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Sunday, January 13, 2013

Today’s Reading | Matthew 3:1–17

In those days John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness of Judea, proclaiming, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” This is the one of whom the prophet Isaiah spoke when he said,

    “The voice of one crying out in the wilderness:
     ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.’ ”

Now John wore clothing of camel’s hair with a leather belt around his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey. Then the people of Jerusalem and all Judea were going out to him, and all the region along the Jordan, and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.

But when he saw many Pharisees and Sadducees coming for baptism, he said to them, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruit worthy of repentance. Do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our ancestor’; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham. Even now the ax is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.

“I baptize you with water for repentance, but one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to carry his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and will gather his wheat into the granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”

Then Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan, to be baptized by him. John would have prevented him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” But Jesus answered him, “Let it be so now; for it is proper for us in this way to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he consented. And when Jesus had been baptized, just as he came up from the water, suddenly the heavens were opened to him and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.” (NRSV)

Text for this reflection | Matthew 3:16–17

Reflection

I will always remember the first time I baptized a child. The parents handed their son to me and I turned too quickly with the baby in my arms. My head started spinning and my balance began to waver and I almost fainted. I recovered without mishap, but it was a really scary moment. For about two years after that, every time I officiated at a baptism, I got weak-kneed. All I could figure was that my weak knees were the result of that first experience.  

There’s something else I’ve noticed about baptisms. They are the most focused time in all of congregational life. All eyes are on the babies or the youth or the adult being baptized. The parents are watching with rapt attention, straining to see. The grandparents are doing the same. The friends who have come to support that adult are paying close attention. The entire congregation is riveted.

This passage of scripture is about far more than cute infant baptisms. John the Baptist calls the religious hypocrites a brood of vipers. He calls for them and us to bear fruit worthy of our repentance (or worthy of our baptisms). What grabs my attention most is Jesus allowing himself to be baptized by another. His vulnerability and humility and humanity bowl me over. Somehow Jesus being baptized himself shows me that we share in Jesus’ baptism.

So whether or not the parents or the congregation can explain theologically what happens during the Sacrament of Baptism, I know something inexplicable happens. I know it because of the way everyone’s eyes are fixed on that one being baptized. I know it because of the tears in the eyes of the parents. I know it because of the sense of collective wholeness and peace that exists for those moments. It is as if we are all hearing God’s voice proclaiming, “You are my beloved son” or “You are my beloved daughter, with whom I am well pleased.” It really is enough to make a person weak-kneed and dizzy.

Prayer

Dear God, make me dizzy with the knowledge that in baptism you have claimed me and sealed me to show me I belong to you. Amen.


Written by Judith L. Watt, Associate Pastor for Pastoral Care


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