Preached on Sunday, January 8, 2012 at Christ & Saint Stephen's Church. Lectionary readings that this sermon is based on can be found here.
Well, the holidays are well and truly over now, aren’t they? We’re done with Christmas. This past Friday was the Feast of the Epiphany, the 12th day of the Twelve Days of Christmas. The New Years holiday is behind us as well. Most of us are back at work and back at school. The Day School has reconvened in our Loft and Croft classroom spaces.
Many of us have New Year’s resolutions, one or two of which are still standing, I hope. That’s certainly true for our Day School students. In our Day School chapel session this past week, we talked about New Year’s resolutions. The Day Schoolers have learned that a resolution is a wish that you make for yourself. I like that, don’t you? A wish, a hope you have for yourself in the year to come.
They have many aspirations, our Day School students. One of our students said his New Year’s resolution was to learn to ride a bike. A lofty goal when you’re 4 years old, I think, and certainly an admirable one. Another of our students, in the 3-year-old group, has resolved to learn to ride a scooter – not as ambitious as learning to ride a bike, but that’s the difference between being 3 and being 4. Another of our Day School students has resolved to stop fighting with her brother in the new year. I’m not sure but I sense the influence of a harried parent there, one who’s probably glad that the sugar-rush of the holidays is over. We discussed how undertaking these great aims is hard, and that we need help to do them. We decided that our parents, our teachers, our nannies are good people to go to for help. And we learned how we can ask God for help, to make our wishes for ourselves come true. And when we do that, we call it prayer.
As we often do on this first Sunday after Epiphany, our liturgy celebrates the Baptism of our Lord, which is appropriate for the new year. The baptism of our Lord is itself a beginning of sorts. All four gospels agree that this event marked the beginning of Jesus’s career, the public phase of his life during which his preaching, teaching and healing took place. In fact two of our gospels, Mark and John, begin not with the story of the nativity, but rather with the baptism of Jesus in the river Jordan by John the Baptist. The beginning of the story of Jesus for Mark and John is baptism, and today’s gospel reading comes from the first chapter of Mark, beginning at the 4th verse, almost the very beginning of Mark’s gospel.
Our Old Testament reading today is the very beginning as well, of the first book in the Bible. Genesis Chapter 1, verse 1. You can’t go any further back than that. Our Church School students are talking about this same text this morning. In our reading from Genesis, we hear how the earth was first formed by God as a dark and mysterious void covered by deep waters, and a wind from God sweeps over the face of the waters. Water, the medium of the sacrament of baptism, is there from the world’s very beginning. And as will happen at the river Jordan, God’s spirit hovers over it.
Many of us began our lives in baptism. It’s traditional among many, but not all, Christians to baptize newborn babies. When we do so, parents and godparents make pledges on behalf of the infant candidate for baptism. Of course, an infant cannot keep the promises made on her behalf at baptism – not without the help of parents and godparents, and indeed not without the help of God. Just like learning to ride a bike, chances are, you’ll need a little help to learn to live as a Christian.
But that’s not just true for the smallest baptismal candidates; it’s true for all of us. We all need God’s help in order to live into the promises we make in baptism – the promises that we’ll recommit ourselves to in a few minutes. As is the custom on this Sunday, the Feast of the Lord’s Baptism, we will renew our baptismal covenant today. We’ll recite in our own voices the promises and pledges that we made long ago, some of us, or that were made on our behalf when we were quite small.
And as we renew these promises, we’ll say, “I will, with God’s help.” We can’t do it alone, we don’t expect to. We need God’s help to become the people that we believe we were created to be, to become the people God calls us to be.
And it’s important to realize who it is that God calls us to be. Our reading from Acts this morning reminds us, our baptism is not an act of repentance essentially. It is the acceptance of our identity as Christ’s own. Through the waters of baptism, we are buried with Christ and also share in his resurrection. Through the waters of baptism we are reborn by the Holy Spirit, becoming one with the God who loved us enough to become one with us. Through baptism, we take on the identity that was first born in Bethlehem and was completed on the cross at Calvary.
We live in hope, we Christians. We who know of God’s mercy and forgiveness, we who believe in the redemptive power of God’s love, know that no matter our shortcomings, no matter our failures and faults, God’s love will never desert us. And with that love within us, we can resolve to do better, for ourselves and for our families, for those in need, for those whom we love, and for those whom no one loves.
The wishes we make for ourselves as Christians are well-founded in the hope that our God inspires in us. We are the people who have been redeemed, who have been forgiven, who have been reborn. So it is with great confidence that we reaffirm our identity as God’s beloved children, and it is with great hope that we pledge to live as Christ’s own, to love as Jesus himself did, to serve the outcast, the forgotten, the neediest as he taught us to do. +Amen.
© The Rev. Mark R. Collins