Christ Died For Me
The Rev. Leonard Brusso
Good Shepherd Episcopal Church
1 As the people were in expectation, and all men questioned in their hearts concerning John, whether perhaps he were the Christ, John answered them all, “I baptize you with water; but he who is mightier than I is coming, the thong of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie; he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire. 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.” So, with many other exhortations, he preached good news to the people. But Herod the tetrarch, who had been reproved by him for Hero′di-as, his brother’s wife, and for all the evil things that Herod had done, added this to them all, that he shut up John in prison. Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heaven was opened, and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form, as a dove, and a voice came from heaven, “Thou art my beloved Son; with thee I am well pleased.”
The Baptism of Jesus by John the Baptist, as illustrated in the Hortus deliciarum, 1167
Last week I bemoaned the fact that Christmas seemed to have come and gone so quickly that we hardly had time to enjoy it. Now, only a week later, Christmas seems to have occurred so long ago. The Wise Men have come and gone now, as has the Baby Jesus. Today we find Jesus, not as an infant, but as a fully grown man standing on the bank of the Jordan River about to be baptized. And next week in our readings he will be performing his first miracle at a wedding feast in Cana of Galilee. Where did the time go? It is as if we have been caught up in a time-warp,..as if we were watching a screen upon which the life of this Jesus of Nazareth, whom we claim as Lord and Savior, were being played out in time-lapse photography,... too fast for us to see as anything but a blur.
I have noticed, as perhaps some of you have, the older I get the faster my own life seems to flash by. Like watching the evening weather report, seeing all those clouds flash across the screen as an entire weather system is traced in but a second or two. When I look back over all my years, I am astounded by the acceleration of it all. Where does the time go? My life is being used up! I can recall with remarkable detail, either real or touched by imagined fancy, so much of the past,... the formative years,... the children,... their birth, baptism,... their growing up,... their leaving the nest and going out on their own,... and all the other details. What I usually have trouble remembering is where I put my glasses and what’s on my calendar for tomorrow. I told you about old Bessie, I’m sure. When I visited her last, I said, “Bessie, ain’t none of us getting any younger. Maybe you ought to be thinking about the here-after.” “O Father,” she said, “I think of the here-after all the time. I go out to the kitchen and I say to myself, ‘What the hell am I here after?” That’s not a true story.
Today is today and our scriptures are asking us to focus on baptism. Unless you were baptized as an adult, you probably don’t remember your own baptism. We remember the baptism of our children and perhaps our grandchildren. But if we were baptized as an infant, the event is forever lost to that time before memory began. That doesn’t really make any difference, you see, because baptism grows up with us. You are just as baptized now as the moment when the water was poured on your head. The real question is, have you grown up with your baptism? Baptism never made you an Episcopalian or Presbyterian or Roman Catholic or whatever it is we claim to be today or where yesterday. Baptism simply made us a Christian, a follower of Christ whose own baptism we celebrate today. The question is, how faithful have we been to the Christ who saves us? We tend to think we were baptized for our own good, that the Christian faith is something given to us, and that there is really not an awful lot we can do to preserve it. Well, my friends, if that is what you think, you are dead wrong. You and I like to wring our hands and complain about the terrible decline in morality and ethics in our nation, about crime and corruption and about the sorry state of religion in our national life. “Things were better in my day,” we lament. “We had a greater sense of values.” Well, it’s still my day, (and yours) and I’m not about to give it up.
The Christian faith was indeed given to us at baptism, as was our inheritance in the kingdom of heaven. But it was not given to us to hoard, to store up against the day we will be asked to make account for what we did with what we were given. A kind of “Free Spin” in the “Wheel of Fortune” of our lives. Our Christian faith was given to us so that we could give it away to others in our own generation and all subsequent generations. We need to hand the Christian faith on, totally and truthfully, not just the parts we like, but the parts that are hard for us as well. What the future needs from us is a lived-in, warm, worn faith with our hand prints all over it. When our grandchildren run their fingers across all our words and deeds, the melody they hear should be clear and true. We need to live and act and be the baptized people that we are.
The magnificent picture that St. Luke paints for us of Jesus’ baptism in today’s gospel puts us right into the scene if we could take ourselves back 2000 years. I have to wonder why this Jesus would want to take part in the Baptist’s rite of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. Why on earth would Jesus, both blameless and without spot of sin, want to wade into the murky waters of the Jordan,... that filthy river, swirling and teaming with sins that had washed off the crowds that had preceded him? Everyone else had gone into that water befouled with their own sinfulness and came out cleansed. Jesus goes into the water pure and blameless and comes out bearing the sins of all, yours and mine included. That Holy Child of Bethlehem, wearing my flesh, God incarnate, climbs down the muddy bank and wades right in for me and for you,... just as he will go to the cross for me and for you. There isn’t a person here this morning that cannot say, “For me Christ died.” That’s hard for us to understand, I know. It’s hard for us to understand how God could love us so, even in our “un-lovableness.” But I know in my heart that when I hurt, Jesus hurts,... when I laugh, Jesus laughs,... when I am sick, Jesus shares my sickness and pain, and when the day comes for me to lie down to die, Jesus will lie down with me. Whatever my trouble may be, Jesus is right there with me, right there at my side.
Perhaps this will help us to understand. Urban T. Holmes in his work, Praying with the Family of God, tells this story of a young lad named Jimmy. “Jimmy raced out the front door and slammed it behind him. BLAM! He ran down the walk toward the park. It was Saturday morning, the sky was blue, no sign of rain. He was off to play baseball, and he couldn’t wait to get started. His parents had given him a new bat for his tenth birthday. Here was the first chance to try it. Coming to the corner, Jimmy swirled the bat around his head. It was a great day! He could almost feel himself hitting the first ball as he held the bat tightly in his hands. Then suddenly, the bat slipped,...and Crash! The bat had sailed out of his hands, through the air, and right into the plate glass window of Harman’s Drug Store.
Jimmy stared at the awful hole in the window. He wished he were somewhere else; Anywhere else. Everyone on the block came running. Jimmy couldn’t move. He just stood there staring at the drug store window display with its boxes and thousands of tiny pieces of glass. And lying in the middle of it all, his brand new bat. He knew that people were all around him, but he couldn’t look up. Then he heard one gruff voice above the others. Somebody was standing right next to him, ‘Hey, kid,’ the voice said, ‘who is going to pay for this?’ Jimmy didn’t know what to say. He kept staring at the ground. ‘Did you hear me, kid’ the voice said more harshly this time. ‘Who’s going to take care of this? Answer me that!’ Jimmy opened his mouth to speak, but nothing came out. Then, just when all the sounds around him were getting jumbled up together, Jimmy heard a voice he knew. “Jimmy is mine!” It was his Dad. Jimmy looked up to see his father standing there next to him. “I’ll pay for it,” his Dad said, putting his hand on Jimmy’s shoulder.”
FOR ME CHRIST DIED
 Luke 3:15-22