At Christmas we celebrate the coming of God as Emmanuel, God with us, God in the flesh, God coming into the world as Mary’s child, a little baby. Before long we come to understand Jesus as God walking with us, dying for us, rising again for us, God with us, Emmanuel.
Today’s Gospel shows us another way in which God is with us and along side us. It is God being like us, so that we can be more like God.
A question arises from all of the Gospel accounts of the baptism of Jesus, the question of why Jesus would be baptized to begin with?
The early church wrestled with this issue. Baptism was often associated with washing for the forgiveness of sins and if Jesus was sinless, then what did it mean? The church wondered in the words of Maximus of Turin, “Why would a holy man desire baptism?” The reason Maximus gives is that “Christ is baptized, not to be made holy by the water, but to make the water holy, and by his cleansing to purify the waters which he touched.” (Sermon 100, as reprinted in The Liturgy of the Hours, 1975).
And so Jesus was baptized not so much because of sin, not even original sin, but rather, is baptized to bring holiness into the world, to bring us from the death of sin to the life of God’s love and forgiveness.
When John sees Jesus, he says that something greater is coming. John baptizes with water, “but he who is mightier is coming, . . . he will baptize . . . with the Holy Spirit and with fire.” The Holy Spirit and fire refer to sanctification, the process of becoming holy, of moving inch by inch, day by day, failure through failure through repentance, into holiness.
How, exactly this happens, begins with our baptism. People sometimes wonder why we should be baptized, what different baptism makes, but it is because it is through baptism that this whole process, this whole movement this whole life into God, begins. Baptism is many things for us, but it at least involves our getting wet, our making a splash and our offering water to others.
In baptism we are invited to get wet. Baptism is a change, it is a moving forward, a leaving behind. The first reading today from Isaiah speaks of God’s choosing. God has chosen a servant people, called them by name, held them by the hand, and has given power to be like a light, to open eyes, to show mercy, and to show compassion. This servant is the whole people of Israel. This servant is uniquely and fully embodied in Christ. But this is a servanthood into which we (each of us) are called, in our baptism.
We’re called to get wet, to get involved, and to allow the power of God to have its effect upon us. Saint Paul understands baptism as dying and rising again. He says, “We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.” (Romans 6). We will not go from life to death and to new life without some effect, and at the very least, we will be getting wet.
In baptism we are also called to make a splash. Like a stone that’s thrown into water and makes a ripple effect, the effect of our baptism will ripple throughout our lives and into the lives of others. It will naturally spill over. If you ever watch a group of kids at a swimming pool, you’ll notice that as soon as an adult looks away, the action becomes about who can make the biggest splash, the most dramatic jump into the water. Who can displace the most water? It’s all about being seen, about making one’s mark, about standing out.
As Christians, we could use a little more of this childish instinct. Being baptized marks us as belonging to Christ—it makes us different, different in the way we make decisions, in the way we spend money, in the way we treat other people. As the children in the swimming pool know, there’s a big difference between splashing water in someone else’s face and in simply making a big splash oneself. We also know that difference and as Christians are called to be respectful to those of other faith or no faith, but it is a part of our baptism to make a splash.
And finally, our baptism carries with it the command as well as the courtesy of offering water to others. At Holy Trinity we literally offer water at the Tuesday lunch for seniors, at the Saturday dinners, and in the shelter. We offer water at receptions and coffee hours and whenever we welcome people. Especially in partnership with the wider Church, we offer water ever people thirst, in hospitals and soup kitchens; in prisons and parks; and in streets and schools.
But we also offer water spiritually, whenever and wherever we introduce others to Christ. We offer water when we simply help people learn that there IS a source of water, that there is a God of love, and that there is a God of forgiveness and compassion.
Jesus received water from John the Baptist. Jesus received water from the Samaritan woman. And he makes it clear that when we offer water to others in his name; it is as good as offering it to the Lord himself. As the heavens open in Luke’s Gospel, the Holy Spirit descends and the voice of God is heard, it must have seemed at first like a storm, like a great thunderstorm threatening rain and water. The heavens opened and water was given, but it came with a blessings.
Jesus was baptized, we are baptized and we are sent into the world baptizing in the name of the Holy Trinity. Our baptism is where we are initially commissioned, and we live into that baptism, we live out that commission for the rest of our lives.
I’ve been to some churches in which people leave the church immediately after receiving Holy Communion. They don’t wait for the Prayer after Communion—they simply go. Now, I know that most of these folks are probably in a hurry to get to an appointment or an event. But I like to imagine they’re leaving because they simply can’t wait any longer to go into the world and share the water, share the love of Christ, share the faith for which they’ve just gotten a little new energy.
For those of us to do stay for the Prayer after Communion, we ask God to “send us out into the world in peace and to grant us strength and courage to love and serve you.” How great would it be if we simply could not wait to get out of church and into the world for ministry, for love, for action, for living out our baptism?
The Prayer Book reminds us that “Holy Baptism is the sacrament by which God adopts us as his children and makes us members of Christ’s Body, the Church, and inheritors of the kingdom of God.” (The Catechism, BCP page 858). That is news that is just too good to be kept inside these walls or any walls.
On this feast we give thank for the baptism of Our Lord Jesus Christ, for his becoming like us that we might become more like him. And we give thanks for our own baptism, even as we look for more opportunities to get wet, to make a splash and to share water with others.
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.