Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to be baptized by John. But John tried to deter him, saying, "I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?"
Jesus replied, "Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness." Then John consented.
As soon as Jesus was baptized, he went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, 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, whom I love; with him I am well pleased." (Matthew 3:13-17 NIV)
So, it's this thing of ours. We apply water in one form or another. Some folks pour it. Some folks sprinkle it. Other folks put you in it. That's what the Greek word behind "baptism" implies: dunking. As in a river or a lake or fountain.
They quit doing the dunking thing in Europe around Luther's time because too many infants caught their death of cold when they got dunked 3X in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost.
It's this thing of ours, this thing we do. Just like Holy Communion. Another thing we do.
The bread and fruit of the vine. We do them because of that other thing we do: Baptism. That's where it starts. With this thing of ours as followers of Christ.
If I were talking Italian, I'd say it was "la cosa nostra", this thing of ours.
Kinda got started in a new way with Jesus there in the Jordan River. John is calling people to open up their hearts and minds to the nearness of God's new thing: the kingdom of God. "As a way of showing you are ready, wash up and make a clean start!"
Then Jesus shows up and says, "I'm in. OK, let's get wet."
John won't have it. He knows that when God's Messiah arrives, he, John, will be the one who needs to clean up his act. But Jesus persists. "We have to do this to fulfill all righteousness," Jesus says.
Righteousness is kinda off-putting. We hear the word and think: goody two-shoes... holier-than-thou... me better than you.
Not exactly its Biblical sense according to Paul in his letter to the Romans. Per Paul, God is righteous because he justifies. In other words, God is righteous because God makes things right. Not simply that God is righteous because God is sinless perfection (who God is) but also because of what God does: makes things right, makes us right. God is righteous because God "righteousnesses" us. That's what justification means.
"John," Jesus says, "we have to do this to begin the work of setting things right--my work. We have to begin at the beginning. In order for me to take what's wrong and have it nailed to the cross with me, I have to begin where you and every person is: in need of new birth, a resurrection."
John concedes. Jesus gets wet. Heavens open...
A dove-like form of the Spirit descends on Jesus and alights. The same voice to be heard on the mountain of Transfiguration declares the same thing here: My Son. I am deeply passionate about what my Son is doing."
It's a Theophany, a God appearance there at the Jordan. We go with Jesus to the Jordan in this season of Epiphany because now, after the birth at Christmas, we contemplate what on earth it means for God to appear, to show up upon, to shine upon, to appear here, on earth.
So we also begin where Jesus begins. 'Cause Jesus takes that beginning and makes way more out of it. Once he begins, it kicks off his ministry of proclaiming, teaching and healing. Yeah, the same work he's actually turned over to us. And when we do those things, we're supposed to do this thing of ours, this washing in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
It's more than just an attitude adjustment. It's a God appearance. God shows up in that Baptism to stake a claim on us. Ain't no solvent can dissolve that glue. Ain't no rite of the church called "unBaptism".
When you been washed, you done been washed. As in, forever. You belong to God. And the sign says:
Devils Keep Out!
So it's this thing of ours 'cause Jesus gave it to us and he said to do it. That alone, his words, would be enough reason for us to do it. But there's something more. He promises to show up there. He not only forgives our sins there, he takes 'em away to the cross. He stays in their place.
Which is also why we do this other thing of ours, Holy Communion. Yeah, he's promised to show up there, too. Bread and wine = body and blood. By promise, by faith. By Spirit, not by chemical analysis.
"Given and shed for you for the remission of sins" was the translation of Luther's words I learned.
This thing of ours, la cosa nostra...
Epiphany. Theophany. Jesus said. I believe. Amen.
Thanks be to God!
PS: Just between you and me, I'd rather get dunked in Wallowa Lake than that public drinking fountain in Northwest Portland with the built-in doggie dish at the bottom. Not to mention what mighta been floating in the ol' Jordan... That's just me. But the water doesn't matter. It's the getting wet in the name of the ThreeOne that counts.