The Rev. Jimmy Abbott
First Sunday after Epiphany: Baptism of our Lord
January 10, 2016
Luke 3:15-17, 21-22
You’ve heard that old adage, “those who do not know history are doomed to repeat it.” You probably first heard that from a high school history teacher. The true quote is a little bit different. It comes from George Santayana, a Spanish philosopher. What he said was, “those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” We know that’s true, both on the grand scale and on the individual scale. Like this, when I’m starving after church on Sunday, sometimes I’ll get a burger from Whataburger. In that moment, it feels so right. Then an hour later, it feels so wrong. Because I cannot remember the past, I’m condemned to another bottle of Pepto-Bismol.
We say that history repeats itself, and in large measure, it’s true. And it’s true in our religion as well. It’s at the core of our faith. Of course, the same exact thing doesn’t happen over and over again. But similar things happen. It’s not identical, it’s more like a rhyme. History rhymes with itself.
Let’s start with the opening scene of the Bible, at the very beginning of Genesis. It says that the world is covered with water. And a wind from God swept over the face of the waters. The image some have used to describe God in this instance is as a mother hen brooding over her eggs. And in that moment, with the water and the brooding, there is a new creation.
Then we move on to the myth of Noah. The face of the earth is covered by the waters. And to see if there is dry ground, Noah sends out a bird, a dove to be precise. And when the waters recede, the story says that God chooses to make a new creation. In a sense, the world has been washed and restarted. Already, the stories rhyme with themselves. There is water, there is the bird and the wind, there is a creation.
Fast forward to the Israelites in Egypt. Moses is leading them out of slavery in Egypt into the land of freedom but first they have to cross the Red Sea. So God sends a heavy wind to push back the waters and the people pass through. And when they come out on the other side of the sea they are no longer slaves, they’ve been created again. They are fresh. They are new. The stories are rhyming. Water, wind, new creation.
Then we move on to the gospel lesson for today. Jesus is baptized by John the Baptist in the River Jordan. And look at we have. We have this rhyme. Jesus is baptized in water. The Holy Spirit descends upon Jesus in the form of a dove, a bird. And here again is a rhyme of newness, of freshness. God speaks from the heavens, “you are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” This is not so much history repeating itself as it is rhyming with itself.
And the rhyme continues through today. Because today, we are baptizing Caitie, Jim, and Kevin into the faith of Jesus. See, we baptize with water. Because water symbolizes new creation. It washes us, and makes us new. Just as creation was made new at the waters in Genesis, just as God washed the world in the Noah legend, just as the Israelites were made new passing through the sea, just as Jesus was baptized, so now these three are being made new.
And when you walk back to our baptismal font, you’ll notice that it has eight sides. This was not a random choice. This is intentional. Baptismal fonts have eight sides because there were eight people on Noah’s ark. Noah, his wife, their three sons and their three wives. They were the first eight people saved over the waters. So when we come to this font, we are joining in the great story of God’s deliverance in the past. Through the waters, we are cleansed, and forgiven, and renewed. Just like in the Noah story.
During our baptismal service, we also pray that the Holy Spirit comes upon those being baptized. Just as the spirit of God brooded over the face of the waters at creation, just as God sent a wind at the sea of reeds, just as the Spirit descended like a dove at the baptism of Jesus, so now the the Holy Spirit descends upon these three. And go back there and look at our font. Etched into the font is a dove descending from the heavens.
And at our baptism we believe that we are made new again. Just as Jesus died and rose again, so we too are buried in these waters only to rise up again. We are brought up out of the baptismal waters to be made new people. A new creation. Like the Israelites passing through the Red Sea we enter these waters as slaves to sin and death, and we rise up as newborn servants of God.
What we are doing today is not something we just made up out of the blue. Our baptism, this whole service, this way of life, is a rhyme of the past.
That is the grace that we find in Christianity. We don’t have to make it up. We don’t have to grasp at straws to find meaning. We don’t have to always be coming up with something different, or hip, or trendy. Look at us – we’re baptizing people the same way we did thousands of years ago. We’re saying the same prayers that Christians have been using for centuries. The meal we have of the Holy Eucharist comes straight from Jesus, and he borrowed it from his ancestors. There is nothing new under the sun. And that is grace from God. God has been faithful to his people in the past and we have confidence that God will continue to be faithful to us in the future. God is not going to abandon this world, because that would simply be out of God’s character. That wouldn’t rhyme with what has happened in the past.
Next time you are tempted to forget who you are and whose you are, take a drink of water. Take a shower. Look at the rain. Remember the waters of the Red Sea. Remember the River Jordan. Remember that you were made new in the waters of baptism. The future will always rhyme with the past.
Next time you doubt that the Holy Spirit is with you, next time you are feeling disconnected with God, go outside to feel the breeze. Remember the wind from God that swept over the creation. Remember the wind that pushed back the Red Sea. Remember the dove that came upon Jesus. Remember the Holy Spirit that came upon you.
When you have a big decision to make; when you are faced with temptation and worry; when you don’t think that you have what it takes; remember first what God has done in the past. Remember how God molded the vast expanse of the universe into our cosmos. Remember how God led the people of Israel out of slavery. Remember how Jesus died and rose again.
Perhaps the best way to think of it, is that God is a great poet. And that God will always make the next line rhyme with the one that’s already written. Look back on what’s already happened – God has created and renewed the creation time and time again. God has sent the Spirit upon us time and time again. God has shown his grace, and his love, and his mercy time and time again. And this won’t change. God will be merciful. God will be loving. God will be gracious.
The world says, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” But we, as, Christians have something different to say; “those who remember the past have hope for the future.”