Some of you know the story, but many do not, and most don’t know all the details of the baptismal font we have now dedicated for celebrating and remembering Holy Baptism together as a community. The original font was commissioned in 2007. It was the work of local artist, Rick Silas, based on our design, using his patented technique of covering tempered glass in resin and film and then shattering the glass allowing it to be shaped for about an hour before the resin hardens into its final form. It can then be polished and joined with other pieces to make the finished product. The lines of the shattered glass sparkle as we know when light shines on it, especially when combined with the movement of the water. It was intentionally made large enough to immerse a child if desired, low enough for children and anyone to touch the water, and its depth deceiving, uncertain where the water ends. It attracts the most attention of all the worship furnishings in this space, and many have commented on its beauty, uniqueness, and presence.
As some of you know, the first font was badly damaged by accident by someone preparing for a recital in the space in June of last year. We reached out to the artist, who now lives in Lunenberg, Nova Scotia, about repairing it, or replacing a portion of it. But the assessment was that the extent of the damage required that a whole new font would have to be constructed. After working with the insurance company and considering making it on the east coast and the cost and difficulty of shipping it across the country, the artist instead came here in October and worked with a friend in his shop to remake the font here. This had its challenges, requiring the artist to stay longer. But we gladly received the new font in mid November. There was still an issue with leaking to work out, but that we hope is finally resolved, and we can once again enjoy celebrating baptisms in this beautiful font, and remembering the gift of baptism every Sunday, or anytime we walk past the font, touching the water, making the sign of the cross on ourselves or others in thanksgiving for this gift of God’s grace in water.
As we heard in the season of Advent and stories of John in the wilderness baptizing people in the river Jordan, and now today, the story of Jesus coming to be baptized by John, this central Christian ritual and sacrament, one of two “means of grace” together with Holy Communion in our Lutheran tradition, did not start out with beautiful glass fonts and clean tap water. But with John, standing in the river and pouring water over or immersing people in the water for repentance and forgiveness of sins. And Jesus comes to receive this baptism just as others. John questions Jesus, saying, “I need to be baptized by you.” But Jesus responds, “Let it be so for now, for it is proper for us to fulfill all righteousness.” Hold on to these words as we witness what happens, an affirmation, a confirmation, some suggest an ordination of Jesus for ministry. All of it a threefold Epiphany of who Jesus is, with the heavens opened, the Spirit of God like a dove alighting on Jesus, and the voice from heaven saying, ‘this is my beloved child, with whom I am so pleased.” And we and all who witness this baptism, see! Jesus is God’s anointed, is filled with God’s Spirit, is beloved, and is well pleasing to God.
Two things about Jesus’ baptism in Matthew’s gospel, the primary gospel for us this lectionary year. First, today’s reading from Isaiah, the first of what are called the “servant songs,” informs the baptism accounts in the first three gospels. Note the words from Isaiah, “Here is my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen in whom my soul delights. I have put my spirit upon them; they will bring forth justice to the nations.” These words closely align with the voice from heaven as Jesus is baptized. Second, originally the servant songs of Isaiah are about the people of Israel, chosen by God to be a light to the nations, a humble and suffering servant for God’s justice. Three times the word justice appears. A humble servant who wouldn’t break the frailest of plants or blow out the smallest candle. For the early Christian community, these words become identified with Jesus, a servant, beloved, well pleasing to God, fulfilling all justice.
Back to those words of Jesus, in a dialogue that is unique to Matthew’s gospel. In response to John’s questioning if he should be baptized by Jesus, Jesus says, “Let it be so for now, for it is proper for us to fulfill all righteousness.” These are words of absolute humility. Jesus completely identifies with all those coming to John to be baptized, fulfilling all righteousness, or justice, that is well pleasing to God. Let it be so…Jesus says.
Jesus’ words sound like the words of Mary in response to the angel proclaiming to her that she will carry a child to be named Jesus. And Mary said, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord, let it be with me according to your word.” A humble servant, saying, “let it be so. Did Mary teach Jesus this way of humble service and acceptance of God’s will to fulfill all righteousness and justice? It is what Mary and Hannah before her sang. Maybe, it was a lullaby that Jesus grew up hearing. And now at his baptism, an affirmation, a confirmation, an ordination for ministry, this Epiphany of who Jesus is, beloved, Spirit filled, and well pleasing to God, Jesus says what he knows by heart, let it be so for now… to fulfill all righteousness.
What has all this to do with a newly dedicated glass font and clean water on this Baptism of Jesus Sunday? The baptism of Jesus becomes the gracious prototype for all baptisms in the name and Spirit of Jesus, God’s beloved. In beautiful words Peter proclaims God’s good news in the life and ministry, death and resurrection of Jesus to outsiders - Cornelius, a Roman Centurion and his household. And what happens immediately following the words we hear today? They all receive the Holy Spirit! And Peter says, “Can anyone withhold the water for baptizing these people who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?” And they were all immediately baptized.
And we trust, as we baptize people in waters at this font, the same Epiphany takes place. For each and every child of God, no matter their age or background, their sexual orientation or gender identity, their ethnicity or colour of skin, their abilities or disabilities, their economic or social circumstance, as they, as we, are baptized, here or anywhere, God opens the heavens, God’s Spirit descends on each one, God declares, this is, you are, my beloved child, in whom I am so pleased, so delighted, in all righteousness and justice. Joined with Jesus, who humbly and faithfully joins with us and everyone in this baptism, in all of life, as beloved, spirit filled and well pleasing in God’s sight, for all righteousness and justice. That we and all who are baptized, live the way of Jesus, of Mary, of humble servants, willing to suffer for all righteousness, for all people, for all creation.
This is what we affirm together today in thanksgiving for the amazing gift of grace in Holy Baptism at this font in this water, what God confirms and anoints each of us with the Holy Spirit to be and do – in humble service for justice. Let it be so for now, …to fulfill all righteousness.
I wonder what holding these words as our first response to life and this world and all its challenges and changes might challenge and change in me and this world for justice? How would responding, “let it be so for now to fulfill all righteousness” change who I am and what I do in circumstances I don’t like, when I am impatient, frustrated, think I know better, do better, want or don’t want something to change? Do I trust who others are, who I am, a child of God, Spirit filled, beloved and well pleasing to God, equally and fully together, all people of God, and therefore opened to respond, let it be so for now… to fulfill all righteousness and justice. It is the waters of Baptism that remind us, confirm for us, this beloved identity and well-pleasing purpose for God’s justice. To see and touch the water, to make the sign of the cross, and remember, you are a beloved child of God, and to live, let it be so… for all righteousness and justice.
In the small Catechism by Martin Luther to support families in learning and being formed the in faith, he wrote of Baptism: “What is baptism? Baptism is not simply plain water. Instead, it is water used according to God’s command and connected with God’s word. What gifts or benefits does baptism grant? It brings about forgiveness of sins, redeems from death and the devil, and gives eternal salvation to all who believe it, as the words and promise of God declare. How can water do such great things? Clearly the water does not do it, but the word of God, which is with and alongside the water, and faith, which trusts this word of God in the water. …that is, a grace-filled water of life and a “bath of the new birth in the Holy Spirit,”…The saying is sure. What then is the significance of such a baptism with water? It signifies that the old person in us with all sins and evil desires is to be drowned and die through daily sorrow for sin and through repentance, and on the other hand that daily a new person is to come forth and rise up to live before God in righteousness and purity forever.” Let it be so for now and always, to fulfill all righteousness, and in all our relations. Amen.