At St. Alban's, Kingstree
The First Sunday after The Epiphany: The Baptism of Our Lord Jesus Christ
January 12, 2014
In today’s Old Testament reading, the prophet Isaiah offers an important introduction of a significant person. He introduces – in advance – the one who will be identified as God’s agent ... the one who will accomplish the will of God in the world. And thus, you see, this is indeed a very important introduction of a most significant person.
Isaiah begins his introduction, speaking on God’s behalf with these words of prophecy: “Here is my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights; I have put my spirit upon him” (42:1). Isaiah continues this introduction with words that indicate what this servant of God – God’s agent – will do. And notice that the introduction involves someone who will come later – that is, someone who is not yet present. “He will bring forth justice to the nations” (42:1b). And then, “He will not grow faint or be crushed until he has established justice in the earth; and the coastlands wait for his teaching” (42:4).
Thus, this familiar and lovely selection of Old Testament poetry accomplishes a significant purpose. It introduces the servant of God, who will accomplish the will of God, and in doing so, these words of introduction raise expectations about the mission of the one who is yet to come.
Today’s Second Reading, from Acts, has a different time reference. That is, this is a portion of one of St. Peter’s sermons, given much later. And in it, he refers to what has been accomplished by God’s servant – Jesus – during the time of his Incarnation. In terms of time, then, this reading takes place many years later than the first one, after the time that Jesus spent on earth. In considering that earlier time, Peter speaks of what God has done through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
As a summary of the work of God’s servant, Peter makes his witness. “You know the message (God) sent to the people of Israel, preaching peace by Jesus Christ – he is Lord of all. That message spread throughout Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John announced: how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power; how he went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him” (Acts 10:36-38).
Therefore, our first two readings today offer perspectives on God’s plan for the world. The first reading presents a prophecy about what that plan will be and, in particular, about the one who will be God’s servant in accomplishing His plan. The second reading includes Peter’s witness and affirmation that Jesus was God’s servant and did indeed fulfill God’s plan.
Then we come to the Gospel reading. In it, we are presented with a view of the current time regarding the servant of God – not a prophecy in advance nor a witness after the fact, but an episode in the current life of God’s servant, Jesus.
In that current moment, we have a surprise. God’s agent – “who will bring forth justice to the nations” (Is 42:1) – God’s Son – who “is Lord of all” (Acts 10:36) – this one comes in humility. We read, “Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan, to be baptized by him” (Matt 3:13). In the baptism of Jesus – as in the birth of Jesus and, indeed, the life of Jesus – we have the example of Godly humility. And that is a surprise!
It seems to me there is an interesting and important message here for us. We are all related to Jesus through baptism. We become adopted brothers and sisters of the one who was himself baptized. And at baptism, all of us are the same – born again, washed clean from our sins, adopted into God’s family. And, you know, even at baptism, we are reminded that we will be alike at the time of death, too. As St. Paul writes in his Letter to the Romans, “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?” (6:3) And, then, “For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his” (6:5). That’s the reason for using a pall at funerals, to cover the coffin. There may be a simple coffin or a magnificent casket underneath that pall – but the pall that covers everything reminds us that we are the same at death. And the good news is that we are one with Christ at his baptism and at his death, so that we may also be one with Christ at his resurrection.
Therefore, one message from this day on which we remember Jesus’ baptism is to encourage Godly, Christian humility. And I want to conclude with that thought. We are the same at baptism. Anticipating resurrection, we are the same at death. Perhaps we should spend more time between those events – baptism and death – emphasizing our similarities and less time focusing on our differences. Godly humility is a worthwhile goal for every one of us, every day of every year. Amen.
The Right Reverend Charles G. vonRosenberg
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