Sacraments are symbols… and… much more than that too. For example, during a baptism, we use water to remember the baptisms that John conducted in the Jordan River and as a symbol of purity and cleansing. We use a candle to represent the light of Christ coming into a darkened world. These are signs and symbols for sure… but our sacraments reveal much deeper realities as well.
So much of Christianity and the practice of our faith is about trying to understand the deeper realities. As limited and imperfect humans, we try very hard to understand the mysteries of perfection and divinity as best we possibly can. To do this, we depend on centuries upon centuries of wisdom gleaned from great minds and our spiritually connected ancestors to point us toward the light. We study and contemplate the words and actions of Christ in scripture to gain understanding. That’s why we’re here in this church and that is why our tradition of worship exists: to get to this deeper level, this deeper truth.
So, come with me up to the surface for just a few minutes because I have a very, very basic and probably superficial question. Forget the heady insights and saintly wisdom. I just want to know: why did Jesus get baptized? Why did he approach John in the river and go through the ritualistic ceremony. He was, of course, the Son of God, the Messiah, the Savior, the one whom John foretold. He certainly didn’t need to be baptized, that’s for sure.
Perhaps the answer is that he wanted to go to the largest crowd he could possibly find in order to begin his public ministry. That would have been a very practical and effective thing to do since the audience there had been well primed by John.
I suspect there is more to it, though.
John’s baptism was one of repentance and the river was thought to be awash in the sins of all who came there. Public officials knew better than to congregate there for fear of being tainted either by the backwash of sin itself or, at a minimum, by the mere suggestion that John had any power to release people from those sins. John, the river, and this whole scene was a place to avoid and if you were anybody with any standing whatsoever, you would not be caught dead there.
And so, from the very start of his ministry, Jesus made a bold and unexpected statement. He went down into the filth of sin and was not afraid to be associated with it. He showcased the very nature of divinity encountering and becoming humanity by revealing from day one that this Creator God was not afraid to roll up his sleeves and get his hands dirty. He announced for all to see that he did not come here to impress those of standing, but rather to appeal to the downcast, to the suffering, to the vulnerable, to the very least among us… to the sinner. He did not do this from upon a high perch. He came down into the muck, to be with us.
For Jesus, appearances mattered and this act of baptism was a bold statement regarding who he was and how he planned on ministering. And then, true to form, that is exactly what he then proceeded to do for the rest of his life.
Deeper truths are important, of course. But let’s continue to stay up here on the surface for another minute. I wonder: what might you and I do to make a similarly bold statement about what we believe in? What can you or I do to make sure those who we encounter know exactly who we are? That what they see only up on the surface accurately reflects what we hold deeply within our hearts? Namely, that this Jesus, the one who was willing to come into the muck with us, into our chaos and sin, and who was willing to roll up his sleeves and get his hands dirty, is our savior and lord?
Let’s not be afraid to show it. And boldly. Because sometimes… appearances do matter.