Summary: We are baptized for action. We are baptized to go out into the world and be the hands, voice and presence of Christ. We are baptized for the sake of others and for the sake of the world.
If the reading we heard from Mark’s Gospel a few minutes ago sounds familiar, it’s because we heard part of the same reading a few weeks ago on the Second Sunday of Advent. On that Sunday, we heard John the Baptist talk about the coming of Jesus and the baptism that he would provide-the baptism of the Holy Spirit. John saw Jesus as both mightier than him and more worthy than him, and Jesus said that no one greater than John had ever lived. John saw himself as not being worthy enough to unite the sandals on Jesus’ feet, and that was a task that was dirty and not very appealing according to the culture of that time.
Today, we heard about Jesus’ baptism and the coming of the Holy Spirit on him. John proclaimed Christ’s superiority by distinguishing between his own baptism with water and the baptism that Christ would provide with the Holy Spirit. Several Old Testament passages speak of the Holy Spirit being poured out like water. Jesus’ baptism with the Holy Spirit supplies us with supernatural power just like the Holy Spirit revealed its supernatural power at Jesus’ baptism.
All three members of the Trinity-Father, Son, and Holy Spirit-were present at Jesus’ baptism. The parting of heaven was a foretaste of both Jesus’ statement in Mark 1:15 that the kingdom of heaven was near and the tearing of the veil of the temple when Jesus died on the cross. Jesus’ birth ended the separation of God and man that was created when Adam and Eve sinned in the Garden of Eden
The Holy Spirit changes things. It works through Jesus to bridge the gap between us and God. Reconciliation with God was possible because of Jesus’ birth, ministry, death and resurrection. Not only was this gap first bridged at Jesus’ baptism when the Holy Spirit descended from heaven like a dove, it was also bridged at his death when the veil in the temple was torn in two. The Temple was divided into several sections, including the Holy of Holies. The Holy of Holies was separated from the rest of the temple by a curtain. The only person who could enter this particular part of the temple was the High Priest, and even then he could only enter on the Day of Atonement. No one else could enter, so a rope was tied to the high priest’s waist so that if anything happened to him he could be removed without anyone else having to enter. A bell was attached to the high priest so that people on the outside could hear him move. If the bell stopped ringing for any length of time, the people would know that something happened to the high priest and that they needed to pull him out of there immediately.
God claims us through baptism. In the waters of our baptism, God speaks our name, unites us to Christ and grants us the promise of new life. He says that he loves us, he claims us and he is proud pf us. Nothing else is needed. No one can take our new identity in Christ away from us. No matter what other names we are called by others or even by ourselves, we are now beloved children of God. In the Baptism Service in the Anglican Church of Canada’s Book of Alternative Services, there is a line that is read when a person is baptized-“I sign you with the sign of the cross, and I mark you as Christ’s own forever.” We have been adopted into God’s family. God’s love for us can’t be changed. It guides our behaviour. Because of God’s love, there are certain things we won’t do and there are certain things we will do-things that we must do. Through Jesus, we have a love that will take risks and a family identity that can’t be broken.
Baptism tells us that we are deeply rooted in the possibility toward goodness. That is a revelation to us. It goes against the stain of original sin which I mentioned earlier. It encourages us to take a risk by going into this unknown territory. God offers harmony, intensity, peace, compassion and justice-things that are alien to our world.
Why did Jesus have to be baptized? After all, he was sinless. Jesus said in Mathew 3:15 that he needed to be baptized “to fulfill all righteousness.” It was God’s counsel in Luke 7:29-30 that people be baptized of John. In other words, God tells us to repent. Jesus asked John to baptize him as an act of obedience to God’s purposes. Jesus wanted to set a good example for us by doing the Father’s will. His baptism also served to introduce him to John and the people of Israel as the long-promised Messiah.