Baptism of Christ

All praise and glory be unto God; Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.

We know that itís all about Jesus but in this morningís Gospel John the Baptist seems to be finding it very difficult to get this seemingly simple message across. The great prophet has announced a baptism of repentance for all. John offers a series of reflections for the people to ponder over, to challenge their idea of being children of God - all this as an attempt to turn the hearts of the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous. 

Such was the conviction of the people of their need for forgiveness and reconciliation, that the crowd began to ask this charismatic preacher if he was the Messiah. Instead of the Baptist replying with the straight forward answer ďNo, I am notĒ, like the simple response to the questioning found in St Johnís Gospel, Luke takes a different approach.  If you can remember back to the third Sunday of Advent we can recall our first encounter with this jolly prophet when he announced to us: ďYou brood of vipers!Ē. I know itís not the best opening line for a first baptism lesson but it certainly got people listening! Luke isnít messing around here - as wonderful as we may have found those picturesque Christmas images, of shepherds and fluffy lambs and angels singing in the highest, Lukeís John the Baptist is much more dramatic and cuts through any romantic niceties of the Gospel. 

Luke tells us that as much as John baptised with water, the Son of God will come and baptise with the Holy Spirit and fire. This is someone who will come with winnowing-fork already in motion and he will not deal lightly with sin and wickedness but will take his stand amongst the righteous - those who have returned to the Lord.

The lectionary has us skip a few verses and so we missed the arrest of John the Baptist on account of the conniving Herodias. In Lukeís gospel, John the Baptist is disassociated from the baptism of Jesus, maybe as a way of showing that for Israel the end of an era has come and something new is taking place. 

Although Luke doesnít appear troubled by the baptism of the sinless son of God, there is little emphasis on Jesus entering the water. Jesusí baptism comes across as a bit of an aside. Lukeís emphasis seems to point us towards a Jesus who is at prayer. Itís worth remembering that Jesus didnít have any secret heavenly communication device tucked away up his cassock. His relationship with the Father is one that is available to us - and itís called prayer! The passing through the water is a prayerful act of surrender and dedication to the call of God that is within and a testament to the true nature of humanity and its right relationship with its Creator. All those others who were baptised passed through the waters and so Jesus passes through the waters and goes to say his prayers with the newly baptised. Then the heavens open, the Holy Spirit comes like a dove - that same Spirit which was there hovering over the face of the waters at the beginning of creation - comes in the form of the creature that returned to the faithful Mr Noah with a freshly picked olive leaf in its beak. A voice from heaven bestows the divine approval on his own beloved Son.

From Lukeís text it is difficult to picture those Ikon images of John the Baptist standing with Jesus, ankle deep in a gentle stream of water, with the Baptist stretching out his arm and dribbling water over the Son of God. I was baptised when I was six months old and so I donít remember my own baptism. I am therefore denied the opportunity of telling you how marvellous the occasion was! 

I do remember standing at the side of our cantharus (or font) on the day of Janís baptism. Our friend and companion Jan Oliver lived with us as an alongsider and he was baptised and confirmed in this Community church. I remember Jan standing at the west side of the cantharus making his testament to the love of God in his life and walking up the steps on the west side. I can picture the waters of baptism engulfing Jan, as Nicolas plunged him into the water and Jan gasping for breath before being shoved under for a second and third time. It looked terrifying! Jan came out of the cantharus on the eastern side and there we poured oil over him. 

Dressed in an alb Jan took his place amongst us: as one newly baptised he had renounced the devil and all rebellion against God; he had passed from west to east; from darkness to light; from death to life in Jesus Christ. He stood as a rightful member of the body of Christ, never to return to that place of darkness again. It was a dramatic transformation. The cantharus contained more than a mere puddle of water. This water was dramatic - like the waters we have seen in the news - dangerous water that can sweep away and destroy and even drown. Water that cleanses and makes way for the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, with that unquenchable pentecostal fire that gives life to the Church.

The life that was given to us at our baptism is no ordinary life and the message of the Gospel to which we are called is no easy way. The message of Lukeís Gospel challenges the status-quo: injustice, irresponsibility, arrogance and selfish preoccupation.  We who have crossed the waters of salvation have been saved and, if we like, we can choose to have nothing to do with sin, for we have no obligation to take any notice of the works of darkness. 

We live as members of His body, the Church, and for our part are called into relationship with God and each other - like Jesus we are called to pray in every moment. Having confirmed our faith by the Holy Spirit we gather together to celebrate the Eucharist and partake in receiving the bread and wine of the Holy Communion - the precious body and blood of Christ given for the world at His true baptism - where death and darkness were obliterated by the power of unutterable love. That is the act which freed humanity to discover the call of God within every fibre of our being and gave to us the grace to turn again and again from the trappings of sin and to discover the interdependence of relationships, in prayer-filled relationship with our Creator, our Lord and our God. Thanks be to Jesus! Amen.

 

Jacob Pallet CR