Strength for the journey.
I heard about a church preschool that had taken a two week break for Christmas vacation. When the preschool resumed, the students still remembered the Christmas decorations, Christmas songs, Christmas stories about baby Jesus, and all the excitement of the Christmas pageant they had participated in prior to Christmas break. When they returned to their classes, all of the Christmas pictures and music were gone and the classrooms were void of any reminders about the Christmas season. One 3-year-old girl entered her classroom, saw a picture of Jesus on the bulletin board, and asked her teacher, “Who is that man?” The teacher replied, “That’s Jesus.” The little girl shook her head and said, “He sure grew up fast.”
Jesus sure has grown up fast. Last week we remembered the magi bringing gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh to the toddler Jesus. Today, the gospel of Matthew presents Jesus as an adult standing in the Jordan River being baptized by John. It is a good time and distance from the gifts the Magi presented to Jesus and Jesus being presented as the gift of God’s salvation.
As Howard Thompson put it:
When the song of the angel is stilled. When the star in the sky is gone. When the kings and princes are home. When the shepherds are back with their flocks, then the work of Christmas begins.
Standing in the water of the Jordan River, Jesus has begun the ministry for which he was born. His baptism is the confirmation of his calling and his identity as God’s beloved Son. Through the water of his baptism, God’s Spirit will strengthen Jesus for the journey that is ahead as water will flow throughout the story of Jesus’ ministry from his baptism to his crucifixion on Calvary. The water of Jesus’ baptism will give him strength for the journey of his ministry as Jesus:
- Walks beside the Sea of Galilee and calls Peter, Andrew, James, and John to follow him.
- Performs his fist miracle by turning water into wine at the wedding feast in Canna of Galilee.
- Calms the storm by rebuking the winds and the sea.
- Is proclaimed by his disciples as the Son of God as he walks on water.
- Proclaims himself as living water to the Samaritan woman.
- Has blood and water flow from his side when a Roman soldier pierces Jesus with a spear after Jesus breathed his last and completed his earthly ministry.
The water of Jesus’ baptism will give him strength for the journey as Jesus’ ministry becomes the story of redemption for a creation defined by sin. Throughout his ministry, the water of Jesus’ baptism will provide strength for the journey as Jesus fulfills the prophetic message of today’s scripture reading from the first verse of the 42nd chapter of Isaiah:
“Here is my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights. I have put my spirit upon him; he will bring forth justice to the nations.”
To appreciate the ministry to which Jesus was being called through his baptism, it is important to understand there are four songs identified as servant songs that shape chapters 40 – 55 of Isaiah (42:1-4; 49:1-6, 50:4-9, and 52:13-53:12). The foundation for these servant songs is God’s desire for right relationship with all God has created. To share this message of right relationship, God chooses a servant upon whom God places God’s Spirit. The responsibility of this chosen servant is to proclaim and advocate God’s desire for right relationship and justice with all the nations.
To appreciate what Matthew is stating about Jesus in today’s scripture reading, it is important to understand that Matthew is transposing the servant songs of Isaiah to a different melody as God claims Jesus is more than a servant as a voice from heaven claims Jesus as more than a servant as a voice from heaven states, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”
It is the holy calling of Jesus’ baptism that will provide strength for the journey of Jesus’ ministry as Jesus proclaims justice for the marginalized of the world. Called through the water of his baptism, Jesus will ultimately become God’s suffering servant as he receives strength for the journey that will take him from the life-giving water of the Jordan to the refuse of a death filled trash heap called Calvary.
So how does the water of baptism give us strength for the journey ahead of us as we confess Jesus as our Savior and Lord? Bishop Will Willimon writes about how the water of our baptism gives us strength for the journey of life and faith:
“Baptism means everything that water means: cleansing, birth, power, refreshment, life, death.”
Baptism tells us who we are, namely a cherished child of God who was washed, gifted, chosen, called, and named.”
I believe the water of our baptism gives us strength for the journey of faith that is ahead because our baptism connects us with the journey of faith that is the heritage of the biblical story of faith.The water of our baptism connects the story of our lives with the biblical story of:
- God’s Spirit moving over the primordial chaotic water of creation found in the first chapter of Genesis.
- God’s covenant with Noah through the great flood.
- Moses leading the former slaves of Egypt into freedom through the water of the sea.
- Joshua leading a new generation into a new identity as God’s chosen people through the water of the Jordan River into the Promised Land.
- Jesus, God’s Son, the Beloved, being baptized in the water of the same Jordan River.
- Following Jesus, the suffering servant of God, from the Jordan River to the cross of Calvary.
As you remember the water of your baptism, may God give you strength for the journey ahead.
In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
Strength for the Journey
by Pastor Marc Brown
January 8, 2023
Accompanying Scriptures: Matthew 3:13-17
Fort Hill United Methodist Church
Order of Worship for January 8, 2023
Scripture Lesson Matthew 3:13-17
The Good News “Strength for the Journey”
Music “The Servant Song” by Richard Gillard
Closing Music “Variations on ‘Morning Song'” by Franklin Ritter