Saturday, January 8, 2011

The Baptism of the Lord, Year A

Reflections in the Water

Readings: Isaiah 42:1-9; Psalm 29; Acts 10:34-43; Matthew 3:13-17

The season of Epiphany which we have entered takes its name from the Greek word ephiphania which was used by the Greeks to explain the visit of a god to earth. As Christians for us the season celebrates how Jesus becomes known to us as the Son of God. It is about how God is revealed to humanity. These Sundays during the season of Epiphany show the divine power of our Lord in some of his most striking miracles. All are ways in which God makes God's self known to humanity.

Today the readings centre on the baptism of our Lord as he enters into his time of public ministry. We hear the story of Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan River. It is a story that celebrates who Jesus is. Jesus, the sinless one, is baptized by John in a baptism of repentance. For the Jews a baptism was a ritual washing. For the Greeks baptism meant literally to wash. John was ritually washing people to demonstrate that a change was taking place in their lives. For Jesus it was a call to ministry that changed the whole meaning and role of the rite. As he comes up out of the water the heavens are opened, the spirit of God descends like a dove and lights on him. Those present hear the voice of God announcing, “This is my Son, the beloved, with whom I am well pleased.” Jesus is revealed as God’s chosen one. It is, if you wish, his ordination, the beginning of his earthly ministry.

This Sunday is not simply a celebration of who Jesus is. It is a celebration for each of us, for baptism is our ordination, the beginning of our ministry. In our Lord’s life, his offer of himself for baptism was followed by his full commitment to ministry. In the excitement of the day as we celebrate baptism, particularly the baptism of a baby, we often forget that it must always be followed by commitment. We see it more as a rite of passage, as a time of naming rather than as full membership in the body of Christ. We need to affirm baptismal ministry by living out our faith in every sense of the word. We need times of re covenanting, reminders of our baptismal promises. That is why at every baptism there is an opportunity to renew our covenant. Even though we have no baptism today, the renewal of our baptismal covenant will be part of our worship.

So what does it mean to celebrate baptism? The heart of the Christian faith means that by baptism each of us is brought into intimate relationship with a loving Lord. The simple fact is that I am God's beloved daughter. You are God's beloved son or daughter. It is for each of us to claim that and to live in the joy and confidence of it.

There is something very special about baptism. Something miraculous happens! I sense it in every baptism that I do. It is about realizing as I say the words, “I baptise you” that this person now belongs to God in a special way. When I hold a baby in my arms and pour water over the child's forehead, I share in the hopes and dreams of the parents who have brought the child for baptism. I have no way of knowing what the future holds, but I know that this particular child is in the hands of a loving God.

I see the reflected in the waters of baptism some of the children I have baptised. I remember my first baptism. I was working as a Chaplain in a Toronto Hospital during my studies at Trinity. I was on call one night when I was paged from the ward I was working in, the neonatal unit. I knew what that meant. In fact, it was what I had suspected. A mother had gone into early labour and had delivered a tiny preemie, scarcely the size of my hand. She was not expected to live. The family wanted her to be baptized. I found a basin and some water. I baptized her there with her family gathered around her. “Katie Harper Hall” they told me when I asked her name. I remember the feeling of awe as I looked around the room at those gathered for her baptism. I named her, choking back my own tears. I sprinkled water over her, baptizing her in the name of God, the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. It was a sacred moment in which we all shared.

I see reflected in the waters of baptism some of the children from my first parish. There was a set of twins from Bequia adopted by one of the parish families. There was the baby girl who sang as I held her in my arms.

I see reflected in the waters of baptism many people from this parish. There is Jack. He was old enough to participate in a meaningful way in preparing for his baptism. I told him that I would sign him with the sign of the cross using holy oil and that that sign would stay with him throughout his life. He asked me several times after that if I could still see the sign of the cross on his forehead. Many of the children who have been baptised here continue to participate as full members of the body of Christ. They come to our Sunday School. They are servers at the altar. They are living out their Baptismal Covenant.

I see reflected in the water of the font, adult baptisms that have taken place. There is something so inspiring about an adult baptism. It is a joyful celebration that recognizes the transformation that takes place in our lives as we come to faith and accept it as our own. A wise woman named Corrie Ten Boom told me when I was just a child, “God has no grandchildren”. I did not fully understand what it was she was saying to me. That came later as I realized that just because my parents were believers did not mean that I was. It was something I needed to accept for myself.

Even though it is normative to baptise infants, there still comes a time when each of us is called on to accept the responsibility that comes with serving God. That is why adult baptisms are such special occasions. They are not being baptised as is sometimes the case with infants simply as a formality, as something that parents have “done” to their children. They are responding to God’s call. They are recognizing the longing in their hearts. They are feeling that need to belong, to be a child of God.

I see my own reflection in the waters of baptism as well. I know the story of that day, both from my parents and from my godparents. I certainly do not remember the event. I was a little over a month old. What I do know is that something extraordinary in my life took place that day in that small church in Byng. It was the most important day of my life. The fact that I am baptized fills me with sheer wonder. To know that God has received me as a God’s child is a source of endless joy. That day I became a member of the Body of Christ. It was the beginning of a life long journey of discovery about God, but also about myself. It amazes me to think that God says about me, “Here is another one of my beloved children”.

So what difference has your baptism made in your life? There are consequences to baptism. We are redeemed and reconciled by the Spirit. We are called to follow Jesus. We have the task of being light to the nations, of opening blind eyes, of bringing prisoners out of bondage, of feeding and clothing the poor and hungry. We are called to serve God. We are called to be Christ in a broken and needy world.

That brings me to the final reflection in the waters of the font. For reflected there in all of his risen glory, I see the face of Christ. Amen.

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