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2024-01-07 The Baptism of Jesus

Grace, mercy and peace be to you from God our Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen!

I’m sure you’re familiar with scratch and win tickets. They are sold in pretty much every convenience store known to mankind! It’s gambling, but somehow, more thrilling. As you scratch away the foil layer on top, you reveal the mystery that lies beneath. You reveal what is hidden. You reveal … that you wasted your money because you didn’t win! You were looking for three of the same but you only got one. Should have given that money to the church instead I guess, hmmm?! All in good fun! But as we leave the season of Christmas behind on January 5th, we enter into the season of Epiphany. This is the season of revealing because it reveals Who Jesus is and what He does for us and our salvation.

He is revealed as the Saviour of the Nations on January 6th as the Wise Men come to see Him, drawn by the light of the star in the sky. And, they come bearing three gifts: gold for a King, frankincense for a sacrifice, myrrh to annoint a dead man. It is the Gentiles, the non-Jews, who understood the prophecies and travelled to worship the newborn King. We come to Jesus for the same purpose. We don’t come to poke and prod Him like a scientist or like a consumer to find out how He can fulfill all of our material needs. Rather we come with hearts full of faith, like those of the Magi, to worship Him because He is the promised Messiah of old, revealed in the sacred scriptures. He has come to deliver His people from death and sin.

This is exactly what our Lord’s Baptism in the Jordan River is really all about. When we get baptized it is to wash away our sins and be welcomed into God’s family by grace. But Jesus didn’t have any sins to wash away. Rather, as John the Baptizer himself said “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (JN 1:29). Jesus comes to take our sins away. So why does Jesus get baptized then? It is to reveal to us precisely Who He is. And further more, to reveal the fullness of Who the One True God is: “In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. 10 And when he came up out of the water, immediately he saw the heavens being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. 11 And a voice came from heaven, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased” (MK 1:9-11). God the Son is baptized for us in the river. God the Holy Spirit descends like a dove. God the Father speaks from Heaven, proclaiming that Jesus is the well-pleased Word made flesh!

And so the season of Epiphany begins with this grand revealing! The heavens are torn open. ’Tis no mere coincidence that St. Mark would use the same word as a bookend in His gospel to describe the Temple curtain torn in two when our Lord Jesus gave up His life for us on the cross. What Isaiah had prophesied about in Advent now occurs. God dwells with us so that we may dwell with with Him. And it truly is amazing that this is all connected to our Lord’s Baptism. Because Jesus pleases the Father, when we are Baptized into His Triune name, we hear the same words. “You are my beloved child,” our heavenly Father says to you as the water and word of Baptism washes and welcomes you into His kingdom. The heavens are torn wide open to let us in. An unworthy and sinful people are washed and made righteous, made fit for eating and celebrating at the King’s table.

A number of years ago in Australia there was a remarkable story about a wacky wedding. Well, it wasn’t the wedding that was wacky but rather what happened while the bridal party was getting their photos taken. While they were posing for pictures on a scenic cliff overlooking a beautiful waterfall, a woman unconnected to the wedding party was hiking and slipped down the cliff side, hit her head and started to drown in the water below! The groom, dressed in his tuxedo immediately dove in and dragged the poor woman back to shore. The bride, still in her beautiful wedding gown, waded right in and started administering CPR as she was an ER nurse by trade. By the time the “first responders” arrived on the scene, the woman had regained consciousness. This poor woman was so very blessed that the bridal party was there and acted quickly with much heroism! After the daring rescue operation, the soggy-bottom bride and groom went off to their wedding reception!

Jesus does the same for us in His Baptism. He jumped right into the waters of sinful humanity to bring us back to life. He is washed because we need to be made clean. This is why we Lutherans have always made such a big deal about Baptism. The temptation for us is to simply think of it as a “one time thing” that happened a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away. But we ought not treat our baptism like this. We ought to remember it every day because in Baptism our Lord gives us His amazing promises. As Luther tells us in the Small Catechism: “It works forgiveness of sins, rescues from death and the devil, and gives eternal salvation to all who believe this, as the words and promises of God declare.” These are the promises we can cling to everyday of our lives. Because of our Lord’s amazing grace and great love for us, our sins are covered. We are rescued and delivered from the evil one. And we are saved just as St. Peter writes “Baptism…now saves you” (1Peter 3:21).

So we treasure our Baptism and God’s promises to us there in. But there is another reason to do so that the Prophet Isaiah reveals to us: “I will make you as a light for the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth” (IS 49:6). Just like the light of the star that led the Magi to the place where Christ was, this too becomes our calling as God’s baptized people. You are called to this light, you become this light. You are called to reveal the forgiveness, grace and mercy of Christ our Lord to a world of darkness. You are called to shine the light and truth of God’s Kingdom to everyone!

Here’s a crazy thing to ponder: what does light look like? Sometimes it’s orange like a candle burning in the night. Sometimes it’s blue like on the north side of a building in the shade. But the truth is, none of us have ever actually seen light. Our eyes can only see the things that light reflects off of. And so the lesson for us as God’s people, the consequence of our Baptism, as it were, is to reflect the light of Christ our Saviour. To reveal Him to the nations. To proclaim the promise of the sacred scriptures. To make known that Christ the King has come for His people, He was born for us, and now dwells with us. His presence brings healing, life and salvation. This is a promise for all nations.

Even though we cannot see the light, we can feel that it is there. Like when you stand in the warm morning sun and feel the sunshine on your face, you know the light has come. Be that light to others. Show the love of Christ in all you think and say and do. Illuminate the darkness around you and lead the people to the light of Christ. In His Triune Name, filled with the glorious light of heaven, Amen!

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