The Feast of the Baptism of the Lord is a shade neglected in the western compared to the eastern Church. Today’s commemoration in the Eastern Orthodox community is the apex of Christmas known in Greek as Theophany, God’s revelation, with outdoor ceremonies literally chilling the blood, folk diving into pools made in the ice and the like. We’ll not go there - but we will go rather this morning to something or Someone who warms the heart: the Holy Spirit.
On this Feast of Christ’ Baptism we sing come down, O Love divine, seek thou this soul of mine and visit it with thine own ardour glowing! May we, like those disciples in Ephesus who hadn’t heard of the Holy Spirit gain ardour (Acts 19:6). May we, like our Lord, anointed by the Spirit, hear God’s voice saying to us individually at this Mass, : ‘You are my Son, my daughter, with you I am well pleased’ (Mark 1:11).
What me? You might ask. How could I be worthy of that? Of God filling my life, of the empowerment in love, joy and peace that Our Lord knew? Well he knew it in his flesh so you could know it! He was anointed so you could be anointed as John the Baptist said in the Gospel: I have baptised you with water; but he will baptise you with the Holy Spirit.
Today we’re talking not just a one-off Theophany, or manifestation of God, but of the choice of and manifestation of God to you and I represented in our Christian allegiance and our sealing by the Spirit at our baptism, confirmation, and our welcoming Christ Sunday by Sunday in Holy Communion that we may evermore dwell in him, and he in us.
The Son of God became Son of Man so children of men could be children of God. That’s our good news which though in the providence of God, remains mighty strange!
Both Our Lord’s earthly origins and our own Christian origins thrill with paradox! As the preacher in All Saints, Margaret Street told us the other Sunday Christianity has an ‘extraordinary particularity’. Incidentally I told him afterwards I was helping here and he commented, you’ve got a bigger place to fill than we have! Very true - but the same Catholic religion in London-by-the sea as there at Brighton-in-land!
I’ve distracted you - that phrase ‘extraordinary particularity’ is a good one and is worth examining. Just as the wise men found there own way to Jerusalem but needed special revelation to find Bethlehem so the universal instinct for God needs revelation of where in particular we can find Him.
Christianity’s no man-made religion. It’s nothing made up - its revealed! God so loved the world he revealed - he gave - himself. That revelation unlike that of other faiths is rooted in well evidenced historical events, those we mark at Easter, and in the choice and call the Holy Spirit brings to individuals in every age.
It is as outrageous to logic that you and I welcome the Holy Spirit at this Mass as it is that the Founder of Christianity should appear in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the King. That though is the recipe for salvation planned before the foundation of the world.
On this feast we ponder something given to us that goes beyond but not against reason - the privilege Christ shares with us as his sisters and brothers, children of God, who hear again with him those awesome words: ‘You are my Son, with you I am well pleased’.
The Son of God became Son of Man so children of men could be children of God.
Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you became believers? Yes, you did, but you need to truly believe it! Believe as surely as Our Lord Jesus is the particular Theophany or revelation of God that you in particular are, through the Spirit’s calling, in words spoken of you at your baptism, a child of God and inheritor of the kingdom of heaven.
You have that grace - even if like sugar put in tea it needs stirring to sweeten the drink.
God sweeten our lives by stirring up the Spirit he’s put within us. May he bless us as we welcome his coming afresh by his Spirit into our lives in the most holy Sacrament. This is my body given for you.. this is my blood shed for you… O Christian, recall your nobility! God has chosen you, made you his child and fills you with his Spirit!