This morning I’d like to use the words of the Prophet Isaiah which we heard in our first reading as a framework for reflecting on the baptism of Christ and on our own baptisms.
“Do not fear, for I have redeemed you.”
If we were coming here to be baptised today we might be using some texts from the new Common Worship Christian Initiation services and we would hear these words of introduction:
“Our Lord Jesus Christ has told us that to enter the kingdom of heaven we must be born again of water and the Spirit, and has given us baptism as the sign and seal of this new birth. Here we are washed by the Holy Spirit and made clean. Here we are clothed with Christ, dying to sin that we may have his risen life. As children of God, we have a new dignity and God calls us to fullness of life”
In other words, in baptism God redeems us from the power of evil and sin and leads us into a new life in Christ that is so different from the old that it’s like being born again, making a whole new start.
“I have called you by name, you are mine.”
Later on in our service of baptism we would be asked if we turn away from sin, reject evil and turn to Christ as Saviour, trusting in him as Lord. When we’ve said “I do” to all of these questions the priest would use consecrated oil to make the sign of the cross on our forehead and say:
“ …. Christ claims you for his own. Receive the sign of his cross. Do not be ashamed of Christ. You are his for ever.”
and the congregation would say:
“stand bravely with Christ against all the powers of evil and remain faithful to him to the end of your life.”
Christ brings us to new life and assures us of his presence with us in a world where all too often evil and sin seem to have the upper hand and it takes courage and faith to speak out against them or resist their power over our own lives.
We are called to remain faithful to God and God himself gives us his extraordinary promises:
“When you pass through the waters,
I will be with you;
and through rivers,
they shall not overwhelm you;
when you walk through fire
you shall not be burned,
and the flame shall not consume you.”
God’s promises are of love and protection, tenderness and deep commitment. They reach into the depths of our being to meet our loneliness, our anxiety, our fears and our inability sometimes to believe that we are loveable. Those promises seek to heal our wounds, forgive our mistakes and failures. They reach out with the loving arms of a heavenly Father who longs for us to come home to him.
They are not promises that we will never face danger or fall seriously ill. Or promises that our lives will be free of tragedy and loss. We will pass through waters and we will walk through fire – perhaps many times – but God’s promise is that we will not be completely overwhelmed or destroyed and we will not be alone, no matter what troubles we face.
If I may I’d like to speak for a moment about my personal experience.
As many of you know, I have in the past been through times of very severe depression and anxiety, feeling completely overwhelmed by the heavy darkness that seemed to be crushing me. For a time I felt angry and deeply hurt by God who was allowing this to happen to me and who didn’t seem to be doing much to get me out of it. It didn’t seem fair what with me being a Reader and everything!
I took me a long time to understand that God was in fact alongside me every step of the way and that I had friends around me who weren’t going to let go of me and leave me to struggle on my own. It was a testing and difficult time for me and for those others who were as Christ to me. But I was not completely overwhelmed, I was not destroyed and God has redeemed that time which I thought was lost.
And these words from Isaiah are very special to me now.
“ .. you are precious in my sight, and honoured, and I love you ….
Do not fear, for I am with you.”
At our baptism service today we would hear this prayer of blessing over the water in the font:
“We praise you, Loving Father, for the gift of your Son Jesus. He was baptised in the River Jordan, where your Spirit came upon him and revealed him as the Son you love.
Now, we ask you to bless this water, that those who are baptised in it may be cleansed in the water of life, and, filled with your Spirit, may know that they are loved as your children, safe in Christ for ever.”
Our baptism is an echo of Christ’s baptism and we are given the assurance and blessing that he was given by the voice from heaven:
“You are my son, the Beloved
You are my daughter, the Beloved
With you I am well pleased.”
I think that sometimes we find it hard to hear those words of love spoken to us with tenderness and truthfulness.
Perhaps it’s because nobody speaks to us like that and we’re not used to the experience of being told that we are precious and loved.
Perhaps in the past we’ve been told the opposite about ourselves and been deeply wounded by that.
Perhaps we just can’t believe we are lovable and think that if people knew what we’re really like they wouldn’t love us.
We need to understand that God’s words of love and his promise to be with us are pure gifts of grace and don’t depend on us earning them or deserving them. God loves us just as we are, each one of us is precious in his sight and because we have all received this gift of God’s gracious love we are also precious in each other’s sight.
And together we’re called to share this good news of God’s love in the world out there. At the end of our baptism service we would hear these words as we are given a lighted candle:
“God has delivered us from the dominion of darkness and has given us a place with the saints in light. You have received the light of Christ; walk in this light all the days of your life. Shine as a light in the world, to the glory of God the Father.”
So as we remember the Baptism of Jesus and the revelation that he is God’s beloved Son, the Christ who loves us and redeems us, let us also remember our own baptism and the promises God makes to each one of us.
And let’s work together to bring God’s light, love and peace into the world around us, praying to him:
“May we whom the spirit lights give light to the world.
Keep us firm in the hope you have set before us,
so we and all your children shall be free,
and the whole earth live to praise your name,
through Christ our Lord. Amen.”