Baptism of Our Lord (C)

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A sermon preached by Pastor Robert Schaefer

First and Spring Creek Lutheran Churches

The Baptism of Our Lord – January 11, 2004

Text: Luke 3:15-17

As the people were filled with expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Messiah, John answered all of them by saying, “I baptize you with water; but one who is more powerful than I is coming; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”

Friends in Christ, grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus the Christ. Amen.

The Sunday morning readings have a way of looping around, coming back to people and places over time, so that they start to feel familiar. Today’s texts circle us back around to an old familiar character…one whose life has much to teach us.

Yes, we return this morning to John the Baptist. Just a few short weeks ago we were reading about his prenatal gymnastics, leaping suddenly in his mother Elizabeth’s womb when the pregnant young Mary appears on their doorstep. A tiny baby, he was, not yet even born…not yet even in the synagogue photo directory, you might say.

And now, just look at him! All grown up, and grown weird, too. He’s gotten shaggy from living out in the desert for quite a few years now. His face is dark from the sun and calloused by the wind. He’s got some sort of furry coat on, probably made from a camel he’s killed with his own hands, and he’s gotten scrawny on his absurd diet of bugs and honey. And that look in his eyes…like the fire of God himself is burning somewhere deep down in his belly. A strange, strange hermit out in the desert wilderness.

One thing about him, though – he’s the cleanest desert hermit you ever met. No stench when he walks in the room, no one plugging their noses when John passes by. He spends his days in the river, you see. People come from far and wide to be washed by him, and in the process he’s constantly being washed himself, standing in the River Jordan all day, every day.

John’s grown up, and maybe not in ways that we would have expected or encouraged, either. But he hasn’t just grown up outwardly. Like all young people, he has searched and struggled, until he has come to find the world, and then his place in that world. Through prayer and study, through the stories of mother and father, through the interventions of angel and prophet, John has come to know to extremely important things: First, he knows who Jesus is. Second, he knows who is Jesus.

I’ll say that again. John the Baptist knows who Jesus is. And he also knows who is Jesus.

Now, it’s true that John has always known who Jesus is, in some way or another, since that very first day when he bounced in the womb. John the prophet was always meant by heaven to prepare the way for the messiah, and to recognize him when he appeared, and so before he is even old enough to understand it, we find that John instinctively recognizes Jesus. Even as a child growing in his mother’s belly he knows who Jesus is as soon as the two come near.

As an adult, John has spent long years waiting and searching for that Lord that he perhaps still remembers meeting in his earliest days. And on the day that Jesus comes to the river, down into the water, and asks to be baptized, John knows without a doubt who is standing before him. He knows who Jesus is. Before the words come down from heaven, John knows the truth – that the water he is pours runs down the hair of the Messiah, the Beloved, with whom God the Father is very well pleased, indeed. This is the one to whom John has been pointing. This is the one for whom John has been waiting. This is the one whom John has been serving all these many years in the desert, and this is the one who will be his Lord and Master.

And, like John, I trust that many of you also know who Jesus is. You’ve met him, and felt your hearts leap for joy at his nearness. You recognize his voice when he speaks to you, and it feels like home. You’ve become convinced beyond all doubt that this is the one for whom you have been waiting; this is the one whom you have been serving all these many years. This is the one who will be your Lord and Master, and even your Savior and Friend.

Like John, you know who Jesus is. But John also knows another thing, a crucial thing: He knows who is Jesus.

When all the crowds gathered around John, admiring his strange greatness, they wondered whether he might actually be the messiah, the one who would save them all. It must have been tempting to stand up and say, “You’re right! I am he.” Perhaps sometimes even John himself wondered whether he might have misunderstood God’s calling. But those moments never stuck – John would always answer the crowds, “No. Someone else is coming who is more powerful than I am. I’m not worthy to even untie his sandals.” John knows who is Jesus: Jesus is Jesus. No one else. Not even someone as important as John the Baptist.

And because John knows that Jesus is Jesus, John is free. He isn’t the messiah. He can’t save himself, let alone a whole river full of people…and he doesn’t need to. That isn’t his job. John’s job is to serve Jesus with all of the talents that he, John, has been given. Jesus will handle the other stuff.

Like John, we need to know those two things – who Jesus is, and who is Jesus.

When we don’t know who Jesus is, we’re lost and alone. We can call him “teacher” or “leader” or “guru,” but still feel empty inside. We can call him “great” and “inspired” and even “heavenly” but still find ourselves searching for something more. We can call him a myth or a legend, but until we call him Lord and Savior, we won’t know peace. We need, like John, to know who Jesus is.

Likewise, when we don’t know who is Jesus, we become confused and stressed. We think that it’s up to us to make salvation work, and we scramble to put together a resume that we think will impress God. Instead of trusting Jesus’ cross to save us, we’re busily trying to build crosses for ourselves, and for all our friends and neighbors, too. If we don’t know who is Jesus and who’s not, we’re likely to become so busy trying to save ourselves and our world that we don’t even notice that Jesus – the real Jesus – has already done it for us.

Our readings circle around back to John today, because John has two very important things to teach us. What does this camel-clad desert wanderer know?

He knows who Jesus is. Jesus is the Lord.

And he knows who is Jesus. Jesus is. No one else.

If we can learn these two things from John and take them to heart, we will be blessed indeed. Amen.

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