St Hilda’s Ashford – 10/1/21
Happy New Year! I think it is still okay to say that. As we stand at the beginning of another year, with many unknowns and uncertainties that are certainly going to come our way, celebrating the baptism of Jesus should help us to remember that He is very much with us. He always has been. I am going to begin this morning by reflecting on Genesis 1.
‘In the beginning’, these famous first words started time rolling. A podcast I listened to this past week had a very interesting take on time. Time was the first thing God created. In the words ‘in the beginning’, the clock started running. Ever since then, humankind has been trying to measure time – it started with light and dark, day and night, evening and morning.
Humans created sun dials, water clocks. The philosopher Blaise Pascal is credited with creating the wristwatch when he took out his pocket watch and tied it to his wrist with a piece of string! The minute hand was added in the 1570’s. In the 1970’s when digital watches were made popular, we started to mark time in seconds! What can you do with a second?! We have become obsessed with time and marking it. Reflecting on the last year and our use of time – many people have more time on their hands than they know what to do with. Others have never been busier and can’t spare a second for one more thing.
Time is the most valuable thing that we have. Isn’t it interesting that time is the first thing God created? It is one of the very few things that every single person has in equal measure and no one can change the amount of time they have been given. The difference is, of course, how we fill our time.
We can wax poetically about time; a quick Google search provides all manner of quotes and statements about it.
William Penn: ‘Time is what we want most, but what we use worst’
J.R.R. Tolkein: ‘All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us’
Miles Davies: ‘Time isn’t the main thing; it’s the only thing’
Jonathan Estrim: ‘The way we spend our time defines who we are’
What does time have to do with the baptism of Jesus? A lot actually! At the beginning of time, there was God, water and light. The three key elements of baptism. God’s timing is everything! He is never late, but he is often not in a hurry, as it has been said. As the wind swept over the face of the waters in Genesis, in God’s timing John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness calling for repentance for the forgiveness of sins.
The time came for Jesus to be baptised, notice the ‘in those days’ Jesus came. We so often ask ‘where has the time gone?’, we count down days or sleeps until x or y happens. Time, biblically speaking, does not go – it comes. The time came for Jesus to be born, the time came for him to be baptised.
For John, Jesus and the disciples time builds up. Time is coming. Time is coming when the vaccines will be in millions of people, time is coming when we won’t have to live in lockdown. I am finding this way of looking at time much more encouraging than counting it down. It unhinges me from the tyranny of counting seconds and hours and the disappointment that inevitably comes when delays and cancellations occur.
There is difficulty in being patient for time to come. It can be a struggle to hold on to hope in the waiting. Proverbs 13:12, ‘hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a desire fulfilled is a tree of life.’ Leo Tolstoy in War and Peace wrote, ‘The two most powerful warriors are patience and time.’
The time came for the creation of the heavens and the earth, the time came for Jesus to begin his public ministry. The Spirit, breath or wind of God came down at both events to signal the presence and power of God. We all need to know God’s presence with us and in us. This presence shows His great love for us, reveals our purpose, and draws us into His family.
This is what we do in baptism, become part of God’s family. I remember fondly asking a 6-year-old boy I was going to baptise if he knew what his baptism was all about. Without hesitation he said, with a big smile on his face, ‘it means that Jesus and I are friends forever!’ And so much more!
Many of us may not remember our baptisms if we were baptised as babies. We can re-affirm those promises made on our behalf – I am sure Fr Joseph would have loved to have sprinkled you all today!
In his baptism, Jesus enters the dirty, messy waters with us. He didn’t need to be baptised. Jesus’ baptism was called an acute embarrassment by the early church. The gospel accounts are short: Matthew makes the point that John the Baptist tried to argue with Jesus that he should be the one baptizing him and not the other way around. We have this short account in Mark. Luke gives it two verses and doesn’t mention John the Baptist. John has no account at all.
Jesus did not need John’s baptism of repentance. He had not and has not sinned. What was he doing in the waters of the great unwashed, the sinners, the prostitutes and tax collectors?! Did he not care about his reputation?
Apparently not. This is very good news for us. Jesus’ first act was one of radical solidarity. Jesus stepped into a relationship with sinful humanity. He was not apart from it, not standing on the banks of the river waiting for the water to run clear.
In baptism we are all united to God and to each other. We are interconnected into one family. We cannot let go of this; we need to come back to it. That is why the wrong message of our culture and society that independence, doing it my way, is so dangerous. We are not islands unto ourselves.
Having to live distanced from each other is not helping! We can of course do things to mitigate and stay connected in other ways. Focus on what we can do, not what we can’t. Time is coming when it won’t be like this anymore.
The disciples that Paul met in Ephesus were waiting, but they did not know what they were waiting for. They had been baptized into John’s baptism of repentance but did not know about the Holy Spirit. Paul knew what they needed so he baptized the in the name of Jesus. They began to speak in tongues and prophesied. Wild stuff! The time came for them – it wasn’t booked in the diary! These twelve heard God’s Word and it transformed them. They received the light and love of God in that moment. The light and love that gives us a language, a home and a community.
We all need the light and love of God right now, more than ever. We also need to share that light and love with those around us who are living in darkness. God is with us always. The One who started the clock running in the beginning, who tore open the heavens at Jesus’ baptism is still the One pouring out love and grace on us as individuals but also as His Church. We might not be able to meet in person, but the time is coming when we will be able to and, in the meantime, we are still connected by the waters of baptism.