Over the years, this is one of my favorite celebrations of the liturgical year. In some traditions, baptisms are celebrated on one these four Holy Days: Baptism of the Lord, Easter, Pentecost and All Saints Sunday. It’s not that they can’t do them at other times of the year, they just know that the scriptures and themes of the day are centered on baptism.
One of the things that stands out about this Sunday is that it celebrates an act that we do in this century to which Jesus himself submitted. We share in Christ’s baptism and ministry every time we celebrate one. What better to celebrate this sacrament than on this Sunday? Even if you do not have baptismal candidates, you have the opportunity to renew baptismal vows on this day. It is the second Sunday of a new year, it makes sense to remind everyone whose child they are, to whom they belong, and of their mission and ministry.
The scriptures for the day are superb for focusing on the the Christian Initiation Rite. The OT, the reading from Acts, and the Gospel are ideal for speaking about baptismal waters. The Psalm is a hymn of praise that hints at the water images of the Thanksgiving over the Water in the baptismal liturgy.
- In the Genesis we are treated to a retelling of the early part of the Creation story.God brings order to the chaos. As the “Spirit” sweeps over the waters, God brings forth light, and creates Day and Night. As you read over the baptismal liturgy, this act of Creation and the relationship to water points us to the act of baptism–when God brings order to our lives through the water.
- The Psalm is a compliment to the Creation story. It is an ancient cosmology that is projected, but we are reminded that baptism isn’t something new–and the reconciliation of the world is old business.
- The reading from Acts tells us about Pauls’ baptism of 12 Christians in Ephesus. This little narrative gives us an idea of the meaning and practice of the early church. This rite is different from the cleansing baptisms of John, it is an act of initiation and leads to an outpouring of the Holy Spirit. Water is involved, but so is the laying on of hands. Both go together and should not be separated. The baptism was done in the name of the Lord Jesus (today the three-fold name of God [Father, Son and Holy Spirit] are used). Notice that those who were baptized immediately began exercising the gifts of the Spirit. It is certainly worth including in the sermon that when we are baptized, we are given gifts to be used for the good of the community. We are gifted and graced for ministry–celebrate it.
- The Gospel Lesson reminds us of some of the readings from Advent. If you celebrate the liturgical year, there is no way to get to the Baby Jesus without going through John the Baptizer. And you will not get to Jesus’ ministry without first encountering the Baptizer. It may also be said, that for us to encounter new birth in Christ, we will have to encounter the waters of baptism. Our ministry as Christians has its beginnings at the water. Most of us want to tame John, put him in a nice suit, comb his hair a bit, give him a better diet, because if we can tame him, it will tame our baptisms a bit. But the fact is, baptism is a radical act of the Church. When we go to the water, we align ourselves with a different Kingdom, and it calls us to a radical way of life. If we are going to preach the Gospel with integrity this morning, we are going to have to make a full disclosure: baptism is not for the faint of heart and is a life altering act. John says this in the Gospel: “The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals. I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.” God says this about Jesus: “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” May we all hear God’s voice calling us.