A sermon for Epiphany 1: The Baptism of our Lord
January 8, 2023
The Rev. Mark Nabors, Vicar
Readings: Matthew 3:13-17
I’ve only been snorkeling a couple of times. The first time, I went snorkeling in a muddy creek in Missouri. It wasn’t my idea. A friend of mine went all the time and loved it, so I went with him and his dad. We pulled the car off the state highway by a bridge and hopped into the very muddy water. You couldn’t see a thing. The water was brown and dirty, and full of who knows what. Before we got in, my friend’s dad warned us to watch out for cottonmouths. He then told us three or four stories of coming snout to snout with cottonmouths that were at least seven feet long. I learned later that he liked to exaggerate. But it didn’t matter: from the moment I stepped foot in the water, I was concerned about what I would meet.
The Jordan River had a reputation for being kind of like that. You wouldn’t want to snorkel in it—it was way too dirty. And who knows what you would find in there. In antiquity the river would have been used for everything, from cooking, to laundry, to waste disposal, and yes, to baptism.
But that’s where we find Jesus today, in the middle of those muddy, dirty waters. Like the crowds, Jesus went out to be baptized by John. But John protests, knowing who Jesus is. “I shouldn’t be baptizing you,” he says, “You should baptize me.” But Jesus says, no, it’s got to be this way. So Jesus is baptized in the muddy, dirty, filthy waters of the Jordan.
The fact that Jesus was baptized by John was a point of embarrassment for the early Church. They puzzled over it quite a bit. Jesus’ baptism is recorded in all four gospels. It’s one of the few things that is. That means you can’t get away from it. You can’t squint really hard and try to make it disappear. Jesus was really baptized by John in the River Jordan. The early Church was embarrassed because they taught and believed, as we do, that Jesus was the Son of God. Why would the Son of God need to be baptized at all? There is no sin to wash away. Why does his ministry need to start at his baptism?
The answer is this: Jesus came to earth to get into the muddy water with us. Jesus came to live and die as we do. Jesus came to share in everything. So Jesus goes and dips in the muddy Jordan.
Sometimes our lives can feel like that muddy river. We can feel bogged down, bogged down with waste. Our lives can be a little like my snorkeling experience. We can’t see anything in front of us, and we’re terrified somethings going to pop out and get us. Life can be scary and dark and messy and filthy and muddy, just like that river. But Jesus gets in it with us. When God became man, he did not shield himself from the worst parts of our lives. No, he became fully human. 100% human. That means he shares in all of our humanity, even the parts that are difficult and gut-wrenching and muddy. If he didn’t share in all of it, he can’t redeem all of it.
Our lives are like that because of sin. Because of our own sin, because of the sins of others, and because we live in a sinful world. Sin separates us from God and our neighbor, it muddies up the waters. It’s been that way since the beginning for us.
Jesus Christ gets in the muddy waters with us. Jesus wades out into the middle of it all, and tells us, I’m going to save you from all of this. Jesus wades out into the muddy waters, he looks around, and he says, I see what you’re going through. I see that you’re bogged down. But I’m here to change all of that. Jesus gets in the muddy waters to drag us out, to take us to clean, fresh, clear water. He gets into the muddy water to invite us to a life in those new waters, those restored waters, the waters of baptism, the clear waters of heaven.
The next time I went snorkeling, it wasn’t in a muddy Missouri creek. It was in the Gulf of Mexico off the coast of Cancun. I jumped off a catamaran sailboat and into those waters. They were choppy, but they were crystal clear, all the way to the bottom. Clean. Beautiful. And let me tell you this: I’m never going snorkeling in muddy Missouri creeks again if I can help it. Because I’ve seen the light. I’ve seen what snorkeling is actually supposed to be about.
Jesus is inviting us to real life. Jesus is inviting us to turn from our muddy waters, from our way of doing things, from death and sin, from the ways in which we have distorted real life, and to turn toward him, toward new life, toward real life in him, toward living waters, crystal clear with salvation and grace. As they say in O Brother Where Art Thou, so I’ll say to us: “Come on in; the water is fine.”
JOIN US FOR WORSHIP!
Join us for worship every Sunday at 10:30 a.m. There is a mid-week service on Tuesdays at 5:30 with anointing for the sick and Holy Communion.