Isaiah 43, 1-7
Holy Baptism Sermon “He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire.” Luke 3.
by Rev. Vincent Karl Schwahn Rykman, Mexico City
I have always felt a bit sad on the Feast of the Baptism of Christ. It is still one of the higher holidays of the Christian Church. The Orthodox are smart enough to stick it in with Christmas and Epiphany as one of the Manifestations of the Divinity of Christ. Also for some orthodox this is the day that people jump into half frozen lakes and rivers to commemorate the Baptism. For me one Baptism is enough. Most babies cry because the Water is cold. Wait till they get bigger snd have to jump in the Lake. For Western Christians the Feast falls after Christmas and Epiphany and is almost an afterthought. Some churches are lucky to have a few Christmas Poinsettas to keep the season alive. Most have replanted them or the thrown them in the trash.
The Baptism of Christ is for modern Christians probably even more important than the Christmas Cycle. Why is this? Because the Baptism of the Lord is really about Identity. It was Christ at his baptism where he discovered his filial relationship with God the Father and soon would be sent out into the Desert on a God-Quest.
It is our Baptism too that gives us our real identity as Christians. It is what defines us and makes us followers and disciples of the message and ministry of Jesus of Nazareth. As water covers and penetrates the skin of those who dare to bathe in its splendorous wetness so is our spirit penetrated with the essence and identity of Christ that is indelible and permanent. We are one in Christ, and Christ is one in us. Every time we receive Communion we are reminded of that Fact. Communion is the daily and weekly extension of our Baptismal life.
And then of course we are sent out to do the same ministry that Christ performed; To heal, to reconcile, to bring forth peace and justice, to share our Baptismal live with those around us.
There is a powerful story of a priest who Baptized the child of an unchurched family. They were just doing a Baptism out of tradition. In the discussion and teaching with the priest before the Baptism she reminded the family that Baptism was about death and resurrection, about self sacrifice and giving of self to others out of love as did Christ. What might this Baptized child be called to do in his life to imitate Christ in his sacrificial love.
Years latter this same priest was called upon to go to ground zero to attend the spiritual care and needs of the firefighters and police and emergency crews only a few feet from the downing of the twin towers on 9/11.
It was there that she discovered that this little black boy that she had baptized many years latter was killed in active duty trying to rescue people in danger at the twin towers. He had given his life for the life of others and obeyed his Baptism Call to its bitter yet heroic end. The family returned to this priest to thank her for explaining the meaning if this Baptismal Covenant. It was for them a Baptism of the Holy Spirit and with Fire.
The Gospel today makes it clear that at our Baptism it is Christ himself who Baptizes us with the Holy Spirit and with Fire. The fire of love, of passion, and burning desire. Many of us at our Baptism are not aware of its searing mark.
This is why it takes an entire lifetime to take in the depth and profundity of these Baptismal waters.
Our task on this feast is to rekindle that flame we once received at our own Baptism. If we have lost it, it is time for a vision quest to rediscover it again. (That is what Lent is all about.) If we still feel its heat, now is the time to stoke the fire and increase the flames.
We need not jump in a cold lake or river to regain that sense of call or certitude. But we may just bless ourselves again with that water from above at a nearby Baptismal font and remember that we too are his beloved and his chosen to carry out the work begun at that watering hole in the middle east so many years ago.
Water and Fire. Fire and Water.
by Vincent Karl Schwahn Rykman, Mexico City