Today is the Feast of The Baptism of Our Lord, a day on which we reflect on the meaning of Jesus of Nazareth’s baptism in the Jordan River by his cousin John the Baptist.
It’s also a day on which, at the beginning of today’s service, we have already witnessed God’s ongoing gift of saving love and God’s ongoing adoption of those who come to the waters of Holy Baptism as God’s own beloved children, in the baptism of Amelia Rose Jansen.
And, today is a day when, in this faith community, we continue the practice of intentionally inviting those who have been baptized in the past calendar year to come and join us as together we affirm our baptismal faith and our identity as God’s beloved daughters and sons.
Three distinct reasons to keep this feast. Three distinct emphases to which we attend on this day…
From a theological standpoint, we understand Holy Baptism to be connected to the forgiveness of sin, and because of this understanding, I think, many people struggle to understand why Jesus, the sinless son of God, would be baptized by John, who clearly is proclaiming a baptism of repentance of sin. Here’s what Martin Luther once preached on this question:
(in his baptism Christ)… was entering into our stead, indeed, our person, that is, becoming
a sinner for us, taking upon himself the sins which he had not committed, and wiping them
out and drowning them in his holy baptism… making satisfaction for them on the Cross, but
also clothing us in his holiness and adorning us with his innocence.
Is not this a beautiful, glorious exchange, by which Christ, who is (completely) innocent and
holy, not only takes upon himself another’s sin… (but) then besides dies the shameful death
of the Cross for the sake of my sins…?
Through this blessed exchange, in which Christ changes places with us… and through nothing
else, are we freed from sin and death and given his righteousness and life as our own.
On this day we remember, and we celebrate, that in this blessed exchange, Jesus, who knew no sin, became sin for us, so that we might become the righteousness of God, so that we might become God’s beloved children, so that we might receive the fullness of God’s Holy Spirit, and be made part of the same great assembly of believers that extends all the way back through the ages to the community of believers that received the laying on of hands and the gift of the Spirit when Peter and John went from Jerusalem to Samaria as we read in Acts 8. This is, you see, all part and parcel of one great act of God that began with Jesus obediently going into the waters of the Jordan River to be baptized by John, not because he needed to repent and receive forgiveness, but because, in and through his obedience, he unites with us as our brother and our Lord, and we become heirs together with him of all of God’s blessings as God’s adopted daughters and sons…
We witnessed again today, as we do each time we enact the Sacrament of Holy Baptism, this adoptive activity of God as Amelia Rose was baptized into Christ’s death and resurrection, joining with him in a death like his, and receiving the promise of resurrection life in Christ – a promise that can never be broken, because it’s God’s promise to her, and God doesn’t break promises!
This is the same God who speaks through the prophet Isaiah, the God who created, not just Jacob, and who formed, not just Israel, but who created and formed us all, and says to us all: Do not fear, for I have redeemed you. I have called you by name. You are mine.
I mean, wow! I don’t know if you’ve ever experienced meeting someone you really admire and finding out that they know who you are – that they know your name. It’s a pretty cool thing when that happens between two people. But here it’s God who says to us: I know your name. In fact, I claim you as my own.
And this is followed by the promise of protection when times get hard – when the flood waters rise and the fires rage – and, again, don’t miss the amazing thing that follows in verse 4 when God tells us why God’s making these promises: Because you are precious in my sight, and honored, and I love you. The God of all the universe, the God who spoke and everything that is leapt into being, the God who is God above all gods says to you, beloved children, baptized into Christ, adopted in love, and claimed forever as members of Christ’s Body, God says to you all: I love you. I call you by name. You are mine…
How can we even contain such wondrous love?
How are we to respond to such a blessed gift?
Well, from time to time it’s good to take a few moments and to consider anew, and to affirm our commitment to the covenant that God made with us in Holy Baptism, and so, in just a few minutes, after we sing our hymn of the day, we’re going to invite those who were baptized in the past 12 months to come gather around the font, and together with them, we are all going to make a public affirmation of faith and recommit ourselves to living according to the promises made in Holy Baptism:
- To live and worship together
- To serve together in Christ’s name
- To mold our lives after the example of Christ Jesus
- To do whatever is within our power, individually, and as a community of faith
- To make the world a more just and peaceful place
For these are the things we promise in Holy Baptism. These are the marks of a life lived in the saving grace of God.