Today on this first Sunday after the Epiphany, we commemorate the Baptism of our Lord, the Gospel story we just heard. We are in year C of the lectionary and so most of the Gospel readings will come from Luke’s Gospel. Granted, pretty much every Christmas Eve we hear Jesus’s birth story as told by Luke. This year we have also heard the birth narrative of John the Baptist, and the Advent readings contain John out in the wilderness baptizing people for the forgiveness of their sins. Actually, from the beginning of the liturgical year at Advent 1, we have been back and forth in the first few chapters of Luke.
This back and forth that our lectionary does among the first few chapters of Luke is a tad ironic particularly since the opening lines from the Gospel according to Luke read, “Since many have undertaken to set down an orderly account of the events that have been fulfilled among us, 2just as they were handed on to us by those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and servants of the word, 3I too decided, after investigating everything carefully from the very first, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, 4so that you may know the truth concerning the things about which you have been instructed.” Well, the writer of the Gospel according to Luke may have set down his account in an orderly fashion, but we sure do not read it in the order that it was put down.
Every Gospel has a story of the Jesus’ baptism. In many ways, that means that Jesus’s baptism is more important than his birth. Although there are slight variations, generally his baptism involves a dove descending and a voice from heaven confirming that God is pleased. Luke’s Gospel gives us a further detail about this baptism that the others don’t, and that is this: following his Baptism, Jesus prays. In Luke, Jesus does not say anything at his baptism; instead, he turns to the source of his strength, and he prays to God.
More than once people have pondered why in the world did Jesus need to be baptized. In my own estimation, the answer is probably that he didn’t NEED to be baptized. I think a compelling reason for his baptism is that Jesus understood that he was born into a world of systemic sin, and his baptism is a signal that he understood the full implications of his incarnation. There is also a thought, a good thought, that his baptism is a show of solidarity with humanity.
However, I think that it is helpful, that Jesus’s response to Baptism is prayer. With the confluence of baptismal accounts from the Gospels, this little extra tidbit of information is important. I am not one who routinely embraces the “should’s” of life, but perhaps our response to our questions about our faith should be as weighty.
In a few moments, we will also renew our baptismal vows. Many of you are like me and were baptized as an infant or at least before you had a tracking memory. You may remember your confirmation. Even still for me, since confirmation was at age 11, I think I have the potential for much more meaningful reflection each time as an adult that I renew my baptismal vows, and then pray. Words are only words if you don’t pray them. If you pray them, they become vows to God.
It is to God that we renew the vows of our baptismal covenant. The vows we make each and every time are made in the knowledge of our creation and our redemption, and our relationship with God. These are not arbitrary promises, but instead these are ways of life that we chose because we know whose we are, we know we are God’s. This is why each time we answer, “I will, with God’s help.” We know that we are claimed by God, made, created and redeemed. The relationship is sung forth in today’s passage from Isaiah, in the personal claims the prophet makes, we too are called and loved, created and redeemed. And so we claim God in return, we pray that God helps us with these vows.
The story from Acts has two people who like Jesus also have the Holy Spirit land on them. This very short tale is instructive that baptism is intended to be a God event, it is intended to be something more than words, it involves something that God does, not just something that we do. Here, perhaps, is another reason that Jesus was baptized: he knew his work was to be, himself, a God event, in his very person. To bring the blessings of God to those around him. He knew his mission, in solidarity with all humanity. Even he needed to begin that work with prayer. This story of Jesus’ baptism has all we need to know about how we are to approach the renewal of our baptismal vows. We too are to be in conversation with God, we too are to pray. Frankly, how could we do anything with God’s help if we don’t ask for it, or if we don’t actually mean it when we ask for it?
I can with God’s help.
We can with God’s help.
God help us.
God help us, through our baptism, to bless the world as Jesus did.
Amen. -Sarah M Colvin
Luke 3:15-17, 21-22