A Sermon for the Baptism of the Lord
January 8, 2023 at Holy Communion
From Saint Paul’s Letter to the Galatians: “Because you are sons of God, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” (Galatians 4:6). In the Name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. ☩ Amen.
When Jesus is baptized, the voice of God the Father sounds from heaven and says those beautiful words: “You are my beloved Son.” This is what we all hear at baptism: baptism identifies us as the children of God, people on whom the love of God and the Spirit of God rests.
For us, being the children of God is something that we acquire. We do not come into the world as the children of God. We are made by God, yes, and certainly God loves us, but we are not naturally God’s children. We need to be adopted into the family of God.
So why does Jesus need to be baptized? As we have heard, the baby born at Christmas is the Word of God and the Son of God from eternity. As the hymn says, “Before the earth had yet begun her journey round the burning sun, before the seed of life had stirred” the Son of God lived in perfect fellowship with the Father. Jesus is not baptized to become a child of God.
Jesus was baptized for our sake, not for his own. Baptism makes us God’s children because it puts us in Jesus’ place, making us participants in Jesus’ sonship to the Father. Although Jesus is already God’s Son, Jesus sanctified washing with water as a meeting place, creating an opportunity for us to share in his relationship to God by being baptized like he was.
So every baptism always refers to Jesus and his baptism. When we are baptized, God does not magically zap us with “adoption” to transform us from an ordinary person into a child of God, like Pinocchio becoming a real boy—”Poof! you’re a child now.“ No. We are called children of God not because of anything we are, but because that is what Jesus Christ is, and baptism makes us participants in Christ. If we share his baptism, we share everything that he is, including his sonship to the Father. Our sonship to God is in Christ, not in ourselves.
Everything else we say about baptism falls into place when we put sharing in Christ at the centre of it. We say that baptism is about becoming a member of the church, because the church is the body of Christ, means means that in Christ we become a single organism animated by Christ’s Spirit. We say that the Holy Spirit is given in baptism, because the Holy Spirit of God also descended on Jesus to enable him to carry out the work the Father. We say that baptism is being spiritually born again, because in Christ we understand ourselves to have been born from God in eternity, and not only from our mothers in time. We say that baptism washes away our sins, because Jesus had no sin and baptism brings us into his pure and perfect relationship to the Father.
That may seem like a lot to take in—there is much to say about baptism—but that’s just because the consequences of living in Jesus are many. But the cause of all of them is simple: participation in Jesus. Saint Paul says that “It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me” (Galatians 2:20). That is the spirit of baptism.
The point for us is this: if we value our baptism, our life is in Christ. It is Christ who lives in us, not we who live for ourselves. We need to re-focus on building our lives around the means of deepening our participation in Jesus. And those means are in the church.
I’m sure that we, as individuals, choose to be in church for many reasons, and many or all of those reasons are very good. We come to be taught from the scriptures, to be encouraged in faith. That’s good. We come to sing, to express joy. That’s good. We come for community. That’s very good. But all of those reasons fall somewhat short of the baptismal reason: the church is God’s Son, the church is Christ’s body, and we are children of God because we are members of it. Our life is as part of the church; the church is not one part of our life.
This parish is full of committed people. It is a great gift. So the point of saying this is not to criticize, but to remind us of what it takes for spiritual life to flourish. It takes grounding our whole identity in what we are together as a church. I say “remind,” because I believe that you do understand this, and have understood it. This parish has flourished in the past. But, with our annual general meeting next month, we will be opening up to the whole parish a conversation that has already been happening with parish council about what it will take for this parish to flourish again.
So this is one answer: this parish will flourish again when we can say with total confidence and clarity that participation in Christ Church is a means for sharing in the life of God. When that happens, we pass beyond all of the individual and smaller reasons why we like being in church, and the church becomes a vision of God’s glory. In fact, the church becomes a vision of Jesus’ baptism: an image of Jesus as the Father’s beloved Son, with the Spirit of God resting upon him and enlivening him. That vision draws to itself everyone who is called.