I wonder how many of us celebrate our baptism as we might our birthday or anniversary. I’m not sure I can even locate my baptismal certificate much less know the month or day it took place. This Sunday we will celebrate the baptism of Jesus according to Matthew 3:13-17 and despite the fact that this event in our church calendar was once considered an even more important feast than Christmas, the baptism of Jesus is acknowledged with just a Gospel reading and a sermon. Yet, along with the Epiphany, it is a celebration of the true nature of the incarnation of God. Perhaps we should wait before we put away our manger scenes.
I suspect that for many Christians there is a puzzle about baptism. If you ask people why they want their children baptized many would be hard pressed to explain. Do we do it for the grandparents? Is it a cultural act? Is it a “ticket to admission” for a particular church or pre-qualification for communion? How many of us were raised believing that it was intended to “wash away” our sins? No, the sacrament instills a sense of God with us and in us that is essential to our very nature and being. While baptism reminds us of our being united as part of the Christian community, we were invested in God’s Kingdom long before any sprinkling of water or liturgical incantation took place.
When in this Gospel John protests at the notion of having to baptize Jesus, Jesus responds with “for it is proper for us in this way to fulfill all righteousness." In so doing Jesus makes it clear that he aligns himself with all people and not just the followers of Moses, “the chosen.” It is our birth rite.
So, while we are marked as a member of God’s Kingdom, Baptism enrolls us in this most “inclusive” of all clubs. “In a very profound way we are in fact brothers and sisters to one another. Each of us has already received the first great gift of our spiritual inheritance: the gift of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit of God resides in each of us as the source of the divine life and the source of all life…The life of God in us means that we are closely bonded to one another. We are more closely united by the living presence of the Spirit in us than we would be by family blood lines. The shared life of God of which we are all temples, make us family in a profoundly personal way. This is the faith vision of the reality which we call Church.” (John Powell, S.J. The Christian Vision, p131)
Baptism is not about the forgiveness of sins although it is about repentance which in the true sense of the word, inspires us to redirect our lives by “putting on the mind of Christ” in all that we do. As such, our identity by the power of the Holy Spirit, is created through worship and practice, so that we might know and feel the sense of God in one another. This deep experience forms our identity as those who will be known by our love for one another and not defined by any denomination. This is being in “the mind of Christ.”