Taking the Plunge
This Sunday is “Baptism of the Lord Sunday,” in the church calendar and the lectionary readings for the day have to do with Jesus’ baptism by John in the Jordan river.
And if you ask me, this is all a little abrupt.
Last Sunday was Epiphany, when we remember the story of the Magi visiting a toddler Jesus, and now we teleport about 28 years (!) into the future and find a fully-grown, 30-year-old Jesus about to drop his carpentry tools, brush the wood shavings off his tunic, and begin his ministry. It’s enough to make your head spin.
For centuries precocious children in Sunday school and scholars alike have asked the same questions: What was Jesus like as a child and young adult? Why didn’t the gospel writers think it was important enough to write down?
It’s certainly one of the questions I plan on asking at the pearly gates, but for now I wonder if it’s enough to say that we’re mistaken if we think the gospels are firstly about Jesus’ life. The subject of the gospels is not Jesus’ life as much as it is Jesus’ call—and even more, his acceptance of it.
The gospels are most concerned with how Jesus accepted and followed through with God’s calling upon his life, and Matthew, Mark and Luke all seem to agree that Jesus first accepted this calling at his baptism. Of course God was with him before then, and Luke tells us Jesus knew of God’s love even as a child in the temple, well before he stepped into the Jordan river with John. But it was in his baptism that Jesus formally accepted God’s calling upon his life, and so this is where the story of his ministry must begin.
The same may be said of us. God is certainly present in our lives from the moment we enter the world and that first breath of life enters our lungs, and many of us are Christians in our heart long before we enter the waters of baptism. But it’s in the waters of baptism that we join the generations of believers before us and Jesus himself in accepting God’s claim on our life and embrace our own call to ministry.
Next Sunday, January 20th, we will celebrate the ordination of four new deacons as part of our morning worship, which will be a beautiful occasion for all of us to join in this important ordinance of the church. But this Sunday I invite you to consider baptism as a kind of ordination. Just as God “ordained” Jesus at his baptism by blessing him as a “beloved son,” so too are each of us ordained when we enter the waters. We will remember together not only Jesus’ baptism but also our own, and may we be thankful for both.