The Baptism of Jesus is my second favorite ‘theological passage.’ My first is John 1-18 (in the beginning was the word …). Why? Because I’m really fascinated by passages that speak about the very nature of God, his being, his ‘content or make up.’ You see I am very drawn to how ‘things work’ and why they work that way.
Car alternator …
In our gospel this morning, we have what is to me, the equivalent of a ‘look under the hood.’ Listen once again to Luke’s tale: here we have this gathering around John the Baptist that we heard about in Advent. Recall that he’d gone out prophesying all around the land, ‘repent for the kingdom of God is at hand. I am not the kingdom, I am not the messiah. So I can only baptize you with water, a cleansing, a preparing for this Messiah’s coming. But One who is more powerful than I is coming – that’s Jesus who he’s talking about of course – and he’s going to baptize you with the Holy Spirit.’
This starts to get a little more interesting. So this powerful one Jesus has been born, he’s taken on human flesh, we’ve heard, he’s been born of the virgin Mary and even gentile wise men affirm this as we heard about last week. The King of the Jews has been born to set ALL people free from sin and he is enlightening the world; that is, he’s actually unveiling how the world really looks, what it’s all about, who we are in it, who others are, what is good and evil, he’s unveiling this because he himself – this powerful one – is the one who’s life is perfectly ordered to God. So when we look at him, and we look, through the people and actions we hear about and see in Scripture, we can begin to see where everything we experience in our own lives fit into relationship with God.
So like I said last week, Jesus takes on this human flesh and lives out a human life so that we can compare all other human lives, and in fact, every single event in the world, to this one life: Jesus’s. Then we can start to make sense of how the things we see fit before God. The next question is, ‘but if Jesus isn’t a physical person with us right now, like the person sitting beside you is, how is it possible to see ourselves before God? Is it all up to us? Is it up to us to be able to read the signs correctly? To interpret Scripture perfectly? Did Jesus’s coming into the world mean that when he ascended, we could finally get on with life and know how to do everything God wanted of us perfectly?
Well, look around you: I’m pretty sure one night watching the news would lead you to answer my question, NO. Jesus does indeed transform the world with his incarnation, his being born a human baby and living out a human life, and dying a human death. But Jesus doesn’t act alone, for God does not leave those whom he created, whom he loves, alone. And this is where I get super interested. Jesus is God; God who is eternal; God who is not created. Jesus is also human, and as such, like every other human who follows him and through him becomes a child of God, Jesus is baptized we hear this morning: “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 from the Father, “you are my Son, the Beloved, with you I am well pleased.”
This is my under the hood moment: who is God? He is, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. We’ve affirmed in the last few weeks that this one we call the Messiah, or Jesus or Jesus Christ, is in fact God himself. And here, the one we call Father, Abba, whom Jesus will call Father and Abba, is in fact God. And finally, we hear affirmed that this Holy Spirit whom we encounter at several points in the Old and New Testaments as wind, or breath, or the Spirit or the Holy Spirit, that this Holy Spirit is also God. So our God is Father, Son and Holy Spirit. This Jesus is my figurative ‘opening of the hood.’ It is his life in which we see God actually manifested here as the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit; one substance, three persons, never working apart, never working to different purposes, no good God and evil God at different times, never changing his mind even if we use these words to describe how we see history unfold.
Jesus reveals who God is most profoundly in this moment of his baptism. His baptism then, isn’t simply about ‘going through with the rituals, of his Jewish birth; it is the fulfillment of his very being as both God and man: To be baptized is nothing other than to be brought into perfect communion with God. To be baptized is nothing other than living the life of God himself as the particular person you are.
This one, Jesus, who is himself conceived by the Holy Spirit from eternity, and who is also baptized as a new babe, this one Jesus alone has the power then, as God and man, to turn around and judge and baptize us. Now how does this under the hood moment work? Remember what I said a couple of weeks ago: Jesus lived out a human life – a life in time – so that you and I might have the way opened for us, to in turn, live out a life. That’s step 1 of our figurative, youtube video of going under the hood:
- Jesus opened the way simply because of who he is: God and man, faithful to his Father and equipped by the Holy Spirit to fulfill his mission.
- What is Jesus’s mission? (ask?) Really basically, what was Jesus sent into the world to do? (to draw people to him) How? (by grapping people right where they are and saying hey, do you think you’re living in accordance with the way God has laid out for you? When people, like the Ethiopian on the road to Emmaus, didn’t know, someone had to do what? (show, teach, preach, this became catechism, 6 years till people were baptized … but mostly, it was learning how to live as Christ did by time spent together hearing, reading, learning, and talking about their lives and their places before God).
- We’re told in this passage that just like Jesus, when we’re baptized, we’re brought into the very life of God himself. And if that’s the case, guess what our life ought to look like? (Jesus’s own mission).
- Isn’t it enough that we’re baptized into God’s life, that Jesus, being one with the Father and Holy Spirit, is going to just magically transport us to where we need to go? This is a bit of a challenging thing to answer and there has been debate about this sort of question for ages. Because, yes, in Jesus, God will bring us to himself in his Holy Spirit. That’s what we mean by salvation or justification. We can’t accomplish that for ourselves as we’ve heard the last little while through our readings. But clearly God wanted something more than puppets on strings; clearly he wanted those he created to do just what a parent would hope a child would do: love him. To love is not an emotion. To love is active response to a relationship, to the challenges, to the contingencies, to the frustrations and failures, to the struggles – to all that stuff that each of you experience in your families, with friends, with those whom you care for. To love is an active and willing response to prioritize maintaining your relationship with someone through time; sometimes this means sacrifice; sometimes it means praising, sometimes sharing weaknesses, lament, hopes, dreams and of course needs. To love God however, requires being adopted and raised beyond our own limits of being by God himself. And this, God accomplishes by baptizing us into his Son, through his Holy Spirit so that we too might become his beloved children. Being baptized and held in Jesus Christ without fear of our own frailty, we are set free to seek Jesus’s own ways of engaging the world. Set free from the fears this world can bring on – frailty, disease, death, failure, lack of purpose or meaning – we can stop focusing on these things and instead, begin to see by the light (as if Jesus were a kind of flashlight that shone true light on the world)of his life with people (which we discover in Scripture). We’re set free to step into his mission and we are empowered by his Spirit to – in our own unique ways – become a light for others to see his purposes for their lives. AMEN.