The Baptism of Our Lord

Inspired by Matthew 3:13-17

Well, we made it through another Christmas and New Year with hopefully minimal scarring! It’s such a crazy time of the year December. And now we find ourselves in this little in-between time, in between Christmas and Lent, that we call Epiphany—a time when we are allowed to catch our breath, to find our bearings once again, to re-energize for the upcoming season, and to reflect on what we have experienced in the celebration of the birth of Jesus. And this year, being in the lectionary year of Matthew, we get to reflect on what it means for us that Jesus is Emmanuel, God with us. At the end of Advent I mentioned that Matthew will give us many examples of what that means, and today’s story does not disappoint.

The day of Epiphany was on Friday, always January 6th when many of us celebrated here with a pizza party and undercoating, and some of us went out and blessed some homes of some of our members. And the first Sunday after that day is always celebrated as The Baptism of Our Lord. And it is on this Sunday every year that we pastors have to fight the temptation to make this all about our baptisms. And that can be difficult, there are some parallels to be sure but the day is not called The Baptism of Ourselves, but The Baptism of Our Lord. And the more I thought about it, this really shouldn’t be that hard. I mean, pastors, especially Lutheran pastors, are, or should be, making connections to baptism all the time in their preaching!

So today we get an intentional break from that! But like I said, it’s hard to resist, so I have a feeling I’ll be talking about our baptisms anyway at some point. If I do feel free to call the theological police. There’s solid theological grounding though for focusing more on Jesus’ baptism rather than ours. His baptism was so different than ours. In our baptisms there is an acknowledgement of sin, of our brokenness, of our need for God to be with us, and the expectation that we will work on changing our hearts and lives. And there is of course the promise of God to be with us as we do so, knowing that we are never going to achieve perfection.

Jesus’ baptism however, was more about his willingness to be salvation for us, while identifying with our humanity at the same time—something only the Christ, only Emmanuel could do, which is what Matthew wants to drive home over and over. This is who God is, and this is how God operates in this world, this is how God is with us, through Jesus. Jesus’ baptism shines a spotlight on him, it was God’s way, and/or Matthew’s way, of saying, this is the one to watch! Keep your eyes on this one! However, in addition to the spotlight, this also created a giant target on Jesus’ back. Because anyone with that much power, with that much influence, was going to make enemies, was going to be seen as a threat.

Dr. Karoline Lewis, professor at Luther Seminary, had some great insights into this bible story. She reminds us that Jesus baptism is was also not a private matter, it was not an individual matter, it was not a personal matter—it was public, it was communal, it was for the sake of the world. As Matthew writes, “When Jesus was baptized, he immediately came up out of the water. Heaven was opened to him, and he saw the Spirit of God coming down like a dove and resting on him. A voice from heaven said, “This is my Son whom I dearly love; I find happiness in him.” This is a different account that what Mark and Luke provide. In their versions, only Jesus hears these words. For them it was more of a private event. But Matthew has a different message that he wants to drive home.

Remember, Matthew wants you to know, without a shred of doubt, who this Jesus is. For Matthew this is a matter of identity. For Matthew it is imperative that he communicate, to you and I, that this is Emmanuel, God with us—and that means that everything that Christ does, including his baptism, is always for the sake of the world. He did not ask to be baptized for the glory, the notoriety, or the attention. Rather, he did it so that he could fulfill the promise of God’s love for the world, a promise made in the waters of creation, a promise that only he could deliver on.

If there is any connection at all between Jesus’ baptism and ours, it is this—our baptisms are not private either—they are not about the individual, they are not for our own personal feelings or beliefs. Our baptisms are communal, and they too, are for the sake of the world. In our baptisms we are called into a community that promises to be with us as God is with us. In our baptisms we are called into a community that strives to do God’s will in this world. In our baptisms we are called to be God’s hands and feet in this world, God’s eyes and ears in this world, God’s laughter and tears in this world. And all with a built-in community to do it with.

And no we’re not always going to get this right. We are going to miss the mark, often. We are not going to attain perfection as we do God’s work in the world. But with our baptism comes a new day with new opportunities. With our baptism comes new life and possibilities. With our baptism comes forgiveness and mercy. With our baptism comes a sunrise that invites us to try again. With our baptism comes the hope of a new creation. With our baptism comes Emmanuel, God with us, every step of the way. Thanks be to God. Amen.

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