Eternal God, who at the baptism of Jesus revealed him to be your Son, anointing him with the Holy Spirit, keep your children, born of water and the Spirit, faithful to their calling; Amen
Although I understand the reasoning for the Baptism of Jesus to be our focus this Sunday it always strikes me that we move from his birth to the beginning of his ministry in rather short order.
So whilst the season of Christmas (of which Epiphany is a part) lasts for 40 days, today we start to think about the beginnings of Jesus’ work as a teacher and healer. And it begins with his own baptism by John. The baptizer had been out in the wilderness proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. As the gospel narrative tells us, people from both towns and the countryside all were coming to John.
John is very clear: I will baptise you with water, but the one who would come after him (Jesus) would baptise with the Holy Spirit.
Paul in the passage from the Acts of the Apostles is visiting the troublesome Corinthians. Like John he is very clear: asking if they had received the Holy Spirit when they became believers; and clearly, they had not. So Paul proceeds to baptise them in the name of Lord Jesus, and when he laid hand on them, they received the Holy Spirit.
The baptism of an adult or of a child is always a moving, uplifting and special moment in the life of the Church. As you know we had planned to baptise our own granddaughter (Emily) in November but this much-anticipated event had to be postponed because of the second closure of churches for the pandemic. Today however we are thinking about the baptism of Jesus (as an adult) probably around 30 years of age at the time. During my ministry, I have had the privilege of baptising many babies, a few young people and some adults. Each and every occasion was a moment of joy as parents, sponsors or Godparents, and adults made promises to live the life of Christ or direct the child in question in that life.
Being part of the church, and especially becoming part of the church begins with baptism which is why a font (the place where baptisms take place) is usually found (as in our Church) by the main entrance of the church; so that it is the first thing we see when we enter a church building.
As we gather in worship and prayer today we will renew our baptismal promises. This is especially appropriate at the beginning of a New Year as we aim to set the course for our lives and the life of our Church. Some of us make New Year resolutions, and always in our Christian pilgrimage, we return to God and renew our life with God and with one another. We do this by praying together each week the words of the confession which today are replaced by the Renewal of Vows.
There we first commit ourselves to continue in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, the breaking of bread, and in the prayers. Of course, at this time with our building closed the breaking of bread isn’t possible and we pray for the day when we can once again all gather for that central action in the life of the church.
Next, we persevere in resisting evil and, whenever you fall into sin, repent and return to the Lord, which reminds us of the temptations we all face to fall into sin and the need to repent and return to the Lord. We also seek to proclaim by word and example the good news of God in Christ. A reminder of our fundamental responsibility as followers of Christ to share that message of hope with others.
We commit ourselves to seek and serve Christ in all people, loving our neighbour as well as loving ourselves.
We strive for justice and peace in the world, and to respect the dignity of all people.
And lastly, we seek to safeguard the integrity of God’s creation, and respect, sustain and renew the life of the Earth.
So as we get started on this New Year we can’t do much better than remind ourselves of these promises, that originally were made for us (if we were baptised as infants), that we make to God, other people as well as ourselves.
At Bible Study the other day Shirley Cook offered a very helpful insight into our gospel reading for today in terms of what Matthew tells us took place at the baptism of Jesus.
Let us remind ourselves of the actual words …
In those days Jesus … was baptized by John in the Jordan. And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. And a voice came from heaven, ‘You are my Son, the Beloved; with you, I am well pleased.’
Shirley said, and I trust he is happy for me to quote her: I hope when I get to the end of my life the Lord says to me: You are my child, the beloved; with you, I am well pleased.
For me this sums up the Christian pilgrimage; it is entirely what we are about: we live our lives, we do the very best we can, and we hope and pray that when our life is complete God will say to us: My child, the beloved; with you, I am well pleased.