First Sunday after the Epiphany, Year A, 2020
Baptism of Our Lord
Kevin Gore, St. Andrew’s Mountain Home
A drunk man stumbles across a baptism service on Sunday afternoon down by the river. He proceeds to walk down into the water and stand next to the preacher. The minister asks the drunk, “Mister, are you ready to find Jesus?” The drunk man says, “Yes, I am.” The minister then immerses the man under the water and pulls him right back up. The preacher asked, “Have you found Jesus?” The drunk says, “No, I didn’t!” The preacher then dunks him under for quite a bit longer, brings him up and says, “Now, brother, have you found Jesus?” The man replied, “No, I did not.” The preacher in disgust holds the man under for at least 30 seconds this time then brings him out of the water and says in a harsh tone, “My God, have you found Jesus yet?” The drunk wipes his eyes and says to the preacher… “Are you sure this is where he fell in?”
Today we celebrate and recall the Baptism of Our Lord Jesus Christ. It comes always on the first Sunday after the Epiphany, and moves us from our celebrations and observance of Jesus’ birth into his ministry. On this day every year we hear an account of Christ’s baptism. This part of Jesus’ life and ministry is so important that you find it in all four of the Gospels, along with his death and resurrection. Not even the Christmas narrative is part of all four Gospels. But Jesus’ baptism holds such a significance that it shows up all four times.
Yet, this story contains what I think is a possibly confusing event. Have you ever stopped to ask yourself, after hearing any of the accounts of Jesus baptism why exactly Jesus gets baptized by John? Sometimes we get into a mode of listening and just accept what we hear. But this is one of those times that you might say, “wait a minute, why is Jesus being baptized if he’s already sinless and God incarnate?”
People have been coming to John the Baptist, repenting of their sins, and enter the Jordan River to be symbolically washed clean. This action is one they would already be accustomed to, there are all sorts of ritual washings and purification rites. It is important to remember that this is also not what we think of as Christian baptism. It’s not meant as initiation into the body of Christ, it is not tied to the salvific acts of Christ. It is a preparation, as John says, for the one to come.
But when that one shows up, Jesus, and wants John to baptize him in this act of cleansing, John tries very strongly to refuse. He knows who Jesus is, and does not feel he is worthy to take this action. John, as we know, relents and baptizes Jesus. And again, I ask you why? Why does Jesus seek out this moment? We must always be working on our faith, asking questions about our scripture, digging deeper into the understanding of what we are told is important or meaningful to our faith.
Though I suppose if I were to ask you to imagine an opposite scenario, you begin to see why Jesus went through this baptism. Imagine instead, Jesus walking up on the crowd gathered, people wading into the dark muddy waters of the river, and Jesus looks around in disgust and says, “I’m not getting my lovely white robes dirty in that muck! It’s fine for you all, but I’m the messiah!”
Of course that is incredibly facetious, and we would never see Jesus doing something like that. Which is precisely the point. Jesus goes into those less than clear waters, he joins the people in the mud and the muck and gets dirty. He is participating in the experience with all the sinners, but it’s more than just that. This is a physical, tangible action. God has become flesh, and is partaking of the human experience here to identify with us and to experience the fullness of a life that includes seeking forgiveness for one’s sin, but not because he is a sinner, but because he is taking on our burden.
Steven Driver writes, “Pondering the reasons for Jesus’ own baptism requires pondering what it means for the Son of God to have become a human. In short, to understand baptism, we must understand the reality, the physicality, of being human, and what it means to say that God saved us by becoming just like us.”
The incarnation of God comes into the world to fulfill the promise that our salvation will be assured, and this moment in the Jordan River is Christ’s action of taking our place. He stands in those waters and takes on the baptism of repentance so that we don’t have to. That’s not what our baptism is about. Our baptism is a reminder of our salvation, adoption into the body of Christ. Our being washed in the waters of salvation and being sealed by the Holy Spirit is our moment for God to look upon us and say, “this is my child, my beloved in whom I am well pleased.”
In a few moments we will take the opportunity of it being the Feast of the Baptism of Our Lord to renew our own baptismal vows. It is our opportunity to be reminded of the promises we have made in taking on this adoption as part of Christ’s body and to strengthen our commitment to following in the footsteps of the one who took on our nature and came into the world to save us. Today as we celebrate the baptism of our Lord consider this action Jesus has taken, to be fully human, wading into the murky waters with the rest of us. May you be renewed and refreshed knowing that the Incarnation has set us free from all sin and rejoice in the salvation that God has brought us.