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The Living Water of Baptism

HW in HI

based on Mat 3:13-17

If we look around the church this morning, we can see that we’ve moved from the Christmas season, sometimes called Christmastide, to Epiphany. Epiphany is the season of light. In Advent we heard that the people who live in darkness have seen a great light. And this is it: The Light of Christ.

Our Gospel lesson this morning returns to John the Baptist. We find John pretty much where we left him in Advent:

O wearing camel’s hair O eating locusts & honey in the wilderness O baptizing people in the River Jordan

Then Jesus shows up. You know, a lot of the time, when Jesus shows up, everything changes. We can imagine a hush of silence falling over the crowd. And John the Baptist then looks up and sees Jesus. He’s confused. He says, “I need to be baptized by you. And do you come to me?” Hey Jesus, you’re the Messiah, I’m the prophet. What are you doing here? But Jesus answers John that this is right – the right thing for John to do is to baptize him. And John does baptize Jesus. But things don’t go back to normal. Instead, the Spirit of God descends upon Jesus like a dove. And a voice says, “This is my Son, the beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”

How many here are familiar with the story of Jesus’ baptism? It seems like a story we’ve heard so many times, that when we hear it again, we really don’t stop to think about it.

I think that for Jesus, It’s a little like his first day on the job, after extensive training. Let me explain. I have an MBA. My first job was like more training. But then I took a job as a management consultant for a big accounting firm. I remember my first day. I had no idea whether or not I could do the job. I was intimidated. (Scared.) I think the first day of college is like that. And probably the first day in the military. It’s sort of a queasy feeling in the pit of your stomach, that maybe you aren’t good enough.

This morning I find myself wondering whether Jesus might have had that same queasy feeling. He is now a grown man, and tradition has it that he is about 30 years old at the beginning of his ministry. He spent his childhood learning the Torah and praying, and it is believed that he spent his early adult years working to support his mother and brothers and sisters. And of course he also spent this time praying and listening to God. And now he is ready to do God’s work. First, he goes to get baptized. Probably he is queasy in the pit of his stomach. What if John refuses to baptize him? What if someone says he’s not worthy?

Well, John does baptize Jesus. And then the most remarkable thing happens: O the Spirit of God descends upon him like a dove. O A voice from heaven announces, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”

We can’t really know whether or not Jesus was in great need of some sign from God. But it must have been wonderful. It must have been a whole lot better than that first day at work, when your boss says, “Good job!”

Baptism has become one of two great sacraments in the church. Does anyone know what the other one is? (Communion.) If you grew up in the church, you probably heard that a sacrament is,

“An outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace.”

But what does that mean? Or more importantly: Why should we care? So far as I know, Jesus never baptized a single soul.

I think the answer is, at least partly, that with Jesus’ baptism, everything changed. We just celebrated his birth. We had huge parties all over the world for him. But we forget that at the time he was born there were no huge parties. There were some shepherds, some angels and magi. But no big parties. Most of the people – in fact just about everyone – had no idea that he was the messiah.

Once Jesus was baptized, it wasn’t just baptism anymore. Once Jesus was baptized, the water wasn’t just water anymore. Once Jesus was baptized, the Holy Spirit got involved. And the water of baptism became a holy thing, a living thing. With Jesus’ baptism, baptism became a sacrament with which to be reckoned.

With John, baptism had to do with be cleansed of sins. And so it does. But with Jesus, baptism became more. With Jesus, baptism became a place to die to the old you, and be born anew. With Christ, we emerge from the waters of baptism reborn. We turn away from what was, and we turn to Christ. We turn to life. We turn to joy. We turn to a God that calls and does not turn away. The water of baptism is the living water, because our God is a living God.

Inside every human being is that feeling of longing, that feeling of desire for ..... something. I once met a young woman who came to talk about being baptized. I asked what she believed about God. She said she could only believe in something. We are born knowing there is something. Some reason. Some answer. It wasn’t time for her to be baptized. She had no idea who Jesus was, and God played no role in her life. It wasn’t time for her to say, “Okay, I’m turning my life over to you. You are the answer. Bring on the living water of baptism. Let me die to my old self and be reborn with you.”

In this font is the living water. It is not alive because a priest put it there. It is not alive even because we can ask God to bless it.

There was a woman at a well, a Samaritan woman. And Jesus told her, “If you drink this water, you’ll get thirsty again. If you drink the water I give you, you will never be thirsty again.” Jesus was talking about the living water. The baptismal water is alive, because with it we are baptized in Jesus. We become alive in Christ.

Once Jesus was baptized, the water was never the same again. When we are baptized in it, that which we long for is given to us: a life with God. Amen.