St. Mary's Church

Baptism of Christ

Baptism of Christ

8 Jan 2022 • General news

Collect: Heavenly Father, at the Jordan you revealed Jesus as your Son: may we recognize him as our Lord and know ourselves to be your beloved children; through Jesus Christ our Saviour.

Post Communion: Lord of all time and eternity, you opened the heavens and revealed yourself as Father in the baptism of Jesus your beloved Son: by the power of your Spirit complete the heavenly work of our rebirth through the waters of the new creation; through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Isaiah 43. 1-7

1Thus says the LORD,
he who created you, O Jacob,
he who formed you, O Israel:
Do not fear, for I have redeemed you;
I have called you by name, you are mine.2When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;
and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you;
when you walk through fire you shall not be burned,
and the flame shall not consume you.3For I am the LORD your God,
the Holy One of Israel, your Saviour.
I give Egypt as your ransom,
Ethiopia and Seba in exchange for you.4Because you are precious in my sight,
and honoured, and I love you,
I give people in return for you,
nations in exchange for your life.5Do not fear, for I am with you;
I will bring your offspring from the east,
and from the west I will gather you;6I will say to the north, ‘Give them up’,
and to the south, ‘Do not withhold;
bring my sons from far away
and my daughters from the end of the earth – 7everyone who is called by my name,
whom I created for my glory,
whom I formed and made.’

Acts 8. 14-17

14When the apostles at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had accepted the word of God, they sent Peter and John to them. 15The two went down and prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit 16(for as yet the Spirit had not come upon any of them; they had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus). 17Then Peter and John laid their hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit.

Luke 3. 15-17, 21-22

(In the wilderness John proclaimed a baptism of repentance.) 15As the people were filled with expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Messiah, 16John answered all of them by saying, ‘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. 17His 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.’

21Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heaven was opened, 22and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, ‘You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.’ 

The Baptism of Christ

Today we are celebrating the Baptism of Christ.Our readings have reflected that – we have Luke’s account of the Baptism itself (Luke 3: 15-17, 21-22); a passage from Acts which sees Peter and John baptising believers in Samaria (Acts 8: 14-17); and a piece from Isaiah telling us of God’s promise to save and uphold his people (Isaiah 43: 1-7).Baptism has become the foundation of our Christian faith; many of us were baptised as infants or children – and that can mean that we take it for granted.But what is it that we are celebrating today?What does Baptism actually mean?Do we get baptised simply because that’s what Jesus did, because that’s what he commanded his followers to do?We wear our baptism as a badge of membership – but is it something more?

Recently I have been watching a lot of the Sky History channel.One of the programmes that has particularly caught my attention on that channel is called ‘Forged in Fire’.In each edition of the programme, four metalworkers compete to make two different historic weapons.I began watching it because, as an amateur historian, I’m quite interested in ancient weaponry; but what hooked me were the different skills on display, as the four bladesmiths begin from raw metal, and using forge, press, grinder and other tools, fashion something that is often as beautiful as it is deadly.

As I’ve watched the programme, I have begun to learn more about the processes involved in forging metal.One of those techniques is the quench.The blade is heated, then plunged into liquid to cool it very quickly.This process tempers the blade; if done correctly, it results in a blade which is strong enough to keep its edge, but flexible enough that it won’t break.

In early years, smiths would quench the items they had forged in water; in modern times, however, oil is used.This results in some quite dramatic scenes; as the hot metal is plunged into the oil, the oil vapour rising from the surface catches fire, resulting in a brief but spectacular fireball.As I was preparing for this sermon, I was suddenly struck by the similarities between that image – the liquid and the fire – and the baptism which Peter and John brought to Samaria.The believers in Samaria had already been baptised with water; now Peter and John had come to pray over them, and they received the Holy Spirit.We aren’t told any details, but for me it has echoes of our twin practice of baptism and confirmation, and it resonates with Peter and John’s own receipt of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, in tongues of fire.Water, and fire.The Baptism, and the Spirit.

Water and fire are images that we find in the reading from Isaiah, too.God promises his people that he will redeem them, that he will protect them.Trusting in God, the people will not be overwhelmed by the waters, neither will they be burned by the fires. Isaiah mentions in another passage, in the 54th chapter of his book, that smithing and its related crafts are the creation of God (Isaiah 54:16).

And here, I believe, we come to the core of what baptism is.We don’t just get baptised because Jesus told us to.Baptism is the symbol of our trust in God’s redemption as embodied in Jesus, and it is the beginning of our journey as Christians.We don’t just get baptised, and that’s it – baptism carries a responsibility, to learn and grow and become strong in our faith.But baptism is also our quenching – the responsibility is not simply to become strong enough that our faith keeps its edge, but also that we remain flexible.It is easy for us as believers to become hidebound, to retreat into traditions and fundamentalist thought patterns.But if we are not careful, those things can make us spiritually brittle.If we are not flexible enough to absorb what the world throws at us, we will break.

We are baptised in water, as Jesus was, as Christian believers have been since the beginnings of the church.And like them, we have access to the Holy Spirit, through baptism, through Confirmation, through the Eucharist, through prayer, and above all through the grace of God.We are forged in the waters of baptism and quenched in the fire of the Spirit.We are the creation of God, forged in his furnace, tempered and tested.And as Isaiah reminds us, and as the ministry and promise of Jesus attests, if we trust in the hand of the one who created us, we will be redeemed.

Stephen Baker

Intercessions for The Baptism of Christ

9th January 2022

Mighty God, Lord of life, we thank you for the moments in history which have pointed towards the mystery of baptism: especially Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan River, when you opened the door of heaven to proclaim him to be your beloved son and sent the Holy Spirit down upon him.

Lord, in your mercy:

hear our prayer

Everlasting God, we pray for all baptised Christians throughout the world, especially for all those whose Baptism took place here in our Church. We raise before you all those who are considering Baptism or Confirmation, whatever stage of their journey they are at.

Lord, in your mercy:

hear our prayer

Everliving God, we pray for peace and integrity in all negotiations in international conflicts. Hear the cries of the people of the world who have never known peace; bring healing to those suffering from the violence of terrorism and comfort those mourning the dead.

Lord, in your mercy:

hear our prayer

Creator God, whose Holy Spirit in the beginning hovered over the waters and at Jesus’ baptism descended in the form of a dove, pour out that spirit upon us, open our hearts and minds, so that we too may hear your life-giving word and be renewed by the power of the spirit.

Lord, in your mercy:

hear our prayer

Father God, your Son shared the life of his home and family at Nazareth: we give thanks for his presence with us in our homes and in our lives. Guide us in our relationships with family and neighbours, especially those in trouble or need and bless those who have guided and enriched our own lives.

Lord, in your mercy:

hear our prayer

Gracious God, we pray for the sick who because of their weariness or pain find it difficult to pray; may they be aware of our prayer on their behalf and accept graciously the support and love of their families and friends within the Church and the wider community. Today we remember especially…

Lord, in your mercy:

hear our prayer

Merciful God, we pray for those who are dying and those who have already completed their life here on earth; may they rest in peace and rise in glory.We pray at this time especially for…

Lord, in your mercy:

hear our prayer

Holy God, we, thank you for helping us to pray; deepen our appreciation of your creation so that as we go about our busy lives through this coming week we may do it with eyes wide open to the richness and colour of our surroundings and the vibrant variety of the people we live amongst.

Merciful father:

accept these prayers for the sake of your Son, our Saviour, Jesus Christ. Amen