One of my least favorite children’s stories is the many tales of Winnie-the-Pooh. I always found Pooh bear to be a pathetic thing who is at the mercy of his surroundings. For example, in one story, Pooh bear comes down the stairs bump, bump, bump on the back of his head, behind Christopher Robin. It is as far as he knows the only way of coming downstairs, but sometimes he feels that there really is another way if only he would stop bumping for a moment and think of it.
In the same way, many of us go through life, bumping our heads against the brick walls which appear in own life and despair wondering how we might change, but never quite succeeding in that change. Many of us are our own Pooh bears not enjoying life, but not knowing how to change or shift the direction of our lives. We go along bruising, bumping ourselves wishing life would change, but not stopping long enough to think about how we might change or shift the direction of life.
As one of the great radio commentators used to begin each broadcast many years, ago with” I’ve got good news tonight.” This morning I can say the same thing to each of us as we live our Pooh bear existence, I’ve got good news for you! There is a hope and promise of better thing to come Yes, no matter how desperate, how low, how depressing your life is, no matter how directionless life seems, I have good news for you. That good news is someone loves you and has made you a member of his family by the waters of baptism and because of that, there is hope, there is a promise of better things to come.
Today as we remember the baptism of Jesus we are also in the Epiphany season where we emphasize the light of Christ, the light which shines in the darkness. Christ is a light which shines in our individual lives and at the same time a light which is spread to others.
Think about a candle for a moment. A candle loses nothing by lighting another candle. In fact it gains, because there is now two candles in which to see in the darkness. Instead of one light piercing the darkness, now there are two. Each light gives strength and courage to the other. Each soul, each person in the body of Christ gives strength, courage, faith and hope, to the others as they walk together in the darkness of this world.
In her famous book and film, “The Hiding Place” Corrie ten Boom tells the story of a Dutch Christian family, her family, who had a heart for the Jewish people
Her grandfather Wilhelm ten Boon started a weekly prayer group in 1844 in the city of Haarlem, near Amsterdam for the salvation of the Jews. This weekly prayer meeting amazingly continued uninterrupted until 1944 when the ten Boon family were sent to a concentration camp for helping Jews to flee from the Nazi persecution in Holland
Corrie tells an interesting story about her father Caspar ten Boon. When the Jews were forced to wear the “Star of David,” Casper lined up for one. He wore it because he wanted to identify himself with the people for whom he and his family had been praying for all those years.
He was prepared to be so completely identified with the Jews that he was willing to wear a sign of shame and suffer persecution for the sake of the people he loved.
He didn’t have to wear the Star but chose to.
This morning’s Gospel reading in St. Luke’s Gospel is a very short description of Jesus’ baptism.
1. The first reason was a sign of Jesus’ complete dedication to following the will of God.
2. The second reason was that it announced the beginning of Jesus’ earthly ministry and
3. The third reason was as an example to us.
However, this year I would like to approach the baptism of Jesus from a different angle.
If Jesus is the sinless Son of God – why did he get baptised – because he certainly didn’t need to!!!
I think the key to the answer lies in the fact that He loved us so much that he chose to identify with us. Just as Caspar ten Boon wore the Star of David to identify with the Jews. And Jesus’ baptism was a prefiguring of the Cross of shame which was to come. The Cross on which Jesus would so identify with the human race that he took the penalty of our sins on himself.
We tend to think of baptism – as rather a nice thing. We like to have our children “christened” or done.
But in Jesus’ day, baptism was shocking to a religious Jew – especially for a Jew to undergo John’ s baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins” (Mk 1:4)
The only time baptism was used was when a Gentile became a Jew. And then the proselyte would “baptise himself and all his family”. But here we read that John the Baptist baptised Jesus as if he were “ a Gentile dog” – to use a first century Jewish expression.
So what is the significance of Jesus identifying with us in His baptism? What practically does it mean to us today? Well, I think the answer can be found in the Book of Hebrews:
14Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has gone through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess.
15For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are–yet was without sin.
16Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need. (Hebr. 4:14-16)
Jesus has identified so completely with us, that we can approach Him totally confident that He will understand us and that He is interested in all we do in our lives. Jesus isn’t on the balcony; he has joined us on the road.
What do I mean by that?
I had a holiday house in Oberegg, which had a balcony overlooking the road between Oberegg and Heiden. As long as we sat on the balcony and looked down on people walking along the road, the road was no use to us – other than as a topic of conversation.
The road only became useful to us if we were to leave the balcony and go down onto the road. Jesus joins us on the road of our pilgrimage through life and he is interested in all aspects of our lives – our joys and sorrows, our successes and failures. Jesus’ identification with us – at his baptism and more completely on the Cross – gives me permission to approach His Throne of Grace with my fears and anxieties.
Jesus became a human being and dwelt among us. And was tempted as we are.
Finally, our baptism which we have seen includes each person and is equally given also asks us to be responsible to each other as we walk the journey of faith, Let me illustrate “Once there were 3 people caught in a boat adrift a. sea. Unfortunately, they could not get along with each other. So they divided the boat in 3 sections and each one could decorate his section as he chose. The first person like the color yellow and painted his section yellow. The second person liked flowered wallpaper, so he papered his section, But when the third person, who loved bubbling water fountains, began drilling holes in the boat’s floor, the other two stopped him cold.”
Because we have been called through our Baptism to a community life, we then become responsible for each other in the community. But I think in this culture, in this community we tend to look at faith as something very personal so we haven’t fulfilled our responsibility to each other. Remember in the Baptismal service, at the end, we present the baby to the congregation as I walk with it down the aisle. We do this, because in this act, we, the community is accepting responsibility for that baby’s faith life just as the parents and sponsors did earlier. We have a duty to each other to help each other to keep alive, to keep burning the candle of faith in our lives as it was light in baptism.