As the people were filled with expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Messiah, 16John answered all of them by saying, “I baptize you with water; but one who is more powerful than I is coming; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. 17His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.” 18So, with many other exhortations, he proclaimed the good news to the people. 19But Herod the ruler, who had been rebuked by him because of Herodias, his brother’s wife, and because of all the evil things that Herod had done, 20added to them all by shutting up John in prison.

21Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heaven was opened, 22and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”

Today is the day we remember the baptism of Jesus though, sadly, we have no other baptism to celebrate in church today!

We do quite a lot of baptisms in this parish but it seems to me that the celebration of these baptisms almost never fits in neatly with the theme of the particular Sunday on which the baptism takes place!

Sex and violence have been our regular baptismal Sunday themes here according to my memory! I think the last time we had a baptism here we were either reading from the Song of Songs or about Salome dancing before Herod and the subsequent beheading of John the Baptist – not totally inappropriate, some might argue, but hardly family-friendly either!

These post-Christmas weeks, at any rate, seem like the perfect time to celebrate baptisms as we remember the birth of Jesus, followed by the childhood of Jesus and now the baptism of Jesus. These are the ‘suffer the little children to come to me’ weeks of the ecclesiastical year, and yet where are the little ones now? I suppose they’re enjoying their school holidays.

As I say, we celebrate a lot of baptisms here, and yet I find that there is one question that I often put to the parents of a child who is to be baptised that is almost always an awkward question, and it’s a question that I find as awkward today as I did when I first started baptising children half a lifetime ago. And that question is ‘why do you want to be baptised?’

It’s a question I don’t ask at all sometimes because it just makes the baptismal family feel too uncomfortable, as if I’m going to send them away if they don’t have a good enough answer, which is never my style. If you know me at all you know that my rule for admission to baptism is very simple: if they move, baptise them: If they don’t, bury them!’ In other words, if you’re alive, you qualify!

Even so, I do wonder in many cases why people want their children baptised. Baptism is, if nothing else, the formal membership ceremony of the church. And when you know you’re dealing with parents who have no interest whatsoever in becoming members of the church, ‘why do you want to be baptised?’

Well, given that I can’t interrogate any parents with this question this morning I thought I’d do the next best thing and interrogate the Gospel passage itself. Indeed, I thought I would dare to ask the Lord Jesus Himself, ‘why did You want to be baptised?’

And I can tell you that the answer to that question is not immediately obvious, though I think we can be pretty certain that Jesus would not have answered that question in the way in which many parents have answered me – namely, that ‘I thought it was about time I got myself done’.

There was no ‘getting yourself done’ in those days. Not only was there no membership ceremony for the church, there was no church, and indeed the whole practice of baptism was something rather new and unusual! What was John doing, standing in the Jordan River, pouring water over people’s heads? It is not immediately obvious!

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