THE GIVER OF FORGIVENESS
SERMON PREACHED BY FR. TONY NOBLE ON JANUARY 9, 2011
Matthew 3:17 “Lo, a voice from heaven, saying:
“This is my beloved Son with whom I am well pleased”.
The Baptism of Christ is traditionally observed on the Sunday after Epiphany. It takes us straight from the Christ-child in the manger to Jesus as an adult. This involves a bit of mental adjustment on our part: only seven days ago we were singing “We Three Kings”, and today we see Jesus as a man, age thirty.
This Baptism in the Jordan has problems of its own. When Jesus comes to be baptized with all the others, St. Matthew records that John the Baptist protested and questioned him, saying that it was he who needed baptism from Jesus, not the other way around. Jesus’ reply is rather interesting. “Let it be so now; for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” What does he mean “to fulfill all righteousness”? Righteousness in not a word we use much these days.
Jesus is the sinless son of God – so he certainly doesn’t need baptism for repentance of sins. He, in fact, is the giver of forgiveness. And he certainly doesn’t need to be incorporated into the church, His body, like we did when we were baptized.
The Baptism of Jesus, rather than being necessary, is deeply symbolic. Symbolic, firstly, of who Jesus is – the Son of God. Yes, and also our brother. By being baptized, Jesus identifies with us and the whole of humanity
+ in our need to be forgiven of our sins
+ in our travails and troubles of life
+ in all that is part of being human.
So, he who is divine, identifies with us through this symbolic act. Thus Jesus fulfills righteousness – and at the same time shows us the way to righteousness.
It’s an interesting word, “righteousness”. It’s related to the word ‘right’ – but it’s not the same as doing the right thing. Many people think they are okay and their lives are alright – but are they righteous?
The other thing significant is sin – not a popular word these days. We don’t like to think of ourselves as sinners. We mainly want to celebrate our love and our relationship with our loving Father. We don’t actually think that we sin – it’s just a mistake, or it’s someone else’s fault: our parents, our partner, our upbringing. It’s been that way since the Fall. “The serpent made me do it”, said Eve, passing the blame onto that creature!
But if there is no such thing as sin, was Jesus wasting his time that day in the River Jordan? Of course not! Jesus never did anything that was insignificant or unimportant.
This is underlined in Act 10. St Peter said to Cornelius and his household, “God shows no partiality, but in every nation any one who fears Him and does what is right, is acceptable to Him“. There’s that word ‘right’ again!
In Jesus’ baptism we are given a symbol of God’s all embracing love and acceptance to everyone, in every nation. What St. Peter declares in Act 10 is given to us symbolically in the River of Jordan by Jesus himself. By being baptized and identifying with the human race, Jesus is proclaiming how much God loves the whole world, despite its sin. Indeed God loves the whole world because of its sin.
In doing so, Jesus is establishing Baptism as a sacrament not just of repentance, but of new life, of being reborn. Jesus is sanctifying the baptism of John so that that rite of repentance becomes the Christian sacrament, by which we are reborn of water and of the spirit.
There is one aspect of Jesus’ baptism today that we cannot put to one side or ignore. It is the voice from Heaven. This is my beloved son, said the Father.
Here, for the very first time, the great creator – known since the beginning – reveals himself as a loving Father. And not only that…….so that their can be no confusion about the nature of God, Matthew records that the Holy Spirit descended upon Jesus like a dove – that symbol of peace. Genesis says that the Holy Spirit brooded over the waters at creation like a dove; and a dove was sent by Noah after the flood to find out if everything was okay. Now a dove broods over the waters of baptism for Jesus.
Here, God is revealed as three persons. The blessed and holy Trinity are here at the Jordan. And not just present, but recognizable and experienced.
Here at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry the Trinity is revealed not as some aloof creed or doctrine, but in a personal way – and witnessed and testified to. And in this context we see our humanity being taken up through Jesus into the life of the Trinity, and into his very divinity. It doesn’t end at the baptism, of course. The Trinity becomes part of our life, and certainly part of our liturgy.
When the Priest prepares the chalice at the offertory, he adds a little water into the wine. Traditionally the mixing of the water and the wine is symbolic, like the Baptism of Jesus. The water represents Christs’ humanity, and the wine represents His divinity.
So in the mixing of the chalice at the offertory, we see the two natures of Jesus taken up symbolically in the chalice. This mixing of water and wine recalls the Wedding at Cana. Jesus’ first miracle, when he turned ordinary water into wonderful wine. That also became symbolic of his two natures – and established the sacramental principal that God does change things on this earth for his divine purpose.
When the priest mixes the water and wine at the offertory, he says this prayer:
“By the mystery of this water and wine, may we come to share in the divinity of Christ, who humbled Himself to share in our humanity”.
That is the meaning not only of the water and the wine, but of the whole of the Eucharist. That we may come to share through Holy Communion in the Divinity of Christ, who humbled Himself to share in our humanity. Thus the chalice of salvation becomes both a symbol and a means whereby we are able to share in the Divinity of Christ.
At the Jordan, Jesus not only establishes the sacrament of Baptism, He sanctifies the water of baptism – so that forever through the waters of baptism, we will be sanctified. In fact, Jesus is establishing that all the sacraments are vehicles of his Divine presence and grace.
In baptism, we are freed from the dominion of sin and death, and so move into the realm of the Holy Spirit, that brooding dove. Since Jesus has already gone before us, by his baptism He becomes the trailblazer and example for us. The Father’s voice tells us that Jesus is the model of a life whose every moment was lived in listening to the Father’s voice, and accepting his will.
Today, Jesus invites us to take the plunge with Him, and immerse ourselves in his life. He invites us, as he immerses Himself in the waters of Jordan:
+ to immerse ourselves in the ocean of His love
+ to share in His victory
+ to rejoice in His forgiveness
+ and to walk with the strength and dignity of the adopted children of God, born of water and the Spirit.