Sunday, January 11, 2009
NOTE: This entry is the continuation of the regular 'Sunday Sermon' series. You can read all of the articles in the series by clicking on to that label at the bottom of the entry.
Today we bring the official Church season of Christmas to a close by celebrating another important moment in the life of Jesus Christ, his baptism. As preparation for His coming, Jesus' cousin who is known to us as John the Baptist has emerged from the wilderness and is preaching that change is coming. John is telling people that they must turn from their evil ways, repent, and be baptized as new children of God. John was so charismatic that many were asking if indeed he were the awaited Messiah. These questions became so regular and consistent that John eventually felt he had to answer, and so he did most forcefully: "I am baptizing you with water, but one mightier than I is coming. I am not worthy of loosening the thongs of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire. His winnowing fan is in his hand to clear his floor and to gather the wheat into his barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire." Jesus knew that the time had come for his public ministry to begin, and felt that the most important symbolic measure that he could take in beginning was to be baptized publicly by the most famous baptizer in John. Jesus had, of course, no need to be baptized. As we have discussed in previous Sunday Sermon entries, the sacrament of Baptism cleanses us from the original sin of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. Jesus was the second human being ever, following his own mother Mary, to be born free of sin. But even having no personal need, Christ wished to provide an example of just how important this sacrament was for human beings. When he showed up in front of John asking to be baptized, John stated that it was Christ who should be baptizing him. But Jesus insisted, and John performed the baptism. As Christ rose from the waters a dove descended upon him, and a voice from heaven above was heard clearly by all those in attendance: "This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased!" Jesus went forward and began his public preaching ministry, calling his disciples to him, teaching the Word of God, and ultimately dying on the cross to save you and all of us from having to pay the penalty for our sins. All we need to do is to accept this great gift of sacrificial suffering on Christ's part on our behalf. But speaking of that gift is for another day. Today is for celebrating the baptism of Jesus Christ, and anticipating the beginning of his mission. Jesus was 30 years old. The man who had raised him, his human father Joseph, Mary's husband, was a direct descendant in the line of King David, which traced itself back through Jacob and Isaac to Abraham himself, the grandfather of all the world's great religions. This line then traced further back to Noah, surviving the flood through Noah's son Shem. Finally, the line traces it's ultimate origins back through Seth to Adam, and ultimately to God. Jesus Christ healed the sin of his direct family line, which ran back through 75 recorded generations of humanity. As importantly, he healed the sins of every generation to come, including yours and mine, and those of our children and grandchildren and on into the future until he should return one day in glory. It all begins with the event we celebrate today, the readings that you will hear if you are in church, as you should be. It all begins with the baptism of the Lord, Jesus Christ.