, you are all children of God, for as many of you as were baptized, there is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male or female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus, our Lord.”
Baptism is not just something we do when a child is born, baptism reveals your identity, tells the world who you are. You are baptized into Christ, you are to strive to be Christ-like. Try to act Christ-like.
And, when you do that then the heavens will open again, and the Father will declare with pride you are my son, my daughter whom I love, with you I am well pleased.