Sunday 13th January 2018 The Baptism of Christ : St Thomas Church, Overmonnow. The Rev’d Janet Bromley.
I love the interconnectedness of all the seasons; for instance if in Advent we are looking forward in expectancy, then at Christmas we are able to look on the Christ child, the child of love and we are filled with joy and hope. Now we are in Epiphany and what we have seen and experienced begins to take hold of us and change us. We are bathed in light and maybe God will be revealed to us in such a way that we will discern where he wants us to be and to go in the coming year and beyond.
Epiphany sets before us three great glimpses of God and they don’t appear to have that much in common. The first is an infancy story which is only found in Matthew’s gospel; the second is a narrative common to all the gospels with overtones of Old Testament theophany and the third is a miraculous sign from the Gospel of John.
The first we celebrated last week when the magi were led to the Christ child by the vision of a star. Next week we will be reading about the unseen vision of water being changed into wine at the wedding in Cana of Galilee. This leaves us this week with perhaps, the richest and most complicated theme of Epiphany: The Baptism of Christ
In each of these themes there is a change that is demands us to keep looking and in the looking we are called to change.
A moment ago I used the word theophany – this simply means the manifestation of God and Christ is the supreme theophany and throughout the Epiphany season we are drawn to step back from all our busyness yet again – to turn aside and experience the loving height and depth of God in Jesus Christ.
The Gospel writers have different emphases in their accounts of Jesus’ baptism in the river Jordan. But essentially they are trying to answer the question: why should Jesus, who is believed to be sinless, come to John for a baptism of repentance and cleansing from sin. It is obvious to the people in the crowds…those fast livers from the cities, religious leaders, soldiers and tax collectors they needed to repent and be cleansed. But why should Jesus need to be baptised and who was he anyway?
And his baptism does reveal to John the Baptist, to the crowds andto us just who Jesus is and it empowers him for his future mission and ministry and his imminent battle with Satan in the desert.
Luke always places great emphasis on the prayer life of Jesus and so it is after his baptism, while he is prayingthat the Holy Spirit in the bodily form of a dove descends on him. The dove was symbolic of the loving character of divine life, so the Holy Spirit coming in this form would say to those present that Jesus was beloved of God and of course, this was emphasised further by the voice from heaven.
It is important that Jesus found it necessary to receive empowerment for ministry, we see this again with his disciples who await their baptism with the Spirit at Pentecost before they can set out on their mission.
If it is true for Jesus and his disciples then how much more do we need to spend time in prayer asking for the Holy Spirit to be poured out on us before we set about our mission and ministry.
We can also look at Jesus baptism from another angle: it is not Jesus that needs repentance and cleansing from sin..
in reality it is the other way around….. it is the river Jordan and thereby the whole of creation that is being restored. In the baptism of Jesus the harmony between creation and the Incarnate Word becomes clearer. This is especially so when it is celebrated by the Orthodox Church, which takes place at a river or lake and there is a long prayer of blessing over the water….much longer that the one we use at our baptisms. It emphasises the themes of light and creation…this is part of the prayer .. it is gloriously evocative:
‘Today the grace of the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove descended upon the waters. Today the sun that never sets has risen, and the world is filled with splendour by the light of the Lord. Today the moon shines upon the world with the brightness of its rays. Today the glittering stars make the earth fair with the radiance of their shining….
Today the blinding mist of the world is dispersed by the Epiphany of our God. Today things above keep feast with things below and things below commune with things above. Today earth and sea share in the joy of the world and the world is filled with gladness.’
If we look back to the beginning.. this is like a new Genesis.. remember the spirit brooding over the waters and then the creative word of the Father says: Let there be light?
Now at the Jordan we see the spirit descending and the creative word of the Father saying: This is my Son the beloved.
Here we have Father, Son and Holy Spirit – the glorious Trinity made manifest.
When we were baptised and at every baptism we become a new creation, new children of God, empowered by the Holy Spirit. Jesus baptism marks the beginning of his ministry, which is restoring the whole of humanity to its vocation as a royal and prophetic priesthood.
Baptism is the root of the royalty, priesthood and pastoral ministry of ALL the baptised..and is symbolised by those gifts brought by the magi which we celebrated last week:
gold for royalty
incense for priesthood
myrrh for pastoral ministry
Do you see yourself in this light?
We cannot abdicate from who we really are as baptised children of God.
Jesus ministry begins then with a commissioning and an empowering..and though there may still be much in his baptism that we don’t understand, we DO know that the experience was real enough for him to embark on his mission AND sustain him in it.
As baptised Christians we take our place within the Church to continue Christ’s ministry. We too are commissioned and empowered. Commissioned to serve and empowered by the blessing that we are known and valued by God.
At this time of year the Methodist Church uses a prayer called the Covenant Prayer …. it is about abandoning ourselves to God, to be swept along by the waters of God’s immeasurable grace and the more we do this, the more we will trust ourselves and each other with these precious gifts of ministry and healing.
Let’s finish with the prayer:
I am no longer my own but yours.
Put me to what you will, rank me with whom you will;
put me to doing, put me to suffering;
let me be employed for you or laid aside for you,
exalted for you or brought low for you;
let me be full, let me be empty,
let me have all things, let me have nothing;
I freely and wholeheartedly yield all things
to your pleasure and disposal.
And now, glorious and blessed God,
Father, Son and Holy Spirit,
you are mine and I am yours.
So be it.
And the covenant now made on earth,
let it be ratified in heaven
Janet’s note: Much of the material in this sermon can be found in Dr Ross Thompson’s book: Spirituality in Season.