Baptism of the Lord- Matthew 3, 13-17
“Then Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan, to be baptised by him.”
Today we celebrate the baptism of Our Lord Jesus Christ. The Baptism of Jesus was the second of what we traditionally call “Epiphany” events. Epiphany means literally “revealing” or “shining forth”. Last week we celebrated the first of the Epiphany events – that of the revealing of the infant Jesus to the Magi who recognised him not only to be born King of the Jews but acknowledged him as God by offering him incense, the traditional offering to a deity (which is why, in many churches, incense is still offered), and they came to pay him homage. In this second Epiphany event Jesus is revealed as God’s Son when a voice from heaven was heard declaring him as such. The third Epiphany event is reported only by John in his gospel of the seven signs and the first of those signs was the wedding at Cana when Jesus worked his first miracle, that of changing water into wine.
Water, this natural compound, is the source of life. Our bodies are over 2/3 water in composition. Doctors recommend that we drink at least 8 glasses of it a day. Even back in the 18th century John Wesley, the father of Methodism, advocated the consumption of at least 2 pints of water a day. We rely on warm water for our physical hygiene, cold water to brush our teeth each day, boiling water for the all-important cup of tea, rain water to hydrate the crops, and the flowers and grass in the garden, soapy water to wash our clothing, our dishes, and our cars, and an abundance of water to sail our boats. In short, we rely on water to live. We need lots of it, especially in the age of dishwashers, washing machines, and car washes.
Is it any surprise then that water features so prominently in the ancient world? When nothing existed but chaos, the Spirit of God swept across the dark waters and brought forth light. When the people of God were slaves in Egypt, God led them to freedom through parted waters. In the fullness of time God sent his only Son Jesus Christ, nurtured in the water of the womb, to be our saviour. As we recall today in our Gospel reading, Jesus was himself baptised in the waters of the Jordan. After his baptism, Jesus continually met people in the context of water. He turned water in to wine; he encountered a woman at a well, he healed lepers through the waters of a pool; he called disciples from a life of work on the water as fishermen; he calmed the stormy waters of the Sea of Galilee; he walked on water in one his most famous miracles.
This account of the baptism of Jesus is one of the few that all four gospels contain. I was always fascinated by it because it is so hard to understand. If baptism is about forgiveness and the washing away of sin, then why was the sinless Jesus in need of baptism? John the Baptist himself thought it odd and, as our gospel reading reports, “…would have prevented him”. The answer lies in the fact that forgiveness of sin is only one of many elements that we take on in baptism. We cannot forget that death is a key component of baptism. When we are baptised we are baptised into Christ’s death. We die to the world that we may be alive to the Kingdom of God. Baptism is as much about the symbol of death as it is forgiveness.
We also cannot forget that adoption is a key component of baptism as well. In baptism, we are claimed by God as God’s own and we are sealed with the sign of the cross on our foreheads. Baptism is as much a symbol of adoption as it is of forgiveness.
At the baptism of our Lord, all those gathered around that day at the Jordan may have heard that Epiphanic voice from heaven exclaiming, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” In baptism, we too are made sons and daughters of God in that we are signed and sealed for this purpose. Even Jesus was baptised; this should give us an indication of the importance of baptism in the life of a Christian.Fr. Julian Kent CFMD