First Sunday after the Epiphany, Year C
Holy Baptism: January 10, 2013
Luke 3:15-17, 21-22
Today we are hearing some news that is both very new and very old. In our Gospel story, Jesus comes up to John, so he can be baptized in the Jordan River. This is something very new. Jesus is not there to “repent of his sins.” Jesus does not do this to join a new religion. There is an astounding rush of a mighty wind. The Holy Spirit comes down over Jesus’ head and a heavenly voice booms out, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”
When Jesus joined that throng of people coming to John to be baptized, we can imagine that he, like them, was longing for something powerful to happen. They were a group of people who wanted to turn their lives around, and who believed that the whole world could turn around: they were filled with expectation, Luke tells us. For them to want “the Messiah” is to want a world in which God’s justice reigns, where families and communities are whole and prosperous, where there is enough of everything to go around, a world full of hope that the future will be better than the past. When the people – Jesus included – came to be baptized, it was not just about themselves, alone: they were coming to be part of a community, to be part of a new world, to be part of the world that God had always promised was the way things would be.
Luke, unlike the other gospels, gives us some stories about Jesus’ childhood and youth. Luke tells the story of Mary and Joseph taking Jesus to be blessed in the Temple, and how people there recognized him as the promised one who would bring about God’s reign. Luke also tells the story of Jesus as an older child on another trip to the Temple, where he leaves his parents and sits and talks with the scholars and teachers, strong and confident, even as a child, about his place in God’s world. These stories give us a hint that in this story, as Jesus comes to be baptized, and lingers and prays by the river, that he is not surprised when God’s voice, proclaiming him “the Beloved,” booms out from heaven. Jesus knows that he has a place in this world, and a role to pay, in making this world the beloved and blessed place God intended it to be.
I said before that this story is about new news and old news. God has always loved this world, and this is the old news about baptism: when we are “marked as Christ’s own forever” it means that we should remember each day who we are, and whose we are, and who we are called to be. And every day, especially on those days when things get difficult, don’t each of us long to hear those words, that we are beloved? That God has loved us from the beginning of time, just as our mothers and fathers and friends have loved us, and just as we love them back?
Our first reading today is one that Jesus himself knew. The prophet Isaiah tells the story of that old news: that God has created us, that God sticks by us in difficult times, and that God wants everyone, all sons and daughters, to come home – to come from the ends of the earth to this party, here, in this place, here in the heart of God. In a few minutes, when we pour water on your head, as Jesus had water poured on his, you will know the old truth: that you belong to God, and God loves you. With this baptism, as with all baptisms, God is saying to each of us, "No matter what happens and no matter how low and discouraged you feel, no matter what is happening around you and in your life, don't you ever let anyone tell you that you are anything but a precious and beloved child of God."
So today, this party is about you, and about how happy we are that you found us. And this party today is about all of you, children here for "First Communion," to take communion together, and how you understand how beloved you are by God. You all are here today to teach the rest of us something so very important: Baptism connects us. It ties us together as a community. We are so much more than a collection of individuals, making our own way, struggling alone with our own burdens. You being here today, taking communion together as a group, are showing us that we are part of something much greater than ourselves, that we are part of a community engaged with God in the transformation of the world – that we, like Jesus, are standing here in this mighty stream of people who from the beginning of time, have worked with God to make this world the blessed and beloved place that God created it to be.