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Eden Evangelical Lutheran Church ~ Munising, Michigan

The Jesus We Really Need - 01/12/2020

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 star moving westward – through a sky they had studied their whole lives – a strange star that drew them to the Christ Child in a manger in Bethlehem 2,000 years ago.

We hear this story of the baptism today and it serves us as a westward-moving star. 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 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? Remember, this is not a Christian baptism. Christianity did not yet exist. This is a Jewish rite of repentance for sin. The Messiah doesn't have the same struggle with sin and continual need for forgiveness the rest of us do.

Still, the fact that Jesus came to the waters at the Jordan and encountered John the Baptist was clearly important to all the gospel writers, and that tells us there is something to stop and dwell on here. And the account of the baptism in Matthew reveals very powerfully what God would have us understand through this event about Jesus – about God, God’s self.

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 he, and all those he had been baptizing in the waters, 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 then we have what God does – 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 there. 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. And we will tremble in awe and wonder as we glimpse the divine when our humble teacher is gloriously transfigured on a mountaintop.

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.

Because church arguments and creeds and doctrine aside, this is the Jesus I think we so often need.

It reminds me of that Christmas story I read on the Nativity of our Lord. When God shared this idea of coming to earth as a human baby because babies haven’t forgotten God and pretty much everyone loves babies, the angels didn’t respond enthusiastically right off the bat.

“Finally the senior archangel stepped forward to speak for all of them. [She] told God how much they would worry about him, if he did that. [Why, God] would be putting himself at the mercy of his creatures, the archangel said, [and they were extremely unpredictable and unreliable and they could be downright mean.] People could do anything they wanted to him, and if he seriously meant to become one of them there would be no escape for him if things turned sour.” (Barbara Brown Taylor, Christmas Story)

This is our Jesus, our Savior, 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 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).”

Amen.

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 ~ contact@edenonthebay.org

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