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John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. And people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him, and were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. Now John was clothed with camel's hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. He proclaimed, "The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals. I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit."
In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. And a voice came from heaven, "You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased."
After his Baptism in church, little Johnny sobbed all the way home in the back seat of the car. His father asked him three times what was wrong, but nothing could bring the answer out of him or settle his crying. Finally, Little Johnny’s father pulled the car over on the side of the road, turned around and demanded to know what the issue was. Little Johnny replied, "That priest said he wanted me brought up in a Christian home, but I want to stay with you guys."
We don’t have any baptisms today.. but it is the Feast Day of the Baptism of Our Lord… So often when we do have baptisms they go by in a bit of a blur with all the visitors, a different liturgy, babies, candles and all the trimmings that we miss part of the significance of what it taking place and we don’t have as much time with the words that are being spoken. So today.. I would like to take a part of that liturgy and look at it a bit more closely… You can turn to it if you like in your Book of Common Prayer (BCP) on page 306…
“We thank you, Almighty God, for the gift of water. Over it the Holy Spirit moved in the beginning of creation. Through it you led the children of
Israel out of their bondage in into the land of promise. In it your Son Jesus received the baptism of John and was anointed by the Holy Spirit as the Messiah, the Christ, to lead us, through his death and resurrection, from the bondage of sin into everlasting life. We thank you, Father, for the water of Baptism. In it we are buried with Christ in his death. By it we share in his resurrection. Through it we are reborn by the Holy Spirit. Therefore in joyful obedience to your Son, we bring into his fellowship those who come to him in faith, baptizing them in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” Egypt
I’ve shared with you before a fun German word heilsgeschichte which means “salvation history.”.. it is the history of how God has saved His people.. and this passage from the BCP is a heilsgeschichte…
It begins by thanking God for water which was formed at the creation of the world… Back in the book of Genesis with the first two verses we read, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.”
Even though we understand water to be a part of creation.. to the people.. it has also represented chaos – death.. you fall into the water and you can drown. There are the Leviathans and other great sea creatures that can swallow you whole.. think of Jonah and his infamous whale. Therefore, to go into the water is to go into the chaos.. it is to go into death.
There is a great deal of significance in God saving the people of
Israel through the Red Sea which the next line talks about.. but it is also making a huge theological statement… It says, “Through it – that is.. through the water.. you led the children of out of their bondage…”… in thinking of that theologically.. it can be read, “Through death you led the children of Israel out of death”… Yes, I said that correctly.. through death God led them out of death… There bondage in Israel as slaves was a form of death, yet by leading them through the water.. chaos.. death.. he freed them from that death in Egypt .. and brought them to new life in the Promised Land… See how that works? Egypt
The second half of that first paragraph tells us about what happened with Jesus and his baptism by John – what we read about today in our Gospel. Jesus did not need to be baptized, because he was without sin, but by submitting himself to John’s baptism, he was showing us the way so that we too might enter the Promised Land.
Moses parted the
Red Sea so that the Israelites would have a dry path to take through the death of the waters… which is a preview of what Jesus has done for us… because Jesus submitted to baptism so that we too might have a path to follow through death.
Therefore.. in that second paragraph, we thank God for the waters of baptism, because they are the waters of death that we pass through so that we might also enter the Promised Land… As Moses safely led the people through the death of the
Red Sea.. so Jesus leads us out of the bondage of sin and death and safely brings us through the death of the waters of Baptism into eternal life with Him. This particular passage very much follows the teachings from Paul’s letter to the Romans 6:4 “We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.” And as the Holy Spirit descended upon Jesus at His baptism, so it also descends upon us at ours… as we say on page 308 when a person is Chrismated – anointed with the holy oil following their baptism, “You are sealed by the Holy Spirit in Baptism and marked as Christ’s own for ever.”
Baptism is a passing through death into eternal life… Its not something I would necessarily say to a mother who was holding her infant child just before I was going to baptize the baby, but it is true.. if there were a smell following a baptism.. it wouldn’t be the smells perfumes or incense wafting through the air – it would truly be the smell of death – for we die in the waters of baptism and are reborn to that eternal life with God.
Baptism is the only means by which we can be cleansed of the original sin that we are born with.. and it is the sign of us becoming a member of the Church.. a Christian. This is where many people get hung up on the baptism of infants. They believe that you can only become a Christian by making a conscience decision to do so, therefore the believe that it isn’t correct to baptize babies or even children… some churches won’t even accept baptisms that were performed on infants… however, that teaching is an error…
Baptism is a sacrament – meaning it was given to us by God – and therefore to say that you must make a consciences decision to be baptized is stating that you must do part of the work in order to receive your salvation, but as we know, there is nothing you can do to be saved.. it is only through the grace of God that we can be saved.. As Paul teaches in his letter to the Ephesians, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast.” Baptism is not about you and what you are doing… baptism is about God.. and what He is doing; therefore, whether you are young or old when you are baptized.. it is irrelevant… It is about God and His grace – through the Holy Spirit – being poured out on you – period.
Jesus received his baptism.. we receive ours.. but it does not end there.. for Jesus gave us a command… He said, “… go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit..”.. Jesus commands us to bring others into the household of God through baptism… and the Church is determined that all should be baptized.. therefore, in emergencies – if for example an unbaptized person was facing imminent death – the Church allows all who are baptized to baptize another … don’t believe me.. take a look at the bottom of page 313 in your BCP…
Emergency Baptism: In case of emergency, any baptized person may administer Baptism according to the following form. Using the given name of the one to be baptized (if known), pour water on him or her, saying, I baptize you in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit… You are not only a disciple of Jesus.. but you are also a disciple maker.
You were brought through the waters of baptism – of death into life.. you were made a disciple of Jesus.. and you are called to make disciples of others. To be a disciple maker isn’t a burden or chore.. it is a gift … a gift from God.
Let us pray… From all eternity, O Lord, You planned our very existence and our destiny. You wrapped us in Your love in baptism and gave us the Faith to lead us to an eternal life of happiness with You. You have showered us with Your graces and You have been always ready with Your mercy and forgiveness when we have fallen. Now we beg You for the light we so earnestly need that we may find the way of life in which lies the best fulfillment of Your will. Whatever state this may be, give us the grace necessary to embrace it with the love of Your holy will, as devotedly as Your Blessed Mother did Your will. We offer ourselves to You now, trusting in Your wisdom and love to direct us in working out our salvation and in helping others to know and come close to You, so that we may find our reward in union with You for ever and ever. Amen.