Jesus comes from Galilee to the Jordan River, where he asks John to baptize him. John balks at this, saying he should be baptized by Jesus instead.
Jesus says they should do whatever God says is right and John agrees to it.
Jesus is baptized and as he comes out of the water, the skies open and he sees God’s spirit coming down to him like a dove. He hears a voice from heaven say, “This is my Son, the one I love. I am very pleased with him.”
Jesus’ baptism is the beginning of his ministry. This is part of why it is such an important sacrament. He made baptism an essential part of beginning to go out into the world to heal and teach and love people, and it marks our membership in the church that resulted from his life and ministry and death and resurrection. It’s a sign that we will continue his work of love and healing.
Though it is only the beginning of his work, John the Baptist already declares he should be the one baptizing and God’s spirit marks him as his own. Matthew is telling us how important this moment is and how important this ministry will be.
He continues to preach and baptize, calling on people to change and telling them the Good News.
This week of advent we see the importance of John the Baptist in preparing the way for Jesus, as we prepare our hearts for his arrival at Christmas. John emphasized repentance, a changing of the heart, and its evidence was in our behavior and good works. We are to share what we have and not use our privilege for evil. The emphasis is on love and caring as opposed to grasping and greed. Go and do likewise.
This week will be a little different, because on this week I did the homily for our church’s family service. I am going to put most of that homily here, but I’m also going to link to the source of the ideas for that homily, which is a really wonderful blog called Worshiping With Children. It is great advice for how to lead a service like the one I was speaking in, which is full of young families. I relied so heavily on it because I found out I needed to preach at 11pm the night before, because our rector was ill. I figured the blog is meant for such use, so hopefully the cribbing in that instance is ok. These are my notes for the homily (which I then broke down more simply on to a few notecards and ad libbed a bit more from those).
What do we know about John the Baptist?
John was Jesus’ cousin
John’s clothes and food–wearing clothes of camel’s hair, living on locusts and wild honey
John told his followers they were doing wrong and needed to change
John baptized people who came to hear him and wanted to change
John promised that someone important was coming from God and he was just pointing toward him
John baptized Jesus
John the Baptist was the first to point people to Jesus.
I need two volunteers to help illustrate John and Jesus. (I had two little girls who volunteered.)
Pose the baptism of Jesus first.
Then, pose John pointing to Jesus.
He was the first to point to Jesus, but many others did, too. The shepherds who saw the baby Jesus in the stable on Christmas, the Samaritan woman at the well, people he healed, the women who saw the empty tomb. (As I was speaking this part I had an awkward moment as it hit me that the shepherds actually pointed to Jesus before John–this is what happens when you have little prep time.)
We can point to Jesus, too.
John knew who he was and who he was not.
He wasn’t the Messiah or Elijah (people asked him if he was both of those).
He was simply to prepare people for Jesus.
Part of our job in life is to figure out who we are and who we are not.
When one of my sons says, “All the other kids are…” I tell them he isn’t all the other kids. He is his own wonderful self. He is a child of God. As are you.
Today’s passage is from the beginning of the Gospel of Mark. It starts with quotes from both Isaiah and Malachi (though only Isaiah is credited in this passage) about a messenger preparing the way for the Lord. Then he goes on to talk about John the Baptist, who indeed prepares the way for Jesus. John was out in the wilderness preaching and baptizing people in the Jordan River–calling them to repent of their sins and change.
Baptism was probably not a new thing at the time. The Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible mentions that “Many Jewish people were also familiar with a sort of baptism associated with conversion, a once-for-all kind of turning.” It likely relates to other Jewish purification rituals. For John, baptism preceded repentance and turning your life around to follow God.
John emphasizes also that he was only the precursor to someone greater. He baptizes with water, “but the one who is coming will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”
He prepares the people for Jesus who will soon come after, and puts people in the right frame of mind to accept what Jesus will bring them.