I think my favorite thing I get to do as a priest is baptize people. Baptism is the beginning of the Christian life, and it is a blessing to be a part of so many people’s beginnings and a part of their salvation. We had almost 200 baptisms at OLG in 2015. My baptism date is February 9, 1986. The day of our baptism is the most important day of our lives. If you don’t know yours, look it up and put it on the calendar. That is the day we were thrown into the stream of salvation, a stream that will carry us to heaven if we let it. When I baptize people, I always tell the parents to keep the cloth used to dry their kid’s head, because it contains the very water of their salvation. The holy water fonts, my sprinkling people—all of that is a reminder that we are in the stream of salvation. The stream of salvation has its start in the River Jordan. I visited that place in December 2014. Turns out you’re not supposed to dive into it, as some friends learned the hard way. It is the lowest spot on planet earth, the place where Jesus willed to be baptized. I think it’s fitting. Jesus raises up that which is most lowly, even our broken human nature. And he draws us into his resurrection, into glory, into heaven….all through the stream of salvation….all through baptism.
Now I want to reflect just a moment about why baptism is so important, why it is so integral to our salvation. It is for many reasons, but the one in our readings today is the one I will focus on. Baptism is important because it is when we are filled with God. The spirit comes upon, as we see in all our readings today. God comes into us. And God is what we need to live, the fuel we need. CS Lewis says it this way in Mere Christianity:
God made us: he invented us as a man invents a machine. A car is made to run on petrol, and it would not run properly on anything else. Now God designed the human machine to run on Himself. He Himself is the fuel our spirits were designed to burn, or the food our spirits were designed to feed on. There is no other. That is why it is just no good asking God to make us happy in our own way without bothering about religion. God cannot give us a happiness and peace apart from Himself, because it is not there. There is no such thing. That is the key to history. Terrific energy is expended—civilizations are built up—excellent institutions devised; but each time something goes wrong. Some fatal flaw always brings selfish and cruel people to the top and it all slides back into misery and ruin. In fact, the machine conks. It seems to start up all right and runs a few yards, and then it breaks down. They are trying to run it on the wrong juice. That is what Satan has done to us humans.
Isn’t that beautiful! That is the story of baptism. God gives us the fuel in Baptism, the fuel our motors, our spirits, our bodies need in order to be what we were made to be. God instills in us the divine life in baptism. He fills us with new life, he floods us with his glory. A phrase that always moves me in baptism is when we pray in thanksgiving that the new child has become “a temple of God’s glory.” We were made to run on glory. We run on God. Which is why we have the Eucharist, and why we have baptism and all the sacraments. Nothing else will get us to where we need to go—not money, popularity, power, alcohol, video games, sports or anything else. The machine will conk out on that stuff. Only God is the right juice. So he gives us his Spirit, and we run on that. Even to heaven.
Our readings today are all about this. Isaiah 42 talks about how God fills us with his spirit, and how “a bruised reed he shall not break, and a smoldering wick he shall not quench.” Even when we feel like we might conk, might break down, God’s spirit within given to us at baptism—it keeps us going. Our second reading from Acts tells us about the power that came into the Lord Jesus when he was baptized, how his baptism started his public ministry of teaching, healing, praying, guiding, loving, etc. In this way, it is not just own personal salvation that is possible because of baptism, but also the salvation of the world. It’s possible for us to do those same things, too, because we run on God. Jesus was baptized on this day some 2000 years ago and then he changed and saved the world. He continues doing that through his power at work in us, a power given us at our baptism.