The Baptism of our Lord Jesus Christ
January 11, 2015
This morning we are going to baptize Brady Carm into the faith of Jesus. For those of you who don’t know Brady, let me tell you something about him. He loves Jesus. And he loves loving Jesus. And Brady is beyond excited to be baptized.
Last December his mother and I figured out that today would the day of his baptism. In the church year, today is the day that we celebrate the baptism of Jesus. So I went up to Brady and said, “Brady, you’re going to be baptized the same day that Jesus was baptized.” And I will never forget what Brady did. He went, “woohoo!”
Then last Sunday, Brady was here and came up to the altar rail. Of course, not being baptized, he couldn’t receive communion so, like he always does, he crosses his arms for a blessing. But as I went to bless him last week, he got all excited, had a big smile on his face, and said, “next week I won’t have to do this!”
Brady is the icon of Christian joy, of sheer happiness for no other reason than this: that Jesus loves him. How many of us wait all week long just to receive communion? How many of us take the love of Jesus for granted? You’ve all gone, “woohoo!” for the Houston Texans. Have you gone, “woohoo!” for Jesus? I think that if we read the story of Jesus’ baptism closely, then we can’t help but get excited.
So there’s Jesus, he’s just been baptized by John in the Jordan River. Jesus sees the heavens torn open, like a curtain pulled back, and he hears a voice. A voice that says, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” Tom Wright, a New Testament scholar translates it this way: “You are my dear, dear child; and I am delighted with you.”
But it gets better than this. We are baptized into the same life and death as Jesus. We are baptized into the same baptism as Jesus. What God the Father says to Jesus, God the Father says the same to us, “You are my dear, dear child; and I am delighted with you.” When God the Father – the creator of the universe, the sustainer of all things, the God who placed the stars in the sky and knows every creature great and small by name, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the Lord God the Almighty – when that God says “you are my dear, dear child; and I am delighted with you,” the only thing we can say is, “woohoo!”
But it gets better than this. That same Jesus – the one who was born and lived and died for us, the one who rose again from the dead, the same Jesus who heals the sick, loves the outcast, and hangs out with the unrighteous – when that Jesus sits us down for a meal of bread and says to us, “Take, eat; this is my body which is given for you,” the only thing we can say is, “I can’t wait!” And when we are having that meal with Jesus and Jesus – the lover of our souls – gives us a cup of wine and says, “This is my blood of the new covenant which is shed for you and for many for the forgiveness of sins,” then we just have to say, “woohoo!”
Proper Christian joy is not just a feeling or an emotion. It’s a choice. It’s a choice to be fully aware of God’s abundant blessing and mercy and love in our lives. Joy is a choice that we make in the face of fear. Because, if the news this week has reminded us of anything, it is that fear is always on the verge of victory. In the face of terrorist attacks and hostages and sheer evil – fear is awfully tempting. We could be seduced into thinking that joy is not possible in the wake of such unspeakable horror. But the instant we succumb to fear, we surrender our joy. Joy is a way of life for the Christian, because the Christian knows that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. Or, as Brady put it, “woohoo!”
Christians have been really good about heaping on the guilt. For at least the last five hundred years, our bread and butter has been guilt and shame. “You don’t give enough money to the church. You don’t show up enough. You don’t say the right prayers. You don’t believe the exact right thing.” And I don’t know about you, but I’ve never really been motivated to be a better person when all I’m told is that I’m a terrible person. Finger-wagging doesn’t work. No one is motivated to love Jesus if all they’re ever told is, “you don’t love Jesus enough.” So if you make your bed, you have to sleep in it. It’s like the world has finally realized that the Church’s guilt and shame don’t work. And I think that’s why the world has stopped showing up to Church.
But what Brady has recovered for us, is the virtue of joy. The joy that comes from knowing that Jesus loves us. It’s the joy when we are told, “you are my dear, dear child; and I am delighted with you.” That’s a message that this world so desperately needs to hear. This world needs to hear that there is a God who loves them very, very much. Because there is no lasting joy in this world. The Texans win one week, but chances are, they’ll lose the next. Oil prices are high and Houston businesses are doing great. Then, you know, oil prices go through the floor and Houston businesses are suffering. Or think of what women go through. They’re ridiculed for being too fat, or they’re ridiculed for being too skinny. Men are supposed to be tough and strong, but not too tough and strong or they’re jerks. Gunmen and terrorists produce carnage all too easily and all too often. There is no joy in this world, except for Jesus. And Brady knows, and I wish all of us would know, that joy in Jesus starts with baptism. Baptism is a one and done deal. God has told you once that you are his dear, dear child; and that he is delighted in you. There is no going back, there is no up and down, there are no conditions. God loves you. Period.
When this old world is beating you up, when it seems that you can’t get anything right, and when you hear of the next terrorist attack, because it will come, close your eyes and take a breath. And then imagine rising up out of your baptismal waters and God saying to you, “you are my dear, dear child; and I am delighted with you.”
And remember that whatever happens, love bids us to sit down and eat. We eat this bread and drink this wine in the face of the dark powers of this world that are bent on destroying joy. Therefore it is right, and a good and joyful thing, always and everything to give thanks to God, the Father Almighty, Creator of heaven and earth; the creator of joy, the one who says to us, “you are my dear, dear child; and I am delighted with you.”