Monday, January 11, 2016

First after The Epiphany: The Baptism of Our Lord

Baptism of Simon Carey Patnik and Ruth Elizabeth Patnik
Isaiah 43: 1-7; St. Luke 3: 15-17, 21-22

Good morning and grace and peace.  It’s the Seventeenth Day of Christmas, so we’re now beyond the framework of the traditional song.  We can continue to use our imagination to conjure up the vast array of gifts that accumulate through the season.  On the “real” Church Calendar this is the Sunday after the Feast of the Epiphany, the beginning of a season where our focus shifts.  The infant born in the dark night and quiet corner of Bethlehem is lifted up and made manifest in his glory to all the wide world.  The light shining across the whole world, across time and space, and to shine in each heart.  This first Sunday after the Epiphany commemorating the Baptism of our Lord in that familiar scene at the River Jordan with his kinsman and forerunner John the Baptist, and in this Year C in our lectionary cycle we view the scene through the eyes of St. Luke’s gospel.  The key moment in verses 21 and 22, there at the end—and although we say this is the story of the Baptism of Jesus we can see the Luke is really asking us to focus on what happens immediately after the baptism.   He doesn’t describe the baptism at all, actually, but just says that it happened.  It zooms by, sets the stage, and then Luke gets to his main point, the centerpiece of the story.  

During a general baptism of the people, when Jesus too had been baptized and was praying, heaven opened and the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form like a dove; and there came a voice from heaven, “Thou art my Son, my Beloved; on thee my favor rests.”

Certainly a wonderful and dramatic and exciting scene to have before us on this January morning as we join with Mike and Rachel Patnik and family and friends and all of us together deputized to represent the whole mystical company of all faithful people gathered in Christ—and as we would say, together with angels and archangels and all the company of heaven witness this moment again, when Simon and Ruth themselves pass through these cleansing and renewing baptismal waters, and when once again we will see with the eyes of faith as the heavens open and the Spirit descends, and we will hear with our ears of faith the blessing of our heavenly Father.  All of that before us, and let’s see that and hear that again today.

I think it is beautiful in particular to have on this day—Baptism of our Lord, baptism of Simon and Ruth—the reading from Isaiah 43.  Such a tender and beautiful word.  A framing background.

Those who had truly known and believed themselves to be God’s chosen people, now bereft.  Scattered in the catastrophe of defeat and exile, marched away in chains to the camps and ghettoes of distant lands, pressed into forced labor, families divided, all to the point when even the last faint echo of memory seems about to fade into silence.

And then, across the miles, heard and repeated, whispered in the night, passed along in secret, the Lord’s voice is heard in the word of the prophet. 

Do not fear.  Do not fear.  For I have bought you back out of your slavery, I have restored to you in this moment your name, your identity, so that you can know who you are once more.  When you pass through the waters, I will be with you.  How great that is on a baptismal Sunday.  Simon, Ruth: when you pass through the waters, I will be with you.  When you walk through fire you shall not be harmed.  You mean more to me than anything.  I have paid for you a King’s Ransom.  And of course here at St. Andrew’s we lift up our eyes to the Cross on that Great Rood Beam overhead.  I will call to the corners of the earth to find you, to gather you, and no arm will ever again be strong enough to hold you back.  Because you are mine, created for my glory.  I made you with my own hands, and I will hold you safe, and never let you go.  You are my beloved, and on you my favor rests.

Take a deep breath, Simon.  Ruth.  Welcome to the party!  These little ones whom we have so enjoyed as a part of the family.  Certainly as we prayed with you, Rachel and Mike, through the months as we waited for Ruth to join us.  As we have enjoyed Simon’s interest and playfulness.  You have been and are a blessing to us, and it is such a privilege to be witnesses to this moment.  Just as if we were all invited down to the Jordan on that day, to be with John and Jesus.  Renewed by the gift and presence of the Holy Spirit and God’s voice and promise.  Just a great day.  It is a promise that is made true here and how--that he is with us, will be with us.

Can’t help but hear an echo of John chapter 14, so familiar.  Do you believe in God?  Believe also in me.  In my Father’s house are many mansions.  If it were not so, I would have told you.  I go to prepare a place for you, that where I am, there ye might be also.

When you pass through the waters, I will be with you.  From death to life.

A reminder that this isn’t about what we do.  The instructions for us are the same as they would have been for John the Baptist.  Just add water.  Splash and stir.  And then it’s all Holy Spirit, all Holy Spirit, all the time, and the voice of the Father, and the companionship of the Son. 

For I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.  You are my beloved.  On you my favor rests.

Walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God.

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