Posted on Jan 13, 2019 by Pastor Dave Whetter
Well, Christmas is definitely over. I mean, for the past few weeks we have been talking about the baby Jesus, or at least the small child of Jesus, but today, very abruptly, we jump right into the life of Jesus the adult. Just prior to our reading today, Luke tells us that John was in the region of the Jordan River baptizing people and that “crowds” were coming out to be baptized. John’s message was resonating with the people; they were coming out to the wilderness to be baptized and learn what it meant to repent. And as this story continues today, Luke says, “As the people were filled with expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Messiah…” (Luke 3:15).
The people were not only coming out be baptized, but they were also filled with expectations. They expected that something new was happening. They came actually expecting to discover the Messiah, and they even thought that maybe John was that Messiah. We are a lot like those people, aren’t we? I mean, aren’t we often hopeful and expectant that someone, especially in election years, or in times when things are difficult, that someone will lead us to a better place in our lives? We often place our hopes on politicians, governments, church leaders, etc. But, in other ways, we are vastly different from those people that first went out to the wilderness. According to Luke, they went there fully expecting that they would experience their Messiah. Do we come here fully expecting to experience Jesus? Do we go about our lives fully expecting to find Jesus active in everything we do? Based on how often I am asked, “where is Jesus these days,” we no longer expect Jesus to be present in our lives. But why is that? Is it because there is so much wrong in this world? Is the violence and hatred so prevalent that we can't even hope that a loving, merciful, forgiving God can be expected? I would like to argue that because this world is so broken, we ought to be filled with the expectation that God is alive and well and that God is here now. The reason I am so sure of this and that I fully expect Jesus to be present daily in my life is because of this story about Jesus’ baptism and our own baptisms.
Let’s start with the fact that Jesus came out to the Jordan. We have to ask the question, why did Jesus need to be baptized? I mean, Jesus had no sin, so why would he need to be baptized? After all, every week I stand here and say that in baptism “we have been offered an incredible promise of forgiveness.” Now, that is true, but I need to make a clarifying statement here. First, Jesus was baptized not because he needed forgiveness; no, he was baptized because he was a child of God’s, and as such God expected him to freely receive this incredible gift, too. As Matthew points in his story of Jesus’ baptism, Jesus is baptized to fulfill God’s righteousness (Matthew 3:15). So, yes, baptism is about forgiveness. But forgiveness is not a mechanism but rather is a gift. We aren’t forgiven so that we can become a child of God’s. No, we are forgiven because we already are God’s children. Baptism is about forgiveness, but it is also about much more. It’s about love, identify, affirmation, commitment, promise, and so much more. “In baptism God proclaims God’s great love for us; calls, names, and claims us as God’s beloved children; gives us the gift of the Holy Spirit; and then, because of God’s love for us, God also promises to forgive, renew, and restore us at all times.” I fully expect that God/Jesus are in my life right this second because in my baptism God said to the world, “David, you are mine and in you I am well pleased.” This claiming of me doesn’t mean I won’t screw up. It doesn’t mean I won’t sin anymore, or that I won’t need to be forgiven daily. It doesn’t mean God is OK with me being mean or intentionally not willing to help others; no, it means God loves me and God has gifted me, as she has each of you, with all you need to be the person God expects me to be. That is a child of God that shows mercy, love, forgiveness, and cares for all of God’s creation.
The second reason I am so positive that God/Jesus is present in my life daily is because of what Luke tells us happens in Jesus’ baptism. “Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heaven was opened, and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove” (Luke 3:21-22). In baptism, God comes down to us!
In our text from Isaiah, we are told how God, the Creator of all (Isaiah 43:1), comes into the world and takes an active part in the lives of the Israelites. God overcomes all the great powers of the world (43:5-6), and God proclaims that those that are His are “precious” (43:4) to Him and that he will not forsake them. And, of course, in our Gospel text today, we are reminded of that great promise that God comes to us through the waters of our baptism because we are precious to Him, and in the act of baptism we are reminded that He claims us.
God always comes down! There is never anything that we can ever do to make our way UP to God. God comes down in Jesus. No matter what, God comes down to us. We experience it in our baptisms and we experience every time we eat the bread and drink the wine, but in the bread and the wine (of communion), in the water (of baptism), and in the fellowship of believers. God ALWAYS comes down.”
Today we are reminded that baptism is about God’s act of “coming down” to us. There is nothing you or I can do to go to God, so God promises to come to us. This is why we ought to fully expect God to be present in all we do. This is why I believe that no matter what is happening in my life, or no matter how bad things look, or how impossible things may seem, I believe God is present and working in and through, me, and you, to bring about God’s will. God ALWAYS comes down to us.
I pray that like those first folks who went out to the Jordan to be baptized that each of us might also be filled with expectation that our Messiah is here now. I encourage you today as you come forward later for Holy Communion to dip you fingers into the waters of the baptismal font, make the sign of the cross upon your forward, and when you do remember that you are baptized and say these words “I am God’s beloved child, called and sent to make a difference in the world.” Amen.