Grace to you and peace from God our Father and His Son our Lord Jesus Christ.
Normally the inauguration of an American president is a time of celebration and parades, but not this year. The pandemic and the recent conflicted election make the inauguration on January 20th unlike any other in American history.
All across our nation, in cities both small and large, a similar inaugural ceremony takes place. In Scott and Rock Island counties, for example, new country officers will be sworn in before family and friends gathered for the occasion at the county building.
Change will place under the news leadership in many ways. A year ago Mike Matson, for instance, Mike Matson began his first term as Davenport’s mayor and set a new agenda for the council and city. Matson appointed an alderman to serve as mayor pro tem and selected city council members to chair city commissions and committees. He intends to assemble his own team to administer city affairs. Several local residents spoke at the proceeding; one encouraged the council not to quarrel, while the other suggested council members use common sense, making decisions. Matson campaigned to bring a fresh perspective to city government and create a broad consensus on new policies.
January may be a time of snow, bitter cold and gray skies, but it is also the occasion for new beginnings. If nothing else, January marks the start of a new year. January, as noted, offers a time for changes in government, after elections in November
The Christian Church also proclaims a new beginning each January through the celebration of the Baptism of our Lord. Today we read about the Baptism of Jesus from the perspective of the Gospel of Mark. Mark writes that the appearance of John the Baptist in the Judean countryside caught the attention of people in Jerusalem. They wondered, if John might be the long expected Messiah. The Messiah, according to popular belief, inaugurates a new era in the history of Israel. The Messiah should bring prosperity, peace, independence and justice to a people who had suffered under the Roman occupation armies. The people had big expectation for what a Messiah might accomplish.
John, however does not give them the response they expected or hoped for. He tells them: ‘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.” No soothing words from John. He let’s the people know he is not the messiah, but another person, more powerful than he, will be the Messiah sent by God. This Messiah will separate the wheat from the chaff.
With these words, as if on cue, Jesus appears at the River Jordan to be baptized by John. When Jesus had been baptized and was praying, “The heaven was opened, and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven saying, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” This declaration inaugurates the ministry of Jesus in spectacular fashion. The voice of God sets a stage for all that is to come. Clearly, God plans to act through Jesus, as he redeems a fallen world.
The four Gospel vary in many ways, but one point can be made with absolute certainty and agreement by all. Jesus was baptized in the River Jordan by John the Baptist and received the gift of the Holy Spirit. Furthermore, God declares Jesus to be his Son and that he is well pleased with him. The baptism, receiving the Holy Spirit and the declaration by God initiates the ministry of Jesus on earth. This event is the new beginning the people of Israel have waited for. The baptism marks the in-breaking of the reign of God in human history. A turning point in God’s relationship with his people occurs.
Scripture clearly indicates the Baptism of Jesus is no event lost in history with little contemporary relevance. Recall again what the Apostle Paul wrote to the Church in Rome: “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death. Therefore, we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life.” Let us focus on these last five words, “walk in newness of life.” On account of the baptism of Jesus two thousand years ago, we walk in newness of life today.
When Jesus was baptized by John the Baptist two things happened. First, John baptized Jesus with water in the river Jordan, as a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. John brought people to repent their sins and receive forgiveness of sins. John’s baptism was like a good house cleaning. But the baptism of Jesus takes a step beyond. Scripture tells us the heavens opened, the Holy Spirit descended upon Jesus and a voice from heaven affirmed him as God’s son with whom God was well pleased. That’s a spectacular and divine revelation.
We believe the same thing happens to us in our own baptism. We affirm we receive the Holy Spirit and God claims us as his children. Martin Luther in the small catechism had this to say about the benefit of baptism: “Baptism means that our sinful self, with all its evil deeds and desires, should be drowned through daily repentance; and that day after day a new self should arise to live with God in righteousness and purity forever.” The Holy Spirit empowers this transformation of ourselves. Otherwise, we go nowhere. We spin our wheels.
Let me illustrate my point this way. Many years ago Mayor Frank Klipsch inaugurated his administration, much as Mike Matson has now done. Both Klipsch and Matson are both thoughtful, caring and competent individuals, intending to do their best for the city. They begin with the best intentions, but along the way disagreements and problems arise. By the end of the end of a mayor’s administration, events have not played out as they wish. That’s the way it can be in life. The same old, same old repeating itself again and again.
That problem can happen to us. We begin a new year with good intentions, but disagreements and complications limit or prevent us from achieving the ministry and purpose God sets before us. On this day celebrating the Baptism of Jesus, we recall our own Baptism and repent the mistakes we have made. Furthermore, may we also be conscious of the fact that we have received the gift of the Holy Spirit at our baptism. May the Holy Spirit envision for you the possibilities God holds for each day. May we, by God’s grace resolve, to the people of God, God’s chosen, empowered to achieve God’s purpose and ministry in our life. Amen
May the peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.