Luke 3:15–17, 21–22
As the people were filled with expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Messiah, John answered all of them by saying, “I baptize you with water; but one who is more powerful than I is coming; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heaven was opened, and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”
Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of our hearts, be acceptable in your sight O Lord, our strength & our redeemer (Psalm 19:14)
Water is pretty amazing. It is both necessary for life and can be very dangerous. We cannot live without water. It’s one of the reasons that ancient followers of religious traditions clung to water rituals to make sense of life. We don’t baptize in Coca-Cola or BudLight as those aren’t necessary for life, and if you think they are we might need to have a different conversation. But water? We need water.
But water is also dangerous. As global warming continues to become an ever-present hand on the weather patterns of the world, we’re realizing that abundant water and scarce water both pose real threats to life on this planet. Hurricanes rage, floods ravage, droughts wreak havoc as wildfires burn up our wooded areas. Water is an amazing element.
In Luke’s Gospel we find the people wanting a fiery Messiah like John the Baptizer. They were filled with “expectation” that he might be the one to embody God’s being in the world. And yet, while they were all being baptized together, Jesus appears and is baptized, too. And as he was praying the Apostle says the heavens were opened up, notice no arguing with John as in Matthew, and Jesus’ formal ministry started. He came in incognito, not like John with bluster and brashness, but quietly like a whisper in a crowd.
And the world was changed. Baptism, too, can sneak up on us like that. Baptism is a double-edged sword in that it saves us, but also radically changes our trajectory in life.
Again, Luke tells us that the people were “filled with expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Messiah.” As sometimes happens, the people are close to mistaking the messenger for the message. But John the Baptist clears things up by saying, “I baptize you with water; but one who is more powerful than I is coming; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandals”.
It is a powerful statement. While John is popular enough to draw a crowd, he is honest enough to admit that he is not the main attraction. While John baptizes with water, the “one who is more powerful” will baptize with something else. John explains that Jesus will baptize with “the Holy Spirit and fire.” I’m not sure which is more frightening, being baptized with God’s Holy Spirit or with fire. John’s point seems to be that Jesus will have an awesome power that will be enacted through baptism. John confirms that Jesus will have the authority to judge souls.
Luke tells us that all of the people were baptized and that Jesus was baptized too. With the Holy Spirit descends upon him in the bodily form of a dove. As if that isn’t enough, a voice speaks from heaven, saying, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased”. It is a moment of incredible power as the Trinity is joined together in this brief scene.
God’s voice affirms three things about Jesus: (1) Christ is God’s Son; (2) Christ is loved by God; and (3) God is “well pleased” with Christ. Perhaps the act of baptism also makes all three affirmations about us: We are God’s children; we are loved by God; and God is well pleased with us. I believe that baptism enables us to follow our part of Christ’s mission in the world we live in. We too are called to welcome all and to serve others even unto death in the name of Christ.
John baptizes the sinless Christ into servant and sacrificial ministry. Jesus’ baptism represents a moment of empowerment by the Holy Spirit and affirmation by God.
I always get a chill when we begin a funeral service for a sister or a brother in Christ. We lift up the affirmation that this Christian put on Christ in baptism and pray that they may now be clothed with the glory of Christ. Baptism represents the beginning of a journey of sacrificial service that culminates when one enters the very gates of heaven.
Christ lived out his baptism every day as he taught us to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, care for the dying, and share the good news with a broken world. As a people who bear the name of Christian, God calls us to live out our baptisms in the same way, caring for the needy and sharing the good news.
We too are baptized to a mission of welcoming and redeeming sinners, as we have been welcomed and redeemed by Christ.
It has been an honor to baptize many people, in many different settings, in my time of Ordained ministry.
- Some people see infant baptism as little more than “fire insurance” — in case something should happen to the child, her place in heaven is assured. (As if God withholds grace from the innocent!)
- Others see taking a child for baptism as a parental obligation best arranged as quickly and painlessly as possible. They want the pastor to “do the baptism,” rather than to baptize the child into the life of faith and community of believers.
- Some parents see baptism only as a rite of passage, one of many in their child’s life that will be celebrated with new clothes, gifts and a family celebration.
Regardless of reasoning, many people obsess over the mechanics of the ritual or the family life following.
- What if there wasn’t enough water?
- What if the parents never again darken the door of the church with said child in tow?
- What if the teen or adult was not “really serious” about baptism?
I’ve heard all kinds of “ifs” raised over the years, and seen good people fret over whether salvation has been accomplished and just exactly what that means anyway.
Thankfully, I like to remind people, baptism doesn’t depend on us to “work.” It has nothing to do with how worthy we are, how serious a parent or sponsor might be, or even how much water is used (I just try to avoid the eyes of the one being baptized).
Baptism is God’s business, and we are the recipients of this grace-full act. Even God incarnate, God-the-Son-made-flesh, came to wash in the waters of baptism. And God responds by expressing divine pleasure.
We should never take our baptism for granted. In water and the word God acts in our lives, adopting us and incorporating us into the family. In that instant, once and for all something wonderful happens and will always happen in our lives—even if we are too young or too spiritually immature to know.
Amidst the presents and cards and cake and photos, one gift came that nobody witnessed with their senses. I doubt anyone felt a rush of wings or saw a dove descending, but the gift came nonetheless. In the instant of baptism, we receive the gift of the Holy Spirit, and promised that the Spirit walks with us into eternity. Talk about a gift that keeps on giving!
Our baptism is good to remember, but better to live it, really live it, by walking each day in the knowledge of just how powerful word, water, bread, and wine really are when Jesus is involved. This world can be a pretty tough place, and there are distractions aplenty, but our Lord has set the example and by the Holy Spirit is actively shaping and molding us for mission and ministry. So let this day be one of joyous celebration, of water and meal, of hope and hallelujahs, and of equipping one another to go out and live as the baptized and beloved who tell all the world what God is doing.
After all our baptism is the ultimate example of GRACE. Grace is a gift. Whether we receive it from God or from one another, grace enables us to live in community and right relationship despite our shortcomings, mistakes, and failures.
- Grace enables reconciliation and restoration.
- Grace welcomes us back to the tables and invites our return to the circle.
- Grace reminds us that none of us walks this journey perfectly and affirms our humanity beyond our performance.
- Grace calls us beloved and worthy and included.
Grace wasn’t initiated with the coming of Jesus into the world; it was fulfilled by Jesus coming into the world. Grace isn’t contingent upon baptism. The thief crucified alongside Jesus didn’t need to receive baptism to be redeemed. The witness of the Old Testament demonstrates through the law, the history, and the prophets that the Holy One has always been a God of grace. In Jesus, grace is embodied, lives among us, and enters the water.
So water doesn’t just get us wet, and clean and physically sustain our lives. But it moves us, transforms us and fill us with the grace we need to become the Child of God to make this world a better place. And that is what we give thanks for this day!