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A Sermon preached at Immanuel Church-on-the-Hill in Alexandria, VA on January 10, 2016.

The 1st Sunday after Epiphany: Isaiah 43:1-7; Psalm 29; Acts 8:14-17; Luke 3:15-17, 21-22

Come, Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful, and kindle in us the fire of your love. Send forth Your Spirit, and we shall be created, and you shall renew the face of the earth. Amen.

          Here we are, more than one week into the New Year, so I have to ask: How many of you have already broken New Year’s resolutions? This week, I flipped through Facebook and found a poll about New Year’s resolutions. Number One is, of course, to lose weight or quit smoking or become healthier in general. Number Two was to get out of debt. Number Three was to get a new job. Number Four was to get more organized. Number Five was to run a marathon or become better at a particular sport. We all know that New Year's Resolution are no new thing. In fact, we may need to credit the first ever new year’s resolutions to the Babylonians whose number one resolution was to return borrowed farm equipment.

            Why do we make New Year’s resolutions? The beginning of a new year brings with it a seemingly clean slate. A new year is a new beginning, a time where we can start over, begin anew, and work to change some things in our lives. This First Sunday after the Epiphany is the perfect time to talk about baptism as we celebrate the Baptism of Our Lord Jesus Christ and we renew our own baptismal promises.                 

Baptism is a chance for a new beginning and a new start, but it is not like New Year’s resolutions, that are broken within a few weeks. Rather it is a covenant between God and us which remains always, and can never be broken. It is important for us to know and remember that Baptism is both a sacrament and a covenant.

The

Outline of the Faith, or Catechism, in the back of our 1979 Book of Common Prayer, refers to Holy Baptism as one of the "two great sacraments given by Christ to his Church;" the other is the Holy Eucharist. It is through this sacrament that God adopts us as God's children and makes us members of Christ's Body, the Church, and inheritors of the kingdom of God. In our liturgy of Holy Baptism, we join with those who commit themselves to Christ. Each and every time, we renew our own baptismal sacrament. Yet, if you look at the top of Page 304 in our Prayer Book, it boldly proclaims The Baptismal Covenant.

So Baptism is also a covenant. A covenant is an agreement, or perhaps you may think of it as a contract between you and God, and between you and the Church. Baptism is not the first covenant that has been made between God and humanity. The first covenant was initiated between God and Noah. God promised to never again destroy all the living things on the Earth in a flood. God commanded Noah to be fruitful and multiply and the rainbow was the sign for that covenant. Another covenant was made between God and Abraham. God promised to be with Abraham and his offspring as long as they remained obedient and God would bless them and give them the promised land of Canaan. The sign of this covenant was in the circumcision of males in the household.

Yet humanity remained sinful. So God sent the Son, Jesus Christ, to walk and dwell among us, to serve, teach, preach, and heal, and to become the sacrifice for all the sins of humanity. Christ later rose from the grave through the power of God, and through this, the gift of the Holy Spirit was given to humanity. God’s promise is that death has been conquered and that this life is not the end. The sign of this promise – the covenant -- is the sacrament we know as Baptism.

           The Old Testament reading comes from a time near the end of Israel’s exile in Babylon, as God promises to bring them home. The chosen people of God need not be afraid any longer, because the One who formed, created, and called them by name now redeems them from all their enemies. God declares them to be precious and honored, and announces God's love of them.

           In the reading from the Acts of the Apostles, Peter and John are sent to support the new Christians in Samaria, a group that was recently baptized after hearing the good news of Christ through the preaching of Philip. Here the Samarians receive the gift of the Holy Spirit through the laying on of hands.

           Finally, the Gospel opens with questions about the identity of the Messiah. John the Baptist insists to the people that he is not the Messiah; instead he points ahead to one who is coming. And then Jesus appears, seeking to be baptized. And whether the voice of God was heard by all or only by Jesus, God settles the matter: Jesus is God’s beloved Son.

           The Baptism of Our Lord cannot help but recall our own and all baptismal blessings. We remember and celebrate our adoption as daughters and sons, the gift of the Holy Spirit, and the promised company of Almighty God when we pass through the waters of life … the rivers of time … the fires of our own sinfulness, that God is with us.

         On this day the heavens will open again, for this assembly, and especially for Matthew Edmund Whelpley, who will be baptized this day and welcomed into the household of God. And we will all gather around this Altar to receive the gift of the beloved Son of God in bread and wine.

           Listen! God’s voice comes from heaven to call us by name, speak to the earth, shake the wilderness, and to anoint “the Beloved.”

           Listen! God’s people speak words of covenant, commitment, and community in the liturgy of baptism.

           Listen! God’s word surrounds this day with power and majesty and “in the temple of the Lord all are crying, ‘Glory!’” (Ps. 29:9)

           In this season of Epiphany, today’s miraculous encounter with the living God immerses us in the sound of God’s voice and bathes us in God’s baptismal promise. All who are washed in this water gasp, cry, exclaim, sigh, and sing. Let all who have breath, praise the Lord!

           We all make New Year’s resolutions, right? Confession time: I thought about it, but I didn't make any. I should; I just didn't. Mine are usually self-centered and self-focused. And while there's nothing wrong with improving one’s self, let’s remember our responsibilities as baptized children of God.
           
I think that John Wesley offered us a good summary: “Do all the good you can, By all the means you can, In all the ways you can, In all the places you can, At all the times you can, To all the people you can, As long as ever you can.”

That might be my New Year’s resolution each and every day. I hope it will be yours also. Together, we can help one another succeed and grow more as people of God. If we miss a day, just begin again. We can always resolve to hear God’s voice calling us to begin again in God’s promises.

           In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

           AMEN.