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|4:00pm||Last entry for sightseeing|
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Sermon preached on the Baptism of Christ (11 January 2015) by The Reverend Dr Will Adam, Vicar, St Paul’s Winchmore Hill
The Reverend Will Adam looks at the terror attacks that gripped France in early January 2015, then looking at the Baptism if Christ, which he says "brings about a transformation".
‘Je suis Charlie’; ‘Nous sommes Charlie’; ‘Paris est Charlie’.
This week the world has looked on as terror gripped the streets of Paris and the surrounding area. Innocent life was lost, an enormous security operation mounted and apprehension, fear and a sense of not knowing quite what would happen next gripped the population. It is nearly ten years since the bombings and then failed bombings of the tube and buses in London and I am sure that many of us remember the aftermath of these days and weeks in the heat of the Summer of 2005.
What happened in Paris, and around the world, in the aftermath of the attacks on the offices of Charlie Hebdo magazine was an outpouring of solidarity. The banners, posters, twitter messages, t shirts and other declarations that ‘Je suis Charlie’ (including on the kit bag of the French tennis player Alize Cornet playing in a tournament in Perth, Australia) expressed this solidarity amongst individuals. In Paris ‘Paris est Charlie’ was soon projected onto the face of the Arc de Triomphe and the magazine made an honorary citizen of the City. Not just individuals but the organs of civic society began to identify themselves with the victims. They were not themselves directly the victims, but the pain and, indeed the terror wrought by terrorism, was felt widely and keenly.
Today is the feast of the Baptism of Christ – the Sunday after the Epiphany. During the weeks after Epiphany the Church’s focus is on the gradual revelation of who Jesus really is. The portions of scripture – Bible readings – that we hear this month every year show how, bit by bit, people came to realise the significance of the man Jesus and his true identity as the Son of God, God in human form, the Lord and the messiah or saviour.
Today we heard the story of his baptism by his relative John the Baptist. Jesus approached John and was baptised by him in the river Jordan. As he came out of the water there was what we call a ‘theophany’ – a revelation of God in the world. Jesus saw the heavens open, the Holy Spirit descended on him like a dove and a voice came out of heaven – You are my Son, the Beloved, with you I am well pleased. It is not clear who else heard the voice or saw the dove. This is not the point where Jesus becomes the Son of God, because he is the eternal Son of God, but in this episode the barrier between heaven and earth is broken and Jesus’ true identity is affirmed. And from this point onwards his ministry becomes public. The one who led a life largely unnoticed to this day from here becomes public and begins the journey to the cross and resurrection when the fullness of his glory is revealed for all to see.
But the baptism of Christ was not without controversy. St Matthew’s gospel tells us that John would have prevented Jesus from being baptised, saying that he, John, should rather be baptised by Jesus. And this is not surprising. John, after all, preached a message of repentance, of turning away from sin, with baptism as sign of this repentance. Yet Jesus was one without sin – recognised as such by John. He did not need to repent. He did not need to be baptised.
But Jesus in his incarnation, in that act of becoming human that we celebrate at Christmas, states his solidarity, his oneness, with human beings. Though without sin he became one of us, and we are human, fallen, frail and liable to sin. Through being baptised and entering into the reality of our world he says ‘Je suis Charlie’. ‘I am Charlie, I am Will, I am Amy, I am Alastair, I am Jane, David, Mark, Hannah. I am with you.’
And Jesus’ solidarity and association of himself with us, weak though we are, went all the way to death. On the cross he submitted to the ultimate frailty of death, but in his resurrection triumphed even over that. As our patron St Paul put it ‘he made him to be sin who knew no sin.’
But Paul goes on to add ‘so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.’ The solidarity of Christ with humanity, his self-emptying, shown to us today in his baptism, brings with it something greater. And that is our mutual solidarity with him. For by his becoming human, by the uniting of heaven and earth in him, we can become like him. In baptism the effects of sin are washed away. St Ignatius of Antioch, leader of the Church in Antioch and Syria in the earliest days of the Church believed that Jesus was baptized not to wash away his sins but to sanctify the waters for our baptism that we might become like him. And the voice that comes from heaven – ‘you are my Son’, you are my daughter, is a voice that speaks to us. Jesus is the eternal Son of God but through him we can all become children of God and heirs too – heirs of the inheritance of eternal life. So listen. Listen for that voice that speaks to you and to me ‘You’. ‘You’. You are my Son, You are my daughter, The beloved. In you I am well pleased.
Yesterday all over France, and this afternoon in a large demonstration in Paris people have and will, again, make that statement of solidarity ‘Je suis Charlie’. They will identify with the victims of terror in the Charlie Hebdo offices, in the Kosher supermarket, on the Paris streets.
This solidarity is a reflection of the divine solidarity that exists in baptism between heaven and earth; between Christ and his people; between the church on earth and the church in heaven. Those who are baptized become part of something much greater, as adopted children of God we acquire countless brothers and sisters, throughout the world and throughout time.
And I for one pray that that solidarity will be transformative – and something from which we and people in other places can learn – bringing about greater tolerance and understanding and a greater commitment to living in peace and mutual support – learning that the way to settle debates is rather through the pen, and the conversation, than down the barrel of a gun.
For the identification of Jesus with us – shown today in the story of his baptism – brings about a transformation. He became like us that we might become like him. And it is to a life of being more like him that he calls us. Amen.