Isaiah 43.1-7 Luke 3. 15-17, 21-22
The Baptism of Christ – what a wonderful gift it is that Timothy’s baptism falls on this Sunday.
When I start thinking about a sermon, I go through the readings and try to notice if any words jump out at me.
‘I have called you by name, you are mine.’
These are the words that seemed to jump off the page when I read through today’s readings. And the words that come immediately before this are : Do not fear, for I have redeemed you.
‘I have called you by name, you are mine.’
Our names are very precious. Our name is one of the first things we are given by our parents. From a very young age we can recognise our name and we get used to answering to our name all through our lives. Our name is basic part of who we are. We have our own name and our family name. To be called by our name means we are recognised as a person. Even if we sometimes get those annoying phone calls trying to sell us something or saying they have heard we have been involved in an accident and would we like to make a claim. But despite this, to be called by our name is important. And of course our name and identity is affirmed in baptism.
But before we get into Baptism, just a little more about these wonderful words from the prophet Isaiah. They are addressed not to an individual – not to a Sarah or a Rebecca or a David. They are addressed to the people of Israel as a whole. They had been having a horrific time, defeated by powerful and aggressive neighbours they had been driven into exile and their capital city and the temple which was the centre of their worship and their identity had been completely destroyed.
Had God forgotten them? Had they been abandoned and cast adrift in a violent world? What could they make of the promises to Abraham and later to King David that his kingdom would last for ever. Where was God now? So things were at a very low point. But here the prophet is speaking words divinely inspired. No. You have not been abandoned or disowned. You are still precious in God’s sight. God is the one who created you and God still loves you. Do not fear. Our Good News Bible says ‘I will save you’. Another version – NRSV says ‘I have redeemed you’ I have called you by name. You are my people.
They have been called by their name, their true identity as God’s people was secure. This was not because they had earned this by living good lives. But it says ‘because you are precious to me and because I love you.’
Wow! To have the creator of the universe, God himself say these words …. That is pretty special. When I read words like that it gives me a wonderful warm feeling. Like coming out of the cold into a warm place and suddenly feeling relaxed. Or coming out of the cold swimming pool and relaxing in the Jacuzzi. ‘I have called you by your name and you are mine.’ If you take away one thing from this service, perhaps you can take those words. And if life is very full or very challenging, you can come back to them and reflect on them. ‘I have called you by name, you are mine.’ Our identity is secure and we are God’s loved people.
Identity is important in baptism. At first sight it is a bit puzzling that Jesus was baptised. Baptism is about repentance, turning away from all it is wrong, all that is dark and life denying. All that leads to destruction and despair. But the firm belief of the church from the very beginning is that Jesus was without sin. Jesus by now was about 30 years old we are told. He was a mature adult and on the threshold of his public ministry. No doubt he had been thinking and praying and his vocation had been maturing, but now at his baptism, although he is not actually given a name, his calling and his identity are affirmed in dramatic fashion. It must have been a very significant memory for Jesus as all 4 gospel writers include it. The punch line, if you like, comes in verse21. There was a voice from heaven: ‘You are my own dear Son. I am pleased with you.’ Just like in the Isaiah passage, the identity of Jesus is recognised and affirmed. You are my own dear Son. So his identity is recognised. He is not just the carpenter’s son from Nazareth, he is God’s own dear Son. In some ways the baptism of Christ functioned as a kind of commissioning or even ordination. From now on he embarked on those three very packed years of public ministry.
And notice the visuals. This is a Trinity occasion. The voice from heaven is associated with God the Father. Jesus’ identity as the much loved Son is affirmed and the Holy Spirit appears in the form of a dove. Father Son and Holy Spirit and every Christian baptism is done in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.
The baptism of Christ comes in the church calendar in the Epiphany season. I sometimes think of it as being like when you drop a pebble in a pond. The ripples spread out in all directions. At his birth Jesus is shown to the nearby shepherds. Then with the arrival of the magi, the three wise men, Jesus is shown to non-Jews. And now at his Baptism his calling is recognised and the divine approval is clearly signalled.
Timothy is not old enough to take his own decisions, so he is baptised by the wish of his parents and the promises are made by parents and godparents. As he grows up he will need to decide for himself. But from now he has a new identity. He is named and enrolled in the family of the church. And his baptism is also a call to action. Once again he will have to discern this for himself.
Attending a Baptism service is not a spectator sport. It is a chance to remember our own baptism or to consider if that is step we would like to take. In recent baptisms here Gary has sprinkled us with water from the font as a way of including us. Today we are going to try a different way. After the final blessing and dismissal Chorate will be singing to us and you are invited, if you wish to come and dip your fingers in the water of baptism in the font and to make a sign of the cross on your forehead as a sign of remembering and recommitting to our baptism vows. To affirm our identity as God’s loved sons and daughters. People who can tune into those words from Isaiah: ‘I have called you by name, you are mine.’ Amen
The painting shown was The Baptism of Christ by Piero della Francesca, painted around 1450