The Baptism of our Lord Jesus Christ, Sunday 12 January, 2020
Christ is bathed in light; let us also be bathed in light. Christ is baptised; let us also go down with him, and rise with him.
In the name of God; Father , Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.
One of my favorite Christmas gifts when I was a kid was a copy of a book called Incredible Cross Sections. I think they still write and illustrate these and many of you have probably enjoyed them as well. If that does sound familiar, they are great aren’t they? The illustrations are so detailed and intricate, presenting the interior design and working parts of so many objects and places. I remember my favorite one was this giant illustration of a European castle, with so many crazy details about the structure and the people inside that blew my little mind as a kid. I was particularly impressed by the how cisterns and other premodern plumbing designs worked. In any case, these books are so cool because they unveil aspects of design and purpose which remain hidden to the casual observer. And, once we know even a little bit more about what’s hidden just under the surface of the things around us; we tend to appreciate them just a little bit more.
In the season after the epiphany, the Church remembers and celebrates the manifestations of Christ, doing our level best to see what God revealed in the ministry of His Son; what has been unveiled by his being among us. This is especially true today, the day we set aside for the remembrance of Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan. Given the nature of this liturgical season, we could ask the question, then, what has been revealed by Jesus’ baptism by John?
The easiest answer, easy and true, is that Jesus’ own baptism makes it fairly obvious that baptism is important. Since so much of Christian life is about following after Jesus, his baptism is a pretty good sign that his followers ought to do likewise. Sinless Jesus, without need of water repentance, still humbled himself to John’s ministry because, as he said in the Jordan, “Let it be so now; for it is proper for us in this way to fulfill all righteousness.” It seems almost facile, but it’s true: good enough for Jesus, good enough for us.
But as I was reflecting this week, I couldn’t help but consider that Christ’s baptism revealed more to his people than something they ought to do, important an action to take as sacramental baptism really is. I couldn’t help but think that Jesus’s Baptism not only reveals something about him, but also about the universe that whirls around him as he stepped into the river. You see, I think the revelation of the heavens opening and the dove descending are important markers of the kind of universe we inhabit; a universe that is created by God and therefore way cooler than we might have thought. That opening of the heavens becomes a kind of incredible cross section for the nature of existence, and therefore we can better appreciate what’s going on around us.
Think about it: what’s happening around Jesus is a reminder that the Creator of the Universe still has a vested interest in the affairs therein. In that regard it’s a reminder that God created beautiful things to point us to himself, hung the stars so that even the spheres can speak to the wonderful designs of the Creator. That Heaven appears at the Baptism of Jesus reminds me that Heaven is the drafting table for the cosmos, and that there’s all sorts of things about God’s creation that we can now recall. Perhaps we might consider Eden, God’s original garden set aside for humanity’s first foray as priests, caring for creation and offering creation back to its creator. Perhaps we might remember something like sabbath, the holy rest of God; a pattern written by His own works at Creation. Doesn’t the idea of rest and re-creation sound great in this busy world?
I guess what I’m trying to say is that the Baptism of Jesus, and therefore our own baptisms, are prompting us to consider the fullness of our place as Sons and Daughters of the Most High, especially as regards our place in God’s creation. Now, I’m fully aware that we’re spending a lot of time talking about the universe this morning, and it’s early and some of us need breakfast and coffee before we make existential claims about our place in the stars. But think about this: we are all created in God’s image and in many ways our baptisms act like divine windex; washing the stained glass of our image so that we can fully reflect God to the world. And, for the low price of taking up your cross daily, you can participate fully in the unveiled universe God created.
This actually means kind of simple things are true. For example: God’s universe is a place where prayer works. As children of God in baptism, we are particularly present to the work of prayer, to be changed by it and to enjoy the benefits of it. God’s universe is a place where love is truly possible. God loved us so much that he sent his son to be with us to show us his love and to draw us together in His love. In our baptisms we are absolutely called to love God in Christ, and to love one another in the power in that great love. God’s universe is a place where hope endures. If there is one thing unveiled about how this all is supposed to work, our baptisms draw us into the very hope of Christ’s redemption. It means that even when it all seems too much, Christ promises his presence with us to restore us to joy.
This joy is the joy of the voice of Heaven; the voice that reported: “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased“ If there is nothing else you take from this morning, take this. That God’s universe is a place where in our baptisms, God also says the same of us. You are God’s Daughter or Son. You are, we are together His beloved and with us He is well pleased. Take that for yourselves; and unveil that in your lives for all who God places among you. Carry that in your hearts for at least a couple more minutes as we reaffirm our baptismal vows together.
In closing, I wanted to share again this quote from the fourth Century theologian, St. Gregory Nazianzan. I hope this piece of one of his sermons encourages and blesses you as it has me on this Feast of the Baptism of our Lord. He wrote to his congregation:
“Today let us do honour to Christ’s baptism and celebrate this feast in holiness. Be cleansed entirely and continue to be cleansed. Nothing gives such pleasure to God as the conversion and salvation of men, for whom his every word and every revelation exist. He wants you to become a living force for all mankind, lights shining in the world. You are to be radiant lights as you stand beside Christ, the great light, bathed in the glory of him who is the light of heaven. You are to enjoy more and more the pure and dazzling light of the Trinity, as now you have received – though not in its fullness – a ray of its splendour, proceeding from the one God, in Christ Jesus our Lord, to whom be glory and power for ever and ever.”
In his name and for his sake. Amen.
The Very Rev. David Bumsted
Emmanuel Episcopal Church
1603 E Winter Park Rd.
Orlando, FL 32803