Homily for 1.13.12
The Baptism of the LORDLUKE 3:15-16, 21-22 (see below)
Today, we celebrate the Baptism of our LORD. Today we are called to remember and to think-through the implications of this sacred head as it was willingly plunged beneath the waters of the Jordan.
We should take note that this text takes us to the very heart of the Baptizer's message of heart preparation by repentance:
“I am baptizing you with water, but one mightier than I is coming. I am not worthy to loosen the thongs of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.”
"One is coming," says the baptizer, "I am not him [the promised one] for he will baptize you in a different way than I am; he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.
And sure enough, after Jesus' baptism the Holy Spirit descends upon him in the form of a dove and the voice of the Almighty descends upon him as well, in a affirmation that must have sounded sweetly to his ears:
“You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.” I can only imagine how these words sounded to Jesus.
St. Matthew's account of Jesus baptism shows much the same understanding:
13 Then Jesus went from Galilee to the Jordan River to be baptized by John. 14 But John didn't want to baptize him. "I am the one who needs to be baptized by you," he said, "so why are you coming to me?" 15 But Jesus said, "It must be done, because we must do everything that is right. " So then John baptized him. 16 After his baptism, as Jesus came up out of the water, the heavens were opened and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and settling on him. 17 And a voice from heaven said, "This is my beloved Son, and I am fully pleased with him." (Mt.3:13-17)
OK, so, what is happening here?
Well, we see Jesus moving forward into the calling of his Heavenly Father. His vocation and ministry to defeat the powers of darkness and empire, to reclaim GOD's good world now marred by sin, and to create a new humanity from those captured by sin and shame begins here with his baptism.
Here he is anointed with the Holy Spirit; here he is launched as Savior and as Immanuel into this sea of grief and death and loss that is the human condition. But, why the baptism? What does the Savior's participation in the baptism of John say about Jesus' mission and ministry?
First, Jesus' baptism aligns him with the message of John. This is of great significance and must not be overlooked. Jesus, by his initiative toward baptism, alerts his hearers -- and us -- to him being the fulfillment of the Baptizers preaching. Here Jesus shows himself to be one with John's message -- the calling of the nation to return to her GOD (repentance) and the heart-preparation for GOD's new work (the Gospel of GOD's new Kingdom).
Listen to this promise from Malachi:
Lo, I am sending my messenger to prepare the way before me; And suddenly there will come to the temple the LORD whom you seek, And the messenger of the covenant whom you desire. Yes, he is coming, says the LORD of hosts. (Mal.3:1)
Long has the nation waited for GOD to return to his people. Long have the people anticipated GOD's good news of deliverance and hope to take hold. Long have the people pined for the GOD who seemed so distant and so silent to finally come close and to speak. Listen again to the text:
“The people were filled with expectation, and all were asking in their hearts whether John might be the Christ.”
This type of hunger for the things of GOD seems unknown in our day, at least here in the West. So caught up are we in the sensual search for pleasure and self-gratification that the themes of the Spirit and desire for Spiritual things are hardly found on the radar, especially if they revolve around the Christ.
But Israel was different. As N.T. Wright reminds us, Israel had on its heart one long, painful story of GOD's election and their own idolatry. And because of that Israel was searching, waiting for their GOD to come and in power deliver them.
Well, the moment had arrived! The Light had come into the world! The long awaited darkness was over. There was only one catch. The light didn’t look like what they expected. The King was presenting himself, but the people’s understanding and expectation of that King, and what his Kingdom would require would cause them to fail to seen him as he really was.
St. John explains this very well:
9 The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world. 10 He was in the world, and the world came to be through him, but the world did not know him. 11 He came to what was his own, but his own people did not accept him. 12 But to those who did accept him he gave power to become children of God, to those who believe in his name, 13 who were born not by natural generation nor by human choice nor by a man's decision but of God. (John 1:9-13)
This also reminds me of the moment in St. Luke’s Gospel when Jesus presents himself to the people, riding into Jerusalem on a donkey:
36 As he rode along, the people were spreading their cloaks on the road; 37 and now as he was approaching the slope of the Mount of Olives, the whole multitude of his disciples began to praise God aloud with joy for all the mighty deeds they had seen.
38 They proclaimed: "Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord. Peace in heaven and glory in the highest."
39 Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to him, "Teacher, rebuke your disciples." 40 He said in reply, "I tell you, if they keep silent, the stones will cry out!"
41 As he drew near, he saw the city and wept over it, 42 saying, "If this day you only knew what makes for peace - but now it is hidden from your eyes. 43 For the days are coming upon you when your enemies will raise a palisade against you; they will encircle you and hem you in on all sides. 44 They will smash you to the ground and your children within you, and they will not leave one stone upon another within you because you did not recognize the time of your visitation." (Lk.19:36-44)
Here we are remind to hunger for the things of GOD -- “seek ye first the Kingdom of GOD” -- and we are reminded that GOD comes to us often in the still small voice and sometimes not in practiced and well defined ways.
But, let’s think about Jesus’ baptism with a little more clarity. For, Jesus’ baptism not only identifies him with the Baptizer’s message, it also identifies him with the sinners he came to reclaim.
Notice here the humility of Jesus. As he plunges beneath the waters of baptism he is offering himself to the Father as the one representing the people to GOD, even as in his humanity he also represents GOD to the people.
Jesus’ baptism says to us that he takes the calling and vocation given to him by the Father with such seriousness, with such willingness to forgo his own standing and position, that there will be no doubt of his love and sacrifice. Brothers and Sisters, here, like Moses, we must remove our shoes for we are on are holy ground.
Since we are still in the days of the nativity, and we are still thinking-through the movement of Jesus toward us in the incarnation, this incarnational understanding must include, as amazing as it is, the the HOLY one of GOD’s continued and sustained movement toward the world in love.
To see the power here we need only ask what kind of world is it that the Almighty moves forward to save?
It is this world that has decided to exclude him from his own creation. It is a world that had no use for his covenant of love and mercy based on the law of love for him and neighbor. It is a world that, in point of fact, hated him and his love, and when they got the chance, they killed his Son.
But this GOD would not be put off. This GOD would not be thwarted. The GOD who is both there and who is not silent, moved by love for his creation, moved toward the world by giving it the very best he had to give -- the Son. And, it would be the Son who would reclaim GOD’s good world now marred by sin and hate and greed and selfishness and war and violence and deceit. It would be the Son who would go to battle against the powers of darkness and empire using the weapons of humanness and humility and sacrifice!
And how would the Son do this? He would become one of us! He would identify with us so completely that he would show this lost world both the Father’s love (forgiveness) and power (reconciliation). Listen to these words of St.Paul; listen and be amazed:
6 Who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God something to be grasped. 7 Rather, he emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, coming in human likeness; and found human in appearance, 8 he humbled himself, becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross. 9 Because of this, God greatly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, 10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, of those in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Phil. 2:6-11)
And now it is left to us, those of us who have experienced the power of his sacrificial love and reconciling forgiveness, to work these same realities into the world. For, we are now his hands and his feet, his eyes and his heart. We are called and given the same vocation as the Son!
"As the Father sent me, so send I you."
This means we must work GOD’s love and sacrifice and GOD's reconciliation into the very heart of the world. We must, together, live out this vocation as the most important thing we will ever do. And this vocation begins within our families, and extends to this community of faith, and finally is spread to the watching world who desperately needs a touch from GOD, but who does not recognize it. And they will not recognize their need, they will never recognize it, until they see a clear, authentic and ongoing demonstration of sacrificial love and reconciling forgiveness lived out by the body of Christ.
That is, as we always say around here, supremely, the Christian faith is something to be done...
LUKE 3:15-16, 21-22
The people were filled with expectation, and all were asking in their hearts whether John might be the Christ. John answered them all, saying, “I am baptizing you with water, but one mightier than I is coming. I am not worthy to loosen the thongs of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.” After all the people had been baptized and Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, heaven was opened and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, ‚ÄúYou are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.‚Äù