In the name of the Holy and Undivided Trinity. One God. Amen. Please be seated.

Out of curiosity, how many of you made New Year’s resolutions? Just show of hands. Okay, so a goodly amount. On this, what, seventh day of the New Year, how many of you have stuck to those resolutions so far? Okay. Well, Lent is coming, so we’ll check back about that time as well. New Year’s resolutions are admirable. They serve as guides for us throughout the year or the first couple of weeks of January. They can be useful for a while but can be cast off for one reason or another. Resolutions can be limited. We aspire to be transformed, but with resolutions, it’s completely up to us to make the transformation occur or to rationalize why we can give it up altogether.

And so we meet John the Baptist. A prophet with wonderful style and a taste for haute cuisine bursts into the scene, proclaiming the arrival of someone greater. Imagine this man bursting into the crowded place, wearing a hairy tunic, probably with an unkempt beard, with dried honey and locust legs sticking out of it, saving them for later as a snack, I’m sure. This Proclaimer stands out as the complete opposite of power and influence. What’s happening isn’t new. We’ve heard about prophets speaking truth at other times throughout scripture. Coming from the wilderness and proclaiming from the margins, they risk their lives and their image to speak truth and justice and the witness of God in the world. John stands in the midst of the people as the perfect emblem of everything that is not worldly. His dress, his habits, the power of his proclamation, already tell us that something incredible is taking place. And then this insane caricature speaks.

His proclamation is frenzied and rushed. It beckons us to listen and imagine who could be coming with a ministry that’s more powerful than John the Baptizer. We must remember that John had a ministry already established, making an impact on people and inviting them to wash sin away, as though it was some kind of dirt to be washed throughly, as the psalmist would say. But this person, this anointed one, is more powerful than all of them. John baptizes with water and the one who will come will baptize with the Holy Spirit. John, the prophet speaking from the place of wilderness, a place of the outcast, proclaims the arrival of one who will baptize and completely transform the world. Not with a simple act of water, but with water and the Spirit, with an anointing that will turn the world upside down, with a baptism of transformation of heart and mind and spirit. And then it happens. We meet Jesus coming from Nazareth of Galilee to be baptized by John. After all the fanfare of the prophet, all the detailed description of this bizarre figure coming from the wilderness to prepare the way, the arrival of Jesus is a bit anticlimactic. And that’s exactly why it grabs our attention.

This sudden shift pulls us closer to the details, closer to the reality of what is happening. Jesus is baptized, the heavens are opened, the Spirit descends. A voice comes from the heavens and then it’s over. Our selection from the gospel today simply stops. Jesus is baptized. Now we could spend the rest of our lives trying to understand why the Son of God, the Messiah, this sinless one, needed to be baptized in the first place. And theologians have made verbose attempts at trying to make sense of it, and yet are limited and come up short of the glory and mystery of God. And the story then continues. Jesus is baptized and the Spirit descends not onto him, but into him, indwelling within him. The heavens are more violently ripped apart than the vanilla language of our translation implies. And a voice comes from the heavens through the veil that no longer exists.

It all happens so fast that we almost miss it. But the truth of what occurred lingers within us. It is present with us every single day. John prepares the way, and Jesus came into the world to transform the world, to transform us. Jesus came into the world to make us disciples, active participants in the creation of a world that is so changed and formed by love and grace and mercy that we cannot stand still long enough to make a New Year’s resolution. John prepared the way for the one to come to offer a baptism that will do more than simply wash us. John prepared the way for Jesus to make disciples, and that is what we bear witness to here. We join in community, in person, virtually, prayerfully, to surround the newest members of the body of Christ. The way has been prepared, and for us the work has just begun.

We celebrate the baptism of these incredible children, the hope of the world, and we recommit ourselves to the path of discipleship. This isn’t simply a New Year’s resolution that we may or may not have kept up a week after the new year itself. This is a complete transformation of heart and mind. It’s a tearing open of the very fabric of our comfort to welcome the possibility that we can live the good news and change the world. And it sounds wonderful. But where do we begin? Not all of us are called to be prophets standing in the middle of all of the crowds to proclaim truth to power. Not all of us are called to come from the wilderness, wearing a tunic of fur and eating locusts and wild honey. But we are all called as disciples. We each find our own way as proclaimers of the good news and as active participants in the ministry that Jesus gives to us.

And so we go into the world proclaiming kindness and love, justice and mercy, patience and grace. We offer what we can to mend a world so ravaged by hatred and indifference that it seems to have forgotten that we are all called beloved children of God. We speak kindness and love to ourselves and to all those around us. We seek justice and mercy for all God’s creation, whenever and however we can. We, in baptism, we are made worthy of serving as disciples. And through baptism, we serve a world made worthy by God in Christ Jesus, to be transformed every moment of every day. It is this baptism we offer and witness. It is this transformation John prepared us for, and it is this reality for which Jesus Christ came into the world, to risk everything for the sake of the good news of God. This good news of the indwelling spirit, this good news that we are called to live as disciples, as followers, as witnesses, as leaders and images of Jesus Christ in the world. And the good news that there is nothing, no barrier, no division, no hatred, no indifference, nothing in all creation that can separate you or any part, from the abiding and everlasting love of God in Christ Jesus. Thanks be to God. Amen.


The Rev. Spencer Brown

Priest Associate