Sermon: Epiphany 1 RCL B – The Baptism of Our Lord

Photo by Ryan Loughlin on Unsplash

Remember how, just ten days ago, we were so excited to be done with 2020? The worst year ever, we thought. Well, 2021 showed up and said, “Hold my beer.” This past week, with all the happiness going on, the internet produced some fairly humorous thoughts. One person wrote, “I’d like to cancel my subscription to 2021… the 7-day trial was enough.” Another illustrated 2020 and 2021 as the twins from The Shining by Stephen King. And another said, “Seems like 2021 keeps asking, ‘What would 2020 do?’” But it was Mike Rowe who made a sip of coffee come out my nose: Holding up a scotch, he said, “Well, that was fun. Here’s to 2022.” Please, don’t anybody say, “It can’t get any worse.”

Surprisingly, and all joking aside, there is a very simple answer why all these things have happened and will continue to happen, and it has nothing to do with Democrats or Republicans or COVID-19 or anything else of that nature. Would you like to know what that is? St. Paul writes in his letter to the Romans, “The creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God.  For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now.” (Romans 8:20-22)

All creation groans. Creation groans in the physical world around us we have storms, earthquakes, etc, it groans in our bodies through the diseases we suffer and in the way we age, and it groans in our souls through our brokenness and our sin. If this were our eternal state, I don’t know that it would be worth it, but through Jesus, this groaning is only temporary, and Jesus, through his baptism shows us the way out, but in order to see it, we need to go back over a thousand years in the history to understand it, back to the day when the Israelites first crossed over the Jordan River, the same river that Jesus was baptized in.

You’ll recall that the Israelites had freely gone into the land of Egypt when Joseph, the son of Jacob was second only to Pharaoh. They lived a pleasant life, but after many years, they became numerous and the more numerous they became the more nervous the Egyptians became, eventually leading the Egyptians to place them into slavery. For over 400 years they were slaves, then Moses came and said to Pharaoh, “Let my people go.” They had their freedom, crossed through the Red Sea on dry land, received the Commandments, wandered in the desert for 40 years (except for Moshe and Sadie you’ll remember, it took them 41 years because Moshe took an alternate root), and then came to the Jordan River, the last remaining barrier between them and the Promised Land, which was on the west side of the river. The priests, carrying the Ark of the Covenant stepped into the waters on the east shore, the waters drew back, and the Israelites crossed on dry land into the Promised Land. Yet, after all that God had done for them, it still was not enough to heal the brokenness.

God said to the people, if you follow my Law, then this Promised Land will always be yours and if you break my Law and will make the appropriate sacrifices, then I will restore you. But, the land was not enough to inspire them, the sacrifices were not enough to clean them, and the Law only succeeded in pointing out the fact that no matter how hard they tried or didn’t try, they were sinners. The brokenness, the groaning remained.

On the day of Jesus’ baptism, we once again find the Israelites gathered on the banks of the Jordan. “John the baptizer appeared… proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.” Many came and listened and were baptized and then Jesus arrived.

John and Jesus were cousins. We are told that even before John was born, he leapt in his mother’s womb at the sound of Mary’s voice, because Mary’s voice was a sign to him even then that the Savior was present. The scripture indicates that when Jesus arrived, John knew him, and as I thought on this, I could almost imagine a questioning look on John’s face as he looked into his cousin’s eyes: “Do you really mean to go through with this? Do you know what they will do to you?” Jesus did and he submitted to it and to the Father’s will.

God gave the people the Law and the sacrifices and after crossing the barrier of the Jordan River, God gave the people the Promised Land, but there was still this brokenness that we are all born with and born into. So, to heal this brokenness, on the day of his baptism, God the Son didn’t dam up the waters as had been done when the Israelites had crossed the first time, instead, he waded into them. Through his baptism, he became fully immersed into this world all the way to death and when he came up out of those waters, God the Father declared, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”

Origen, one of the great Saints of the third century, tells us, “Baptism means crossing the Jordan.” Jesus showed us the way to cross the Jordan, to cross the barrier. He showed us a way out of the brokenness and groaning and that way is through our own baptism. We still wait for the final restoration of all things, but we know that through our baptism, we are baptized into the death and resurrection Jesus. As we come out of the waters of this world, as we come out of our own Jordan River, we exit our spiritual Egypt—a place of slavery and death—and are given entry into the Promised Land, which is the Kingdom of Heaven—a place of freedom in Christ and eternal life.

Today, as we renew our Baptismal Vows, remember your life in Egypt. Recall how you were once held as a slave in a foreign land, then allow your soul to once again step into the waters of the Jordan and come up a citizen of the Kingdom. If you will and if you will listen, you will hear a voice say to you, “You are my daughter… you are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”

Would you please turn to page 292 of the BCP for the Renewal of our Baptismal Vows.

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