Sermon; 1 Epiphany; Matthew 3:13-17
Today is the first Sunday after the Epiphany, the day we celebrate the Feast of the Baptism of Our Lord. It is one of the five days appropriate for baptisms and/or renewal of baptismal vows. The main reason I insist on renewing vows on these days is because it is easy to get so caught up in our daily lives that we need to be reminded of how we promised to live as Christians.
In just a bit we will renew our baptismal vows (at 8), and have a baptism (at 10:15), reminding us of how we choose to live. But what about Jesus? In today's gospel he is baptized by John. Did he need to be cleansed from sin and made new? Of course not. But that doesn't mean there hasn't been a lot of discussion over the years about this event.
One view is that this is an act of solidarity with sinners. We don't get this in today's gospel reading, but Matthew records that the people of Jerusalem and Judea were coming to John to confess their sins and repent. This baptism was marking a new beginning for those being baptized.
Now Jesus certainly wasn't coming to confess and repent of sins. But he was showing himself to be in solidarity with those being baptized. In a very real and practical way, Jesus is living into the meaning of his name from this gospel – Emmanuel, “God is with us.”
This baptism of Jesus was also a new beginning. In the synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) Jesus goes into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil immediately after his baptism. After which his public ministry begins. So in a very real sense, Jesus' baptism leads to a new beginning for him just as it leads to a new beginning for all those who are baptized.
Through our baptism and renewal we are reminded that God is with us. Through our baptism and renewal we are given the chance to make a new beginning.
Today I have the honor of baptizing Emma Marie Alvestad. Today we who are present have the honor of welcoming her into the household of God. Today she will join us in our mission to proclaim the love of God to the world.
Through this act of baptism, Emma will join with Christ and be joined to Christ. God will be with her. But that solidarity is not only with Christ – it is also with us. Through Emma's baptism, she is joined with us. Through her baptism, we will be joined with her.
This baptism is also a new beginning of sorts. Emma is obviously too young to make a new beginning, so for her it's more symbolic than actual. But for us this is very much a new beginning.
It's a new beginning because we will have welcomed a new person into the household of God. When we welcome people into our midst, it's a new beginning. Dynamics change. Plans change. Expectations change. Adding someone new produces change.
In Emma's case, this may be a very small change, but change and new beginnings are/will be present. Among other things, everyone here will promise to support this person in her life in Christ. That also means supporting her family.
Will we, for instance, ensure our nursery is staffed so she can have a safe place to stay while offering her parents a time to worship peacefully? Will we, as a community, provide support if and when they reach out for assistance? I could go on, but you get the idea – we are all now joined together through our baptism in a community of faith.
The final thing I want to look at are those words from heaven: “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”
Note that, up until this point, and from our point of view, Jesus hasn't done anything. From our view, and from the view of all four gospels, Jesus hasn't done anything remarkable up to his encounter with John – except for maybe that incident in the temple when he was twelve. It stands to reason then, that God the Father is well pleased with his Son even though he hasn't done anything.
Emma, likewise, hasn't done anything remarkable yet. She's not walking or talking. She hasn't composed a sonata or played a musical instrument. She hasn't calculated the value of Pi to seventeen digits. She is a rather unremarkable little girl. But even so, her parents look down on her, just as most every parent looks down upon their child, and says, “With you I am well pleased.”
God is pleased with each and every one of us just as we are. So as we continue in community and relationship with each other in this wing of the household of God, let us learn to be pleased with each other just as God is pleased with us.
Today we are reminded that we have been cleansed from sin and begin anew.
Today we are reminded of the promises and vows we made in living into the Christian faith.
Today we are reminded that God is with us, and we are with God.
Today we welcome Emma into the household of God.
Today we are reminded that we are bound together through the waters of baptism.
Today let us go forth in the power of the Spirit, rejoicing in new beginnings and living into the promises we made, supporting others in that journey, bound together, and well pleased.