There is a lot going on in today’s gospel reading. We have we have John and Jesus, mistaken identity, the Baptism of our Lord, what we are celebrating today, promises fulfilled, heavens open, and a new era beginning.
At the beginning of our reading, people are excited. I invite you to imagine the scene. It’s a warm, dusty day. A rusty, orange-brown color sort of swirls around clusters of people at the edge of a village. The buzz of conversation reaches a new level. If we walk up and stand near one of these clusters, the talk becomes a little clearer. We hear the name Messiah, and our own pulse skips a beat. The Son of God? The one we’ve been waiting centuries for? The one the prophets spoke about? Messiah. We listen a little longer, and hear a little clearer. The Messiah is coming. Now is the time. He’s been in the wilderness. His name is John, isn’t it? John the Messiah.
The people are excited. They’ve been waiting centuries—hundreds of years—for this person, and they finally have a lead. John, the one in the wilderness, the one who provides the cleansing ritual of baptism for the forgiveness of sins. Could he be the Messiah? Could this be real?
John says no. John himself comes on the scene and answers the crowds for himself. He is not the one they are looking for. The one they are looking for will baptize with the Holy Spirit and fire. The one they are looking for will be able to separate the wheat from the chaff, the good from the evil, the necessary needed harvest from the empty straw that gets in the way.
That’s the one we’re looking for. That’s the promised Messiah.
Hmmm. Okay, so not John. Again we go back to the scene. Maybe we sit down, just a little deflated from our disappointment on the river banks and watch those getting baptized. Time goes by, maybe a few hours, maybe a few weeks. We go back, but we don’t know why.
Suddenly, one day as we’re sitting there, something happens. The sky looks…different somehow. The heavens are, could we say, opening? Pulling apart.
Pause for a second—THE HEAVENS ARE PULLING APART. The sky is falling, the heavens opening. Something like a bird comes down, and a voice that seems to come from every angle swallows up the world as it speaks.
There’s a lot going on in the reading today because this is a HUGE event.
Jesus has been baptized, and we now know who it is that has been promised is here. Jesus’ birth is told in two of the gospels. His lineage is recorded in two of them as well. This story is recorded in all four gospels. Every one of them. The one God is present throughout the Bible. This story has the three distinct persons—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—there in specific distinction. The voice of God the Father, who names Jesus the Son, and the Holy Spirit that descends in bodily form like a dove—you can see the Holy Spirit.
This is a HUGE event.
Jesus has been baptized. His divinity is clearly established. It’s right there for people to see or hear.
And guess what? His humanity is now unquestionable, too. Jesus has been baptized as all the people—all the humans—were baptized. Jesus is one with humanity in this act. Fully human, fully divine. He now comes with the authority and ability to understand humanity and save it.
Okay, that’s big in and of itself, but what does it mean for us?
Over the past year, this congregation celebrated 12 baptisms. Many of us may have also received this sacrament. In baptism, we are united to Jesus Christ as well. Through him, with the power of the Holy Spirit, we are made children of God. We are given the promises of forgiveness, salvation, and eternal life.
Like I said, HUGE event.
And it changes us. We are united with Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection, and that makes things different for us. We get to act like people who have been saved and forgiven, because that’s who we are. In response to this gift of grace God gives us, we PROMISES OF BAPTISM. Essentially, we try to follow and live like the one we are united to in baptism—Jesus Christ.
We can never be Jesus, however. That’s important to remember, too. Think of John—oh yeah, remember him? Who was he, anyway? Not Jesus, but the one who pointed to Jesus. One who looked for the Messiah and knew that the Messiah would come, but John was not him. John was a human and not divine.
John is a great example to us. Like John, We are human and not divine—we are united to God through Jesus, though, and God is the one who does that. We don’t—we can’t—do the uniting, but we are united to Christ and one another through God’s work in us.
How that changes us and what we do in response, that part is for us to worry about.
We are saved, and we get to act like it.