my miscellany

The First Sunday after the Epiphany: The Baptism of Our Lord Jesus Christ, 2023 — 8 Jan 23

The First Sunday after the Epiphany: The Baptism of Our Lord Jesus Christ, 2023

Bondone, Giotto di, 1266?-1337. Baptism of Christ, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN. https://diglib.library.vanderbilt.edu/act-imagelink.pl?RC=56767 [retrieved January 7, 2023]. Original source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/8/88/Giotto_di_Bondone_-_No._23_Scenes_from_the_Life_of_Christ_-_7._Baptism_of_Christ_-_WGA09201.jpg.

RCL Year A, Epiphany 1
Isaiah 42:1-9, Psalm 29, Acts 10:34-43, Saint Matthew 3:13-17

The Baptism of Jesus by John the Baptist almost certainly took place, and the fact that it took place has puzzled Christians over the centuries. Why should the sinless one present himself to John to receive a symbolic washing away of sin? Saint Matthew, I believe, in telling his version of the Baptism shares his puzzlement with us and adds meaning to the Baptism that encourages us to persevere in keeping the promises of our Baptism.

All of this is just beneath the surface of the Gospel today. John expresses the puzzlement Christians have had when he declares to Jesus, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?”[1] John is asking the question of why the sinless one is coming to him.

Jesus’ answer is instructive, “Let it be so now; for it is proper for us in this way to fulfill all righteousness.”[2] Jesus is saying that he comes to John for Baptism to indicate his determination to submit completely to God’s plan for the salvation of humanity. He will do whatever is necessary to ensure that humanity is saved. If it can be done, he will do it.

So, when Jesus presents himself to John for Baptism, he pours into his submission to John the meaning that he will exercise his agency to save humanity. He begins his public ministry with the declaration of what its meaning and purpose are.

And, to Jesus’ declaration God the Father speaks and the Holy Spirit descends. The Three Persons of the Trinity unite in a declaration that humanity can and will be saved.

There is but one catch. And it is a significant catch. You and I must agree to God’s plan for the salvation of humanity for that plan to succeed—at least where we are concerned. You and I have an agency, an instrumentality, that can derail God’s plan to save humanity. This is the risk God takes when he gave human beings free will, the freedom to make choices.

At every baptism, promises are made. We enter the Baptismal Covenant by promising to do certain things. We are to believe certain things, and we are to do certain things. We are to believe in God the Father, in his Son Jesus Christ, and in the Holy Spirit. We are to continue in the apostles’ teaching, resist evil, and, when necessary, repent. We are to proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ. I mention just a few of the things we are to do. You can find them all on pages 304 and 305 in the Prayer Book.

Christ’s determination to fulfill all righteousness at his Baptism encourages us to keep the vows of our own Baptism. Never, never, are we asked to do the impossible. We are only asked to do the possible. Isn’t that Good News? Who would possibly not want to be part of God’s plan of salvation?

[1] Saint Matthew 3:14.

[2] Saint Matthew 3:15.

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