Eternal Father, who at the baptism of Jesus revealed him to be your Son, anointing him with the Holy Spirit: grant to us, who are born again by water and the Spirit, that we may be faithful to our calling as your adopted children; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who is alive and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.
Heavenly Father, at the Jordan you revealed Jesus as your Son: may we recognize him as our Lord and know ourselves to be your beloved children; through Jesus Christ our Saviour.
Lord of all time and eternity, you opened the heavens and revealed yourself as Father in the baptism of Jesus your beloved Son: by the power of your Spirit complete the heavenly work of our rebirth through the waters of the new creation; through Jesus Christ our Lord.
1 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.
2 He will not cry or lift up his voice,
or make it heard in the street;
3 a bruised reed he will not break,
and a dimly burning wick he will not quench;
he will faithfully bring forth justice.
4 He will not grow faint or be crushed
until he has established justice in the earth;
and the coastlands wait for his teaching.
5 Thus says God, the Lord,
who created the heavens and stretched them out,
who spread out the earth and what comes from it,
who gives breath to the people upon it
and spirit to those who walk in it:
6 I am the Lord, I have called you in righteousness,
I have taken you by the hand and kept you;
I have given you as a covenant to the people,
a light to the nations,
7 to open the eyes that are blind,
to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon,
from the prison those who sit in darkness.
8 I am the Lord, that is my name;
my glory I give to no other,
nor my praise to idols.
9 See, the former things have come to pass,
and new things I now declare;
before they spring forth, I tell you of them.
1 Ascribe to the Lord, you powers of heaven,
ascribe to the Lord glory and strength.
2 Ascribe to the Lord the honour due to his name;
worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness.
3 The voice of the Lord is upon the waters;
the God of glory thunders;
the Lord is upon the mighty waters.
4 The voice of the Lord is mighty in operation;
the voice of the Lord is a glorious voice.
5 The voice of the Lord breaks the cedar trees;
the Lord breaks the cedars of Lebanon;
6 He makes Lebanon skip like a calf
and Sirion like a young wild ox.
7 The voice of the Lord splits the flash of lightning;
the voice of the Lord shakes the wilderness;
the Lord shakes the wilderness of Kadesh.
8 The voice of the Lord makes the oak trees writhe
and strips the forests bare;
in his temple all cry, ‘Glory!’
9 The Lord sits enthroned above the water flood;
the Lord sits enthroned as king for evermore.
10 The Lord shall give strength to his people;
the Lord shall give his people the blessing of peace.
Then Peter began to speak to them: ‘I truly understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him. You know the message he sent to the people of Israel, preaching peace by Jesus Christ—he is Lord of all. That message spread throughout Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John announced: how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power; how he went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him. We are witnesses to all that he did both in Judea and in Jerusalem. They put him to death by hanging him on a tree; but God raised him on the third day and allowed him to appear, not to all the people but to us who were chosen by God as witnesses, and who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one ordained by God as judge of the living and the dead. All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.’
Then Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan, to be baptized by him. John would have prevented him, saying, ‘I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?’ But Jesus answered him, ‘Let it be so now; for it is proper for us in this way to fulfil all righteousness.’ Then he consented. And when Jesus had been baptized, just as he came up from the water, suddenly the heavens were opened to him and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, ‘This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.’
Sermon on The Baptism of Christ
“New things I now declare” we heard from Isaiah. What do you think of when you hear the phrase “Brave New World”?
We use this phrase to describe a very different world – not our everyday. We have all used it, haven’t we? Sometimes we use the phrase appreciatively to extol the virtues of a new situation, or a new vision. When we envisage a place where people treat each other well. Or when nation will speak peace to nation. These are brave new worlds – they are so very different to what we normally experience. Our normal world is one of mistrust and ill-will.
However, we very often use the phrase negatively as well, don’t we? The world where people are treated even more badly than normal, as if they were cogs in a machine, like the character in Charlie Chaplin’s film, Modern Times. We all have felt this oppression either at school or at work, when everything is regimented and controlled, not for our sake but for the convenience of the others. This is the brave new world we often have in mind when we use the phrase.
But today I would like to use the phrase with that positive meaning – to denote a world where there is infinite possibility, when we can go out and never fear but always be fulfilled. This is a world which does not have much to do with what we know – this is a world of hope. That brave new world is just beyond our reach, but we always strain to grasp it, don’t we?
It is a world we feel we should be able to lay hold of because we believe in its reality. That is our very nature as human. It is a world promised us with baptism. “And a voice from heaven said, ‘This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.’” This voice echoes in our ears from the moment we believe just as it echoed around the Jordan valley long ago. When I rise from the waters of baptism, the promise of the Kingdom is mine, that I have become a child of God, a person who should ever act out of the love upon which my heavenly father has acted towards me. My life has been transformed because I hear that voice and I begin my entry into a brave new world – a world of love and hope.
However, my limited nature binds my hands and I cannot grasp the great prize through my own efforts. I am burdened by my own limitations and I could so easily dip into the slough of despair, but for my faith, that hope for the best of all possible worlds, my own brave new world. This phrase has been in the front of my mind because I picked Aldous Huxley’s book up the other day and I have been reading it during the past week. He takes everything he knows to task: the political system, the economic system, state religion, personal belief, the way people escape from reality, even love in all its aspects is examined through the novelist’s eye. One paragraph struck me the other day as a fruitful place to begin some theological reflection, one which centres itself on our sentence from the gospel. It describes the brave new world which we hope will be ours, that world in which we can say “Abba, Father” because we have heard that voice which calls us by name as children. Huxley writes about family in these words.
Our Freud had been the first to reveal the appalling dangers of family life. The world was full of fathers – was therefore full of misery; full of mothers – therefore of every kind of perversion from sadism to chastity; full of brothers, sisters, uncles, aunts – full of madness and suicide.
Is this the picture we have of “family” – of our own siblings, cousins, aunts, uncles, mothers and fathers? Are we part of a “Manson Family” ready to take part in unspeakable events? Is our familial inheritance something which hinders our lives in the future? More frighteningly, could the “family” of the local Church be one which could be described by these words of Huxley? (After all, it has happened in the Church universal and particular.) I would say Huxley’s sketch of the family is an accurate description of a dysfunctional family, much like so many local communities struggling to carry on despite their unacknowledged failings. We should probably leave it at that and be thankful of all the safeguarding measures now in place in public life.
This leads me to another train of thought. There has been a criticism of “traditional” language which has been levelled at the patriarchy of the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church, which castigates it for describing God as “father”. – With these words of Huxley, however, echoing in our ears, we must accept such censure on our traditional language, especially when we have not transformed the words into symbolic deeds. How can we accept such words uttered at baptism, when they do not transform the world into the vision we have? The feminist, linguistic critique is accurate, but as you know, I am not a literalist. I see language as symbolic, as pointing to a meaning well beyond what we have here in our hands.
Such a use of language should impose a great moral burden on each and every one of us when we speak.
And a voice from heaven said, ‘This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.’
If I am the son in this passage, if I am a child of God, then I am bound to act in a way which is pleasing to my brothers and sisters, my siblings, and to God. When I was married, I stood before the great congregation and the altar to declare my love and dedication. When clerics are ordained they enter their orders because it seems right to the Holy Spirit and to us, the people whom they will serve.
If we are the children of God, then something is expected of us. We must transform the world into something new and brave, don’t you think?
So… – What is our vision of the world? Are things becoming very tangential to what life ought to mean? Does the child-like pleasure in a summer’s day become jaded as we grow because we cannot enjoy it in an unalloyed manner? You are no longer children – we are told that time and again, so we should not stand and stare with those bovines of the poem. Rather must we be blinkered and shake within the jangling harness of expectation as those horses do in Houseman’s Shropshire, or more diabolically as the people do in Plato’s cave?
What is the Brave New World we wish to bequeath those who will inherit the wind which has blown us to this point? As children of God, we must walk along the road and tell of the good news we have heard, we must continue our journey to that promised land and invite others to join us in the heavenly banquet. As God’s children, we have a great responsibility to surpass the rather dull expectations of the world of the past, to transform the dull grey of this transitory world into the colourful joy of an eternal, future kingdom worthy of the name, “brave new world”.