Between Sundays for Week of January 16, 2023
Anyone who spends much time with Pastor Amy knows that the Baptism of our Lord is her favorite festival in the church year, apart from Easter and Christmas. But in the early church, the gospel story of Jesus’ baptism proved to be a conundrum of sorts. The first disciples wondered, why does the God who saves show up to receive a baptism for repentance? Surely the God who saves doesn’t need to repent.
There are all kinds of reasons that scholars have given over the years (you can listen to Pastor Amy’s sermon on The Word – linked below – if you’re interested in hearing some of them). There’s certainly wisdom in those understandings. But up to this point in Matthew’s gospel, every name given to Jesus is a name that has been hidden and revealed only to particular people – in Joseph’s dream, in the magi’s study of the stars. Here, at Jesus’ baptism, God’s voice is heard from the heavens for all to hear, giving Jesus yet another name – My Son!
This naming matters, because Jesus, who God calls “My Son,” is going to do all kinds of things that fly in the face the expectations and assumptions of the people around him. By naming Jesus, God is telling us to pay attention!
When we remember Jesus’ baptism, it also gives us the opportunity to reflect on the name God gives us in our baptism – Child. No matter what names we are known by in this world, the name God calls us is Child and nothing in all creation can separate God from those God calls Child. Nothing.
Of all the reasons that scholars give to explain Jesus’ baptims, Amy wonders if maybe the reason Matthew includes this story in his gospel isn’t very simple. In Jesus’ baptism, God gives Jesus yet another name – My Son – an affirmation that this Jesus has a God-given purpose and is worthy of listening to, worthy or our worship and praise. And, she reminds us, God does this for us as well!
In the Small Catechism, Luther responds to a series of questions we might ask about baptism.
What is baptism? Baptism is not simply plain water. Instead, it is water used according to God’s command and connected to God’s word.
What gifts of benefits does baptism grant? It brings about forgiveness of sins, redeems from death and the devil, and gives eternal salvation to all who believe it, as the words and promise of God declare.
How can water do such great things? Clearly the water does not do it, but the word of God, which is with and alongside the water, and faith, which trusts this word of God in the water. For without the word of God the water is plain water and not a baptism, but with the word of God is is a baptism, that is, a grace-filled water of life . . .