The Baptism of Our Lord

"Baptism of Christ" by Fra  Angelico
“Baptism of Christ” by Fra Angelico

Today many Christian congregations celebrate the First Sunday after Epiphany.  On this day, these congregations usually remember the “Baptism of Our Lord.” This is the day we remember Jesus’ baptism in the River Jordan.  Many congregations will incorporate this into their worship through possibly the “Thanksgiving for Baptism” liturgy and other possibly unique baptism practices that congregations have (such as lighting candles to remember the lights of one’s baptismal candles which remind us that we are children of God).

As I have started doing, I decided I wanted to share some thoughts on my blog about this day and to do so to some degree using the appointed lectionary readings (Isaiah 42:1-9; Psalm 29; Acts 10:34-43; and Matthew 3:13-17).  But then it occurred to me, we are in Year A, and three years ago I actually preached on this day. So, what I have decided to do is to go back and share some of what I wrote in my sermon for that day.  I am not presenting it in its entirety, but the pieces that I share below and have adapted will hopefully offer a good reflection for you as we remember what the Baptism of Our Lord meant and might mean for us today.


A Sermon for the Baptism of Our Lord (YEAR A)[1]

 “The voice of the Lord is calling His children, the voice of the Lord is shaking the earth, the voice of the Lord echoes like thunder, is awesome in glory, hear, hear the voice of the Lord!” [2] This is the chorus to one of my favorite “contemporary” worship songs.  Its words seem so poignant today with the Gospel[3], Psalm, and text from Isaiah.   Today, we not only celebrate and remember the Baptism of Our Lord, we remember the action which came upon Christ’s very baptism.  The heavens opened, a light shone down, and a voice proclaimed for all present to here, “This is my Son, the Beloved, and with whom I am well pleased.”[4] Wow!!  Isn’t this a radical idea?  God is speaking directly to the world.

This baptism changes the game so to speak.  The story has changed.  God spoke to the world.  Now this is obviously not the first time God has spoken to the world, and certainly will not be the last.  But think for a moment.  How many times does God speak in the scriptures directly from heaven like this for any and all to hear?  This passage has always seemed to me to suggest that anyone at the river that day certainly could have heard this voice.  The voice of God proclaiming the words that would change the course of history with the declaration about this man who was baptized by John in the Jordan being the Son.

The vast majority of the time that God has intervened, or spoken to the world, God has done so through a process that some theologians call election or particularity.  This usually means God chooses one or a few messengers for the good of the majority, or the world.  For instance, God chose Abraham to make his covenant with for the good of the world.  God chose to work through Jacob, Joseph, and of course Moses.  God chose to speak to Moses through a burning bush for the good of Israel.   God used the prophets of the Old Testament as well.  And then, through the Incarnation, became human in the Son, Jesus.

When Jesus was to come, God spoke through the Angels- to Mary, Joseph, to the Shepherds, through the appearance of the star to the people; to Elizabeth, etc.   But here at the River Jordan, something possibly even more radical happens.  God speaks for God self.   Like a good Lutheran would ask, what does this mean?

There will be no mistake about it.  This is important.  It is so important that God chooses not to leave this message to any messenger, ambassador, or emissary.  John the Baptist was a prophet in the way he paved the way and announced the coming of the Lord, to prepare the way as we heard in the readings during Advent.  But the testimony of who this man, Jesus is, will not be left to John or to anyone on earth in today’s Gospel.  No doubts shall remain about this man’s identity.  For God speaks here, to the whole world.  In some ways this passage then not only becomes important for the Gospel, but it is at the very heart of our faith.  Christ’s baptism serves a purpose, which means that our baptism serves a purpose.  Part of this purpose at least is that we are called by God, and listening to God’s call.  

The act in the Baptism of our Lord shows that God cares and loves.  God cares so much that God gives the Son to the world, for the world to redeem the world.  But not only this, God WANTS the world to know this.  So, God proclaims this news.   God still remembers the people whom God made a covenant with, and God still wants and wills to be in relationship with the world.

A Baptismal Font
A Baptismal Font

This passage affirms our own vocations of today.  We are baptized today in the waters just as Christ was baptized in the Jordan.  But our baptism is not just one of washing of water, and washing away of sin.  Baptism is the act by which we become marked by the cross of Christ forever and sealed as a child of God.  Through this sacrament, we have all been not only marked and claimed by God, but by being blessed by God, we are elected and called for a purpose(s) and vocations.  All of our vocations are important in the world, and all are equal in God’s sight as Martin Luther writes about.  Baptism in a way then is the starting point for the dogma we believe in called the “Priesthood of All Believers.”  It is this dogma which allows me a non-ordained person to preach; this dogma which allows us all to be evangelists and share the good news with the world; and the belief that we are all ministers in the world, even though we may serve different roles.

This action of Jesus’ baptism marks the beginning of what most scholars believe are Jesus’ three years of ministry as recorded in the gospels.  This is not a fact to lose sight of either.  This is the beginning at which not only do we come to know who this Christ is, but the moment at which Christ begins to teach us.  God calls the world to take notice of the Son.  Jesus then calls the world to not only take notice of God, but to again take notice of our relationship with God and our neighbors in the world.  After this point in the Gospel narrative, Jesus does the talking.  In a way, not only are we reading of Jesus’ baptism, but also his ordination and establishment as the Messenger and Messiah.

I could keep going here, but I think I would be belaboring the point.  Rather, I ask one final time, what does this mean?    More specifically, what does this mean now, today?  What does this mean here?

We have a God who is active in the world and who continues to care and take notice of it.  Today’s gospel said that the “Spirit of God descended like a dove.”  Through Pentecost, this Spirit is given the name of the Holy Spirit.  This Spirit is the on-going presence of God in the world.  It helps lead and guide us to discern what it is that God may be calling us to do or towards.  It is through discernment, prayer, and conversation, that we as people- individually and together, that we come to try and figure out where we are being called towards.

I did not feel that call towards the pulpit like most of my fellow seminarians.  But I do feel a call towards ministry.  To go to seminary without the intention of being a pastor, is trust me, a huge leap of faith in so many senses of the phrase.  Rather, I feel called towards work in ministry such as that done by Lutheran World Relief or other such organizations who serve in the world through relief, poverty alleviation, economic development, etc.  How Allison and I are here in Minnesota, in the middle of winter is still kind of hard to explain.  But in relating to today’s gospel, it’s actually quite easy.  This is, I believe, the work of the Spirit.  God calls and makes ways that we cannot at times explain, but these ways always lead somewhere, and this journey begins with our baptism.

The baptism of our Lord changes the world, and changes history.   The Light of God shone down on Jesus, and it is in this light in which we live and serve in the world today.  This is the light of the Crucified and Resurrected Christ, and the Triune God who is active in the world and in relationship with it.  As the hands and feet, as part of God’s work and mission, WE have been washed with the baptismal waters and given the call by the Voice of the Lord to follow the Lord and serve the world.  As we are now in a new calendar year, let us resolve to really take up this calling.  Let us not be afraid to stumble, for if and when we do, Jesus is the way to forgiveness and will help us get back up on our feet and on our way to helping our neighbors.  Let us have confidence to serve and live humbly in accords with God’s call and mission, and the courage to follow wherever this journey, as difficult and seemingly crazy as it may seem, will lead.

By being baptized, you are marked and sealed by the cross of Christ forever.  Let us daily live by what this means.  Amen.

[1] Written by Timothy Siburg, and based on my sermon originally preached 9 January 2011.

[2] “The Voice of the Lord,” by Randy Phillips & Roger Hodges.  (2001 Ariose Music; World of Pentecost Publishing; Big God Music; administered by EMI Christian Music Publishing).  CCLI Song #3330762.

[3] Matthew 3:13-17, NRSV.

[4] Matthew 3:17, NRSV.

Image Credits:  1) The Baptism of Christ; and 2) A Baptismal Font.

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