3 [Years later,] John the Baptist started preaching in the desert of Judea. 2 He said, “Turn back to God! The kingdom of heaven will soon be here.”
3 John was the one the prophet Isaiah was talking about, when he said,
“In the desert someone
‘Get the road ready
for the Lord!
Make a straight path
4 John wore clothes made of camel’s hair. He had a leather strap around his waist and ate grasshoppers and wild honey.
5 From Jerusalem and all Judea and from the Jordan River Valley crowds of people went to John. 6 They told how sorry they were for their sins, and he baptized them in the river.
7 Many Pharisees and Sadducees also came to be baptized. But John said to them:
You bunch of snakes! Who warned you to run from the coming judgment? 8 Do something to show that you have really given up your sins. 9 And don’t start telling yourselves that you belong to Abraham’s family. I tell you that God can turn these stones into children for Abraham. 10 An ax is ready to cut the trees down at their roots. Any tree that doesn’t produce good fruit will be chopped down and thrown into a fire.
11 I baptize you with water so that you will give up your sins. But someone more powerful is going to come, and I am not good enough even to carry his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire. 12 His threshing fork is in his hand, and he is ready to separate the wheat from the husks. He will store the wheat in a barn and burn the husks in a fire that never goes out.
Contemporary English Version (CEV)
Baptism is one of our sacraments. The other is Holy Communion, which we celebrate today and every first Sunday of the month. Baptism is a one-time occurrence, while Holy Communion can be celebrated over and over and over.
Martin Luther, our favorite sixteenth century theologian, declared that each of us should remember our baptism everyday. I agree with him. It’s so easy to forget our own baptisms, first of all because it was so long ago, second, because you may have been an infant when your were baptized, and third, you don’t have many reminders.
What do you know about your baptism? I know that I was a baby. I know that my Uncle Ray and my Grandma Helen were my baptismal sponsors. I know that my dad, who was recovering from spinal meningitis, was too weak to stand at the font with my mother and sponsors. He remained seated in the pew, watching from a distance as his first child was baptized. I don’t know what I wore; I don’t know what hymns were sung.
Baptism is a once-in-a-lifetime occurrence. One and done. It’s understandable that we take our own baptisms for granted. I don’t think about mine every day. But I should.
The ceremony itself is not what I need to remember. I need to remember what baptism says about me, and I need to remember what promises were made at my baptism by my parents and sponsors. One of the reasons we observe the rite of confirmation in our denomination is to transfer the responsibility of those promise from our parents to ourselves. We “confirm” that we will be responsible for our baptism, that we will live as children of God.
This may sound like a little religious flourish to add to our routine, but it is much more than that. Remembering your baptism is remembering who you are and what you can do.
When someone hurts your feelings, remember your baptism. Remembering your baptism will remind you of your own self-worth. When you are tempted to cheat or lie, remember your baptism. You will be given strength to resist. When you become ill, remember your baptism and ask for good health. When you are alienated by differences of opinion, remember your baptism and ask for wisdom. When you are frustrated with your mind or your body, remember your baptism and who loves you. By that simple remembrance, we remind ourselves daily that we are different, that we have a special ally in this rough, tough world we live in.
We remember our baptism in the good times, too, New job? Remember your baptism and thank God! A good night’s sleep? Remember your baptism and thank God for your health! Children and grandchildren coming for Christmas? Remember your baptism and thank God that you are able to gather! Remember that good comes from the One in whose name you were baptized.
Does this seem a little over the top, a little radical? Well,consider this:
“Remember your baptism” is code. “Remember your baptism” is code for all your beliefs about God, about Jesus, about the Holy Spirit. “Remember your baptism” is a formula for strength, comfort, patience, love. “Remember your baptism” is shorthand for “God is with me all the time; when all else fails, God is with me.”
We are different. We are Christians. The hard part about being Christian is that it’s so easy to forget that commitment. We live in a world that bombards us with choices and temptations, we work in a world that surrounds us with conflicting ideas and values, we play in a world that makes up its own rules for its own selfish reasons. Our faith is ignored, belittled, attacked in such subtle ways that we don’t even notice.
So. Remember your baptism. Remember what it means. Remember what your parents promised, what you are promising.
A few simple suggestions. Every time you wash your face, remember your baptism. Every time you get caught in the rain or snow, remember your baptism. Every time you open a bottle of water, think of your baptism.
When you remember your baptism, you remember who you are—a Christian, a follower of Jesus.
To live in this world takes courage. We’ve moved into a new age, an age where we cannot take civility for granted, an age where people are free to express fear and anger by striking out at those who frighten them. We, as a society, have been given permission to call names, to discriminate, to harass, to mock those whom we don’t know or understand. Stereotyping has become a substitute for compassion and concern.
The Good News: freedom of expression can work both ways.
In recent weeks, I’ve read lots of anecdotal evidence of strangers stepping in to protect victims of verbal abuse and harassment. That is remembering your baptism. When you pray with someone in crisis, your are remembering your baptism. When you step up to help a stranger, you are remembering your baptism.
John the Baptist started something thousands of years ago. Baptism is still our symbol of belief, of faith, our declaration that we walk with Jesus. When Jesus sent the Holy Spirit, he made it possible for us to be the same power in the world that he was when he walked through the cities of Galilee.
You may not be able to cure cancer, but you can cure fear. You may not be able to turn water into wine, but you can turn money into hundreds of meals. You may not be able to raise someone from the dead, but you are able to raise someone from despair. You may not be able to convince your elected representatives to bless the poor, but you can witness to your colleagues who see only evil in Muslims or gays or refugees.
My personal opinion is that it’s becoming a lot harder to act “out loud” as Christians. The first thing I have to do is examine my own biases. I mentioned that I was afraid to go into Heinie Jo’s the Sunday after the election. That is where I start, examining my own fears. But it doesn’t stop there. Fortified by the the Holy Spirit, I cannot ignore every comment that ruffles my feathers. Remembering my baptism, I can question without embarrassing, explain without accusing. Do I sound like a member of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union going into a bar with an ax? My only weapon is the Word, that Word that came alive and showed us a new way, a better way to bring peace on earth. Let me give you one example.
A friend of mine was having her annual eye exam. She and her doctor were talking about something, I don’t remember what, and the doctor said, “as long as those Muslims don’t come in.” The implication was that all Muslims were bad. My friend, a kind and gentle woman said, straight out, “That’s not right! Do you know any Muslims? What church do you go to?” The doctor said she went to a Lutheran church. “Well,” said my friend, “that’s like saying all Lutherans are bad. Is that fair?” The conversation continued and the doctor concluded: “You’re right.” I am so proud of my friend. She remembered her baptism that day. She could have remained quiet. She could even have switched doctors. But she helped a fellow Christian find her way back to her own faith.
It isn’t always so pretty. There aren’t always happy endings, but there are plenty of other Christians in our world of Clinton/Scott County, our world of eastern Iowa, who will help you to remember your baptism. You are not alone.
Advent is about renewing ourselves. Advent is about anticipation. We are surrounded by the world’s anticipation and speculation of a new order after January 20, 2017. But Jesus brought in a new order, a new way of thinking and living and doing over 2,000 years ago.
I cringe when someone calls this a Christian nation. Christianity is not about land or government or the constitution. Christianity is about people who walk with Jesus. The Hebrew people found out centuries ago that their God stayed with them when there was no temple, no king, no land. We worship that same God. When we were baptized, that same God made promises to us.
Let us pray. God give me the strength and the wisdom to remember my baptism. Amen.