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The Baptism of Christ
It was a lovely Sunday School class and I was going to teach them about baptism. The previous week I had asked that if anyone had a baby doll then perhaps they would like to bring it in and we could use it in the lesson. So the day came and prepared with my little bowl some water and a towel I asked “Did anyone bring in a doll?” One hand went up and from a bag came this - an action man - or at least one quite like it.
It wasn’t what I was expecting at all and at first I wondered if it was a joke, a slightly profane attempt possibly to throw off the teacher, but no the little chap rather wanted me to baptise his action man. He already thought that baptism was important and he liked his doll.
Our Gospel story of John baptising Jesus is, I always think, rather short. It is only four verses and the versions in Luke, Mark and John are even briefer. Yet as my young man knew, it is an important event and the account has profound meaning. It begins with a question:
John says “I need to be baptised by you and do you come to me?”
And it is a very good question, John recognises that he is a sinner, that Jesus is without sin and that somehow this event seems to be the wrong way round. There is an echo here of John’s mother Elizabeth when she receives Mary’s visit. You may remember that Mary goes to visit her relative shortly after the annunciation and Elizabeth greets her “Blessed are you among women and blessed is the fruit of your womb.” These words of course are in the Ave Maria or Hail Mary of the Catholic Rosary but she goes on to say “And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me?”
Later, much later in Jesus’ ministry, we again see astonishment at the overturning of the expected order when Jesus washes the disciples feet and Peter in particular tries (like John the Baptist) to refuse. ”Lord are you going to wash my feet?” and further “You will never wash my feet."
So, we see that Jesus’ first step in his public ministry, his very first act, even before any preaching you notice, is an act of humility, of self abasement. It is key then at the beginning of our journey whether baby or child or adult that we admit that we are sinners and that we joyfully fall on God’s mercy for our forgiveness and renewal.
Once Jesus is baptised by John, there is a moment absolutely unique in all the Gospels when God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit are manifest and are together at the same time.
“As Jesus rises from the water, the Spirit of God descended like a dove and alighted on him and a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, the beloved in whom I am well pleased.”
This again emphasises the importance of what is happening, definitively confirms Jesus as God and I think underlines for us how right it is that families gather together whenever we celebrate baptism in today’s church to welcome babies, children or grown-ups.
From the very earliest days of the Christian church, baptism has been the entry into the fellowship of faith. Peter, just after Pentecost and following his Spirit inspired speech, is asked “What shall we do?” and he replies “Repent and be baptised every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” Only a little later in Acts we have the story of the Ethiopian Eunuch getting out of his chariot to be baptised by Philip.
Now in St Margaret’s we have a good number of baptisms, though so far no-one has come wearing an action man outfit.
I get a chance to talk to many parents about the sacrament and what it means to them. Overwhelmingly, children are brought to baptism from a deep rooted feeling and a real need to say thank you; to say thank you to God for the miracle of the birth of a beautiful baby boy or girl, but as well, parents want to bring up their children in the right way, with the right values, that they should know right from wrong, and know of God’s love for them. During the service, parents and Godparents make certain vows and all of us together, parents Godparents and congregation declare our belief: What is significant is that the creed we use in the baptism service is responsive, we respond affirmatively to three questions that the priest asks:
Like Jesus you see we are to be humble. We do nothing in our own strength, and right at the beginning of our journey we make a promise for ourselves and our children and our Godchildren that we will let go of ourselves, that we just as Jesus did will believe and trust in our Father in heaven.