Grace Presbyterian Church
January 13, 2019, Baptism of the Lord C
Baptized Among Us
Do not fear, for I have redeemed you;
I have called you by name, you are mine.
When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;
And through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you.
Those words from the prophet Isaiah were probably familiar, at least a little bit, to many (not all, necessarily, but many) of those who had made their way out to John in the wilderness to be baptized. All of the prophets and their words mattered, of course, but sometimes it seems as if Isaiah’s words mattered a little bit more. And this is a passage of comfort and protection, unlike many of the oracles recorded in the books of the Hebrew prophets, with words of judgment and promises of doom. So it’s not at all unlikely that someone among those being baptized, in being called into the water by John, might have had those very words on their lips:
When you pass through the waters, I will be with you
It’s doubtful, however, that anyone in that crowd that day expected that old prophetic oracle to take quite such a … literal turn.
After all of the people had been baptized, some were probably trying to dry off, others might have been making small conversation, or possibly watching to see what John would do next, or praying. That’s where it happened, to one man, about thirtyish, who was praying. See how carefully Luke has to say it: “the heaven was opened, and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove.” You can imagine somebody getting all flustered trying to describe what happened later.
But there was more:
“And a voice came from heaven, ‘You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”
There he was – there he had been along – the only Son of God, being baptized, just like the rest of us. Even waiting in line to be baptized, just like us.
Every year in the lectionary cycle this Sunday, marking the baptism of the Lord, follows after the cycle that begins with Advent, runs through all of Christmas, and concludes with Epiphany, which we observed last Sunday. One of the results of this placement is that it becomes clearer just how much this event, Jesus’s baptism, resounds and echoes with themes we hear in those seasons and observances.
Clearly we can say that as Luke tells the story, Jesus’s baptism is itself a kind of epiphany. Out of nowhere, one person out of many, praying, probably still dripping, is descended upon by the Holy Spirit and called the only Son – the Beloved – of God. If that’s not a revelation of Christ, I don’t know what is.
But also, remember words like “Emmanuel” and “incarnation,” words from Advent and Christmas. “Emmanuel” – God with us; incarnation – God as one of us, remember? And indeed this is revealed to the surprise of those still drying off from the waters of the river. God – right here with us! Waiting in line to be baptized with us! Not far off in heaven somewhere, but right here with us!
It is Advent and Christmas and Epiphany all in one. God among us, one of us, baptized among us as one of us. Thanks be to God. Amen.
Hymns (from Glory to God: The Presbyterian Hymnal): #485, We Know That Christ Is Raised; #480, Take Me to the Water; #482, Baptized in Water; #741, Guide My Feet