Monday, January 4, 2016

Baptismal Revelation


After a great week away with my family, during which I took a break from this blog, I'm back in the saddle and am excited that this Sunday we will be celebrating the baptism of Jesus in the Jordan. Actually, at St. John's, we're also going to be celebrating recovery ministries, so much of my work this week will be an effort to hear that particular voice within these readings. For today, though, I want to start with the basics and look at the significance of Jesus' baptism and our baptism.

As usual, the collect for this Sunday will do a better job of proclaiming that sentiment than I ever will: "Father in heaven, who at the baptism of Jesus in the River Jordan proclaimed him your beloved Son and anointed him with the Holy Spirit: Grant that all who are baptized into his Name may keep the covenant they have made, and boldly confess him as Lord and Savior..." There's a two-pronged approach to that collect and a two-pronged approach to this Sunday as a whole. On the one hand, we're marking the historical reality of Jesus' own baptism--what did it mean? why was it done?--and, on the other, we're placing our own baptismal identity in the same waters from which Jesus emerged.

First, Jesus. At his baptism, God the Father "proclaimed [Jesus his] beloved Son and anointed him with the Holy Spirit." Think about that for a moment. Depending on which gospel lesson we read yesterday (Wise Men, Slaughter of the Innocents, or Jesus Lost in the Temple), we've skipped over 20-30 years of the story. During that time, Jesus grew up. Like any adolescent, his self-identity was wrought during the difficult years of puberty. Fully human, he had moments of self-doubt and anxiety about his future. Somewhere during that time, Jesus must have discovered that he was different. Maybe his parents told him that he was special. Maybe, as Christopher Moore put it in Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ's Childhood Pal, he discovered the fullness of that reality on his own. Regardless, by the time Jesus gets to the Jordan River and his cousin John's baptism, he must have had some sense that  God had raised up within him a servant to do remarkable things. Yet, at the baptism, that truth finally breaks through.

Whether or not Jesus understood that truth in full before the baptism is up for theological debate. I'll suggest it doesn't really matter. For Jesus, this is the start of his ministry. This is when it all becomes clear. All that he possessed since the Incarnation is revealed--not granted or adopted (heresy!) but revealed. And this revelation--this anointing--is the green light that the world (and probably Jesus himself) has been waiting for.

Now, us. As the brief reading from Acts 8 suggests, there is power in being baptized in Jesus' name. We are baptized into his baptism. We, too, receive the Holy Spirit. Our own ministry unfolds just as his did. It is the inauguration of something huge in our own lives--at least that what our baptism is supposed to be. As the collect states, we are asking God to grant that we may, indeed, live up to the covenant made in our own baptisms. But the covenant of baptism isn't just a series of promises to be a good person "with God's help." The Baptismal Covenant, though central to our faith and worth proclaiming again this Sunday, does not capture the fullness of baptismal theology. In baptism, we have been set apart as members of Christ's body, the church. We have recognized the cleansing of original sin and the initiation of a life spent pursuing God. Jesus' identity may not have changed, but ours did in that we became a part of Christ's death and resurrection in the waters of our own baptism. That level of identity isn't something we can choose on a daily basis. It's woven into our very fabric as human beings. Instead, we must look for it, recognize it, and hear what the Father's voice proclaims to us on a daily basis: "You are my beloved child."

This Sunday, we're celebrating several baptisms. Jesus' baptism, our own baptism, and, perhaps, a new baptism. They are all connected. In fact, they are all the same. My prayer is that the fullness of Jesus' baptism--Spirit descending, voice proclaiming--will captivate our own baptismal identity and also any other baptisms that unfold on Sunday.

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