Last week we celebrated the Epiphany, and normally this Sunday we would celebrate the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord. But because Christmas and the Feast of Mary the Mother of God, January 1, 2023, were on Sunday, we celebrated the Baptism of the Lord last Monday. Sometimes that is just how the Church Calendar works out.
Today we start a new Church Season called Ordinary Time. For the next 34 weeks we will be introduced to Jesus, hear his preaching, be invited to follow him and finally at the end, make a choice to die with him. Today’s story from the Gospel of John introduces us to Jesus.
The religious authorities have been questioning John the Baptist. He says he is not anything special. After more questioning John says: “A man is coming after me who ranks ahead of me… I did not know him…” until I saw the Dove, I did not know him. But now, “…he is the one who will baptize with the Holy Spirit. Now I have seen and testified that he is the Son of God.”
For some reason or another I’ve been blessed to be able to baptize, I don’t know how many, children and adults, throughout my ministry as a deacon and pastor. And I know what John means when he says: “I saw the Spirit come down like a dove from heaven and remain upon him.”
While each baptism is different; different families, babies, adults, sponsors, godparents, churches, each one is basically the same. It is a ministry of the Church and her people. It is the Holy Spirit called down upon the person, it incorporates us into the family of Christ and His Church and allows God to use us throughout our lives, following God’s will and plan set out for us.
I’ve also been blessed to be the Godfather of two boys (actually they are grown men now). My first Godson is Noah. He was just a little thing with red hair. Now, about 35 years later he is a BIG (way over 6 feet tall) kid with red hair. Fr. Tom Mathes baptized him at the Cathedral in Boise. Noah and his girlfriend are actors and if you’ve ever been to the Idaho Shakespeare Festival you may have seen them. They also go around the state bringing theater to schools and expose kids to the Dramatic Arts. I even saw Noah and the Idaho Shakespeare for Youth Company at the grade school in Troy. I didn’t know what my duties were as a Godfather, even though I was ordained. We are taught how to baptize, not to be on the other side of the Font.
My next Godson is Josh. He and his brother Joe are great kids (all grown up). I was in the room when Joey was born. And I must say that was an experience I will never forget. It gave me a very real perspective and appreciation for what moms go through to bring us into the world. I had no idea!
Joshy was born next. And about 25 years ago he was baptized in Pocatello. I still wasn’t sure what Godparents do, but by that time I had figured out that prayer was important for whatever they needed; that God would be there to guide them. I still pray for them every day and send them cards on their birthdays. I see them and their parents when I can, which is not a lot, but the gift of the Holy Spirit that came upon them at their baptism keeps us together.
I have had other baptism experiences; my cousins’ twins at the Cathedral in Seattle; a baby in a small tributary of the Portnuef River in Pocatello — That was a surprise and I soon found out that this is frowned upon, actually not allowed, by the Bishop. It’s a beautiful experience to baptize adults on the Easter Vigil. But I think babies take the cake.
Becoming part of something is why baptism is important. I didn’t even know I was baptized until Jr. High. I found out who my Godparents were, my Aunt and Uncle, when I needed a certificate of Baptism to go into the seminary. Seeing that certificate meant that I belonged to something so much greater than my family and friends. It brought me into a world filled with prophets and saints and gospel stories that told me about Jesus. He didn’t need another follower; he wanted people to imitate him. And that gave me direction and guidance, and somehow I ended up here at St. Mary’s 35 years later.
In the first reading from Isaiah God says to the people: “It is too little, the Lord says, for you to be my servant… I will make you the light of the nations, that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth.” That is why we are baptized; to be light and to bring salvation to the ends of the earth. Paul says to the Corinthians: “…to you who have been sanctified in Christ Jesus…” you are also “…called to be holy.” And even our Psalm today lets us shout with joy and gladness at the guidance and direction the Lord gives us when we sing “Here am I, Lord, I come to do your will.”
The Dove that descended upon you at your baptism is a sign that we have been brought into the holy family of the Church. That Spirit is what keeps you and me going, trying to do the work of the Lord. Think about that! We have been called to do something incredible: Not just to follow Christ but to Imitate Christ and do the work he asks of us!
Do you remember your own baptism? Do you remember the baptism of your children and Godchildren? Do you remember the baptisms you been invited to or been a part of?
Who are your Godparents? Are the promises they made for you, and that you made for others still an active part of your family life? Look around the Church and see what baptism is all about. Here at St. Mary’s in Moscow there is Water, Oil, the Dove, Scripture, our Profession of Faith and most importantly – the family we see all around us, together in this Church – the baptized — with promises made for us or made by us. Promises so powerful… What would our lives be like, had it never happened?