A sermon preached by the Rev. Jeffrey Gill on January 8, 2012
Sermon for Feast of the Baptism of our Lord
January 8, 2012
Christ Church Andover
Genesis 1:1-5; Psalm 29; Acts 19:1-7; Mark 1:4-11
If you’re sitting there this morning saying to yourself, “didn’t we just hear about John the Baptist recently? More than once?” You would be right! In one of the quirks of our lectionary, both the 2nd and 3rd Sundays of Advent in Year B of our three year cycle give us John the Baptist crying in the wilderness, first from the Gospel of Mark, then from the Gospel of John. And then today on this First Sunday after the Epiphany, we go back to the first chapter of Mark to continue the story with the Baptism of our Lord by John in the River Jordan. And in keeping with this event in our Lord’s life, we will baptize Olivia, Tyler, and William here this morning…
Mark’s account of this very significant event is characteristically brief. “In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. And a voice came from heaven, ‘You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.’" (Mark 1:9-11)
During our staff Bible study this past Tuesday, one of our staff said she had heard about someone who has two sons, and he just figured he’d try this one out. So, he sent a text to each of them that said, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”
One of the sons never replied. The other one texted right back: “Dad, is everything okay?”
I found myself wondering what kind of response I would get. I decided not to try it out.
Here in this most spare of the four gospels, every word is carefully chosen, and every word has a particular power – not that they don’t in the other three gospels. But I find it fascinating that the very first words we hear from the voice of God in Mark are words of affirmation: “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” Here we have a word picture of the Holy Trinity, the quintessential relationship right within the very being of God: the Spirit descending on him like a dove, and that voice of the one whom Jesus would call Abba, Father, speaking such tender words to his Son – “my beloved one, with you I am well pleased.”
It’s a wonderful beginning to the good news – a picture of a God whose very essence is love, and acceptance, and affirmation, and the tender embrace of a parent toward a child.
Our pictures of God, after all, shape the kind of world we believe we live in, and therefore the kind of world we fashion by our actions.
If we believe that God is angry, punitive, demanding, harsh, for example, we assume a world that is more interested in judging us and punishing us than accepting us, and we will reflect that in how we are toward others as well. And if we really believe that God at the very core of God’s being is Love and acceptance and affirmation, we just might begin to reflect that, too, in how we think about the truest nature of things, and how we begin to live in relationship with others.
And so, what does it mean for us to be baptized into the name of this God? Our collect this morning says this: “Father in heaven, who at the baptism of Jesus in the River Jordan proclaimed him your beloved Son and anointed him with the Holy Spirit: Grant that all who are baptized into his Name may keep the covenant they have made, and boldly confess him as Lord and Savior…” By being baptized into the Name of this triune God, we are immersed into God’s very own nature – soaked in God’s essence, marinated (!) in God’s very own being – to restore that which is intended by God for us in creation. This is the God in whose image we set out to live our lives from this time forward, in fellowship with all those who also are on this path, who seek to live in the spirit of Christ, who is our example in human flesh of what that love and acceptance and affirmation look like.
Jesus was empowered to live that perfect, sinless life, because he experienced in a very deep way that loving embrace of God – at his baptism by John, and throughout his life and ministry.
That doesn’t mean that Jesus was never tested. In just a few weeks on the First Sunday in Lent, we’ll hear these words again – “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased,” followed by Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness – an experience that will put to the test every fiber of his being. It will test every resolve and every affirming word or gesture – just as life does for all of us.
Three young children will be baptized here (this morning/in a few minutes). And what we do here this morning is to initiate them into a way of life. It is a way which, by its very nature, you cannot walk alone, because it is to reflect that mutuality and reciprocity we see in the picture of God at Jesus’ own baptism. That’s why we have their parents and godparents here, making promises on their behalf. It’s why all of us are here, to not only witness this event, but to pledge our love and support for them as they seek to live into the way of love. We’ll give these three children a good dousing here this morning, baptizing them in the name of this God of mutual, reciprocal, interpenetrating, self-giving love. That love is mutually reinforced and affirmed when we live in love toward one another, as we are called to do in Christian community. What we do and how we live together as a Christian community will help to shape how they understand God, and how they live that understanding out in their own lives.
So what we do here today is an awesome and a sacred task. And it’s one in which we are all invited once again to hear God’s loving embrace of us – “you are my beloved; with you I am well pleased” – and to let it shape the people we are becoming.
If you’re fortunate enough to have parents who are able to express their love and acceptance of you, you know how important that is to how you see yourself and your place in the world. Whether your human parents are or were good at expressing their love or not, God our heavenly parent is – and it is that voice that we hear today. “You are my daughter/my son – my beloved! With you I am well pleased.”