The Baptism of Christ – a critical and glorious moment
Mary Copping, 10 January 2021
Genesis 1: 1–5; Acts 19: 1–7; Mark 1: 4–11
Today is the Feast of the Baptism of Christ, the first Sunday after the Epiphany. This is the time when God made his glory known as Jesus was baptised by his cousin John in the River Jordan. This was a critical moment for Jesus and one which gave him insight into his future ministry and his calling from God, and also gave him strength, through the Holy Spirit resting on him like a dove, for his 40 days in the wilderness and all that God was calling him to do beyond that.
I used to enjoy visiting baptism families and look forward to the time when I can do so again. It was always good to talk about what they believed, once we’d got past their feeling that there must be a right answer for the vicar and they weren’t sure if they were going to be able to pass the test. Once I explained that there are no right answers they became free to share their faith journey. For all of us, we are on a journey with God, whoever we are, and with the baptism families it was always good to find out where on the journey they were, knowing that having their baby baptised was the next step on the whole family’s journey.
I’d love to talk to each one of you about your faith journey, your belief in God and how, or if, you feel that God is getting you through this difficult time, whether you feel that his Holy Spirit – his presence – is giving you the strength and the peace to carry on. Do be in touch if you’d like to talk more about this.
At baptism services the parents make promises for the baby, which the child can then speak out for him- or herself in years to come, at Confirmation. At these baptism services and others we are often urged to remember our own baptisms or at least to think about the things that have been promised for us.
First, to turn to Christ, to look to God and follow him. At his baptism, Jesus knew that he was called by God to do difficult things after he was baptised – to obey and serve God in everything he would ask of him, even unto death – and he knew he would be reliant on God and needing to look to him for help. So with us, we are called by God in whatever way that means for each of us in our lives.
Second, do you repent of your sins? Yes, we’re sorry for those things we’ve done wrong, and we ask forgiveness for them. Jesus, the sinless one, didn’t need to do this at his baptism, and yet he insisted that he be baptised for the sins of the world.
And third, do you renounce evil? Jesus was soon to be led into the desert for 40 days, when he would resist evil and stand firm in God. And for us, we try, with God’s help, to resist those things that we know we do wrong.
As the people watched Jesus being baptised, they saw a dove descending on Jesus, a symbol of the Holy Spirit resting on him.
In our Genesis reading: ‘In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the water.’ Some versions say, ‘The Spirit of God was hovering over the waters’. The Spirit of God was hovering over the waters at creation and now the Spirit of God was once again hovering over the waters – the water of the Jordan and the water of baptism.
As Jesus later prepared his disciples for his going away, he spoke much about sending the Holy Spirit: to help them, to comfort them, to lead and guide them. And they needed so much that comfort and help. For each of us, God gives us his Holy Spirit to help us, to comfort us and to lead and guide us – the Holy Spirit, God’s presence with each of us in this world. How could we get through without God’s presence, without his Holy Spirit to help us? How can we support and help others without an awareness of God showing us the way?
Liz Stuart spoke recently in a sermon about the breath of God, and the Holy Spirit is the breath of God breathed into each one of us. As Jesus was preparing to leave his disciples, we are told in John’s gospel that he breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit’. So with us, God breathes on us and says, ‘Receive my Holy Spirit’, his Holy Spirit given to help us and bless us as we live each day, and then for us to be a blessing to others. And as we receive God’s Spirit, his love, his light, his peace (whether we’re aware of it or not) we can be those to others – his presence in the world, especially in these dark times.
As we go into this new year – yes, with hope of the new vaccine, but also with sadness, weariness, for all that Covid has done to us and continues to do to us and to the world – let’s hold on to the hope we have in Jesus. He came to give us hope and closeness to God, and he left giving his disciples and us his Holy Spirit to help and strengthen us.
Let us, in faith, thank God for all that he does and all that he is going to do in this new year. Come, Holy Spirit.
And to finish, a new year’s prayer (from www.lords-prayer-words.com)
Lord, you make all things new
You bring hope alive in our hearts
And cause our Spirits to be born again.
Thank you for this new year
For all the potential it holds.
Come and kindle in us
A mighty flame
So that in our time, many will see the wonders of God
And live forever to praise your glorious name.