Friday, January 8, 2010

The Baptism of the Lord

Reflections on the Readings
The Baptism of the Lord - January 10, 2010 - Year C
By Dennis Hankins

...And when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heaven was opened, and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form, as a dove, and a voice came from heaven, "You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased."

On August 27, 1967, on a very warm and sunny Sunday afternoon, in Duff, Indiana, we gathered on the bank of the muddy Patoka River where several of us were to be baptized.  

At this same location, known as Kessner's Mill, in the early 1920's, my great-grandfather had also conducted baptisms.  Although we did not hold a sacramental view of baptism, I nevertheless knew, standing there looking at the water, that this was important.

The Scriptures about being buried and raised with Christ through baptism were read, and "Shall We Gather at the River" was sung.  Then one by one we walked into the muddy water to Brother Jesse, my pastor, who with the elders immersed me into the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ saying, "Brother Dennis Hankins, I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost."

It was about 2 o'clock in the afternoon.  I felt compelled to record the event in my Bible.

That moment lives in my memory and in my reflections as a Christian.  It still compels me. What occurred in my heart that Sunday afternoon occupies my life and is the foundation of my future, in time and for eternity.  

When Jesus entered the waters of the Jordan River, he sanctified forever the waters of baptism.  Whether as an infant or as an adult convert, the effect of water baptism is the same.  In those holy waters we enter into communion with the Holy Trinity and in fellowship with the covenantal family of God. Water baptism is the imposition of the mark of God; we are not our own, baptism is the claim of God upon every follower of Christ.  

With that in mind, the Baptism of the Lord was not because Jesus needed it.  But our Lord's baptism did fulfill what it means to be made righteous in God's eyes.  What the blood of the Lamb procures, the waters of covenantal baptism secures.  In many cultures in the world, this understanding prevails.  That is, baptism means that the baptized person has given the allegiance of his heart to another.  This is why it is important that we not only catechize our babies and new born in Christ.  We must also evangelize them as well.  Then, and only then, will those who name the name of Christ know what it means to live up to their baptism.  

John the Baptist associates Jesus' coming not only with the Catechetical meaning of water baptism, but with the evangelical meaning.  John emphasizes this when he says, "He (i.e. Jesus) will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire."  The question for the Church is this: Where's the Holy Spirit? Where's the purifying fire?  

The meaning of what happened to me that Sunday afternoon has never left me.  Even before I met Jesus as my Savior (age 9), I was aware of the Lord.  My Dad and Mom and all of us children, loaded up in the Station Wagon and off to Church we went.  And after my salvation experience, I became even more aware of Christ's love, his family, and the things of the Lord. 

Every waking hour of my life for most of my fifty-four years I have walked in the awareness of the presence of the Lord.  Now that doesn't make me perfect. Not by any stretch of the imagination. Just ask my wife and kids.  But I would ask you, 

"What is your passion?"  

"Does you family know that the fulness of your faith issues from your baptism, and that it is sustained by your participation in the body and blood of Jesus - the Eucharist?"

Let us not despise the day of small things.  Little babies placed in the hands of the Priest, symbolic of being offered to the Lord, is more than pretty and cute, it is eternal.  It is no small thing to be marked in baptism by the majestic name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit."  For in the waters of baptism we are embraced by the immeasurable love of the Triune God and his family on earth and in heaven.


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