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Sermon Sunday January 8, 2023 Baptism of the Lord

Lessons: Isaiah 42:1-9

Psalm 29

Acts 10:34-43

Matthew 3:13-17

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Song: Do You Hear What I Hear?

Do you hear what I hear? Do you hear what I hear? A song, a song, high above the trees with a voice as big as the sea, with a voice as big as the sea.

You would have thought this one would have come to me during Christmas and not right after it, but this is the one that hit me over the head for our celebration today. Today we celebrate the Baptism of the Lord, in other words, Jesus’ Baptism. There’s so much in today’s lessons that we could be here for days. But we’re going to talk about Jesus’ Baptism with all its love and significance.

We might ask the question, well, why did Jesus have to get baptized in the first place? Jesus was without sin, and John the Baptist was yelling out in the desert, “Repent, prepare the way of the Lord!” His message was that the Messiah is coming. He says, “my baptism is a ritual cleansing for when he comes. I only baptize with water, but he will baptize with the Spirit and fire.” “Hey John,” the people wondered. “Are you the Messiah?” “Nope,” says John. “But he’s coming. At some point he’s coming, so let’s be ready!”

It’s just another day at the office…or rather…at the Jordan River for John the Baptist, when Jesus shows up and says to John, “Okay. Baptize me!” John does a double take, and recognizes who Jesus is. He is probably asking himself the same question that we just did, and says, “You don’t need to be washed! No way Jesus! You’re the one who needs to baptize me.”

But Jesus says, “Come on John, just do it. It the thing that we’ve got to do. You’ll see in a minute what’s up.” Jesus says that this has to be done to fulfill all righteousness.

So, Jesus gets dunked in the Jordan. He comes up out of the water, the heavens open up, the Spirit of God comes upon Jesus, and then even better yet, God says in a booming voice, “this is my Son, the Beloved, with Whom I am well pleased.” Tada! Now we know who Jesus is and what he has come to do. Do you hear what I hear?

Today’s lesson from Isaiah was not picked out of a hat by some church official who said that sounds like a nice bit of Scripture to read today. We hear in this lesson from Isaiah  the first of what are known as the Servant Songs from this prophet. And there have been a number of interpretations about who or what this Servant of God is.

Some Biblical scholars have equated the Servant with Moses, or one of the prophets, or one of the kings, or with the nation of Israel. Jesus picks up on this theme of the Servant. We see this especially in Luke when he reads the scroll in the synagogue and quotes something similar to what appears in this lesson from Isaiah. And what is this Servant to do? The Servant is to bring justice, light, sight, and liberation to Israel, and to all of God’s creation. The Servant is to fulfill all righteousness and bring this vision to the world.

All of us have undergone some type of ceremony in our lives. Maybe we have graduated from kindergarten or graduate school! Maybe we celebrated our quinceañera or Sweet 16th birthday. Maybe we have gotten married or promoted at a job. Or maybe we have been ordained! Each of these ceremonies is a public recognition of something that has been completed and that another phase of our lives is about to begin.

In Jesus’ case, he just completed a less public or more private part of his life, as we don’t have a whole lot of information as to what he did between his time in the Temple at 12 years old and when he started his public ministry. This ritual, His Baptism launches a new phase of his life. He spent a long time before this new phase of his life—to fulfill all righteousness, to preach the Kingdom of God, and to reconcile all of creation to Him. What is righteousness? In a conversation this morning it was defined as a way of being, a leaning into God. We are not perfect, but we lean into God. I really like that definition.

And God recognized this public launch of his life by saying, “my Spirit is upon Him, and he is my Beloved, and I am well pleased with him”. Listen to Him is implied! Do you hear what I hear?

And so, Jesus is revealed, once again, by His Baptism to the world. Even as we celebrated the Epiphany, where tradition says that three Magi from the east come to worship Jesus, and Jesus is revealed to the entire world as the Light of the world, God’s Son. When they started on their journey the Magi didn’t know where they were going. It was a mystery. God had to reveal the way to them, the way to Christ. Jesus’ Baptism is an epiphany—a revealing of him to the world, which is why we celebrate his Baptism during this season and jump from him being a baby to an adult right after we celebrate his birth.

The Spirit then descends on Jesus. Jesus’ Baptism is a fulfillment and a revelation to the world that he fulfills all righteousness. He is to bring good news to the poor, tell prisoners that they are prisoners no more, tell blind people that they can see, and set the downtrodden free. This fulfillment is revealed in Jesus Christ at His Baptism. Do you hear what I hear?

So, how does Jesus’ Baptism inform our renewal of our own baptismal vows which we do today? What does our baptism mean for us as followers of Jesus? In Mexico, people often say that baptism is to get the “chamuco” out of you. The chamuco is the devil! As one of our two major sacraments, an outward and visible sign of an inward and invisible grace, yes, we are called to be reconciled to God, each other, and all creation in His unending love.

But our baptism also welcomes us into the Church. It welcomes us into the body of Jesus Christ. It is communal. It welcomes us into the Christian community in some mystical and mysterious form that we cannot necessarily see, but know to be true. And if we form the Body of Christ, then we join in the role of that mystical body. We too are to live and preach the Kingdom of God to the world in God’s love. Do you hear what I hear?

As we renew our baptismal vows today, let us hear what God is speaking to us, not just as individuals, but as the Christian community, as the Body of Christ. Let us give good news to the poor, tell the blind to see and the deaf to hear, tell prisoners that they are liberated, and set the downtrodden free!

But how will we live out our baptismal vows? How will we as a community live out our baptismal vows? How do we live out this great mystery that forms us into the Body of Christ?

Yesterday, the Bishop’s Committee from here at St. Paul’s met for an all-day retreat. Fr. Mike asked us to concentrate on one question to keep in mind for the entire year of 2023 as the Bishop’s Committee, but also for the entire community of St. Paul’s to keep in mind and to act on when the answer becomes clear.

The committee was drawn to the baptismal vows, and decided on this question, “How will you reveal by word and example the Good News of God in Christ?” We don’t have that answer right now. We don’t know what it is. It is a mystery, a living into the great unknown that God will reveal to us, just like the Magi on their journey to Christ. We may be uncomfortable in living out this mystery that we do not know the answer to. We often want an answer right now, in this very minute. But we cannot put God in a box. We cannot put the Holy Spirit in a box. How do we reveal by word and example the Good News of God in Christ?” And as the Bishop’s Committee and as the community of St. Paul’s can’t be put in a box, because we don’t know yet, even with all that we are and do in His name. What are we not seeing, or hearing, or doing as the Body of Christ in this place and time? God will reveal that to us as long as we live in that mystery and are willing to listen. Do you hear what I hear? Amen.