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St Matthews Church Oxhey Hertfordshire

Fr David's Sermon


12th January 2003

Fr David Shepherd

Baptism of Christ

Now that Christmas has ended advertisers encourage us to book our Summer Holidays. On freezing January days the idea of lying on a sun-drenched beach or of swimming in a warm sea seems particularly attractive. Today, we like to relax in, by or on the sea.

It was not so for ancient peoples. The sea represented danger and chaos. We can see that in today's passage from Genesis.
'The earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep.'
Only when God's spirit swept over the face of the waters did darkness give way to light, chaos to order.

Today we are invited to consider the waters of Baptism through which we pass from darkness to light and receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. Through our Baptism the chaos and disorder of sin and all the consequences of the fall give way to a new order and a new creation in the person of Christ.

The Baptism of Jesus by John the Baptist is one of those special epiphany moments when the true nature of Christ is revealed to us. That revelation comes through the ministry of John, the wild man in the wilderness. His preaching and his baptism drew great crowds. His baptisms were messy, untidy affairs, as a seething mass of sinful, muddled humanity was moved to change direction in life and to seek a fresh start with God.

In seeking baptism by John, Jesus identified himself fully with humanity, the sinless one amongst all those ordinary flawed people who were essentially like us. The one whose sandals John felt unworthy to undo in humility shares in our human condition so that he can redeem it.

At that moment of the total self-identification of Jesus with humanity, God the Trinity is made manifest. An epiphany takes place. Jesus sees the Spirit descending upon him like a dove and he hears his Father's voice saying: -
'You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.'
For the Eastern Orthodox Church, with its high doctrine of the Trinity, the Baptism of Christ is celebrated as a major feast; only recently has it been restored in the West.

We may feel our lives to be chaos and darkness, or that we live in times of great uncertainty. As we acknowledge the reality of our human condition, especially our own, we too can hear the voice of the Father saying to us personally 'You are my son, my daughter, the beloved, with you I am well pleased'.

As we receive the gift of the Holy Spirit so we know ourselves to be the adopted children of God, in a relationship of love and care with our heavenly Father. This change in us, that comes in a moment of conversion and in a lifetime of growth, St. John refers to as being born again. Life is never the same again as darkness gives way to light. Remember how Nicodemus came to Jesus by night to receive the teaching about being born again.

If being born again can be both a moment and a process the same is true of the Baptism through which God gives it effect. Most of us will not remember our Baptism, although we will wish to give thanks for those who carried us to the waters in faith. Our Baptism, whether remembered or forgotten, was a moment in time, but it is also of eternity. That means that its effects can be claimed and known now.

Now, at this moment, in our frailty, God desires to give us his Holy Spirit so that we will know ourselves to be his beloved, adoptive children. God's gracious epiphany at the Baptism of Christ is to be celebrated here and now.

Amen

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Last updated 16/01/2003 09:00:00 Author: Fr David Shepherd