This Sunday of gathering is in many ways a celebration and sign of both beginnings and ends. This Sunday of course ends our Church year. We call it, the Reign of Christ because this day serves as a marker to look back, to reflect back on our journey with Christ this particular year as we anticipated his life in Advent, celebrated his birth at Christmas, heard of the call to go out and proclaim Christ as God and King throughout Epiphany, and then to journey to the Cross of Good Friday with humility, confession, a commitment to renewed casting off of sin, and then our three day wait for Easter when we are reminded that we have been joined to Christ in his Resurrection, set free from slavery to sin in order that we could learn to love and so serve our neighbor and even our enemies.
This year, we have been gifted with young Liam, his mom, dad, and grandma who have joined our community. And today, we gather to recognize a particular end – the end of sin’s victory over us, even young babes – and a particular beginning: Liam’s initiation or baptism into Jesus’s own life, death and so resurrection. On Liam’s behalf his parents and grandma will promise to help guide him in accordance with Jesus’s own life that we find in Scripture and to work on casting off those ways of living that aren’t in keeping with Jesus’s own.
But who is this Jesus? What does it mean that we are baptized into his life, death and resurrection? Why does this matter? Let’s go back and hear our passage from Colossians which I think concisely paints a picture of this Son of God and King of Kings: May you be made strong with all the strength that comes from his glorious power, and may you be prepared to endure everything with patience, while joyfully giving thanks to the Father, who has enabled you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the light. He has rescued us from the power of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers--all things have been created through him and for him. He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together. He is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that he might come to have first place in everything. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross.
So to summarize: this powerful one Jesus has been born. He’s taken on human flesh, we’ve heard, he’s been born of the virgin Mary. The King of the Jews has been born to set ALL people free from sin and he is enlightening the world. What does this mean? I’d suggests it means that he’s actually unveiling how the world really looks, what it’s all about, who we are in it, who others are, what is good and evil. How can he illuminate or show the world as it really is? Because when we look at his life what we’re seeing is God’s own life. The perfect life of Jesus who is fully God and fully man. So when we look at how he interacts with people, how he interprets the teachings of the OT Scriptures, how he acts, judges, the way he doles out criticism, love, kindness, healing and mercy, we see how God intends things to be. We see God begin his gathering work, reorienting his lost and wayward children and showing us, leading us, inhabiting us so that we can begin to follow him. That is the way – the person – into whom young Liam is being baptized. That is Liam, baptized into Christ, is being initiated into a whole way of seeing the world anew, through Jesus’s own life.
Jesus does indeed transform the world with his incarnation, his being born a human baby and living out a human life, and dying a human death. But here’s the critical bit that matters for us: when God sent his Son into the world for our sakes, he did not leave his ‘God self’ behind. Jesus is God; God who is eternal; God who is not created. Jesus is also human, and as such, like every other human who follows him and through him becomes a child of God, Jesus is baptized. We celebrate this as a festival of the Church for Jesus’s own baptism: “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 from the Father, “you are my Son, the Beloved, with you I am well pleased.”
This passage about Jesus’s baptism helps us to understand the claim being made in our passage from Colossians. That is, it helps us to understand who Jesus is and why his life, and our baptism into his life, is so important. You see here we find that Jesus isn’t just a prophet or rabbi or good moral teacher as so many claimed. No: Jesus Christ, is in fact God himself. And here, the one we call Father, Abba, whom Jesus will call Father and Abba, is in fact God. And finally, we hear affirmed that this Holy Spirit whom we encounter at several points in the Old and New Testaments as wind, or breath, or the Spirit or the Holy Spirit, that this Holy Spirit is also God. So our God is Father, Son and Holy Spirit. But it’s actually in Jesus’s own life – and his baptism is a central moment (as is his transfiguration) – that we see God actually manifested here as the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit; one substance, three persons, never working apart, never working to different purposes, no good God and evil God at different times, never changing his mind even if we use these words to describe how we see history unfold. If this were not the case, we would be left in sin and left to the often nasty, brutish and short reality of life in this world.
Instead Jesus reveals who God is most profoundly in this moment of his baptism, a claim made in more intellectual terms in Colossians. His baptism then, isn’t simply about ‘going through with the rituals, of his Jewish birth; it is the fulfillment of his very being as both God and man: To be baptized is nothing other than to be brought into perfect communion with God. To be baptized is nothing other than living the life of God himself as the particular person God created you to be, receiving instruction, challenge, chastising, cleansing, and correction as you see your own life in the characters of Scripture you encounter each week in Church and/or at home. That is the life Liam’s parents and grandmother are promising to raise him in accordance with, relying on God’s own grace, his mercy, his love.
What then will God expect of Liam, what does he expect of us? To follow, to do so obediently, to be willing to accept the correction offered through the Scriptures and life in the Church, so that ultimately, his and our following would look like the act of loving God and neighbor. To love is not an emotion. To love is active response to a relationship, to the challenges, to the contingencies, to the frustrations and failures, to the struggles – to all that stuff that each of you experience in your families, with friends, with those whom you care for. To love is an active and willing response to prioritize maintaining your relationship with someone through time; sometimes this means sacrifice; sometimes it means praising, sometimes sharing weaknesses, lament, hopes, dreams and of course needs. To love God however, requires being adopted and raised beyond our own limits of being by God himself. And this, God accomplishes by baptizing us into his Son, through his Holy Spirit so that we too might become his beloved children. Being baptized and held in Jesus Christ without fear of our own frailty, we are set free to seek Jesus’s own ways of engaging the world. Set free from the fears this world can bring on – frailty, disease, death, failure, lack of purpose or meaning – we can stop focusing on these things and instead, begin to see by the light (as if Jesus were a kind of flashlight that shone true light on the world)of his life with people (which we discover in Scripture). We’re set free to step into his mission and we are empowered by his Spirit to – in our own unique ways – become a light for others to see his purposes for their lives. AMEN.