During Epiphany I am asking you to think about what kind of Church God is asking us to be through the message of Epiphany. Last week I suggested the story of the Magi from the East reminds us that we need to be a Church that welcomes people from every kind of background and tradition and perspective … just as the Holy family and Jesus himself welcomed all.
This morning we celebrate the Baptism of Jesus and in this Epiphany story we are reminded that we are called to be a Church that is baptised into suffering and hope!! What does that mean to us?
The story begins of course in the Old Testament and not least in the prophecy of Isaiah who wrote a great deal about the nation of Israel being the child of God. I created you, formed you and nurtured you God tells Israel. I love you and care for you. And yet within this message there is an acknowledgement that this does not mean the people of Israel will have it easy. This is important! God declares love for Israel then reminds them they will have to pas through the waters, pass through the rivers .. which were a symbol of hardship in the ancient world .. they will have to walk through the fire and the flames!! It is not a promise of an easy life for God’s children. The promise for Israel is that God will be with them in this experience, God will redeem things which seem lost through the waters and the rivers .. redemption means the return or paying back of something which was taken!! What would it mean to you to have something which has been lost in the trials of life given back or redeemed .. whether a hope or dream or loved one or health? That is the message of the Bible!
And this is the kind of promise Jesus is baptised into when He goes down to the river Jordan. Jesus heard a voice from heaven with those same words as Israel heard from their prophets .. you are my child .. you are created and formed and loved by me. But what would that mean for Jesus. A wonderful celebrity life .. the life of a King .. no rather a life of suffering and temptation and betrayal .. being God’s son would not prevent hardship for Jesus .. but like Israel the promise is one of God’s presence and companionship in the middle of the waters and fires of life.
And this is what the symbolism of baptism is. In baptism we are reminded that the waters of life will often submerge us .. just as in the kind of baptism John gave in the Jordan .. not the sprinkling of water but the submergence of the whole person beneath the waters. And in that act Jesus meets the baptised person under the waters in the symbolic darkness and chaos of the depths and as Jesus meets us under the baptismal waters we are then raised to new life out of the waters. We appear from the depths reborn and strengthened. Life is given back to us from death.
This is the symbolism of your baptism, if you have been baptised. A symbol that you can remind yourself of whenever you face new rivers and trials in life .. that you have already received the promise and entered into a covenant that as a child of God you will know God’s companionship and redeeming work in your life.
This then is the kind of Church we are called to be in the story of Jesus’ baptism. A Church that accepts its vocation, it’s task, of trusting in God’s love even when it seems unreasonable to do so. A Church that, like Israel, hears a message that we are loved and nurtured and cared for by our Creator.. but that this will not mean a life of ease. It will mean a life of fortitude and resilience and faith …to believe that this love is real. This is the symbol given to us that we might believe. A baptism which plunges us under the waters into the chaos and darkness .. as Jesus was plunged into the Jordan before His ministry began .. and a baptism through which we rise again to receive back the light and life of Christ.
May we, like Israel before us and like Christ our great King, be willing to accept this kind of life that we might be the Church of God in this place .. people baptised into the same spirit and same body as one another and as Christ. Believing and trusting in the redemptive love of our Father.