Baptism of Christ

Good Morning Church,

Coming out of the Christmas season is always a weird preaching experience because you realize nothing I say up here can live up to the excitement of the manger, Hark the Herald Angels Sing, and the time shared with family.

There’s not too much in the lectionary that matches Christmas, and then you come across Mark 1. Mark 1 records the Baptism of Jesus. In the last two weeks we have jumped 30 years into the future and the has been little mention of the childhood that Jesus led. The one story when he was 12 in the temple was one of my favorites as a kid. Imagine the permission from Scripture, under valid circumstances of course, to not check with your parents and do what you want to do. Jesus showed a lot of latitude from an early age to go against what was the norm and that is exactly what we see happening in this passage from Mark 1.

4And so John came, baptizing in the desert region and preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. 5The whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem went out to him. Confessing their sins, they were baptized by him in the Jordan River. Let’s pause here for a moment and take in this scene that w find ourselves in today. This is an amazing story for the Gospel of Mark to open up in. When Malachi ends the Old Testament there’s a 400 year waiting that begins. Waiting in sadness as God’s people live as the world’s captives. Waiting in anticipation for God to show up and part more seas. Waiting for a Messiah that no one fully understands. It’s at this point, in the middle of all that sadness, that John comes on the scene to teach a forgiveness of sins and an unconditional love that was so different from what people had experienced. The weird part is that he is doing all of this out in the middle of the desert and far from the town. Verse 6.

6John wore clothing made of camel's hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. To make matters even more strange, John’s a little weird. He dresses in itchy camel’s hair and eats locusts and wild honey. It’s almost comforting to think that even Jesus’s family had some strange folk. I think that it helps us to relate mo4e and show that these people like John were just people that God called and they answered. Verse 7. 7And this was his message: "After me will come one more powerful than I, the thongs of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. 8 I baptize you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit."

Which is another way of saying Jesus’ baptism is a little different, and more important than John’s. Verse 9. 9At that time Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. 10As Jesus was coming up out of the water, he saw heaven being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. 11And a voice came from heaven: "You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased."​

Mark doesn’t include the verse where John has to be talked into baptizing Jesus. John doesn’t see himself as worthy. He spoke of this prior to the arrival of Jesus at the place where the baptism would take place. I can imagine it’s a humbling position to be in. Jesus has nothing to repent and nothing to forgive and yet you’re washing him.

For John, this ministry has never been about him.He understood that the work that was being done was for the perfect and loving God. I imagine that this is why it would have been humbling for him to baptize his cousin, knowing who his cousin would have been. It is something that I often think about when it comes to my own ministry. This work that we are doing as churches can never be about ourselves. John knew that the work he was doing was simply the precursor for what would come next. The same is true for every generation. We are simply preparing for the next generation to continue this good work.

In any biblical story, the leader has to wrestle with the work that they have chosen to take on, but even while they are wrestling God continues to be faithful. God’s promise to His people is that He’s going to rescue them. God didn’t let Noah down during the flood, He didn’t let Abraham go without a son, He didn’t let Moses and the people stay enslaved in Egypt, and He’s not going to abandon His people now. John is ushering in the covenant. I like to think of him as the last prophet. He’s like Elijah and Jeremiah. He’s reminding the people for the last time that the Messiah is on His way. He’s coming to take that flood, son, and Red Sea covenant and he’s going to fulfill it, perfect it, finish it, and complete it. Jesus is going to seal it. And before John knows it there’s Jesus in the water with him ready to start that redemption. And just for good measure heaven opens up to verify that Jesus is the real deal.

This text might not live up to the excitement of the Christmas Eve text, but it might be more important to each of us. Baptism is a place where God does something to us. Somehow my faith is strengthened by knowing that my faith doesn’t have to measure up. I like knowing that Baptism is something God does for me. Unfortunately, Christians have allowed the theology of Baptism to divide them for centuries. We debate effect and we debate method. Do you immerse, do you dump, do you sprinkle? Does more water mean more covenant? There certainly is nice symbolism in washing the whole person, but in nearly all the traditions Christians at least wash the forehead in Baptism. The forehead has much symbolic meaning in the Bible and in Revelation in particular. When we wash the forehead with the Word of God as our soap we are attacking the mark of the beast. We are unmarking any evil seals and replacing them with the mark of Baptism.

The power of Baptism does not come from the worthiness of myself or any other minister. The power does not increase because you used a waterfall to do the washing. The power comes when we link up God’s Spirit with simple things. Water plus Word gives you baptism. Bread and Wine plus Word gives you the Lord’s Supper. God takes simple things and uses His Word to transform lives.

Baptism washes the outside and the inside. It washes the parts we can’t see. The parts we can’t find. The eternal parts. It’s the promise I look for when I try to find the words to say on Sunday Mornings, funerals and weddings, or in moments shared with individuals.

The Old Testament lectionary text really completes this Gospel. In Genesis 1 we learn again about how God took the empty and formless and made beauty and life. By relating this to the Gospel it’s as if the Church is saying we have a new chance at creation. Let’s go back to the Garden of Eden. Let’s create beauty again instead of letting the things that divide us, destroy us. Let’s separate the darkness from the light. Jesus is here to say “let there be light”. The Gospel lesson is important because in it God is retelling the world to “let there be light”.

So as we step into a new year we are still in the midst of this tragic story that continues to unfold. We are still in the midst of our battle against COVID-19. So like John, like Jesus, I call on us to remember that simple teaching that God gives us, to let there be light! In the midst of so much uncertainty, hurt, pain and suffering, we can be the light in the darkness.

I pray that the beauty God is ushering in through the cross, the tomb, and through Baptism is fresh and alive in your life. Live out that covenant because you are God’s son, you are God’s daughter, whom He loves; with you He is well pleased. In the Name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.