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Eden Evangelical Lutheran Church ~ Munising, Michigan

Baptism of Our Lord - 01/08/2017

The Baptism of our Lord is one of those feast days that came to the Western Christian calendar in much later years. Prior to 1955 the baptism of Jesus had been celebrated as part of the feast of Epiphany – the revelation of the true identity of Jesus to the Magi from foreign lands in the East. And before that, it didn't have a place on the church calendar at all.

It fits in that epiphany context. The baptism of Jesus is an important part of our Good News story. It serves as another avenue of revelation into that true identity of Jesus, that baby who just came among us again, so humbly, so under the radar.

For the Magi, it was a strange star  moving westward – through a sky they had studied so deeply – a strange star that drew them to the Christ Child in a manger in Bethlehem 2,000 years ago.

It is stories like the baptism of the Lord that serve as our westward-moving stars. When we follow this story like the Magi followed that star … when it catches our attention and asks us to look at it a little more closely, we, like the Magi, find it is a revelation into the the true identity of Jesus, that Redeemer of the World who comes among us still, so humbly, so under the radar.

The event of the baptism of Jesus can perhaps cause a bit of confusion and has been a topic of conversation and debate among scholars and lay people alike. If we believe that Jesus, as the foretold Messiah, is fully divine and fully human and without sin, then why should he need to be baptized? The Messiah doesn't have the same struggle with sin and continual need for forgiveness the rest of us do.

Now part of this may be explained by looking at the development of Christianity as an organized religion with an organized theology. As Christian people, or followers of Jesus' teachings, we didn't really start talking about Christ's nature for hundreds of years. In the first two hundred years after Jesus' death and resurrection, the Gospels were written down for the first time, but there was no such thing as a Nicene or Apostles creed. The doctrine of the Trinity hadn't been developed.

But the fact that Jesus came the waters at the Jordan and encountered John the Baptist was a pivotal point in each of the gospels should tell us there is something to stop and dwell on here.

I think it is this version of the baptism in Matthew that best reveals to us what Jesus' baptism tells us about Jesus and God.

When Jesus comes down to the river, John takes pause like we might – questioning whether or not is was right for him to baptize Jesus. “I need to be baptized by you,” John says when Jesus presents himself for baptism.

John knew it was he, and all those he had been baptizing in the waters who needed the more powerful baptism that only Jesus could bring. John had just said that he wasn't worthy to carry the sandals of this One standing before him now, this One who comes into our world with a baptism of Holy Spirit and unquenchable fire that burns away the sin of the world like flimsy, fly-away chaff.

But Jesus stops John in his hesitation immediately and changes the focus of this story – the central point of the story is not the question of whether Jesus needs to be baptized. The central point of the story is what Jesus says and what God does.

Jesus says to John, “Do it, John – baptize me. This is God's work, this is what God has been working toward for centuries and it is becoming known in this baptism – that I Jesus, born of Mary, commit myself to being the Servant King God has promised – God come in human form to bring justice to all the nations – to all the people of the world.”

And a joy-full God celebrates and says “This, this is my son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.” In other words, “Look, my people, watch this One. This is my best creation yet, my best and most perfect gift to you and all of creation for all time.”

Over this season of the church between Epiphany and Lent we will follow this revelation like a westward-moving star. We will follow it into the Galilean countryside with the disciples and all those who will follow Jesus from here. We will sit at his feet and hear Jesus turn the order of the world upside down in the Beatitudes; we will hear how we are meant to be salt and light in this world; we may even feel convicted when we hear about the high standards we must work toward in our promises to love God and one another as Jesus does.

We will follow this star and see what it continues to reveal about our Servant King Jesus and our loving Creator.

But for today, we pause here, where it began, in these humble waters of baptism.

We hear its ancient echos still in God's under-the-radar Word when we baptize one another today. When we pray: “God, who is rich in mercy and love, gives us a new birth into living hope through the sacrament of baptism. By water and the Word God delivers us from sin and death and raises us to new life Jesus Christ...”

Because church arguments and creeds and doctrine aside, this is the Jesus I think we so often need … the Jesus who freely steps into the very human act of baptism as a way of telling us that he is all in, that he willingly takes on this walk in the flesh and all the beauty and suffering that comes in that walk for all of us.

This is a Savior that we can take with us as we negotiate our own limitations and weaknesses, our own pitfalls. It is the Jesus I think we need when we survey the world around us – a Savior who emboldens us to speak out and act in ways of peace, love, hope and joy in a world of utter political dysfunction, of violence and war, systemic racism, of evil forces that pit neighbor against neighbor, brother and sister against brother and sister.

That's the Jesus I often need anyway. And in this very brief account of the day God stepped into the waters with John, and said “I'm all in, I'm here with you no matter what comes,” that is the Jesus, the Messiah we see, the One in whose baptism we are put to death and brought to eternal life, the One we now sing about as we remember the legacy we inherit in our own baptisms … “A simple sweet beginning,” we'll sing. “a loving place to start. Christ began the singing that swells (still) within (our) heart(s).”


Pastor Ann Gonyea

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Eden Evangelical Lutheran Church ~ Munising Michigan ~ An ELCA, Northern Great Lakes Synod Congregation
P.O. Box 360 ~ 1150 West M-28 ~ Munising, MI 49862 ~ 1-906-387-2520 ~

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