Blessing and Baptism
There is no way to miss the fact that we are now in Epiphany, the season where we celebrate the way in which Christ being with us, is continually made more fully known to the Church—the meaning of Jesus being with us, is an expanding realization, an ongoing surprise to us.
We celebrate, on one hand, the Feast of Epiphany itself—the celebration of the Magi showing up at the Holy Family’s Home, seeing the infant Jesus and honoring him with those three gifts of Gold, Frankincense, and Myrrh—
We celebrate this joyous day by bringing a blessing to our own homes through the traditional practice of a Home Blessing.
On the other hand, we celebrate the Baptism of Our Lord, which too is a clear Epiphany celebration—Jesus’ Baptism reveals who he is—it’s spelled out plain “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”
So, to honor these two signs of this Epiphany Season, we will dwell on the two practices of Blessing and Baptism.
You might remember that my first few years here I was blessing the heck out of things and people. There was a back log of worship furnishings that we blessed, and on top of that we kept inviting in groups of people—Bankers, Teachers, Council Members, Mothers, Father, (Pets), Doctors, Construction Workers, Food Workers, and so on—to be blessed. For that matter, we passed out home blessing kits to the congregation, as we will do this year as well.
And, upon reflection, I think I may have done that without a whole lot of groundwork, without laying out a theological—or even practical—explanation for why we bless things.
And, since nature abhors a vacuum, folk filled in their own meanings to what we were doing.
So, I want to, be clear about what I understand us to be doing when we bless things and people.
It should be stated clearly that we are not spiritually up-armoring thing.
What do I mean by that?
You might remember during the early years of the Iraq war IEDs—Improvised Explosive Devices—were taking out American Humvees left right and center. The solution was to up-armor them. Early on that meant affixing cinder blocks or cement to the underside of the carriages and modifying the windows, later it was done in much more sophisticated ways with factory made kits.
We’re not adding some sort of extra layer of protection to a person or thing when we bless them.
If you need proof of that, look no further than the Bees Randy takes care of. He brought in a picture of the hives when we did a blessing of the Animals… and within weeks of that blessing a bear came along and ate the bees.
Of course several people have suggested it was in fact a table blessing…
But, the point is, we’re not weaving some sort of magical circle of protection around the new carpet, or our Teachers, or any of that. It’s not spiritual scotch guard.
What we’re doing is dedicating the thing, or person, or pet, to a particular purpose. We’re pointing to its proper use, to it’s created intent. We’re asking that it’s goodness—the goodness God proclaims of it in that poem that starts Scripture—in Genesis 1,
We ask that that goodness might be manifest,
might become obvious.
We don’t bless Carpenters in order to keep them from falling off roofs—while I concede of course not falling off roofs or ladders is part of God’s intent for that vocation, I believe a stable ladder may be more important than a blessed ladder
—mainly we are praying that the goodness of carpentry might come out more fully—that those for whom the carpenter creates can see God’s intention in that object
—to paraphrase Luther’s explanation of “Thou Shall Not Steal” the construction is done fairly and with good material, so no one is cheated, but instead done well for the safety of those who will use the structure.
Likewise—I’ll send you off to bless your dwellings—houses, apartments, rooms, etc, today, in order that they might become Homes—that they might be as God intended them.
Think on that, what makes a house a home
—our homes are shelter from the elements.
They’re a place for privacy and safety—they can foster a healthy sense of self and family.
They can also be a guard against overwork—they can secure our Sabbaths, being a physical barrier between our place of leisure and a place of work. (This is why working from home calls for an extra diligence to keep the two spheres separate.)
Blessing brings forward the purpose of the thing so blessed—it calls it to be what it is—be Good as it is declared to be by God.
And that’s a good place to start when pondering John’s Baptism as well—the Baptism of Repentance that we read about in Mark and in Acts
—It’s a call back to that original blessing
—calling on folk to crawl back to the good
—to the blessing of being human
—of being created in the image of the living God.
It’s a rededication of the person to the task at hand.
Of course, it’s worth asking why was Jesus then Baptized?
Did he need to repent?
Did he need to be called back to the blessing of God?
Firstly, while it’s not recorded in Mark’s account of his Baptism, it is in Matthew’s—that the Baptism is done to fulfill all righteousness.
John’s job was to call all of Israel to Repentance—but even for a hard working guy like him, it would be all but impossible to chase down every one of his Kinspeople and Baptize them.
So, Jesus sort of stands in for his whole nation. Just as Paul sees Jesus as a second righteous Adam, in Baptism Jesus is a righteous Israel.
Secondly, this Baptism is like a blessing—it’s dedicating him for a purpose—dedicating him as Messiah, just as Samuel dedicates—anoints king David in the Old Testament. Further more, he’s dedicated as the Beloved Son of God. He is revealed as Son of God. There’s certainly an Epiphany there…
All that to say, John’s Baptism of Jesus is not the same as being Baptized into Jesus, the Baptism that Baptizes with the Holy Spirit.
Our Baptism, the Christian Baptism, is different. It too points to creation, but not in a way that looks back—it’s more than a blessing. It’s a new creation—it’s looking forward.
The voice of God is spoken through Scripture, the water is there, just as it was “In the Beginning” and in Baptism there the Spirit sweeps down and creates—enlightens us—declares us to be Children of God.
And as we know from that start of Scripture, God speaks, and it is so, creation takes place.
Creation of a new Child of God, takes place in Baptism.
The Spirit does more than just point back to the goodness, the blessing, of creation, but points forward and creates something new—creates a Christian.
This is why we’re okay with Infant Baptism as Lutherans—we recognize that it’s not a matter of repentance, of some sort of blessing, it’s God’s action for us—it’s creating something new.
Brothers and sisters, on this first Sunday of Epiphany, see as the Magi saw—the blessing of a child born to be King, who lives out the goodness of creation.
But not only that, see a Child, Jesus the Christ, through whom we find ourselves to be part of the Family of God. A+A