Sermon for January 7th, 2018
The Feast of the Baptism of Our Lord
Yesterday was the Feast of the Epiphany, a day when we traditionally remember the arrival of the wise men in Bethlehem. I have a very special place in my heart for the wise men. They are so mysterious, they ride into the story of Jesus, place their gifts before the child and then ride back out again. We know almost nothing about them; they could be anyone. What we know is that they came from the East, and they were not Jewish.
This would be a critically important detail, as it was another sign, early in the life of Jesus that his life would have profound effects, especially to those that were not born as a part of God’s chosen people. To all the gentiles that did not worship the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, this child would be a beacon; a “light to lighten the gentiles, and to be the glory of thy people Israel” as the priest Simeon would later say when he blessed Jesus in the temple. So this child was to be an invitation to seekers everywhere, of every background or race: come and be a part of God’s family.
It is important for us to remember that the Magi didn’t make it to the manger all on their own. The Magi, the wise men, were led to Jesus. They didn’t find him solely through their own calculations; they didn’t find him because somehow through their studies they managed to figure out how God works; they found him because God chose to reveal himself. They may very well have been wise men, but it was God that was leading them.
In the first place, he led them by the star; a mysterious sign in the heavens that something momentous was happening, but that isn’t the only way that the Magi were led by God. At some point, the star’s directions must have been unclear, because when the wise men arrived in Jerusalem they went about asking: “where is the child who has been born King of the Jews?” They had seen the star at its rising, but it hadn’t yet directed them to Bethlehem. It was then that they sought the counsel of the tradition. They went to the scribes and to the religious leaders asking the same question: “Where is the child?” And it was those scribes and religious leaders who looked to their tradition for direction and advice. And there they found the Prophet Micah. The prophet Micah had foretold that the messiah would be born in Bethlehem. Here again God was leading them, through a sign or a prophecy that he had revealed centuries before.
And so it was through both witnessing God’s power first hand, and listening to God speaking through tradition, that those wise men were able to eventually find the babe lying in the manger. Yes, they were seekers, and they should be honored for their courage and strength and for their willingness to look for God in a world where many people just can’t be bothered, but we must always remember that it was God’s own act of revelation that made their journey and their discovery possible.
Today is the Feast of the Baptism of Our Lord, when we remember an event that happened many years later in the life of Christ, when he was baptized by his cousin John in the river Jordan. It is fitting that as a part of this service today, we are also performing a baptism. Now I must admit, I love baptisms. It is one of my favorite things to do as a priest, but I do sometimes fear that when it comes to baptism we have a tendency to focus a little too much on what WE are doing, and not enough on what GOD is doing.
In a few minutes these parents and Godparents will come forward and make vows on behalf of this child. They will reject Satan and accept Christ. They will promise to bring this child up in the Christian faith and life, and then they will affirm (and we will reaffirm) their belief in this faith as it has been received by the Church in the Apostles Creed. We also reaffirm our commitment to live a Christian life. That is a lot for us to do.
But none of that would be possible if God had not acted first. Baptism is not about us finding God; Baptism is about God finding us. Baptism is about celebrating the fact that no matter how far we humans wander away from the heart of our creator, our God is willing to go that far to find us; to reclaim us and to invite us to be a part of his life again. We never come to the waters of baptism on our own. We can never come to any understanding or knowledge of God through our own intellect. It is only through God’s love for us that he chooses to show himself to us.
God reveals himself to us. We don’t climb up to heaven; God comes down. That is what the Christian faith is all about: believing that God loves us and chooses to reveal himself to us. We have not figured God out, but he has revealed himself to us, and now it is up to us to respond to that revelation.
That is what today is all about: responding to what God has done. We are responding to God’s revelation, just like the wise men responded by following the star, or listening to the prophets and turning towards Bethlehem. We have seen glimpses of God’s light and we follow because we want to see more. We want to live in that light.
God reveals himself to us in so many ways: in the people he sends into our lives, in little miracles that often go unnoticed, in our traditions, in the voices of prophets and saints, in our sacred scripture, and most completely in the life of his son Jesus Christ, who leads us to the waters of baptism, invites us to repent of our sins and accept the new life he offers.
To be baptized is not to say that I have found God, it is to recognize that God has found me and to rejoice in that Amazing Grace.
Amazing Grace, How sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me
I once was lost, but now am found
Was blind, but now I see.