Let us pray:
Dear God, remind us of your presence. Remind us of your redeeming love, which we remember in baptism. Speak to us today. In your holy name we pray, Amen.
Like a lot of us, I think, I was baptized as a baby. I was two months old, and so of course don’t remember a thing about it. My aunt and uncle were my godparents–some of you met them at my ordination–and afterwards I was gifted a Bible and a candle.
And it is seriously one of my favorite things, that I was baptized when I had no idea what was going on. I suspect my entire set of reactions was, “Neat, someone’s holding me,” and “WET! I DON’T LIKE IT.” Before I had any idea what was happening, God had claimed me, and I and my parents and a priest took part in a baptism to remind ourselves and others that this was true: that God loved me, and God redeemed me and gave me new life in Jesus. I hadn’t done anything yet, except eat and sleep and cry, and still God reached down and said, “Yep. She’s beautiful, and she’s mine.”
Because that’s what baptism is, for each of us: it’s God reaching down, through the hands of pastors and parents and godparents and sponsors and entire congregations, and saying, “This person is mine. I’ve made this person new in Christ, and will keep doing it through their entire life. I will never leave them, because I love them so very much.” It’s not that the waters are magical, or special, or extra blessed, and only those waters plus just the right pastor brings you into God’s family–no, God has already claimed us, brought us into God’s family, and when we were splashed or immersed or sprinkled with water we were just remembering together what God has already done, remembering how much God loves us and how hard God fought to bring us into the family. Whether we were two weeks or two decades old, God loved us for who we are, and invited us in no matter what we have or haven’t done.
Maybe that’s why Jesus was baptized. (It’s something theologians like to argue about) God is reminding everyone that God has loved and claimed Jesus, that Jesus is God’s Son and that God is going to work through Him. Jesus’ baptism here isn’t anything special. The narrator practically skips over it entirely–seriously, the first time I read this passage when I was preparing to preach today, I thought I missed the actual baptism. I mean, I didn’t, and it was just very quiet and normal and uneventful. Unlike in other gospels, there’s no splitting of the heavens and booming voice and coming of the Holy Spirit the second that the water hits Jesus’ head. No, instead the baptism takes place among others who have also come to John the Baptist and his disciples. Jesus is in a whole line of people who’ve come to be baptized, and He goes through the line with everyone else. Nothing newsworthy here.
It’s only later, after the baptism, when Jesus prays, that all that stuff happens: Heaven opens up. The Holy Spirit comes down to Him like a dove, in an almost-physical form that is visible to everyone. A voice from heaven said, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” It’s a proclamation, a time to mark out what God already knew: that Jesus is God’s Son and beloved, and God loves Him and is pleased with Him.
Baptism, then, is something both ordinary and newsworthy. There’s nothing special about it: a flawed person who happens to be a pastor puts some ordinary water on another flawed person. There’s probably some more flawed, ordinary people there to celebrate. But also: this is an act of love, of God marking us as part of God’s family, as beloved and included and made new. Newsworthy, indeed, no matter how many baptisms we’ve seen.
And those promises that God makes to us in baptism are eternal. It doesn’t matter how terrible we feel, how far away God feels. It doesn’t matter how far we go, searching or running or avoiding; God journeys with us. It doesn’t matter how many times we’ve completely and utterly screwed up. God is still there, making us new.
Part of being made new, of course, is changing. Growing. God makes us new not only so that we will know that we are loved, or at least glimpse how much we are loved, but also so that we can love others. We promise at baptism–or our parents promised for us–that we would follow God, that we would love others, that we would be a part of a church and its ministries and its prayers. God gives us so, so much grace and love that it should overflow to those around us.
The fact that we are baptized should shape our lives. After this, Jesus goes out to minister, to preach and teach and heal, to tell parables and gather disciples and eventually to die. During Advent we read about John the Baptist, who called people to baptism and changed lives: that soldiers should do their jobs without extorting people, that tax collectors should be honest, that all who have enough should be generous with those who don’t.
And so let us remember the Sacrament of baptism, as it currently reads, and what it calls us to:
As you bring your children to receive the gift of baptism, you are entrusted with responsibilities:to live with them among God’s faithful people,bring them to the word of God and the holy supper,teach them the Lord’s Prayer, the Creed, and the Ten Commandments,place in their hands the holy scriptures,and nurture them in faith and prayer,so that your children may learn to trust God,proclaim Christ through word and deed,care for others and the world God made,and work for justice and peace.(Evangelical Lutheran Worship, p. 228)
May we remember what it means to be baptized. And so may we let God’s love, God’s presence, shape us and change us. May it send us out with love, and may we know ourselves God’s deep, abiding love.