First Sunday of Epiphany
The Baptism of Christ
Luke 3: 15 – 17, 21 -22
If you have ever heard the same story told by two different people, then you know how many different ways there are to tell a story. And often the way a story is told tells you something about the storyteller.
For instance when two brothers come home from a fishing trip–one who didn’t catch a thing and the other who caught 5 fish, they will tell you different stories. One will tell you how it rained the whole time, the other one will tell you how delightful the weather was, and how he can’t wait to do it again next month. Same event, different details. And it is the details that make all the difference.
The same is true for the writers of the four Gospels. Each of them try to tell us something by how they tell a story. What details they put in. What they leave out. Remember they didn’t have each other’s account to compare notes. As far as we know only John was actually present at the time and the gospels were written many years after the event. Each of the gospels writers tells of the baptism of Jesus in a completely different way. In the Gospel of John, Jesus isn’t even technically baptized, so we will just leave him out. In Mark, when Jesus is in the river with John the Baptist, God speaks only to Jesus, saying, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” In Matthew, John baptizes Jesus and then God speaks to everyone, not just Jesus. God says, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”
But the way Luke tells the story is quite different. In Luke’s version of the Jesus’ baptism, someone is missing. Listen again:
Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heaven was opened, and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, ‘You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.’
Someone is missing from this event. The vital clue is in the verses that have been left out of the lectionary reading in your pew sheets, 15-17 then we go to 21-22 In Luke’s account he adds:
John proclaimed the good news to the people. But Herod the ruler, who had been rebuked by him because of Herodias, his brother’s wife, and because of all the evil things that Herod had done, added to them all by shutting up John in prison.
So John is missing in Luke’s account because he is in prison. Put there by King Herod. But if John is in jail, then who baptizes Jesus? Listen:
And when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heaven was opened, and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, ‘You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.’
Luke is pointing his readers to the Holy Spirit baptizing Jesus. It is not my intention to split hairs this morning or to cast doubt over scripture but to highlight what was obviously important to Luke. He wanted to make God the Holy Spirit the focus of the baptism and not John. This is one of the very few times in the whole bible when we have a record of the Trinity in the same sentence. Jesus being baptised, the Holy Spirit descending and God from heaven speaking. The actual words Trinity do not appear in the bible at all. It seems Luke is saying it does not matter if John is the one who poured water over Jesus’ body or not. Baptism is about God’s action. It doesn’t matter if it is John the Baptist, me, or the midwife who pours water over you – God is the one who baptizes. Of course in the established church it is the ordained priest, or a reader with the Bishop’s authority who can baptise (that is to maintain form and order).
I have come across a person who had worried that they hadn’t had the real thing because the midwife baptised them at birth as they had not been expected to live. I explained even though the water is blessed that isn’t what does the baptising. The act of baptism is symbolic – it is a coming to God for Him to do something.
It’s not you or a parent choosing God; it is God who has chosen you. God has claimed you. Baptism is a claiming event. It is about hearing for the first time who has claimed you. Who you belong to. To be soaked and washed in God’s claiming love. It’s a love that says, “You are mine.” This is why the Anglican and Catholic Church are happy to baptise infants, to bring them to the love of God. For adults it is also about a new start and acknowledging Jesus’ sacrifice for our sin.
Have you ever wondered about your identity? Have you ever asked the question: who am I? Often, when we want to get to know someone, when we want to know who they are, we begin by asking them, “What do you do?” Or we ask children at school – what do you want to be when you grow up? And this is when we start to associate who we are with what we do rather than who we belong to. It begs the question then, if who we are depends on what we do – what happens when we lose our job? Or when we fail at our job? Or when we retire? We see it time and time again; people feel like a nobody, they feel they have lost their identity.
But with God, your identity does not rest in what you do. But in the one who has claimed you.
There is a wonderful children’s story called Are you my mother? It is the story about a baby bird that has just hatched. But just before it hatched, its mother flew away to go find it some food. So when the baby bird emerges for the egg, its mother is nowhere to be found. So the baby bird goes around to all different animals asking, “Are you my mother?” To the kitten, “Are you my mother?” To the hen, “Are you my mother?” To the dog, to the cow, even to a big tractor, “Are you my mother?” Finally, in the end, the baby bird sees its mother and says, “I know who you are. You are not a kitten, or a hen, or a dog, or a cow. You are a bird just like me, and you are my mother.”
This is a story about identity. The baby bird is wondering who it is and who it belongs to. I like this story because the bird’s identity does not rest in what it does or whether it is a good bird or a bad bird. Its identity is discovered and rests in who its mother is. Who it belongs to.
We ask these questions: who am I? Am I good enough? The answer is in the word of God. The bible teaches us; you are made in the image of God and you belong to God. This is your identity. It doesn’t matter what other people think of you or say about you, this is who you are. You are God’s child. Be who you are. Everything we do should flow out of that promise, regardless of what you’ve done or not done in your life, you are God’s child and you are loved.
I know this may sound redundant and old-hat. God loves you. We hear it all the time. But as we continue to meet together as church, I am convinced we still need to hear this over and over and over again. Because we forget it. We lose sight of it and because in the busyness and stress of our lives it dissolves away too quickly. Every week, at least, we need to hear these words from God. You are my child. I love you. Martin Luther said that we must remember it daily. And not just us, the people in our community need to hear that God loves them. The children at school, men and women in prison and the people in our families need to hear that God loves them
So at the start of another year with all that it will throw at us, as individuals and as the church here in this place, let us hear the words once more. Let them sink into your soul so that they might change our lives. You are my child, my beloved. I am pleased with you.