Sunday, January 8, 2012

Let There Be Water

The Baptism of Our Lord
First Sunday after the Epiphany
January 8, 2012

On the first day God said, “Let there be light.” It was before that, before Day One, that God said, “Let there be water.” Our Old Testament reading this morning tells us that in the beginning the earth was formless and void “and darkness was over the face of the deep.” Then it tells us something that was there before He created the universe; before He made the light, the trees, the stars, the sun, animals, people. All of those things came on Day One and after. But there was something that was before: water. After the description of formlessness and the void and the darkness, it says that “the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.”

That is what today is about. It’s about water. Remember when you were a kid and you came inside the house after playing outside all afternoon and there was nothing you wanted more than a cold glass of water? We’ve thought about and have heard about those who were stranded in the desert wanting nothing more than some water, the one thing to ensure their very survival. Their hopes rose in triumph at the sight of a pond or a stream in the desert only to come upon a mirage. If you go without food you’ll make it for longer than you think you can, but not without water. Without water you won’t survive long.

Before God created light and everything else you see there was water. It’s as though God’s first act was to say, “Let there be water.” The Holy Spirit presided over those waters and He does so today. When you’re drinking that tall glass of water you can think of the life the Holy Spirit delivers to you through water. When the drops of water rush over you as you shower in the morning you can consider the new life God the Holy Spirit showers down upon you through water. When you wash your hands you can remember that in a simple act of water sudsing up soap rubbed onto your skin cleanses them and that the Holy Spirit does something very similar for your soul through plain old water.

He was there at the beginning, hovering there over the waters, presiding over Creation, ready for when God the Father would speak, “Let there be light.” And the Holy Spirit was there again, presiding over the waters at the Jordan when the Second Person of the Trinity was Baptized into those waters. The Holy Spirit was hovering as a dove, in tandem with God the Father, who again spoke, this time speaking directly to the Word made flesh, “You are My beloved Son; with You I am well pleased.” The eternal and only-begotten Son had been there also at the Creation, the very Word God the Father spoke when He said, “Let there be light.”

Now we see the three again, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, present at the waters of the Jordan River. The Jordan River is not a mighty river. But water flows through it, just like waters flowed in the moments before creation, when the Holy Spirit was hovering over them.

The Triune God was present at Creation, present at the Baptism of Jesus, and is present whenever a person is Baptized in the Name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is hovering over that water, God the Father is speaking over that water, God the Son is joined with the person being Baptized in that water. It’s no coincidence that at the beginning of creation you have water and the Word of God spoken. It’s not just happenstance that the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit were present at Creation. What happens in Baptism is exactly the same thing. There’s water. There’s the Word of God that this spoken. There’s the Triune God present. Working. Creating. Hovering, presiding, speaking, being present.

If you find yourself out in the Judean wilderness where John found himself you will quickly see that if you can make your way to the Jordan River you will be in good stead. Where there is water there is life. And so John combined his work as a preacher and a baptizer with the Word of God. Where there is water, there is life. Where there is the Word of God there is new life. John combined the two, water and Word. We do the same, too, commanded by the Lord, “Go and make disciples of all nations, Baptizing them in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.”

Does it strike you as odd that Jesus undergoes this thing? John says that the Messiah will come along and be greater than him, a simple preacher, one in a line of prophets, a strange looking guy out there baptizing people in a river. And yet when the Messiah comes He doesn’t Baptize, as Mark tells us John said He would. No, He is Baptized. John Baptizes Jesus just as He had all those other people out there in the Judean wilderness. The Messiah comes to be the Messiah, the Savior, but instead of saving He is Baptized.

Mark doesn’t tell us a whole lot about this instance. Jesus came, He was Baptized by John, and then the heavens tore open and God the Father spoke and the Holy Spirit descended as a dove. Not a lot of details, but one detail that is remarkable, in an event that would take more than the short amount of time we now have would take to develop, is the simple fact that Jesus was Baptized. That water that flowed through the Judean wilderness was created by God, at the speaking of His word in creation. It’s as though He said, “Let there be water. It’s going to be used some day.” Now today was the day. John the Baptist was there, doing what God had called him to do. Now Jesus shows up and God the Father says to Him, “Son, there’s the water, enter it.” Jesus steps into the river and is Baptized.

The simple thing that occurred was that the water was applied to Jesus and John spoke words. Jesus was Baptized. But then, so was the creation itself. God spoke, and it was. Let there be light, and there was light. God brought water into this world not only to be the essential thing that keeps us alive but also to be that thing which gives us new life. The waters of Baptism are cleansing and healing waters. They are refreshing to the soul. Wherever the Triune God is present, you have life. At Creation we saw it. When water is present and the Word of God is attached to it, you have the Triune God at work in His re-creating work, giving new life in that water.

If you want to talk about new life, about being a Christian, about serving God, about living as a disciple of Christ, you’re going to have to talk about water. There’s no new life, no serving God, no being a Christian without Baptism. Paul in the Epistle reading may as well be saying in his exhortation for you not to live in sin, “Let there be water.” Because when it comes to being a son or daughter of God, you must look to that place where you became a son or daughter of God. At your Baptism. He says, “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.”

Where there is water, there is life. Where there is water connected with the Word of God there is death. Death, that is, of the Old Nature, the Sinful Flesh. When you are Baptized into Christ you are Baptized into His death. When Jesus was Baptized He didn’t die, that came later at the cross. But when you are Baptized, watch out! You are brought into the very death of Christ on that cross. You are brought down, into death, in order that your sin and guilt may be done away with. That is the power of the water when it is connected with the Word of God.

So let there be water! Let the waters of Baptism rush freely in your life, as you are daily repenting and resting in the cleansing you have received in those waters. That’s the way it is with water, it’s always flowing. If it doesn’t flow, it gets stagnant. Instead of giving life it destroys life. The waters of Baptism only need to be applied to you once, but the Word that is connected with them continue to pour through your ears and into your heart and your soul. Hear those words often that God the Father spoke to His Son, “You are My beloved Son, with You I am well pleased.” You hear them when you wake up each morning with the sign of the cross, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. You hear them here, in God’s House, where God declares you to be His son, His daughter.

When you look up here at the altar and the cross you see at the foot of the chancel the Baptismal font. Let it be a reminder to you of the waters that flow countless times in Christian churches throughout the world and history. Let the waters that flowed at your own Baptism be a river of life flowing in you. You walk in newness of life. Not because you have drunk a cold glass of crystal clear and expensive mineral water from the High Sierras, but because you have drunk deeply of the well of the Waters of Life over which the Holy Spirit presides. Remember your Baptism often. You walk, as Paul says, in newness of life because in those waters you drowned. You died there, but you died with Christ. Let there be water, because in that water of Baptism it’s not about who you are or what you need to do, it’s about who Christ is and what He has done for you.

Never diminish your Baptism. It is the work of God. Do not fall into the trap of so many Christians who think it merely as a symbol of new life. It is the very work of God of re-creation, in the same vein as His work of creation. That’s why Peter says in his second book that there are so many people who “deliberately overlook this fact, that the heavens existed long ago, and the earth was formed out of water and through water by the Word of God.” Where there is water, there is life. And where there is water connected with the Word of God there is new and eternal life. Your Baptism is about this, who Christ is and what He has done for you.

And what is that? Well, for one thing, He was Baptized. He was Baptized, a remarkable thing. Nothing that He needed to do. Nothing He was in need of repenting of. But there He was, in those waters, being Baptized just as you have been. Something He didn’t need He underwent, and He did it for you. When three years later He hung on the cross having taken upon Himself every sin that needs repenting of, a sword was thrust into His side. It’s as though God the Father spoke out of the heavens and said, “Let there be water,” because there it was again, flowing from the side of the Son on the cross. And it’s as though the Holy Spirit was there again, presiding over that very water that flowed from the side of the Son and poured it directly into the font where you were Baptized.

Because that’s what happened at your Baptism. You were Baptized with Christ. You were Baptized into His death. You were so so that even as He was raised from the dead you too might walk in newness of life. God said it, it is so. Amen.


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