The Baptism of Christ

Though time is too precious to waste, it must never be thought that what was lost is irretrievable. Once the Divine is introduced, then comes the opportunity to make up for losses. God is the God of the second chance …. Being ‘born again’ means that all that went before is not held against us.

Fulton J. Sheen Peace of Soul

The Baptism of Our Lord in the River Jordan by John the Baptist, which we celebrate today, can leave us asking a question: if we are baptised to be born again by water and the Spirit, for our sins to be washed away, and to become part of the Body of Christ, the Church, why is Our Lord, who is without sin, being baptised. He does not need to be, but in being baptised shows us that God is not constrained by necessity. Christ does not need to be baptised, as we do, but does so to fulfil all righteousness and to sanctify the waters of baptism for those whom he would redeem., to show us the way to new life in him.

In Christ’s Baptism we see a God who walks with us, who is not a cold, remote figure; but who, for love of us, comes among us, and is one with us, and who shows us the way to his Father. Christ’s Baptism is an act of obedience to God the Father, an act of humility and of healing and restoration – the work of God in Christ, done for our sake, and the sake of all humanity. What began at the Annunciation, and was brought about at the Incarnation, and made manifest to the whole world at the Epiphany, is deepened: the world is invited to share in the saving love of God through baptism.

At the beginning of his public ministry, Jesus shows humanity the way to the Father, through himself. The world sees the generous love of God, which heals and restores us, from the darkness of the dungeon of sin and evil, to the light and life of the Kingdom of God. As our baptism is a sharing in the death and resurrection of Jesus, so his baptism points to the Cross, where streams of blood and water flow to cleanse and heal the world. We see the love of the Father, the power of the Spirit, and the obedience of Son, and all for us, who are so weak and foolish, and who need God’s love and healing, and forgiveness.

We need this, the whole world needs it, but is too proud to turn to a God of love, for fear of judgement, knowing that they deserve to be cut off forever, and yet it is exactly such people, such lost sheep that Our Lord comes to seek, whom he enfolds in his loving arms on the Cross, whom he washes in the waters of baptism, so that all may be a part of him, regardless of whom or what they are, and what they have done. Salvation is the free gift of God and open to all who turn to him.

In our suspicious modern world that gift is spurned and mocked, by those who feel that they can no longer trust the church, or denounce it is as hypocritical, an oppressor of one group or another. To which we can only reply with open doors, open arms, and open hearts – the church may be full of sinners and hypocrites and there’s always room for a few more! God in Christ is nothing if not generous, and so the Church, his body is called to the same generosity of spirit. With the open invitation comes a call to repentance, to a fundamental change of mind, which sees us turn away from sin to God.

Here is where I suspect it gets difficult for humanity, we know that sin is wrong, but we enjoy it, we can soothe our conscience with the fiction that something is not a sin: that it doesn’t hurt or harm us, we can even twist the Gospel to our own ends. But these will not do, because in them we say that we know better than God – the sin of pride, that primal sin which separates humanity from God. This was the problem Christ comes to fix, to heal and restore our nature, through his grace, to feed us with Word and Sacrament that we might share in the life and love of God.

We need to take to heart the words of advice written by St Paul to Titus and the Church in Crete: given that ‘the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people’ (Titus 2:11) the Church has to respond to that grace, that free gift of a loving God, by living in a certain way, the Church is there to train us to renounce, to turn our back on ‘ungodliness and worldly passions’ – using our lives and our bodies which fall short of what is expected of us. Notice the word ‘train’: it’s a process, very few people indeed can run a marathon without training; we need help and practice to turn our lives around together, as a community of faith. It takes time, and hard work and love, but it is something which we can do together – people will fail, but can be picked up, and helped to continue, that’s what healing and repentance are all about. It’s about saying ‘we can be better, we can do better together’ if we truly let the love of God into our hearts and turn away from the past and look forward to a future of hope and glory in Christ. So then, let us live out our faith and our baptism together, turning from sin to new life in Christ, and encourage others so to do, so that all creation may resound with the praise of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, to whom be ascribed as is most right and just, all might, majesty, glory, dominion, and power, now and forever.

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