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The Holy Gospel according to Luke, the 3rd chapter. Glory to you, O Lord.
As the people were filled with expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Messiah, 16 John 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. 17 His 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." 21 Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heaven was opened, 22 and 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.”
The gospel of the Lord. Praise to you, O Christ.
Grace, mercy, and peace to you in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
The baptism of Jesus changed everything. It changed the very nature of baptism itself.
John knew that baptizing Jesus was different from baptizing anyone else. Could he have realized just how different things would be?
Luke tells us that after Jesus was baptized, he was praying. While he was praying, the Holy Spirit descended on him in the form of a dove. A voice came from heaven and said, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”
The Holy Spirit descended on Jesus at his baptism. And when the Holy Spirit comes down, everything changes about baptism.
You received the Holy Spirit at your baptism, too. The pastor marked a cross on your forehead with oil and said your name, “Child of God, you have been sealed by the Holy Spirit, and marked with the cross of Christ forever.”
Baptism is forever. It is God’s action. God makes a forever promise to us in baptism. It isn’t like the baptism of John. We don’t have to repent and say we are sorry for our sins first. That’s because baptism is all God’s work, not ours. Baptism brings the gifts of the Holy Spirit to us.
We Lutherans talk about Jesus a lot. We talk about God the Creator, a lot. We talk about the Holy Spirit usually once a year, on Pentecost. We need to remember that our God is Trinity - Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
So what does the Holy Spirit do for us in baptism?
First of all, the Holy Spirit calls us.
Luther says we don’t even believe in Jesus on our own. He says we can’t. No human has the power to believe in God. We receive our faith as a gift. The Holy Spirit calls us through the message of the Gospel and gives us faith.
We hear the message of the Good News, that God loved the world so much, that Jesus came to live among us as a human, just like us.
While he was here on earth, Jesus preached the good news of God’s love. He healed the sick and fed the hungry. He showed us how to live - how to be the people God calls us to be.
He gave his life on a cross for us. He rose from the dead and opened the gates of heaven for us.
When we hear that good news - that God loves us that much - we respond in faith. That faith is the gift of the Holy Spirit.
The Spirit gives us many other gifts, too. We hear about them in the baptism liturgy. In it we pray that the newly baptized will be sustained with the gift of the Holy Spirit: “the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord, and the spirit of joy in God's presence.”
These gifts of the Spirit enlighten us. Wisdom and understanding show us what we need to get along in the world. They help us see how to live.
The gift of counsel is the gift of good judgment. It shows us right from wrong. It helps us decide what we should do when the world is confusing. The gift of counsel helps us we are faced with all of life's choices.
The gift of might is the gift of courage and strength to do the right thing. It is also the strength to endure suffering for the sake of our faith.
The gift of knowledge isn’t about knowing facts. It is the gift of knowing the Lord.
The fear of the Lord is a sense of awe in the presence of God. It is the gift that calls us to worship the Lord in holy splendor, as we prayed with our psalmist today.
The Holy Spirit gives us the spirit of joy in the presence of God. All joy comes from God and being in God’s presence. There is no joy without the presence of the Holy Spirit. So, the next time you experience joy in your life, remember to thank the Holy Spirit. Joy means that you are in the presence of God.
The Holy Spirit calls us and enlightens us with gifts in our baptism. But, baptism is not just about an individual's relationship with God. The Holy Spirit gathers us together with the whole Christian church.
When we are baptized we become a member of the church. As we confess in the Apostles Creed, we are part of the holy catholic church and the communion of saints. We are joined with all the Christians of every time and every place.
That sounds great - until you look around you and see that means you are also part of this great company of sinners. You belong to the family of the church.
The good news for us is that the Holy Spirit has another gift. The Holy Spirit is often called the “Sanctifier,” which means, the saint maker. The Holy Spirit is the One who makes us holy, or makes us saints.
When I say all Christians are made holy, I don’t mean we have a “holier than thou” attitude. I can’t make myself holy. You can’t make yourself holy either. So we can’t take the credit for our sainthood. It is just like believing in Jesus, we can’t do it ourselves.
The Holy Spirit makes us holy, makes us saints, by forgiving our sins. As Luther said, “Daily in this Christian Church the Holy Spirit abundantly forgives all sins - mine and those of all believers. On the last day the Holy Spirit will raise me and all the dead and will give to me and all believers in Christ eternal life. This is most certainly true.”
It can be said that the promises and gifts of the Spirit in Baptism are like the promises at a wedding. At the ceremony, the couple makes lasting promises to each other.
It can’t stop there though. To make a marriage work, you have to regularly tell each other, “I love you.”
The Spirit makes lasting promises to us in baptism. Every week in Holy Communion, the God the Spirit says, “I love you. Your sins are forgiven.”
Thanks be to God. Amen.