January is traditionally a time for making resolutions, and a new start for a new year. Despite our good intentions, most resolutions do not make it past the end of the month. It takes time for habits to form. If we want to make a change then we need to put effort in, and this applies to our spiritual lives as well. It is not too late to set some spiritual resolutions for 2022. Such as reading a daily bible passage, setting some time aside for prayer, or attending church more frequently.

In Luke’s Gospel, John the Baptist has been proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins (Lk 2:3). John has been calling people to turn away from their sins, and to turn back to God, and live holy lives. This has something of an effect on the people of Judea. There is an increase in religious observance, and something like a religious revival. This, in turn, leads to speculation:

‘As the people were filled with expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Christ,’ (Lk 3:15)

The people of Israel were longing for the Messiah. In Greek this translates as the Christ, the Anointed One. The Messiah is a charismatic King figure, descended from David, who will make Israel flourish. John is not the Messiah, but he is paving the way for the promised one:

‘John answered them all, saying, “I baptize you with water, but he who is mightier than I is coming, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire.’ (Lk 3:16)

John the Baptist knows that he is not the Anointed One. He sees himself as not even worthy to untie the sandals of the Messiah, something a slave would do for their master. John demonstrates great humility, and his actions point forward to the baptism of the Church, instituted by Jesus. Whereas John baptizes with water, Jesus will baptize with the Holy Spirit and fire. This looks forward to both Pentecost, when the Apostles are filled with the Holy Spirit, and to Jesus’ death on the Cross.

Today we are celebrating Christ’s Baptism in the River Jordan. It is a moment where we see God the Son, and also God the Holy Spirit, and we hear God the Father. The Holy Trinity, the fulness of God, is made manifest:

‘Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heavens were opened, and the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form, like a dove; and a voice came from heaven, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.”’ (Lk 3:21-22)

We then have to ask ourselves the question, why is Jesus being baptized? Jesus is not a sinner, He has no sins from which to repent, and yet He is there, being baptized by John. An explanation is that in His Baptism Jesus is in solidarity with sinful humanity: He does not wish us to undergo anything that He would not undergo Himself. Christ is an example of how to come to God and have new life. As a sign of divine approval after the Baptism, as Jesus is praying, the heavens open, the Holy Spirit descends upon Him in the form of a dove, and God says: ‘You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.’ (Lk 3:22)

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 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, all for us, who need God’s love and healing, and forgiveness.

At the moment of Jesus’ Baptism, we see the fullness of the Godhead, a manifestation of glory and divine presence. Just as in Noah’s Ark God makes his love manifest in the form of a dove, so now He brings us peace and love. At the end of the Flood a dove brings a branch of olive back to the Ark, a sign of peace and new life. So now, the Holy Spirit appears in the form of a dove to show us the fullness of God, a relationship of love, which is opened up to us in our baptism. We are invited into the embrace of God’s love. 

The Divine Trinity makes itself manifest in recognition of the Son’s obedience to the Father, and looks forward to the Cross, where God’s love is poured out upon the world, and through which we are saved. In our own baptism, we share in Christ’s Death and Resurrection. In His Baptism as in His Death, Christ shows us the way to the Father in the power of the Holy Spirit. We are baptised in the name of the Holy and Life-giving Trinity. Our worship this morning began by invoking the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit (Yn enw’r Tad, a’r Mab, a’r Ysbryd Glân). And so all of our life as Christians is Trinitarian. 

The first reading this morning, from the prophet Isaiah, is a messianic prophecy. It begins with idea of God’s people being comforted, and their wrongdoings being pardoned. This prophecy is fulfilled in our baptism. We are baptized because Jesus was baptized. Christ gives an example, because He loves us and cares for us. Jesus is the Good Shepherd spoken of by Isaiah:

‘He will tend his flock like a shepherd; he will gather the lambs in his arms;
he will carry them in his bosom, and gently lead those that are with young.’
(Isa 40:11)

Our Saviour comes among us demonstrating humility, showing us the way to a relationship with God. Jesus is the shepherd of our souls, who leads us, His people, and shows us God’s love. We can trust Him to be always with us, accompanying us through whatever life throws our way. Christ carries us in His bosom, we are close to Him, loved by Him. We are never alone, because we are  always surrounded by God’s love.

So let us draw strength from our Baptism and grow in faith, hope, and love, nourished by Christ, and with Christ. Let us share that love with others throughout the year ahead, so that all may sing the praises 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. Amen.

The Baptism of Christ – James Tissot (Brooklyn Museum)

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