Sermon Sunday 8th Jan 2023.

Readings; Psalm 29, Matthew 3, 13-17, Isiaih 42,v2-9, Acts 10, 34-43


It’s not often preachers use all four of the set readings for a service, but when I was reading through them this week, it just seemed appropriate to do so.

Today, in the Anglo Catholic Calendar is the celebration of the Baptism of Christ. Methodism, with its Anglican background, in some churches also recognises the date, although many now celebrate the Covenant service at the start of the new year.

We heard the story in Matthew’s gospel, as John, confused that Jesus should come to him for Baptism, eventually agrees and then a voice from heaven proclaims “This is my son, in whom I am pleased” in so many words echoing the words at the start of our Isaiah passage “He is my chosen one who pleases me” in the NIV translation.

It struck me, as I read these passages against the psalm, that there was a great contrast, echoed in our first two hymns today, Majesty, worship his majesty, then Meekness and majesty. In the Psalm, the voice of the Lord is of thunder echoing over mighty seas, powerful, felling the great cedars of Lebanon, full of majesty, a vision of power and awe of the thunderous sound of the voice of God.

And then, as Jesus, the Word of God, the logos emerges from the waters of Jordan, the spirit, like  a dove, a sign of peace, descends gently from heaven and a voice says, “This is my son, in whom I am pleased”. With those words, of fatherhood, of tenderness, of pride, accompanied by the Spirit, in the form of the dove of peace, I cannot imagine the voice would have been thunderous, echoing over the seas and felling cedar trees.

And we are reminded of the words of Isaiah- I have put my Spirit upon him, he will bring justice to the nations, he will not shout or raise his voice in public, crush the weakest, extinguish a flickering candle, nor will he falter or lose heart until justice prevails, a light to guide, breath to everyone, freeing captives, giving sight to the blind.

Meekness and majesty, manhood and deity, the man who was God.

This, this is the man who came to John, sinless yet seeking baptism, humble enough to put himself in the same place as those sinners he came to save, to even take their place in the waters of Jordan as he took their place on the cross where all sin, and even death were overcome for all time.

And in his obedience, in his servanthood, in his willingness to do all that, he emerges as if from the waters of creation itself and his Father God says, announces to the world  through those few witnesses present “ This is my son with whom I am pleased” at the same time announcing his servant role as prophesied by Isaiah.

And when we read the gospels, we see just that. A man who did not falter or lose heart until justice and healing were achieved, ultimately on the cross, but practically to all he came across in his earthly ministry to demonstrate righteousness, which described that perfected relationship with God which comes only from God, something we might aspire to, but only the sinless, yet baptised Christ could ever achieve.

Last week, we found so many names for Christ, this week encompassing all those names, we come to the river and all those names are distilled into one “This is my Son”. The Son of God who reveals the very nature of God in some divine genetic code which unravels all the words of Isaiah, all the words of the angels and the prophets into the Word of God, the essence of love, the name of Jesus, the Christ.

And what of Peter and Cornelius. As I read that first speech, that mini sermon of Peter, the Jew, to Cornelius the Gentile, as Peter recognises the all-encompassing reach of the gospel not just to Israel but to the whole world, as he describes the anointing of Jesus with the Holy Spirit as we heard at his baptism, as he reveals the purposes of God through Jesus, Cornelius, his family and household are transfixed by that truth revealed and the Holy Spirit descends on them in an astounding revelation and they too are baptised, as can be read beyond the passage we heard.

The baptism in water of Jesus, the anointing of the Holy Spirit in the dove, the life and gospel of Jesus flows through the apostle’s words and the circle of love and righteousness is completed in him through the baptism they receive.

And I’m sure would go on, through them as they witnessed of all they had seen and heard and believed in.

The baptism of Christ. Not just the one off, historic, completely unique revelation of Jesus’ identity we might consider it to be as we read the passage, but a baptism that echoes down through the prophet’s words, harks back to the very creation in the psalmists and reaches forward in the spreading of the gospel and making of new believers as their baptism leads them into new life in Christ.

And what of us? Is this a revelation to us too, is this baptism the encompassing of the meekness and majesty of Christ which has led to our Baptism, to our anointing with the Holy Spirit, or are we still like Cornelius waiting for the word, the word that will reveal that truth, that depth ,that possibility of the richest relationship with God, the true righteousness he can grant us, and the desire to go out , like Peter, and tell the good news, the gospel which we have been granted though grace.

And if his Spirit is upon us, do we have the courage to emulate the servant, the son, who in obedience will not falter or lose heart as we seek justice and healing, be the light to others, free the captives, open the blinded eyes and lead others to the glorious light of a God of love and peace.

For that is what the baptised and anointed Son of God asks of us, not in our strength, but in His, not in our own power, but in the power of the Holy Spirit.