Notes from the sermon by the Rev Dr Angela Birkin 12th January 2020 – Epiphany 1 – The Baptism of Christ
We are in the season of Epiphany and today is the feast of the Baptism of Christ.
The word epiphany comes from Greek and means “revelation from above”, and during the season of Epiphany we discover who the baby whose birth in Bethlehem we celebrate on December 25th is.
Today God is showing us something very important about Godself, about Jesus and about us in the account of the Baptism of Jesus by John the Baptist.
As, this morning, we are using the account of Jesus’s baptism from the Gospel of Matthew it is useful to summarise what Matthew has told us so far in the first 2 and a bit chapters of his Gospel before we meet the adult Jesus.
In our services we read bits of Matthew’s Gospel here and bits there separated by days if not weeks, so we don’t get the force of the picture that he is building up leading to today’s account of Jesus’ baptism.
It is definitely worth sitting and reading the first three chapters of the Gospel of Matthew – if you do you will read an account of the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah, the son of David, the son of Abraham, which contains four interesting women!
This is followed by Matthew’s narrative of the birth of Jesus which in only 8 verses tells us that Jesus is divine as Mary is with child from the Holy Spirit, but that as the adopted son of Joseph is also a son of David, a messianic title as well as a family description.
Jesus will save his people from their sins as signified by his name, the Greek version of Joshua which is derived from the Hebrew verb to save, Jesus fulfils the words of the prophets in the scriptures, and he is Emmanuel, God is with us.
Jesus will manifest God’s presence with the people he has come to save.
We are so familiar with this story, or we think that we are, and we miss how amazing it is.
But is gets more amazing as the infant Jesus is visited by Gentiles, wise men from the East, who find the child born king of the Jews not in the palace of Herod in Jerusalem but in a humble house in Bethlehem. Jesus’ birth is significant for people beyond the Jewish world it seems.
Then this story which inspires beautiful Christmas carols and cards becomes a story of fear and horror and sorrow as the child who is Emmanuel, who will save his people from their sins becomes a refugee from a tyrant and bully who is prepared to kill young children indiscriminately to protect his position. A story that is sadly all too familiar throughout history, but is not the story expected for the Messiah, for the Christ.
When it is safe the Holy Family returns to Judah from Egypt and settles away from Jerusalem and Bethlehem where the children were massacred, in Nazareth in the district of Galilee; not a place you would expect to find God’s anointed one.
Next, we meet John the Baptist in the Judean wilderness, whose dress recalls the prophet Elijah and who is preaching the need for repentance and a new relationship with God. John baptizes those who come to him with the water of the river Jordan, baptism acting as a ritual cleansing, and tells them that one more powerful is coming who will baptise with the Holy Spirit. And this is when the adult Jesus walks into the story.
The one who will save the people from their sins, who is Emmanuel, God is with us, who is the King of the Jews, comes to John at the Jordan to be baptised, insists on being baptised despite John’s protestations that Jesus should be baptising John.
“Let it be so now; for it is proper for us in this way to fulfil all righteousness.”
As Jesus came up from the water of the Jordan the Spirit of God descended on him and God said, “This is my Son.”
Jesus, the Messiah, Son of David, Emmanuel, Son of God. Matthew tells us all this in just three short chapters.
Three things to note about Jesus’ baptism, three things to be aware of for ourselves.
Firstly, Jesus is baptized at the very beginning of his public ministry. Baptism is not the end of something but the beginning of something new.
The activity of the Holy Spirit is always creative, new and radical. John baptized with water, Jesus baptizes with the Holy Spirit and with fire as John recognised in Matthew 3v11. Jesus experienced the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him at his baptism, and it is the same Spirit who comes to us, empowering, comforting, encouraging and guiding as we step into the future with Christ.
Baptism is just the beginning, but a wonderful beginning.
Secondly, Jesus’s baptism was followed by service to God, service which fulfilled all righteousness, service of self-offering for others. Service described by the beautiful servant song of Isaiah 42 which we heard this morning.
“Here is my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights;
I have put my spirit upon him; he will bring forth justice to the nations.”
Isaiah prophesied and spoke into the context of his own time but from the time of the earliest Christians, Jesus of Nazareth has been seen as the perfect fulfilment of Isaiah’s prophesies.
The Messiah, Emmanuel – God with Us is also the Suffering Servant. This is the one we are called to follow, whose way is the way of justice and mercy and peace and forgiveness and love, even love of enemy.
It is not an easy way, and some of our sisters and brothers throughout the world suffer greatly in following the way of Jesus Christ, but we are never asked to walk the way alone for the Holy Spirit is with us.
Thirdly, at his baptism Jesus was not given a to do list by God. God did not say ‘If you do this, then I….’.
God said, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”
Jesus’ identity as the Son of God, greatly and dearly loved is affirmed clearly and unambiguously, and he hasn’t done anything yet except come to John at the Jordan. Everything that Jesus does, his public ministry, teaching and healing, is done in the knowledge that first and foremost he is the beloved Son.
And we are adopted into God’s family in Christ Jesus.
And God loves us, each one of us.
We have done nothing to earn that love, and we can not do anything to make God love us more or less.
God loves us because God loves us because God is love.
God loves you.
Our baptism is the beginning of a wonderful if challenging journey following the way of Jesus Christ, the way of service for others, accompanied and strengthened by the Holy Spirit with the soundtrack of God’s love song “You are my child. You are dearly and deeply loved. I take great delight in you.”