Sunday, January 7, 2007

Getting the Job Done

The Baptism of Our Lord
First Sunday after the Epiphany
Sunday, January 7, 2006
Luke 3:15-22

It’s true there’s a lot of mindless entertainment on TV. But every so often there’s something worthwhile. Personally, I like the funny commercials. And sometimes they even point out things that are true about ourselves.

A recent one has a supervisor holding an office meeting, and he says: “Okay, the presentation is tomorrow so let’s make sure we all know our usual responsibilities. Jeff, you keep feeding me old information. Dean, I need you to continue not living up to your resume. Sue, you’re in charge of waffling. Jerome, you’ll talk a big game and then do nothing. Rick, can you fold under pressure for me? And Ted, you just keep thinking everyone’s out to get you. I’ll be at FedEx Kinko’s, where they’ll help me design, print, copy, and finish the proposal.”

What makes it even funnier are their responses: Sue, says in response to You’re in charge of waffling— “Are you sure?” Jerome, you’ll talk a big game and then do nothing— “Let’s do it.” Rick, can you fold under pressure for me?— “Like a lawn chair.” And Ted, you just keep thinking everyone’s out to get you— “They are.”

Obviously, offices aren’t run that way, although it may seem like it at times. Like in an office, we all have our different roles and responsibilities. Also like an office we don’t always live up to expectations. It might sound appealing to be able to only meet the lowest common denominator, like in the commercial.

But what would happen if we were expected to meet the very highest standards? Not just at the office, but in our lives? Well, we are. It’s plain and simple. We’re Christians, right? Why should we settle for less than doing our very best in everything we do?

But our response usually is, “But we can’t do everything perfectly. We’re not perfect.” Part of the problem we run into is we tend to go to extremes when we try to determine these things. We either try our darndest to do our very best, only to end up failing. Or we settle for less than we should, rationalizing that we’re not perfect, so why should we try to be? And the problem really isn’t with either one of those two extremes, because there’s a lot of truth to both of them. The problem really is that they begin and end with us. The focus is entirely on ourselves.

But what does God do? He tells us in His Word that the beginning and ending of our lives revolve around Him. He shows us this by giving us Christ. Are we to do our very best? No doubt. Do we? Of course not. So God gives us Christ. And rather than focusing on what we are to do, He shows us who Christ is and what He has done.

John the Baptist is somewhat like the supervisor, laying out the responsibilities of the Messiah for the people:

“I Baptize you with water, but He who is mightier than I is coming, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will Baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire. His winnowing fork is in His hand, to clear His threshing floor and to gather the wheat into His barn, but the chaff He will burn with unquenchable fire.”

But the strange thing about Jesus when He came is He didn’t start Baptizing. He did just the opposite! He was Baptized. It’s almost like the commercial all over again: Okay, Jesus, I want you to come on the scene with fire in Your eyes and make a dynamite impression. Baptize people in a way they’ll never forget.

But instead, He didn’t do anything to anybody. He came up to John and said He needed to be Baptized by him. Just as the commercial put a twist on things—just keep doing what you’re doing, wallowing in mediocrity—God puts a twist on bringing salvation to the world by having His Messiah come in a very unlikely way. Further, if He’s here to save the world, why is He being Baptized?

Here is really the key to all of life; Christian life that is; eternal life. The key is not in what we do or don’t do; how well we do it, or how pathetically we try. The key is not in us. It is in Christ. It is in who He is. In what He does. In how He does it. He does it through a simple act of being Baptized. What did John say about Him? He would Baptize with the Holy Spirit and with fire. He does not do that without first being Baptized Himself with the Holy Sprit and fire.

The Holy Sprit part is plain to see, it’s here in our Gospel reading this morning. Upon being Baptized the Holy Spirit descended on Him in bodily from. This was His anointing, the sign of approval that He would serve as the Messiah, the Savior of the world. But how was He Baptized with fire?

To that we must look at the second thing that happened when He was Baptized. Not only did the Holy Spirit descend on Him, a voice came from heaven, “You are My beloved Son; with You I am well pleased.” Okay, that sounds great and wonderful, but what does it have to do with fire? Actually, Jesus was Baptized twice. Once here at the beginning of His ministry and once at the end.

The first with the anointing of the Holy Spirit and the blessing of the Heavenly Father, the second with the removal of the Spirit and the forsaking of the Father. The first with water and the Holy Spirit in the Jordan, the second with the fire of scourging, crucifixion, and the cup of God’s wrath poured out upon Him. Jesus Himself underwent what He Himself set out to do, as John proclaimed it to the people.

But the twist is that when He Baptizes us with the Holy Spirit and fire He does it through the simple Baptism of water, not the punishment of wrath upon our sins. As the Heavenly Father sent the Holy Spirit to descend upon His beloved Son at His Baptism, so Jesus sends the Holy Spirit to descend upon His people at Pentecost in tongues of fire and a new Church is born. We are born into that Church in our Baptism. We receive not the fire of His judgment but of His love.

How else could God have made this promise from the Old Testament reading to His people but through Jesus:

But now thus says the Lord, He who created you, O Jacob, He who formed you, O Israel: “Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are Mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you. For I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.”

The commercial of the office may be funny and lighthearted, but there is nothing funny about our failing and lack of desire to follow God’s will. There is nothing lighthearted about the torments of judgment in the sight of the holy God who demands not just a good try on our part but perfection. Jesus has passed through every trial, the waters that seek to overwhelm, the fire that otherwise would destroy us. He has gone through it all without spot, or stain, or wrinkle. He was not unscathed, but He emerged victorious, not only on the cross with His cry of “It is finished” but with His glorious stepping forth from the tomb showing us once and for all why He went through all that He did.

He was Baptized for a purpose. It was for us. He suffered and died for a reason. You and me. The world. The Epistle reading shows us the fullness of God the Father’s blessings upon His only-begotten Son at His Baptism: “You are My beloved Son; with You I am well pleased.” These are the very words He speaks to us also in our Baptism. Because what happened to Jesus happens to us in Baptism:

Do you not know that all of us who have been Baptized into Christ Jesus were Baptized into His death? We were buried therefore with Him by Baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with Him in a death like His, we shall certainly be united with Him in a resurrection like His.

It’s unusual how He did it, but God gets the job done. He does it not by putting demands on you but by giving you Jesus. Amen.

1 comment:

the filthy augustinian said...

HAHAHAHA...that sounds like the office I work in!!!

That was a really good post on the baptism of Jesus. I had never equated the "baptism of fire" with his crucifixion before...but yeah, now I see it.