Homily for The Baptism of the Lord C

In Uncategorized on January 10, 2010 at 12:43 am

Just in case you didn’t get enough of him during Advent,
John the Baptist is back, reprising his role at the Jordan.

Advent is well and truly gone,
and while the cards, carols, and calories of Christmas
may still be visible here and there,
last week the Magi laid their gifts before the Christchild.
And went home.

Now, we jump from nativity stories to Jesus the adult.
Now we meet once more John the Baptister,
last seen in the wilderness calling on those around him to repent.
He’s still there.    He’s still baptising.

And among those who come to John for baptism,
noted almost as an afterthought in Luke’s Gospel,
is one Jesus of Nazareth.

Luke has prepared us from the very beginning of his gospel
for their meeting:
their paths and stories are intertwined from before birth.
Remember Elizabeth greeting Mary and the unborn John
leaps in welcome to the unborn Jesus.

Why, though, baptism?
Of all those who heard John’s call to repentance,
Jesus alone need not have been submerged in the River Jordan, surely?
It was undoubtedly the cause of some embarrassment.
How could Luke and his audience contemplate,
given who they and we hold Jesus to be,
a baptism for the Messiah at the hands of the prophetic John?

T.S. Eliot ends his famous Epiphany poem The Journey of the Magi,
We returned to our places, these Kingdoms,
But no longer at ease here, in the old dispensation, …
And it almost seems from the story that Jesus,
bringing the new dispensation,
enters through this Old Testment-like prophetic figure,
and of course there’s a clear link to the other ‘water’ stories of the Bible:
the Creation, the Flood, the Red Sea, the entry into the Promised Land.

The very fact that all four gospels allude to this story,
embarrassing though it might have seemed,
is a measure of the event’s authenticity and its importance.
But what does it mean?

Jesus’ baptism is a revelation.
It is a continuation of the “Epiphany” theme.
Jesus the adult breaking into the public sphere in which he will
undertake his ministry and mission.
Where next Sunday we will him claim the words of Isaiah as his manifesto.

It is also very emphatically a messianic revelation.
This is, quite literally, the public anointing of Jesus as the Christ,
with water and with the Holy Spirit.

The anointing of kings in Israel was always the task for the prophet.
From Samuel anointing Saul and then David, the ideal king,
such was the pattern.
This is precisely why Jesus is baptised, anointed, by John,
last of the prophets of Israel, the Forerunner.

Anointing and baptism were and are a recognition,
a sign of relationship, of covenant.
As between a ruler and God through a prophet,
so, too, in our gospel, Jesus is recognised and acknowledged
as the bearer of the Holy Spirit of Israel’s One True God.

The Spirit descends on Jesus in the form of a dove,
calling at once to mind that scene from Genesis
as Noah sends a dove in search of life.

Remember the story: the dove is sent out and returns fruitless.
It is sent again and returns carrying a sign of promise.

When it is sent a third time and does not return,
Noah understands that there is new life out there.
The time of exile in the Ark is ended, the Covenant is restored,
and humankind begins again, reconciled to God.

Baptism has always been about repentance and reconciliation.
Jesus’ baptism is not for repentance on his part,
but a sign of reconciliation breaking into human history.
So it is that the heavens
— so long seen as closed, hiding God from humanity –
open .. and the dove descends.

With the beginning of the adult ministry of Christ, things are different. Baptism has marked the beginning of a new way.
A new way for Jesus’ mission in the world.
A new way for us who have been ourselves baptised.
A new way for all humanity.

The ecumenical movement in this last century has affirmed wholeheartedly that Baptism is the root of all ministry.
All the baptised are called to ministry,
wherever and however that is for us.
That is an inescapable privilege,
which no-one – clergy or lay – can take from us,
but also a responsibility each of us bears.
In this congregation, too, all the baptised are welcome at the Lord’s table.

Jesus’ baptism touches us through our own.
The font we pass as we enter the main doors of this church building reminds us of our own entry into the Church itself,
the Body of Christ.

Not as Anglicans,
nor as members of a parish or diocese,
but as Christians, bearing the name of Jesus the anointed.

We are called in our own baptism to become sacramental.
We are partakers in and workers for God’s reconciliation.
We too are invited to be bearers of the Spirit,
like those Samaritan believers who had been baptised,
but had not experienced the Holy Spirit,
we are challenged to give ourselves fully in God’s service,
given impetus to ministry,
called to the servanthood that Christ lives and dies.

We are, each one of us,
to make the work of the Kingdom

  1. Thanks and praise be to God. Hope many children of God read this message, and ponder on who we really are and called to be.

    ….the mind set on the spirit is life and peace. (Romans 8:6b)

    God bless you.

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