The Baptism of Our Lord
The Rev. Bob Pierson
Scripture: Matthew 3:13-17
Today’s feast of the Baptism of the Lord is the first Sunday in the season of Epiphany. The word “epiphany” is from a Greek word meaning “manifestation” and this feast actually celebrates three different “manifestations” of Jesus as the Son of God. The first manifestation is the coming of the Magi, which we celebrate on January 6th. The second manifestation is the wedding feast at Cana, where Jesus turns water into wine. And the third manifestation is the baptism of Jesus in the River Jordan. The church gives us an entire season in the church year for us to reflect on the meanings of these significant events.
The passage we just read from the gospel of Matthew is only one of the gospel accounts of this event. In Matthew’s version of the story, we hear John trying to get Jesus to baptize him instead, but Jesus insists on being baptized by John. It’s good that he does that, because it gives us a chance to hear the Father’s voice announcing, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.” Some theologians believe that it was at this point, in his baptism, that Jesus finally realized his identity as the Son of God. And it was at this point that Jesus realizes his mission and God’s plan for his life.
That mission was first announced by the prophet Isaiah: “Here is my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights; I have put my spirit upon him; he will bring forth justice to the nations.” Isaiah goes on to say: “He will not grow faint or be crushed until he has established justice in the earth….” Luke’s gospel tells us that Jesus himself quotes Isaiah, when he announces his mission to the people: “I have given you as a covenant to the people, a light to the nations, to open the eyes that are blind, to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon, from the prison those who sit in darkness.”
As we celebrate today’s feast, we need to keep in mind that Jesus' baptism is not just about Jesus. We too have been baptized, and we too have had the Father say to us: “You are my child, my beloved, with whom I am well pleased.” We now are adopted members of God’s family, and as such, we are not only loved and cherished by God, but we too are called to live as members of God’s family, with the same mission that Jesus had. Our baptism is our call to bring justice to the nations, to live as the body of Christ in the world.
How do we do that? By patterning our lives on the life of Jesus and living as he lived, by loving others and serving them in his name as the church he calls us to be. We learn how to do that in prayer, in reading and studying the Scriptures, and in supporting one another in our works of charity and justice in the world. That’s what it means to be church, to be the body of Christ in the world. The Acts of the Apostles today reminds us that we are “chosen by God as witnesses.” Jesus “commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one ordained by God as judge of the living and the dead” and that “everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.”
At our own baptism, we made a covenant with God, which is spelled out for us in The Baptismal Covenant printed on page 304 of the Book of Common Prayer. I suggest that we use that text as our profession of faith today and as our recommitment to the promises made for us or by us when we were baptized. So please stand, take a copy of the Book of Common Prayer from the pews, and join me on page 304 for the renewal of our own Baptismal Covenant.