Stack up some stones, so you don’t forget.
It was just this past Friday that we celebrated the Epiphany. We gathered around a manger with wise men who brought gifts for the new infant king. Afterward, those wise men were sent home by another road, and that is really the last we hear of them. Scripture wastes no time moving the story along, and neither does our church calendar.
There have always been legends and stories about the childhood of Jesus, but none of them seem to have met the criteria of the early church, and so none made it into our canon of scripture. For some reason the Gospels all pick back up rather quickly with a “grown-up” Jesus. Matthew gives us one little glimpse of teenage Jesus – but that’s it.
In fact the Gospel of Mark, that we will be exploring together this year, doesn’t have any of the traditional incarnation stories. No angels, no manger, no wise men, in Mark’s account the story begins here on the banks of the Jordan River.
The location of this encounter is important – the Jordan River is an incredibly meaningful place in the history of Israel. The Jordan is the place Joshua crossed with the children of Israel, marking their entrance into the Promised land and the end of the great Exodus journey. It is the place they are instructed to erect a Cairn, so that they can remember to tell their children what happened there, and of the faithfulness of God. The Jordan is also the site where the great prophet Elijia was swept up into heaven, and his mantle passed to the next great prophet Elisha.
Put simply, in the life of Israel, the Jordan River is the place where God does big things.
Just a few verses into his account, Mark introduces us to John the Baptist as the “voice crying out in the wilderness” – as the one preparing the way. John was travelling the countryside preaching and calling for the people to return to God, to remember Gods faithfulness, to remember the law God had given them so that there might be justice, so that there might be peace.
As a sign of that return, he was baptizing them in the waters of this special place. He was inviting them to symbolically and spiritually die to their ways of sin. Through this baptism, he was creating a new community of life and faith.
Then, into that activity walked God incarnate. John had told them that he would baptize them with water, but the one who came after him would baptize them with the spirit. Just like all the other incarnation narratives, God chose not to do that from outside, but to accomplish that from within. Jesus had John baptize him into their fellowship, and by extension invite them into his.
When Jesus rises out of the water, we are told the heavens ripped apart, the spirit like a dove descended and a voice from God was heard saying: “you are my Son, the beloved, with you I am well pleased.” With that, the story is off and running – the Messiah is here, God’s work healing and reconciling the world is afoot. This moment, this baptism is where it all begins.
From the earliest days of Christianity, Holy Baptism has been a central sign and sacrament of the Church. It is the opportunity for all people to be joined with Jesus in his holy fellowship. Throughout Jesus ministry on earth he taught about what it meant to be part of his body.
Baptism is not only an entrance into a community, but is also an ordination into the priesthood of believers; it is a call to worship and to service. Baptism constitutes and creates a new people, with rights and obligations to one another.
Today when Isabella is presented to this congregation, her parents will be asked to make promises – promises that she will be taught about the love and faithfulness of God, and about Jesus Christ who loves her and abides within her. Then we as the gathered body of Christ will also make promises. Isabella’s family doesn’t live here in Little Rock, so we are making promises on the behalf of a community in another part of the country.
It is hard for me to believe that it was 7 years ago when I first sat in a pew with a wiggly baby girl (praying for a short sermon) and hearing a congregation in Dallas, Texas promise to love and support us as we raised our daughter to love and serve Christ. We had no way of knowing that they were making those promises for you.
You see this community, this fellowship that we are part of stretches across space and time. We are united through our common baptism, and through the spirit which God has given us. What Jesus began on the banks of the Jordan continues today in our hearts and in our lives. Jesus came to proclaim the good news, God loves you, and God is saving your life and our world.
Christ has come, Christ dwells among us, and by virtue of our baptism we are called by his name. By his spirit we are strengthened and sent out to do his work – to proclaim the victory of God over suffering and death, and make his love known in all the world.
In a moment we will reaffirm our baptismal vows [as we pray with Isabella and her family.] I invite you to listen closely to the work God is calling us to do together. How is the spirit stirring with in you, as we begin a new year of ministry here in this place.
Because make no mistake, this is another place where God does big things. Thanks be to God! Amen.
Sermon by the Rev. Stephen W. Kidd, Baptism of our Lord B -Trinity Episcopal Cathedral, Little Rock