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Baptism and our response to God's calling

Luke 3: 15-20

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15 And as the people were in expectation, and all men mused in their hearts of John, whether he were the Christ, or not;

16 John answered, saying unto them all, I indeed baptize you with water; but one mightier than I cometh, the latchet of whose shoes I am not worthy to unloose: he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost and with fire:

17 Whose fan is in his hand, and he will throughly purge his floor, and will gather the wheat into his garner; but the chaff he will burn with fire unquenchable.

18 And many other things in his exhortation preached he unto the people.

19 But Herod the tetrarch, being reproved by him for Herodias his brother Philip's wife, and for all the evils which Herod had done,

20 Added yet this above all, that he shut up John in prison.

Baptism and our response to God's calling

The Baptism of Jesus: Joachim Patinir

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I wonder if you can remember what you wanted to be and to do in life when you were a child? What were your dreams? If you are a post-war baby boomer,  (and a boy), was it perhaps to be an engine driver, or later an airline pilot, or a racing driver, a singer, an actor, film star, celebrity chef or dotcom millionaire, or a hundred and one more straightforward things like a teacher, a writer, a lawyer or an engineer?

Have you ever, I wonder, paused later on in life and reflected whether any of your early childhood dreams becamea reality? Have you fulfilled those early ambitions or have you left those aspiriations behind as your life has taken a completely different course?

And I wonder if you have looked at your own children or grandchildren, if you have children, and wondered what they will grow up to be, what they will be doing, what they will be like, when they are your age?

About three weeks ago we were celebrating the birth of Jesus as a baby, the focus was all on the baby in the manger, and now today we suddenly find him, grown up, about 30 years old, a carpenter by trade, coming to the banks of the River Jordan to be baptised by John.

I wonder if Mary his mother had any idea at Jesus' birth how things would turn out. We are told by Luke that Mary was given hints around the time of his birth that this was no ordinary child and that she treasured these thoughts in her heart. We know from the incident recorded by Luke about Jesus getting left behind in Jerusalem when he was a boy and being found discussing matters of religion in the Temple, that he was and extraordinary and precocious young man, 'full of grace'. But how much did Mary really understand? If she was present at the Jordan she may well have begun to realise who her Son really was, someone marked out by God in a special way. She may well have reflected with amazement how that tiny baby, carefully looked after throughout childhood, training in his father's workshop, had actually turned out. And if she was there at the Jordan Mary would probably realise that this moment of baptism marked in a decisive way a new direction in Jesus' life, the start of his public ministry. This was a very significant event.

Why did Jesus submit to this act of baptism administered by John? We don't know - he simply says 'let it be so' but I think he was firstly baptised to identify himself completely with human beings, you and me.

All parents know what it is to be caught up in the lives of their children the upsets at school, the achievements, disappointments, heartaches and triumphs. That's part of the cost of being a parent. In the same way Jesus had no intention of exempting himself from anything that was part of the human condition: he belonged wholeheartedly to the human race. From the very beginning of his ministry he wanted to identify with us the second reason for being baptised was and is, to receive what God alone can give - at our baptism God takes the initiative and gives us his grace, his love, his spirit, at the very beginning of our lives. And that is a reminder that at every moment of our lives it is God who takes the initiative, inviting us to respond to his love. 

Today as we remember Jesus' moment of baptism, marking the start of his public ministry, perhaps we, each of us, can reflect that many years ago we too were baptised, that it was, unknown to us, a decisive moment in our lives. Whatever were our childhood dreams, or the aspirations were fulfilled or whether our lives have taken an entirely different path, we can still look back and claim that moment when we were baptised -  and the probably unexpressed aspiration our parent had for us that in some way we should grow up marked by God, given a spiritual potential, which could only be fulfilled as we grew to adulthood as members of the church, the body of Christ on earth.

God said to each of us, as He said to Jesus at his baptism 'You are my beloved' and He simply seek as response in our lives to that calling. What were our childhood dreams, and did we make them come true? Whether we did or not we can look back to and claim that moment of our baptism, when God made us his own and called us to his service, and give thanks that in all the twists and turns of our lives in our achievements and our failures, in the joys and the disappointments, God is faithful, God is beside us, and God calls us to live for him and to respond to him.

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