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Sermon for Baptism of our Lord – January 9, 2022

Luke 3:15-17, 21-22

Dear friends, grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ.

The beginning of a new year is often a time of expectation. We have hopes for how things might be better in the new year ahead. As we put a new calendar up on the wall we have longings for things to be different than they were in the year before. It feels like a blank slate, like a story yet to be written, like a new opportunity. I mean, there must be some reason so many people stayed up and counted down. There must be some reason for the fireworks in cities around the world as midnight struck around the globe. At New Years, we celebrate a new beginning, and with that new beginning often comes a sense of expectation.

Our gospel reading for this morning begins with people who are filled with expectation. They had a sense that God was about to do a new thing. They were preparing for the coming of the Messiah by being baptized in the river Jordan. They received John’s baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. It felt like a blank slate, like a story yet to be written, like a new opportunity.

And they were right – but they had one plot point slightly off. They wondered if John, their baptizer, was the Messiah. They wondered if John was the one they should be celebrating, the one who would be making all things new.

John quickly disabused them of that notion, saying:

“I baptize you with water; but one who is more powerful than I is coming; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”

When the true Messiah comes, John told this expectant crowd, he will baptize not with water alone, but with the Holy Spirit – the very presence of God. He will baptize with fire, not a fire to burn, not a fire to hurt or harm – certainly not a literal fire! The Messiah will baptize with a spiritual fire that purifies, a spiritually cleansing fire, a refiner’s fire, a fire that burns away every impurity in us so that sinful people can enjoy a relationship with a holy God.

When the true Messiah comes, John says, he will work like a farmer separating wheat from chaff. Every stalk of wheat, every head of grain, has both, you know. It isn’t that some people are wheat and some people are chaff. We all have both, and the Messiah will come to take the chaff away. The Messiah will come to take away that husk of sin surrounding us in order to redeem us as the grain that is so very precious to God.

This is all Good News! John isn’t the one who will do this, but the people are right to be expectant! God was indeed about to do a new thing among them.

And in fact, God was already doing it right under their noses. Because you see even as they were being baptized, the true Messiah was already there in the water with them! Jesus, the true Messiah, had quietly slipped into the waters right alongside them and was baptized too! Luke mentions it as nonchalantly as Jesus seems to have done it: “Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized…”

As the people were filled with expectation, Jesus was already there among them! He was in the water with them! Jesus didn’t need to be baptized. John’s baptism was a baptism of repentance, a way of turning back to God. Jesus is God – he didn’t need to turn back to himself! John’s baptism was for the forgiveness of sin. Jesus had no sin – he didn’t need forgiveness! What Jesus was doing was coming alongside the very people he had come to save – sinners! What Jesus was doing in going under the water and then rising to the surface was a foreshadowing how he would save them once and for all – by dying and rising again. What Jesus was doing in being baptized was changing the very nature of baptism itself. He was infusing that water with his own saving presence.

And then what had been hidden in plain sight now became clear. As Jesus prayed, the heavens opened up and the Holy Spirit descended upon him like a dove, and a voice came from heaven saying, “You are my Son, the beloved; with you I am well pleased.” Here was Jesus splashing around in the muddy, sin-tainted waters of the Jordan, and God the Father smiled and said, “That’s my boy! Good job Son!” Before the people even realized it, as they were filled with expectation, the work of the true Messiah had begun.

It is now 2022, and we all probably have expectations for the new year ahead. It feels like a new opportunity, a new beginning. The last two years have been difficult for so many people in so many ways, and we hope that things will be better in the new year ahead.

It is entirely understandable to be filled with expectation with the coming of a new year. It is a good time to reflect and to hope. But as Christians we have something much more profound than a new calendar on the wall to mark a new beginning for us. As Christians we look to something much more significant than a 21 turning into a 22. Because you see, this baptism of which John spoke has come. It has been given to us. The true Messiah has come, and he has brought this new, improved baptism with him! When you were baptized into Christ, the Lord Jesus met you in those waters. When you were baptized into Christ, you were given the Holy Spirit. When you were baptized into Christ, every impurity that separated you from God was burned away so that you could be in the presence of God both now and forever.

Your baptism wasn’t just a welcoming ceremony, it was a new beginning, a new birth! And this baptism has a daily significance. It set a daily pattern of dying and rising with Christ, a daily pattern of putting off the old sinner and putting on the new person you are in Christ. We are invited, indeed encouraged, to return to the promises of baptism every day, and in so doing we are born again, and again, and again. In the new, improved baptism given to us by the true Messiah, we are given a well of grace and mercy and forgiveness that never goes dry. Christ continues to be found in the water with sinners. And so as we repent and return and remember, no matter what the calendar or the clock might say, every day is a story yet to be written, every hour is a blank slate and a fresh start, every breath is a new beginning.

Thanks be to God. Amen.

Rev. Jeffrey R. Spencer

Oak Harbor Lutheran Church