Epiphany I of Year B
Genesis 1:1-5, Psalm 29, Acts 19:1-7, Saint Mark 1:4-11

Over the years, I have thought and preached about the Baptism of the Lord as if it and the day commemorating it were something of a theological puzzle. Why should the Son of God, the sinless one, submit to the baptism offered by John the Baptist? He has no sins to repent–nothing to set aside. Nor does he have anything to gain by submitting to John’s Baptism. What is going on, and what does it have to do with us?

We need to remember that John the Baptist was tremendously popular. As the Gospel today tells us, people from the Judean countryside and from the city of Jerusalem were flocking to John.[1] What are the followers of Jesus, including those who wrote the Gospels, going to do about another charismatic leader with a similar message?

The second thing that we need to remember is that the baptism of John was not, I repeat not, Christian baptism. This seems to be the main point of the reading today from the Book of the Acts of the Apostles. Saint Paul insists there that John offered a baptism of repentance and told the people to look for the one who was to come after him, that is, Jesus. And so those baptized by John are baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.[2]

So, again, what is going on when Jesus is baptized by John, and what does it have to do with us? When Jesus submits to John’s baptism, he is demonstrating to John’s many followers that John’s message and baptism have value in so far as they go. Jesus is embarking on a public ministry that will surpass John’s ministry; it will achieve perfect obedience to the will of his Father. Jesus will undergo another baptism, if you will, the baptism of his death and resurrection, as his Father directs, to redeem and to save the world. Through his death and resurrection he opens the way for you and for me to follow him through death in him and into resurrection in him. And our participation in his death and in his resurrection we seal in our baptism into his Name.

I saw this week the suggestion by a priest that at Jesus’ baptism, the Father reveals to him who he is: God’s beloved Son, in whom God is well-pleased. The priest went on to ask what were the times when God has revealed to us who we are. You can think of those times, I am sure, when God revealed to you who you are. And I can do the same. What I want to hold out to you is this: that Jesus put himself into God’s hands in a special way when he submitted to the baptism of John. And that is a model for us: the more we put ourselves into God’s hands, the more God will reveal to us our true identity. The more we identify with Jesus’ death and resurrection, the more we shall understand ourselves to be his own beloved people, a people called to serve God and to serve God by serving God’s people. That is why we are here, and that is why God never ceases to love us and to call us into relationship.

We have stretching before us another year of grace, another year of opportunity, to make this vocation and relationship our own, just as Jesus made his ministry, his death and resurrection, his own and to offer it to us in baptism for ever and ever.

[1] Saint Mark 1:5.

[2] Acts 19:4-5.