Rev. Rosemary Webb
12th January 2014
The Baptism of Christ

God loves us and wants us for his own.

We know very little about Jesus’ childhood and early years apart from his visit to the Temple when he was 12. Had he always been in close contact with his cousin John, were there family gatherings when all that had been spoken by the angel were discussed, did Mary wonder when the prophesy would come true. We will never know.

But there was John at the River Jordon calling people
‘to repent, for the kingdom of God is near’, he wanted people to listen, to come and be baptised so that all that separated them from God might be washed away.
We know very little about the relationship between the two, but we are told in John’s Gospel that John looked up and seeing Jesus approaching said ‘Look the Lamb of God’ but whether he was waiting for Christ to come that day – who knows.

But we do know John said it was he, himself, who should be baptised and people do ask ‘Why did Jesus need to be baptized if he is God, if he didn’t have any sin?’. But surely forgiveness of sins is only one part of the grace of baptism; indeed in the baptism service we say that it is the beginning of a journey in faith. It is the sacrament by which God adopts us as children and makes us members of Christ’s Body, the Church.

So surely Jesus, by being baptized, was showing his solidarity with this new community, his willingness to be counted among these people of God. Indeed we hear that the heavens opened and that the Spirit of God descended like a dove and a voice declared ‘this is my Son in whom I am well pleased.‘ That was the beginning of Jesus’ ministry.

So why do we baptize? Well shortly after his death and resurrection, Jesus said to his followers, ‘Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit’. And ever since, the church has been baptising people of all ages.

Baptism isn’t some form of legal document, it is a sign of trust, trust in the power of God, and trust in his promises and admitting the need to turn to God for help and guidance. We are baptised as a child of God, that identity stays with us all our lives, and we are part of Christ’s body here on earth. It is a sign of God’s life-giving grace, of his forgiveness and love.

It is something that the Church, Christ’s body here on earth is commanded to do, just as Jesus commanded the disciples to baptise, to make all people his disciples , so are we today. We are called to draw all into the family of God, in to the church to work to create God’s kingdom here on earth.

As you probably know Archbishop Justin ruffled a few feathers last week by announcing that a new form of Baptism service is being drafted. Needless to say the Church Times has a letter bemoaning the ‘dumbing down’ of faith. But I must say I agree with the Archbishop, it’s not that I want to encourage people to sin, to encourage people to be less committed to God it is more that the wording seems so archaic.

To me being asked to reject the devil and all rebellion against God isn’t how we speak today why does the Church feel it has to use language which people find it hard to understand. Many years ago at one of our Emmaus courses one of our group, long since deceased, became quite angry at the use of the word sin. To her sin meant murder and she had never murdered, if the church meant wrongdoings of a lesser level, well, basically, they should say so. To me such language in this day and age seems to have more to do with domination in its worse sense than loving and believing in God and following in Christ’s footsteps.

I have often looked at the faces of those attending a baptism and I feel they look bewildered at some of the phrases used. In baptism we are inviting people to draw closer to God, to love him with all our hearts, to believe in Jesus and to lead our lives as closely as we can to his life, and whilst parents and Godparents have at least an understanding of faith many of their friends and family won’t have and I think we need to remember that. We also, I think, need to remember the Pharisees preached about the law continually, they loved to call people sinners but they couldn’t recognise Christ when they met him face to face.

And one other point church goers no doubt understand why the priest uses the word you ‘do you repent of our sins’ – but do all the congregation. Might it appear to them that I am saying I am holy yet they are sinners – if they know me they may well be thinking what a hypocrite that woman is. I think we really have to think what we appear to be saying.

We want people to join us, we have to encourage people to join us ,but we must, I believe use language they can relate to. Rather than keep asking them how often they have sinned we need to teach them love, to love God as he loves them. Isn’t God saying ‘I am your Father, you are my child. I will always love, bless and be with you.’ And surely that is why we Baptise.

There are billions of people in the world, we have to show that it isn’t just that God loves all people, but God knows and loves each one of us individually. Holy Baptism is one way in which God comes to us individually and personally with his love. In Holy Baptism, God channels his love for the world down to a single person.

In baptism we are inviting all people to take their first steps on their journey of faith, we are showing that God not only made us but loves each of us, that we are all part of the one family both here on earth and in heaven, let us pray that the church works as one to bring this wondrous gift to all people.