The Baptism of Christ – Heaven opened!

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Matthew 3:13-17 ‘and behold! The heavens were opened to him and he saw . . .’ On Friday, we celebrated the Feast of the Epiphany, one of the church’s most important feasts. For on that day we remember the coming of the Magi to worship the infant Jesus, and we see that He is born to be the Saviour of all people, not just God’s ancient people, the Jews. Nations will come to worship him. In that we see that God is joining together two peoples, the Jews and we Gentiles, the two are becoming One in Christ – and that theme of two becoming one is at the heart of the message of Christmas, The Epiphany and indeed the entirety of our faith. I shall return to this shortly.  The Magi we remember were ‘guided by a star’. They lived in a world in which they understood that The Creation spoke spiritual truths, unlike these days when we, conveniently for us anyway, if not for the creation, separate out spiritual and material truths and indeed worlds. Heaven is ‘somewhere else’. One cannot like the Psalmist ask spiritual questions by considering the stars . . . I wonder if they’d have made it in these days, days in which we have to try and protect even the night sky from the predation of human beings. In most large cities, and in these days the vast majority of human beings live in cities, people live lives all but unaware of stars. And their eyes look down, usually to their phones.So it is no surprise that people speak so readily of ‘the secular world’, a world from which heavenly light has been eradicated. We do not see the heavens, and we certainly do not see Heaven! Heaven is for when we die. We don’t quite know where it is. But we believe that Jesus died so that we can go there when we die . . . but for now we have to get on with ‘our lives’ . . . Bad so called ‘Christian’ theology is actually what creates the secular world. We have no expectation of seeing heaven, except one we build, or one we go to when we die,  Except, that is not what the scriptures say. As St Paul puts it, ‘So if you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth, for you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life is revealed, then you also will be revealed with him in glory.’ Except, for everyone here, I guess, that has already happened . . . at least according to Scripture . . . for the message of Scripture is clear and unambiguous. The Death of Jesus is our Death, His Resurrection is our Resurrection, and this is revealed over and again, and today most clearly as we remember his Baptism. St Paul often uses the phrase to describe the Christian life as ‘In Christ’ – you are ‘In Christ’ – you are included in him. His death is your death, his Resurrection is your resurrection, you are included in him at Baptism where your baptism is your inclusion in his baptism, the one baptism which fulfils all righteousness. As St John tries to prevent Jesus from being baptized, Jesus says to him ‘Let it be so, now!’ Don’t get in my way! ‘For it is proper for us in this way to fulfil all righteousness’. All Righteousness is fulfilled – the entire purposes of God – in Baptism. He goes down into the waters, the realm of chaos and death – this is why in Revelation we are told ‘there is no more sea’, no more death – Jesus goes down into the realm of Death, Hades, and is Raised to newness of Life. And the Spirit of God descends upon him – and a voice from heaven said ‘this is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased. He dies and is raised to newness of Life, you cannot separate his Baptism from the Cross. Listen to St Paul at the opening to the epistle to the Romans . . . Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God, which he promised beforehand through his prophets in the holy scriptures, the gospel concerning his Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh and was declared to be Son of God with power according to the Spirit of holiness by resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord . . . In his Baptism he unites himself to humanity – it is the same story as his birth – God joining himself to humanity – Heaven and Earth joined in Him. And goes into the deep waters of death, to be raised and declared God’s Son. And thus joined to humanity when he goes to the cross, he takes us there . . . Jesus does not die ‘in our place’ . . . and destroys death. Then the Holy Spirit descends upon his body, the Church at Pentecost. These two stories are one story. Baptism is death and Resurrection – And it is the opening of Heaven . . . And behold! The heavens were opened to him and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting upon him . . . Jesus opens the door of heaven – the Kingdom of God – and for those with eyes to see, the whole earth is full of his glory . . . for those with eyes to see.  For those with eyes to see, the journey of our faith is from death towards Life. It is not so much horizontal in time, but vertical – growing up into the fulness of Christ, who is our life. We are by baptism children of our father in heaven, Fully Alive in Him. Let our eyes therefore be fixed upwards towards our life in him, and so be full of the Light of Life. Not those whose eyes are downcast and so only full of darkness . . . but those who to use St Paul’s words again ‘All of us, with unveiled faces, contemplating the Glory of the Lord as though reflected in a mirror, are being transformed into the same image . . .’ Heaven is open – lift up your eyes and See! For as St Irenaeus tells us – The Glory of a human being is The Vision of God . . .Amen

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