Sunday, January 13th, 2013Trinity Anglican Church, Bradford
The Rev. Daniel F. Graves
Text: Luke 3:15-17, 21-22
Life is filled with choices. There are the simple choices that we make, the ones of little or no consequence; and there are the profound, life-changing choices. The choice we make in baptism is of the latter sort. It is a choice that changes us forever. It is a choice that marks out the contours by which we shall live, and the choice that shapes way we shall navigate those contours. It is both an acknowledgement and a commitment. It is an acknowledgement that we are in need of God; and it is a commitment to follow that same God. And further, and perhaps most significantly, it is an act of trust. When we come to baptism we trust that the God who created us will forever be both our Father and friend; we trust that even though we turn away from that God again and again, that same God will never abandon us and never fail to welcome us home should we turn again and seek him out; we trust that he is the one who saves us from ourselves, and from our sins; and we trust that he is the one who makes all things new and gives us new life.
The question has often been asked, why did Jesus need to be baptized? If he was born without sin, and if, as the Church teaches, he was God incarnate? And if John was preaching repentance and baptizing for the forgiveness of sins, why did Jesus need to be baptized? Of what purpose was his baptism? It is an interesting and perplexing question, and much scholarly energy has been expended over this problem. It seems to me, though, that the answer is especially clear, Jesus made a choice, and as such, God made a choice.
In Jesus, God chose to enter into our story to redeem and save us. That was a choice. Our God is not a god who simply made the world and disappeared; rather, in deep love for his creation, God become vulnerable – vulnerable as a babe, vulnerable as a man, vulnerable unto death. In Jesus, God took a chance on us. God limited himself. God became a human being, with all human limitations, including pain and death. Jesus of Nazareth had doubts. Jesus of Nazareth knew fear. Jesus of Nazareth knew temptation. There were many moments when Jesus could have failed in his mission -- as when the devil tempted him in the wilderness, or when he prayed that the cup might pass from him -- but he resolved to persevere for our sake. Of course Jesus did not need to be baptized, for he knew no sin, but that is not to say he was not tempted toward it, even as we are tempted.
Thus, to be baptized was, for him, and act of trust. Part of the vulnerability of God in the Incarnation is his giving up of his omniscience. What a remarkable thing, that when God became man, he limited himself. He, as human being like you and me, needed to trust. In baptism Jesus was saying that he trusted his father’s plan. To be baptized was for him to submit to the ministry of John, as he submitted to the ministry of Mary and Joseph of Nazareth, and as he would submit even unto death under Pilate. To be baptized was to say yes to God’s plan not only for himself, but for all of us. It was to be vulnerable, to take a risk, to trust.
And so we, who have not the benefit of knowing no sin; we who are not God incarnate; we who are but frail creatures, are asked to make a decision. We are asked to be vulnerable. We are asked to trust. Will you turn away from the things that draw you from the love of God? And will you turn to Jesus who is your saviour? Will you trust him? We you obey him? These are the questions asked at baptism. They are difficult questions because they mean that not only are we placing our trust in something, or someone, greater than ourselves, we are saying that we cannot do it without him.
Apart from Holy Scripture and the sacraments that Jesus has left us, we cannot see him. And yet, in those Scriptures, and in these sacraments we can meet him, we can know him, we can believe in him. Through these Scriptures and these sacraments we can have an experience of him – not simply as a wise teacher who is worthy of following, but as our Saviour who is not only re-making us, reshaping us, and restoring us, but re-making, reshaping and restoring the whole world.
And when we take that risk of vulnerability; when we take that risk of trust; when we take that risk of faith; we are granted a special role in that sacred drama of the new kingdom. We become players on the stage of divine history. Where once there was no meaning, now we find meaning. Where once hopelessness shaped our future, now our lives and destinies are infused with hope. Where once fear held us back, now trust propels us forward.
Most beautifully, though, even though we shall make mistakes, those mistakes will not become the story of our lives. Returning, forgiving, renewing – this is our story. The pattern of the one who in vulnerability trusted his Father in heaven, becomes our pattern, and his victory over the grave becomes our victory as well.
When Jesus took the risk of baptism, even though he knew no sin, God blessed him. The Holy Spirit descended like a dove and proclaimed “with you I am well pleased.” And today, in the baptism we share; in the trust we share with Jesus, the trust we place in Jesus; in risk of faith we take; the Holy Spirit proclaims to us, the words of our Father, “with you I am well pleased.”