Baptism of the Lord
Jan. 12, 2014
Acts 10: 34-38
Matt 3: 13-17
St. Vincent’s Hospital, Harrison, N.Y.
“After the baptism that John preached, … God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power” (Acts 10: 37-38).
The feast of the Baptism of the Lord is the last day of the Christmas season. (Yes, despite whatever Target and the radio are telling you, in the Church we are still celebrating Christmas!) In the Christmas season we celebrate the human birth of the Son of God, who came to earth so that we might be born as God’s children—our Collect this morning refers to us as God’s “children by adoption.” That is effected by the sacrament of Baptism. At Christmas we celebrate God’s Son’s taking on our human nature in order that he might transform that nature thru his divinity. In Baptism we are reborn in water, as the Collect notes, but not in water only: also in the Holy Spirit.
In the tradition of the Church, the feast of the Lord’s Baptism has always been linked with the feast of the Epiphany. Epiphany means “manifestation” or “making known.” When the wise men from the East came to Bethlehem, the Son of God, redeemer of the world, was manifested to the Gentiles—the pagan nations—as their God and redeemer. When Jesus was baptized in the Jordan River by John, the Holy Spirit and the Father revealed him to the Jewish people as God’s beloved Son who pleases the Father (Matt 3:17).
Our 2d reading this morning is from the Acts of the Apostles. When we read Acts, we see that the preaching of the apostles about Jesus, like the little sample we heard, usually begins with John the Baptist and his baptism of Jesus. This preaching and the narratives of Matthew, Mark, and Luke about his baptism stress that Jesus was anointed by the Holy Spirit immediately following his baptism; he was designated or pointed out to the Jewish people as the Messiah, the Anointed One, when, in Matthew’s words, “the Spirit of God descended like a dove and came upon him, and a voice came from the heavens, saying, ‘This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased’” (3:16-17).
Why is the Father “well pleased” with Jesus? He’s begun actively to carry out his mission. When the angel of the Lord told St. Joseph—in the gospel that was read on the 4th Sunday of Advent—that he was to name Mary’s child Jesus “because he will save his people from their sins” (Matt 1:21), his mission was named. When Jesus comes to be baptized by John, John knows he is no sinner and strongly objects; this baptism of repentance is unfitting for Jesus personally (cf. Matt 3:13-15). But Jesus is identifying himself with all of us sinners; symbolically he becomes one of us. This is very pleasing to his Father. It’s the starting point for his mission: “he will save his people from their sins.”
And we, when we were baptized, we also were anointed with oil, with sacred chrism. In that anointing we were christened, made into Christ, made one with him. In the water of Baptism, we were buried as Christ was buried, as St. Paul says (Rom 6:4), and our coming out of the water was our rising to new life. We became one with Christ our Savior, as he had become one with us by his incarnation, his baptism, and his passion and death.
When we live out our Baptism, we too are very pleasing to the Father—the Father of Jesus who is also our Father because he’s adopted us. In the this morning’s Collect, we prayed the Father to “grant that your children by adoption, reborn of water and the Holy Spirit, may always be well pleasing to” him. How do we live out our Baptism? How do we live lives pleasing to the Father?
By continuing to die and be buried with Christ, i.e., by dying to sin, repenting of our sins, rejecting our sins; by continuing to rise with Christ to new life, i.e., by practicing virtue—virtues like kindness, forgiveness, purity, patience, faithfulness, responsibility.
We all know that to reject temptation seems to hurt—to cause a little bit of death. Sad experience teaches us that what really kills us, however, is sin, bad choices, immoral choices. And too often it kills the people around us—sometimes literally, as the newspapers remind us every day, but usually figuratively, thru the hurt that we inflict upon others with our words, our actions, and our omissions. St. Paul, too, knew that sin kills; he’s the one who tells us that “the wages of sin is death” (Rom 6:23).
We also know that practicing virtue is life-affirming—affirming our own inner spirit, and affirming the people around us. The other day someone wrote to Dear Abby just to affirm what a smile and a friendly attitude can do for the people you meet, and for yourself as well. How much more when we treat people with patience and kindness; when we forgive their failings; when we respect them as images of God and possibly temples of the Holy Spirit (no to all sins against purity!); when we carry out our duties as spouses, parents, workers, students, parishioners, etc.; when we do what we can to be helpful to others.
That’s how we live our Baptism, how we live lives pleasing to the Father, how we live as one with Jesus, who came to be one with us and so to lift us up from our sins to eternal life.