Christmas 3 Matthew 3 Baptism in the Jordan

Matthew 3.13-17

Then Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan, to be baptized by him. 14John would have prevented him, saying, ‘I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?’ 15But Jesus answered him, ‘Let it be so now; for it is proper for us in this way to fulfil all righteousness.’ Then he consented. 16And when Jesus had been baptized, just as he came up from the water, suddenly the heavens were opened to him and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. 17And a voice from heaven said, ‘This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.

The Christian is Baptised. He is drawn down through the waters and then drawn back up out of them again reborn.

You enter Christ and become one of his people, a member of his Body. If you are baptised you have been given a very high office. There is no higher status than Christian. By baptism you became a king, priest and prophet, and you became a son and heir. You did so because at baptism you entered the body of Christ, the communion of his holy people. There is nothing higher than this. It takes a lifetime of discipleship to discover how vast this dignity is.

At the beginning of our Christian life we are babes, vulnerable, who need the protection, supervision and teaching of the church immediately around us. The church – starting with the specific Christians and congregations – has to take care of you and give you the best start, so that you can grow. They have to ensure that your growth doesn’t stall. They have to accompany you so that you learn to recognise and follow the voice of the master and discern his voice among all the other voices huckstering and dinning all around you. All those other voices want something from you; they want you to join their club and so bolster their power. They want to manipulate you and use you. All the Christians around you want you to grow up, become strong, and grow independent, able to defend yourself from all the charlatans. 

Only Christianity says that persons are individuals, and says that they are not individuals because they make themselves such, by cutting themselves off from all others. To cut yourself off is to put yourself at the top of the chute that will send you sliding away down into the isolation of utter aloneness.

But they are individuals because God calls each of them by their name, and hold them before him, so that it is his relationship with them that makes them utterly distinct from every other person. Their uniqueness flows into them from him. By loving us and calling us, and waiting for our response, God makes us who we are, and refuses to let us lock ourselves into to any smaller or vicious identity. We may attempt to close ourselves down and lock ourselves in, but by continuing to call us God keeps us open.

Scripture is the waters of baptism in which we should stay immersed. Our fathers taught each other the bible, and they knew that all truth and their own identities were revealed to them by the bible. They learned parts of the bible off by heart, so that they were always ready to quote some part of it to help them weigh up how to respond to each situation and decide on the best course of action. They became a more self-controlled and not so easily upset and not stopped by any setback.  They got further on the way towards personal maturity and adulthood. They were disciples, and we should become disciples too. All the virtues of discipleship will help us to deal with all the shocks and adjust to all the changes that life will bring.

The waters are cold deep and the current is powerful. The unruly forces that push their past us and over us will not hear anything we say. They want us to lose our footing, so that we are swept off our feet and carried along. These forces make us helpless babies. Our rulers present us with screens through which pour all forces of the world, the whole current pushing against us and attempting to take it with us. In putting screens into the hands of our children we are recklessly pushing them out into a flood of unhappy human experience without the means of dealing with it. We are pushing them out into rough waters and letting them become immersed in the fear and violence of the unhappy world, in which all is flux and flow, in which the current bears everything away. 

This flow comes at us through our electronic devices. The screens we hold in our hand are the altars towards which we direct our gaze, our desires, prayers and adoration. Each delivers a torrent of images, messages and action, which tumbles together every motive and desire and identity, jumbling everything up with everything else so that no settled individuality emerges and we remain entirely fluid, our identity undeterminable. They set us in an entirely non-reciprocal, asymmetrical and so unjust relationship, in which technology and media owners are everything and we are nothing. We must let go of them and allow the one true flow of holiness that comes from God bears away all that does not belong to us, so that our baptism results in our standing solely on the solid ground of Christ. 

When Jesus had been baptized, just as he came up from the water, suddenly the heavens were opened to him and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, ‘This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.

Now we hear this voice. Now we may put down our phone, look up to the altar and see the Beloved Son of God and know that his gaze holds ours, and we are out of the river and on solid ground at last. Out of the torrent and the flood steps the unchanging truth of man with God.