The Baptism of Jesus. Base on Luke 3 15-17, 21-23
The recounting of Jesus’ baptism is in all four gospels, which truly is a testament to the importance of the event—all 4 gospellers felt this important enough to include in their accounting of the life and ministry of Jesus. And each one of them, of course, presents it in his own fashion, based on the source of their information and the particular theological emphasis that the writer is bringing to the community for whom and to whom they were writing. Luke’s recounting, which we read today, has the focus not so much on the details of the baptism itself, as it appears that Jesus is just one of the group of folk that’s come to John for baptism on this particular day. What seems most important for Luke is clarifying Jesus’ and John’s respective roles and identities. Luke tells us that there was, at that time, an expectation among the people that a Messiah, another Saviour from the Lord was due, and soon. And they knew that their Saviour was to be God-sent—like the Great King David had been sent by God to save them from their enemies in the past, and David defeated their enemies and created a great nation. They wanted another David to save them for their oppressive lives under the occupation of the brutal Roman regime. What an intense desire they must have felt; a desperate longing for someone to be there for them, to save them from lives of tyranny and to lead them into a new and better reality.
And then John enters into the picture, acting and sounding like the prophets of old —right down to the talk of burning fires of hell. There was a familiarity about him and his message from their scriptures. Was he the one the Lord was sending to save them from their difficult lives, to free them from this oppression? John sounded and looked like a prophet, was he the Messiah? No, John tells them, I baptize you with water, but someone greater was coming, one who will baptize with the Holy Spirit and fire. And he would separate the wheat from the chaff. This Messiah would have the power of God, right down to the times of the final reckoning, which he likened to a harvest. Chaff, for you non-agricultural folk is the hulls, the husks and the unfilled seeds that are separated and discarded in the thrashing and seed cleaning process because it has no nutritional value can’t be used for feed or won’t grow new plants. It’s sometimes used as bedding for animals’ stalls or was burned to get rid of it. Luke’s audience would have understood that wheat and chaff reference immediately. John’s message, while it sounds a bit dramatic and maybe even a bit scary, was that it is not too late to change your life and escape that apocalyptic fire! Because God is a God of great love and patience, who wants nothing more than for us to turn back to God.
John was preaching to a group of people who came to him because they were seeking for God in their lives. They had come to John to hear his message of repentance, to ask for forgiveness for their past; and wanted turn away from their current lifestyles, empty values and destructive behaviours. They wanted to make a change, turn over a new leaf. They were seeking God’s love and salvation! John’s baptism by immersion in the Jordan River signified their old lives with all their sins being washed away; they came out of the water feeling cleansed. This baptism showed a commitment to a new start, a need to be released from their past, a desire to start again and live their lives in the ways of the Lord. And as Luke tells the story, Jesus was among the group who came to John for baptism that day. It seems Jesus just got in line with all the other people who wanted a new beginning, and healing from the past. “At his baptism, he identified with the damaged and broken people who needed God.”1 And it was while Jesus was praying, the Holy Spirit came upon him in bodily form—people could see the Spirit and it looked like a dove. And they could hear the voice of God saying “You are my son, my beloved, in whom I am well pleased.” (Luke 3.22)
While we can’t see the Spirit in her bodily form; we know she is there, that God’s Spirit is always there, always available. God even sent Jesus, God’s son to show us the way to live God filled lives. And God ensured the ways of Jesus were recorded so even years and years later we could still read the ways of Jesus, and incorporate them into our lives. The Holy Spirit of God is available to us, to fill us with the fire of Christ to guide and lead us in the ways of God, for we too were made in the image of God, we too are God’s beloved daughters and sons! And the decision to live Spirit filled lives is ours to make! God in God’s love for us gave us the freedom of choice.
I’d like to share with you a story that a colleague shared what seemed like a bit of a funny story with us at ministerial this week, and it touched me somehow. So I looked it up, and discovered that it’s by Soren Kierkegaard, a renowned Danish philosopher and theologian of the 19th century. It’s called ‘The Parable of Ducks’.
There is a town where only ducks live. Every Sunday the ducks waddle out of their houses and waddle down the main street to their church. They waddle into the cathedral and squat in their pews. The duck choir sings and then the duck pastor comes and reads from the duck bible. He encourages them, “Ducks, God has given you
wings! With these wings you can fly! With these wings you can rise up and soar like eagles! No walls can confine you, no fences can hold you. You have wings and you can fly like birds!” All the ducks shout “Amen.” And then they waddle home.
We weren’t born to live an ordinary, meaningless, average existence. We have been given gifts, abilities,
untapped potential, intelligence, energy, passion and dreams so that we can live an extraordinary life. Don’t waddle, fly!2
I don’t think it’s an accident that we celebrate the Baptism of Jesus in January, so close to the beginning of the New Year. It’s a time when we look back at the past, and plan and consider for the future. So, it’s a good time to turn over a new leaf, to come to God in prayer, to ask for forgiveness and re-commit our lives to Christ. How can we fly?
Today we celebrate the day Jesus dedicated his earthly life to God, the day the Holy Spirit filled him, empowering him to do God’s work. We celebrate this by reviewing the vows that were made by our parents on our behalf, or maybe vows you made yourself, recommitting ourselves to God in Christ—reminding ourselves that we are followers of the ways of Jesus by reaffirming the promises made at our baptisms. We remember the waters of baptism with the blessing of water and being sprinkled with that blessed water, a physical reminder of the waters of baptism.
Let us turn now to our prayer books, page 330, and recommit ourselves to Christ.
Rev. JoAnn Todd, Rector
Regional Ministry of Hope