Pass Through the Water

A Homily for the Feast of the Baptism of Our Lord

Texts: Isaiah 43:1-7; St. Luke 3:15-17, 21-22


baptismal-font-ettal
John the Baptist and Christ, Ettal Abbey, Germany

Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, the Beloved, with whom the Father is well-pleased. Amen.

In his baptism, Christ’s divine identity is unambiguously revealed in glory.

What a scene it must have been – picture the heavens opening. What a sight it was to behold. What divine splendor was on display? What radiance poured forth? Hear that voice – loud, authoritative, rolling across the waters, and yet gentle, loving, and intimate. Do you see that dove? So ordinary and plain, like the ones for sell at the market back in town, but there’s something inherently different about it.

This is the first recorded act of Jesus’ adult life, before he begins calling disciples, teaching, or working wonders, before his confrontation with the powers and principalities. Here, at the very outset of his earthly ministry, this one thing is made clear: Jesus the Christ is the Son of God.

He’s not a creature like us, nor adopted by God as the Caesars claim to be. No, Christ is the eternally begotten Son, who existed before all things.

This scene is nothing short of a manifestation of God’s glory. Through the Son’s act, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are revealed in splendor. At the Jordan, all three persons of the Blessed Trinity pour forth their divine love.

Glorious though today’s scene is, it does eventually come to an end. Just as we move from our festive white vestments to the green of ordinary time next week, so too does our story move on. Saint Luke is silent on this point, but eventually the heavens shut again over the Jordan. The echoes of the divine voice faded. The dove vanished. Proclaimed to be the Beloved Son by a voice from heaven and the anointing of the Holy Spirit, suddenly Jesus is left seemingly by himself in this world.

So, after such a revelation, what comes next?

After his baptism, Jesus our Lord, the eternally-begotten Beloved Son of God with whom the Father is well-pleased, is driven into the deserted wilderness and tempted by Satan. (We’ll read this passage on the first Sunday in Lent.) Here again we see Christ’s full humanity: God though Jesus may be, Satan comes to Christ in such a recognizable way.

“Seek after the pleasures of this world. Pursue worldly power. Fame, fortune, political might – it can all be yours. All you need to do is bow down before me. I will keep you safe if you only trust in me.”

Dear ones, consider how like us Christ truly became. And how like Christ we are able to become. Just as on the banks of the Jordan, a similar scene plays out at our own font. When you were baptized into Christ’s death and resurrection, you were adopted as children of our Heavenly Father through the love of the Triune God. The Spirit descended upon you through the laying on of hands and anointing with oil.

This is the redemption promised by the prophet Isaiah made tangible in our midst. We who were created in the image of God are called by name to repentance and newness of life by our Lord, and when we passed through these waters, we were re-formed to be members of the Body of Christ. In the Sacrament of Baptism, the manifestation, the epiphany of God’s glory, plays out eternally, sustaining us by God’s grace. This feast day comes but once a year, and the physical act of your baptism recedes into the past. But the grace poured out upon you in this mystery endures. This miracle is continuously present through the gracious presence of the Holy Spirit.

And if Christ himself faced such temptation, we know surely that Satan and the legions of hell will tempt us as well. How often the powers and principalities of this world come to us with these same false promises. God has laid claim to us in the waters of Baptism, but the demons are not letting us go without a fight.

In the wilderness of this world, these satanic powers come to us whispering half-truths and full lies. They place idols before us in clever disguises – not like the objects of religious devotion as in ages past but more subtly, and thus more dangerously. They appeal to our needs, our little comforts. They take that which is good and corrupt it, and they take evil things and make them look good.

“It’s just a piece of fruit, no matter what the Lord says. How bad can that be. Just take a little bite.”

“Go ahead; buy that new car. It will make you feel young again.”

“Yeah, pour yourself another glass of wine. It will dull all your pain.”

“Take this gun. Cling to it. Feel its strength. It and only it will keep you safe.”

“Vote for this party. They will make you great and powerful. They’re your only hope.”

“He doesn’t look like you, and he speaks in a strange tongue. He’s not your brother. He’s dangerous. Send him back where he came from.”

“No, you don’t owe your neighbor anything. Who cares if she and her children go hungry? You worked hard for that money, and the more of it you have, the larger your bank account grows, the more fulfilled you’ll be. This cash in your hand will protect you, keep you safe, and bring you fulfillment. You only need it, and more of it all of it, as much as you can get, at all costs.”

But dear ones, God has called you by name and poured out grace upon you in these waters.

Here, with water and the Word, with fire and the Holy Spirit, Christ has granted us the strength to renounce the devil, all his works, and all his empty promises.

We have been given the strength to renounce false pledges of security and strength, to renounce the ways of fear and hatred, to renounce greed and pride, to renounce the ways of sin that draw us away from God.

In their place, God is pouring into us the grace to love God, to love neighbor, to love each other, and to love even our enemies.

Here is the grace to believe in God, the Father Almighty, Jesus Christ, his only Son our Lord, and the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the Giver of Life.

Here is the faith to lay down our lives that we may take up new life in Christ.

Here is the humility to make ourselves servants of all.

Here is the strength to trust in the Triune God and find our fulfillment in them.

Here is the grace to trust that healing and safety are found only in the Kingdom of Heaven, that power, majesty, and greatness come only from our Lord, and to know that whatever we do unto the least of these, we do unto Christ.

Beloved, keep watch.

Satan roars like a lion, and the powers and principalities are crafty. Temptation is everywhere.

But when — not if but when — those voices enter your ear, and when — not if but when — you give into their temptation, wash your face; feel the water trickle down, and in it, remember your baptism and the grace poured out upon you.

Remember who you are: a Christian, a sinner of God’s own redeeming, claimed by your Lord, a member of the Body of Christ, sealed by the Holy Spirit, adopted into a royal heavenly household as a beloved child of your Father in Heaven.

Amen.

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