Isaiah 42:1-4,6-7; Acts 10:34-38; Psalm 29; Luke 3:16-16;21-22
“When Jesus came to Jordan, to be baptized by John, he did not come for pardon but as the sinless One. He came to share repentance with all who mourn their sin, to speak the vital sentence with which Good News begins.” What is the “vital sentence”? Both John the Forerunner and Our Lord began their ministries by proclaiming, “Repent! For the Kingdom of God is at hand!” Or is near you, or is among you, there are various translations, but they all mean the waited for reign of God is right here, right now, and the way in is through repentance. How does this relate to Our Lord’s Baptism? John’s baptism was a baptism of repentance, but it was repentance by human faith and will, Jesus, when he entered the Jordan River, made it a matter of God’s power and God’s promise. Our Lord took a human rite and made it real, made it effective, made it a Sacrament. By being baptized, Our Lord made it possible for our baptism to truly wash away our sins, unite us with Christ and make us an adopted child of God. In our baptism we, or our sponsors, vowed to renounce Satan and all his works, we repented, were absolved, and given a clean slate to begin our life in Christ. In our Chrismation we received the Holy Spirit, who enables us to live according to our baptismal vows. But…there is always a but, isn’t there? After his baptism, the Gospel of Mark says that the Spirit drove Jesus into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. Matthew and Luke say the Spirit led him, but whether driven or led, Our Lord was in the wilderness being attacked by the evil one. The same thing, in a way, happens to us after our baptism, there we are, in a fallen world, surrounded by temptation to sin, by the allurements of evil, by the weakness of our flesh and will. And unlike Jesus, we succumb, we fall, we fail, we drag this brand new life we have been given in the mud and muck, and sometimes we even revel in our depravity. But…this time it’s a good but…repentance is still the way into the kingdom, and it is never too late to repent.
To repent is to, as the hymn says “mourn” our sins, to be truly sorry, and willing to amend our lives, to commit, once more to our baptismal vows. In the words of our second hymn, to ask God to, “…forgive our foolish ways: re-clothe us in our rightful mind, in purer lives thy service find, in deeper reverence praise.” What is “our rightful mind”? According to St. Paul, our rightful mind is the mind of Christ. “The same mind must be in you that is in Christ Jesus.” That is from the Kenotic Hymn in Philippians. What does it mean to have the mind of Christ? It means, also from the Kenotic Hymn, “He was obedient unto death, even death on a cross.” That is what we vowed in our baptism, and since in our baptism we have already died and risen with Christ, death of our body should have no fear for us. We should only fear those things, and those people, who can bind or destroy our souls. Our second lesson from the Book of Acts says of Jesus, “God anointed him with the Holy Spirit and power. He went about doing good works and healing all who were in the grip of the devil…”. We can be healed, we have the power, in the Holy Spirit, to resist evil, we can repent, be forgiven and start again, hopefully wiser and more humble. So why do we give in to stress, depression, despair, and the weight of our sins? There are many reasons, but often it is because one of the devil’s most insidious weapons against the Church is the fostering of our penchant for doing it ourselves. At the first sign of trouble do we reach out to the Body, or do we pull back? Do we cling to the Church as to a lifeline, or do we insist on sinking or swimming alone? We have all done this, I know I have. I haven’t missed Mass that much, being the priest I kind of have to be here, but over the past 30 years there have been times of stress when for months at a time I have resisted praying the offices, or reading the Bible. It was like there was a wall in my heart, that I had built, that I needed to tear down – and thank God – I did. Our Lord, in the wilderness, clung to the Scriptures and threw the word of God into the devil’s face, beating him at his own game. We are often not strong enough to play the devil’s game and win, to quote the computer in “Wargames”, “A strange game, the only way to win is not to play.” We don’t need to play the devil’s game, in our baptism we have been freed from his power, and he knows it. We can safely ignore the devil if we concentrate all we are on being in our rightful mind, living a purer life, serving God and the Church, and generally fulfilling the vows we made at our Baptism.
We have been baptized in the Holy Spirit and in fire, one of the desert Fathers said, “If you choose you can be all flame.” Let us choose to be flame, to be the fire of God’s love in a lost and darkened world. Our Lord’s Baptism opened the way for us, opened for us the Kingdom of God, let us be a light for others so that all can find and follow that way.
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