At the beginning of every year, many folks make New Year’s resolutions. The most popular one, by far, is to get back on the straight and narrow as far as diet and exercise. Reports have shown that new gym memberships spike every January because people want to turn their lives around—if not from years, at least from the month of December where they felt like they could’ve done better with their health. Other people resolve other things as well. The new year is a flection point for many that marks not only the beginning of a new calendar year, but a new way of life. A time to start over, perhaps. In our lives as Christians, we too are excited about new beginnings. After all, that’s in large part the whole premise of the resurrection—rebirth in Christ. But what does it mean to start over? What are the implications? What does it mean for us, today, in the midst of “unprecedented times?” Consider what a fresh start, a new beginning means in light of Jesus as we go into the sermon today.
Let us pray. May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, our Rock and our Redeemer. Amen.
Jane dropped an armful of grocery bags on the countertop in the kitchen and looked over into the living room. It was a ghastly scene. Pieces of debris lay about, and on the floor beside the coffee table was her husband’s laptop, and it looked like it’d been smashed into at least a dozen time. Curious, Jane asked 14-year-old-son Jackson, who was sitting at the counter eating a bowl of cereal and playing on his phone, “What happened?” Without looking away from his phone, Jackson said, “That was dad’s doing. As usual he couldn’t get it to do what he wanted. I told him to reboot it. And so that’s exactly what he did. Dropkick and all. He booted it. And rebooted it. And rebooted it.”
All jokes aside, sometimes we feel like we need a reboot, a reset, a restart. Things can get so overwhelming in our lives, we can have so many irons in the fire, or maybe we have one big stressor that’s all-consuming—whatever the case may be, sometimes we feel like we need to restart. If only we could press a reset button and reboot our lives, like we do with a computer, things would be easier. All our problems will be manageable then—or so we think.
But anyone who’s ever installed a new update on their computer knows that’s rarely, if ever, the case. A new update means learning new ways of doing things, all the while as things still seem somewhat recognizable to us. We go to open a program that we’d opened countless times before, and now it’s not where we remember it being. The update put it in a different spot—close, but not the same. Or the toolbar at the top of screen has been slightly reorganized. Surely some expert somewhere decided that this new way of doing things was more efficient, even as you waste time looking for something that worked just fine beforehand—that you likely had to relearn from a previous update and now were just starting to get comfortable with. Eventually you’ll figure it out, but it’s frustrating. The restart after a new update rarely, if ever, makes things easier. The reboot after a new update rarely, if ever, makes all the problems go away.
Today we celebrate the baptism of our Lord. Today’s account comes to us from Luke’s gospel. Matthew, Mark, and Luke—so called synoptic gospels from two Greek words that mean “looking at together,” because they share a lot of the same material between them in a way that is very different from John’s gospel—the three synoptic gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke present Jesus’ baptism by John in the Jordan River in slightly different ways. In particular, there is the pronouncement that comes from God in heaven. Today, we have the heavens declare, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”
Scholars spend a lot of time hashing out what the differences between these three accounts in Matthew, Mark, and Luke mean for the baptism of Jesus. What does it matter that in Matthew’s gospel that God says, “This is my Son,” and in Luke’s gospel, he says “You are my Son,” for instance? Whatever the case may be, as far as the finer nuances of the theology go, the fact of the manner remains that here we have a clear statement from God’s own mouth claiming Jesus as his Son publicly. And dramatically at that. The heavens are rent asunder, and God declares Jesus his Son, his beloved, and that he is well pleased with him. The message is clear. This baptism of Jesus is a public declaration from God that Jesus belongs to him, and not only that, that he loves him and finds pleasure in him.
Jesus’ baptism marks the beginning of his public ministry, his public work of proclaiming the kingdom of God. Right after he is baptized, the Spirit drives him out into the wilderness where he contends with the devil, faces down his demons, if you will. After that, he returns to the people, and begins his public proclamation of the good news. But the message that he comes proclaiming—namely, that the kingdom of God has come near—is, according to St. Matthew, preceded by a directive.
“Repent,” Jesus says, “for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” In Mark’s gospel, he declares the imminence of the kingdom, and then tells people to repent and believe the good news. In Luke’s gospel, Jesus doesn’t say these words verbatim, but he teaches in the synagogue from the prophet Isaiah about his messianic task “to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor”—all reminiscent of his mother’s song of praise when the angel Gabriel declared to her she would give birth to the Son of God.
Again, nuances aside, what we have here is a message of change. Repentance is nothing more than a complete reordering of life. Jesus’ declaration in the synagogue according Luke reaffirms his role as the one who will turn the world’s order upside down and all around. A complete reordering of the current order. Jesus has come to reboot, to reset, to restart, if you will, and it begins with his baptism in the Jordan by John.
Jesus’ baptism is just as, if not more important for us than it is for him. For everything that happens for him, is ultimately for us and for our salvation. That is, everything that Jesus does or undergoes or participates in—all that is done for the sake of restoring us to right relationship with God, with one another, and with the whole creation that God has made. And so his baptism is one of those things. Recall what St. Paul writes to the Romans—“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.” When we are baptized, God mystically joins us to himself through what Jesus does. We are crucified with Jesus through baptism, and we are raised with Jesus through baptism.
But the same is true for Jesus in his baptism. As Jesus comes to the Jordan to be baptized, he is joined with us. His baptism is yet another reminder for us, another outward sign, of his full humanity. In the waters of the Jordan River, Jesus dies and rises again, just as we die and rise again. But more importantly, God mystically joins him to us in our death, so that we might join him in his resurrection. And the words declared from the heavens, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased”—those words aren’t only spoken to Jesus, but they are spoken to us as well. For everything that happens for him, is ultimately for us as well. You are God’s child, his daughter, his son, the beloved. With you, God is well pleased.
These words, though, spoken to Jesus and spoken to us, aren’t mere empty words that are meant to make us feel good. They are words that are meant to give us life, to comfort us, to assure us. They’re words that come to us in the midst of life’s troubles, in the midst of life’s worries, in the midst of life’s uncertainties to promise us that no matter what happens, God has publicly claimed us as his own children. We know that we are God’s children, created in his image and beloved—but these words spoken at Jesus’ baptism for our sake and spoken at our own baptism are a declaration that is for all to hear.
God isn’t ashamed to call you his own, isn’t ashamed to love you. Instead, God is pleased to call you his child—well pleased. These aren’t mere empty words that are meant to make us feel good, but they’re words that are meant to give us a reboot, a reset, a restart. For in Christ, when we are baptized and take on his life as our own, we have a new beginning.
We sometimes believe that life as a Christian, as a disciple of Jesus, as one baptized into the resurrection promise of Jesus, that that life should undo the all the problems in our lives. We might expect that it makes our lives easier, that all our problems will disappear, and things will be not only manageable but done without headache and with ease. The life of a disciple is errorfree—or so some think.
In fact, the life of a disciple is no different than the life of any other person made in the image of God. That is to say, the life of a disciple is no different than anyone else’s life. It has its good and its bad. The rain falls on the wicked and the righteous alike, so says Job in the midst of his ash heap. What characterizes the life of a disciple of Jesus, of someone baptized into Christ, is the knowledge that we’re united with God and one another in something much bigger than ourselves. Our lives have purpose and meaning because we no longer see them through the lens of ourselves, but through the eyes of heaven. We are beloved children of God, and God is well is pleased with us. That is a promise that reboots, resets, restarts our understanding of who we are, who everyone else is, and who God is in relationship to us, other people, and everything that God has made.
Baptism allows us to reset our operating system, to reboot the order of our lives, to restart each new day with a clearer vision of God’s purpose in our lives and in the life of the world. With each new rising sun, we who are baptized into Christ Jesus are given a new chance to restart our lives confident in the promise of God that nothing separates us from his love, and that as we face each new day, we do so as his presence in the world that desperately longs for a system restore—to be turned upside and all around. God claims us as his own, fills us with his Spirit, and promises us we are beloved that we might likewise show by our lives that the same Spirit that fills us fills everyone and everything and is the cherished handiwork of the God who claims us as his own. Today, and every day, is our new beginning when we live as disciples, baptized in Jesus.
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.