Baptism of Our Lord—Year A—January 12, 2014
Preached at the Lutheran Church of Framingham
Let the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in your sight oh Lord, our strength, and our redeemer.
I think many people tend to think of Baptism as being primarily for the forgiveness of sins. This belief is what makes parents walk into pastors’ offices and say “I want to get my kid done…you know, just in case.” This makes me cringe a bit because my understanding of Baptism includes so much more than keeping us out of hell.
When I was in 7th grade I went through Confirmation classes. I had a horrible teacher; he was boring and mean, but worse than that, he taught us things that are just flat out wrong. One of the only things I remember has to be the worst thing he ever said; he told us that babies that are not baptized before they die go to hell. For the record, Lutherans do not believe that…Catholics even recently stopped calling the destination for those poor souls “limbo”. But if we think that Baptism is simply the time when a person receives their “get out of hell free” card, then we run the risk of ending up with doctrines like I was taught in Confirmation. Baptism turns into something we do, instead of being something that God works through. For the same reason, Lutherans commonly practice infant Baptism…it takes away the urge to make Baptism something we earn. We have Affirmation of Baptism (Confirmation) as the venue for making public confession of your faith.
Now there are differences in Baptismal theology throughout Christian denomination, and with those come differences in practices as well. Some denominations baptize infants; others Christen or Dedicate infants and reserve Baptism for adulthood. Some churches sprinkle a little water, while others fully immerse the person, sometimes even in lakes or rivers. But no matter what the specific rite looks like, there are some things that we can learn about our Baptism from Jesus’ Baptism.
Number 1: “God shows no partiality.”
John the Baptist tried to show some partiality by saying that Jesus should baptize him instead of the other way around, but Jesus would have none of it. Although Jesus was sinless in his divinity, he still was baptized.
This too suggests that Baptism is more complex.
Number 2: Something personal happens.
In Matthew’s account of Jesus’ baptism, you will notice that only Jesus sees the miraculous scene as he comes out of the water: “suddenly the heavens were opened to HIM and HE saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him.”
There is something personal about Baptism. For Jesus, maybe it was reassurance of his ministry or a sign that it was time to start.
So why not think of Baptism as the same for us. Obviously, we are not being called appointed as the Savior of the world, but we are called to some kind of ministry, and what better time to start than our Baptisms…if not before, and reminded at our Baptisms.
Number 3: Baptism is a public declaration.
Along with Jesus’ personal vision comes a public declaration. Instead of saying “YOU are my Son,” using the second person pronoun, talking directly to Jesus, as in other accounts, Matthew records the voice from heaven using the third person pronoun, talking about Jesus, saying “THIS is my Son, the beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”
So along with the personal affirmation and receiving of the Spirit of God, Jesus’ baptism also includes a public affirmation of God’s love and favor.
It is John who baptized with water for the repentance of sins, but he prophesied that another would come and baptize with the Holy Spirit. We hear of the Holy Spirit descending of Jesus, and so a new kind of baptism is born.
Our sins are forgiven, not because we have water sprinkled on us, but because of God love for us.
We are children of God, not because the pastor says so when they sprinkle water on us, but because God declared it so when we were yet in our mother’s womb.
Baptism is all of these things, a sign of forgiveness, dying to sin and rising to new life, a reminder that the Holy Spirit works in and among us, and an initiation and welcoming into the church family. That is why there are so many parts to our Baptismal service. We start by gathering sponsors, parents, guardians, family, and the congregation around the person for support and mutual love. We ask the Holy Spirit to be present in the space and the water. We baptize in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, like we have been instructed. We seal the person with the cross of Christ…as if saying “you are God’s beloved.” And then we present them with a light as a reminder that they have Christ’s light to share with the world, and in that, God will be well pleased.
Jesus’ baptism is not a mechanism for forgiving sins, but instead of announcing God’s favor and establishing identity and purpose.
Our baptisms are a mechanism for forgiving sins, but are also about announcing God’s favor for us and establishing our identity and purpose.
We live in world, with the assurance of God’s presence, love, favor, gifts, and empowerment. This is the truth every day, not just the day of our Baptism. This is why some people light their baptismal candle every year on their baptism birthday…as a reminder that God loves them and Christ’s light shines through them. However this a good reminder for every day, not just once a year, so if you haven’t already, I encourage you to take this slip home, and put it somewhere you will see it, and everyday say out loud to yourself to the meaning of your baptism, what the voice from heaven spoke about you at your Baptism:
“You are a child of God, deserving of love and respect,
and God will use you to shine light in the world.”