Sermon: The Baptism of Christ
9 January 2022 – Archdeacon Mark Long
Isaiah 43:1-7; Psalm 29; and Luke 3:15-17, 21-22; NRSV
The New Year is often considered a time for resolutions, which generally speak to our human desire to live better and more meaningful lives. In all honesty these resolutions are often either too simplistic or too idealistic to be of any impact, yet whether we embrace or eschew the tradition the beginning of a New Year is a useful place to consider our expectations, reflect on our lives, and explore our hope for the months that lie ahead. Bishop Geoff, in the conclusion to his sermon last Sunday, reminded us as we enter 2022 of a key resolution we need to make – and make daily – if we are indeed serious about our faith commitment. He said, “… I invite you, on this entry into a New Year, to take God's word seriously today. To surrender yourself to God once more, with all that you have and all that you are, so that in 2022 you may discover more fully the source of your life ‘in Christ Jesus’ and may be able to live more effectively ‘to the praise of God’s glory’.”
Our Gospel reading this morning echoes this invitation as we are drawn into the expectation and hope of the crowds gathered around John the Baptist who, Luke informs us, “… with many … exhortations, … proclaimed the good news to the people.” This Good News was based on John’s proclamation of “… a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins,” a message of discomfort that spoke directly to the crowd’s expectation that it was time for God to act and that significant change would result. John warns the people that, “Even now the axe is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.” In response the crowd ask John, “What then should we do?” and he responds with a call to a simple and honest and intrinsically just lifestyle, encouraging the crowds to be generous with their excess resources: only one coat is needed, give the rest away to those who have need of them; share your food with those who have insufficient; if you’re a tax collector, take no more than what’s due; if you’re a soldier, be satisfied with your wages. There is something about a call to living an honest and generous and just life that is inspiring, and we see in the opening words of today’s Gospel reading that the expectations of the crowd were heightened, to the point where the people were beginning to seriously wonder if John may be the Messiah (a title that carried significant political overtones at the time, and it is not surprising that John directs this expectation to one more powerful who is yet to come). In Luke’s account John does not name Jesus as the Messiah, instead focusing the crowds on the signs that will mark the Messiah: the Holy Spirit and fire.
Luke, however, ensures we make the connection and we hear that after John’s arrest by Herod, Jesus, together with others in the crowd, is also baptised. As Jesus prays, Luke informs us that the Holy Spirit in the bodily form of a dove settles on Jesus, and a voice from heaven is heard, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” Luke is ensuring we understand that Jesus is more than just the Messiah, he is Divine.
How does this speak to our ‘life in Christ’ today as we journey into 2022?
The crowds drawn to John the Baptist had questions. What are our questions? They had expectations. What are our expectations? Those who responded to John’s message did so because they found answers in John’s call to the simple, honest, and just lifestyle he advocated and they were able to affirm their commitment to this God-focussed lifestyle by being baptised in water. Jesus, by being baptised, affirmed his commitment to this call, too, and it has remained an essential aspect (although too often ignored) of the Christian Gospel over the millennia. However, not only was Jesus baptised, but the Holy Spirit came on Jesus in bodily form, and a heavenly voice acclaimed Jesus the Son of God, the Beloved. What does this call us to in our own time and place, in our world of 2022? How do we respond?
Those around Jesus, who saw the dove settle upon him, would have recognised it as a symbol of peace, sacrifice, and atonement; and Luke’s use of the dove connects the Holy Spirit to these symbols. Sacrifice and atonement in the ancient Temple rites of Jerusalem required fire, and so we see a possible link to John’s comment that the one who is coming will baptise with the Holy Spirit and fire, that from John’s perspective baptism in the Spirit and with fire is about peace, sacrifice, and atonement.
We understand something about the nature of peace, and know that true peace requires sacrifice and restitution; that sacrifice in essence requires surrender, and in terms of faith more specifically surrender to God, to God’s will and purposes for our lives and our communities and our world; and atonement requires restitution if we are to be fully reconciled, to be fully ‘at one’ with God and with our fellow human beings. We also know that embracing such a baptism is discomforting, but necessary, and that for us as people of faith it plays out primarily in our relationship with God, but is formed in the crucible of our intimate, individual and community relationships.
I have purposefully used the word discomfort this morning and in previous sermons. Part of my own journey as a person has been discovering that discomfort almost always brings growth and new hope, and is in actual fact God’s gift. It is not something I actively seek, but is something I have learnt to not turn away from when it is offered; and that in working through it I discover a new place of peace until such time as the gift is offered to me again. The tough part is embracing the fire, and all too often embracing the temptation to avoid it. But the gift of the Holy Spirit without the fire of the Holy Spirt, the gift of peace without sacrifice and atonement, is insipid and unsatisfying and short-lived.
A closing prayer today by Brec Seaton, Practitioner and Trainer at Place for Hope, a peace-building community in Glasgow, Scotland. Let us pray,
 Bishop Geoff Quinlan, The 2nd Sunday after Christmas: Living to the Praise of God’s Glory
(Ephesians 1:3-14; John 12:44-50), Sunday 2 January 2022
 Luke 3:18; NRSV
 Luke 3:3; NRSV
 Luke 3:9; NRSV
 Luke 3:10; NRSV
 Luke 3: 11-14; NRSV
 Luke 3:22; NRSV
 Messiah was sufficient acclaim for Jesus in Jerusalem, but in the Roman world in which Luke is writing (where Roman Emperors claimed divinity, often connected to the claim of a virgin birth), acclaiming Jesus as the Son of God, as the Beloved, was important if the Christian message was to be taken seriously.
 Brec Seaton, Baptism of the Lord, https://www.spiritualityofconflict.com/pdfs/readings/345_baptism-of-the-lord.pdf