So if you remember from way back on the first Sunday in December, (otherwise know as the second Sunday in Advent), John the Baptist was out in the wilderness, preaching and baptizing. And people were coming from all around to hear him preach and to be baptized by him.
Johns stands at the edge of the river. “Repent of your sins, and turn to God, for the kingdom of heaven is near!
Repent, turn from your sins and be baptized to show that you have turned to God.
Turn your lives around, pray for God’s forgiveness! Be baptized and prepare for the coming of the Lord!”
Someone from the crowd yells, “Amen! You tell them preacher!”
John responds, “I’ll tell them alright. And I’ll tell you something – someone greater than me is coming. He is so much greater than me that I am not worthy to remove the shoes from his feet. And when he comes, then you sinners, you who will not repent – then you will be in trouble!
He is going to baptize with the Holy Spirit and fire. And he’s bringing judgment. He’s going to separate the wheat from the chaff, and the chaff – are you listening, you sinners! – he will toss the chaff into the fire!
So, repent while there’s still time. Repent and be reconciled to God. The time is short and the kingdom is coming soon.”
That’s the kind of stuff John the Baptist preached. One day, large crowds had gathered, and he had preached his ‘repent’ sermon – John basically had only one sermon – and he was baptizing people in the river Jordan. He had just finished baptizing a woman. He blessed her as she came up out of the water and sent her on her way. As she walked off, he turned to the next person wanting to be baptized and gasped.
For right in front of him was Jesus.
John got excited. The time was much shorter than he had thought. Here was Jesus, come to baptize with the Holy Spirit and fire. Here was Jesus, right in front of him! Judgment time was here!
John grinned. That would show those Pharisees and scribes who laughed at his preaching!
“I can’t believe you’re here - that it’s finally time. Look, I know I don’t deserve any special favors, but I’ve really been waiting to be baptized with the Holy Spirit and fire. Would you baptize me first?”
Jesus laughs, “John, you’ve got it all wrong. I’m here to be baptized by you.”
“You have to be kidding me. ME – baptize you. No, no. I’m sure you should baptize me.”
“John, this is the way it’s supposed to be. This is the way God wants it. Baptize me.”
"I can’t. You’re God’s chosen one. I’m just a prophet. You are greater than I am. It would not be right for me to baptize you. It would be like the student instructing the teacher. Like an employee telling the boss what to do. I’m not worthy to baptize you.”
“John, God is doing something new in the world. The kingdom of Heaven is not like that of earth. Anyone who wants to be great must first be a servant. So, I’m here to be baptized.”
“But, but…what about the Holy Spirit and fire? What about judgment? How can the kingdom of heaven come without it?”
“John, God’s ways are not like the way humans would do things. The kingdom of heaven IS here. But it’s very different than any kingdom that humans have made. So, now, about that baptism?”
“Wait a minute – my baptism is for the forgiveness of sins. You don’t need that. You’re already sinless. So you don’t need to be baptized!”
"John...John, this is the way it has to be. I’m here for the people – for all those broken, hurting people who are trapped by sin and misery and death. These are my people. I need to live with them, to share their sorrow and their joys. I’m not here for those who think they already know all the answers. I’m here for those who know they need God. And that’s exactly the kind of people that are here to be baptized. So I need to be baptized right along with them. This is what God wants.
John, your baptism is the first step for many of these people to get right with God again. It’s the first step on the path of God’s way of right living. My baptism is part of God working to make everyone righteous.”
“Well, I still don’t think its right. And I still want that Holy Spirit and fire baptism."
“John, don’t you know – you have been filled with the Holy Spirit from birth. It’s the Spirit that has led you to the wilderness and has guided you along the way. Ok, now can I please be baptized?”
And as John pulled Jesus up out of the water, something wonderful happened. The heavens opened up and the Holy Spirit descended as gently as a dove on Jesus. And a voice – no, THE VOICE - said, “This IS my Son, my beloved, with whom I am well pleased”.
Jesus left John after that. John didn’t know that Jesus was heading out to the wilderness to pray and to seek God’s will for his ministry here on earth. John didn’t know that Jesus needed exactly what happened in his baptism to prepare him for the trial and temptation that he would encounter in the wilderness.
In that baptism, Jesus identified with humankind. He showed that he truly was God-with-us, Emmanuel.
In that baptism, the Father publically pronounced Jesus was his Son, his Beloved.
In that baptism, the Holy Spirit which had been with Jesus since the beginning, publically showed that Jesus was filled with the Spirit.
And Jesus needed all three of these things to strengthen and empower himself for the upcoming temptations in the wilderness, and for his ministry, and for the cross.
In our baptisms, we are joined with Jesus, just as he joined with us.
In our baptisms, we are named and claimed as God’s son, God’s daughter, child of God, dearly Beloved one.
In our baptisms, we are marked with the cross of Christ and sealed with the Holy Spirit.
Joined with Jesus, claimed by the Father and filled with the Holy Spirit, in baptism we, too, are strengthened and empowered for our ministry - the ministry given to each one of us in baptism - to live our lives as citizens of the kingdom of heaven, in the righteousness of our God our Father.