Sermon for CHRISTMAS 1 (with Holy Baptism) Sunday 30 December 2012
In the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Beginnings are incredibly important. Even if we only regard their importance in retrospect, we do on the whole remember, reminisce and learn from our beginnings. History, might not recall the detail of our individual beginnings, but someone somewhere will for a while remember something. Someone will remember when we first started doing something of importance, perhaps that is life itself, or perhaps it is living. Someone somewhere will remember for many years to come, this new beginning in young Esther’s life, its importance and opportunity.
Perhaps the beginnings we recall in faith are these… “In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the earth”. (Genesis) or “Happy are those who do not follow the advice of the wicked, or take the path that sinners tread, or sit in the seat of scoffers” (The Psalms). Or perhaps you are more familiar with “The beginning of the good news* of Jesus Christ, the Son of God”* from Mark’s Gospel, or as we have heard over the past couple of days, “1In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2He was in the beginning with God. 3All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being.” St John.
No matter how we recall the beginnings in our own life, or the first glimpse of understanding God, we might on the whole expect to start a memory at a similar place. Yet no matter how St Mark begins his gospel about the Lord Jesus, Matthew and Luke have decided to reflect the beginning of our Lords life, his ministry and words differently.
Mark attributes the first words to come from our Lord to be, “the time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near;* repent, and believe in the good news.’ St Matthew however, has a brief conversation between the Baptist and Jesus. *Jesus comes from Galilee to be baptized by John at the River Jordan. 14John would have prevented him, saying, ‘I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?’ 15But Jesus answers John, ‘Let it be so now; for it is proper for us in this way to fulfil all righteousness.” So John baptises our Lord with water. Yet St Luke gives us an account between the Lord and his mother where Jesus’ first words are, “Why were you searching for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?”
The three Synoptic Gospels though they contain on the whole the same stories, reminisce on Jesus’s first words being on different themes. Mark would have Jesus calling for faith and repentance while recognising that the hope and longing of a people is to be fulfilled. Matthew calls for Baptism and Luke through our Lord’s experience in the Temple reminds us to seek God, and seek him in his holy dwelling.
The beginning of faith is to know a need of God. The next step is to repent, to confess, for us to be emptied of our selfishness and clothed in God’s purposefulness. We are to abandon our will in order to be God’s holy vessels and to demonstrate this publically and spiritually we are to be baptised into the family of God, into God’s life itself. And the third step, is to search for God, in this holy place within the holy arena of his creation as St Luke has Mary and Joseph searching for Jesus in this morning’s Gospel.
These things we do in repetitive actions and ritual, first remembering a need of God, secondly confessing, dabbing ourselves in holy water reminding ourselves of our Baptism, and third, searching for God. But as Bishop Welby put it, God thinks in straight lines, not repetitively. “We come round to Christmas every year, He did it once.” So we are creatures which through holy habit reaffirm what God has done once in us, and that is the gift of faith. Every time we enter into a renewal of faith, we are given a new beginning in God. While all the time, God, having acted only once to call us by name, watches us spiral closer into his love and purpose.
The three beginnings in the Gospels are aspects to Christian discipleship which are not only important to Esther as she prepares to grow up in the Faith of Christ, but for all Christian people. Have faith, repent of your neglect of God, be baptised and seek him in his dwelling place.
Esther this is your beginning today, we will rely upon some to encourage you in the faith. Others we will rely upon to help you understand that God’s welcome is for all, there are no conditions, no one is excluded. And we hope and pray that today marks the beginning of a life not spent only going around in circles, but a life which looks like a straight line to God.
We will do our part, so will your parents, Grandparents and God-parents. For today is your beginning in this churches history, today is where we remember the first words of Jesus to his Mother, Why were you searching for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house? Esther, he is here, come with all the people of God and worship him.
The Kingdom of God grows one by one. It grows as we being members of the body of Christ put off selfishness and begin to clothe ourselves in the divinity of God, in his nature. That has to begin somewhere, and that for you I pray begins today, and now. Amen
Sermon preached by Fr. John Pritchard