The people in Israel were waiting for a Messiah, a king, who would right the wrongs of their current reality and restore Israel. Many were gathering to be baptized by John in expectation that something would soon happen — the Messiah was coming.

Since this series falls just after the Christmas season, a good place to start might be to reflect on the expectations each of us has around Christmas. Think back to when you were a child. What expectations did you have? How are they different as an adult? As a child, what gifts did you expect to get? What was the excitement like around receiving gifts? At what point did you have equal excitement about giving gifts?

One of my most memorable Christmas mornings was, oh I don’t know maybe I was 5 years old. I remember that my brother and I received sleeping bags for Christmas that year. Perhaps it was because my sleeping bag was bright orange that I remember it so well. That was a fun Christmas memory. My favorites now all involve how I can surprise Tony more or differently each year. One of my favorite Tony memories was just a couple of years ago when we, on something of a whim, got him a Millenium Falcon drone. Got a good deal – but I definitely got a good memory. I got it on video, too, and it’s one that I love to go back and watch because of his reaction, and his joy. I remember the joy of Christmas morning —seeing and opening all the gifts around the Christmas tree. It was simply joy, delighting in each other’s gifts.

As I remember, there was an initial joy when I first received a gift; but I remember receiving even more joy watching my family and friends open theirs. When was the last time you received something and you could not wait to tell someone? An engagement ring? A new car? Often the full joy of the gift is not fully realized until you finally tell someone.

So what about this gift of baptism?

Some of you may have never been baptized. Later in the service, we want to give you an opportunity to sign up to be baptized in 2 weeks, if you feel God calling, as we have at least 1 other being baptized that day, just like today.

Some of you were baptized more recently; some recently confirmed the baptism of your childhood; and for some, perhaps it has been many years since your baptism. Just 2 weeks ago we celebrated a new membership in the church with Marge, and also took a moment to remember her baptism.

What do you remember leading up to that moment leading up to your baptism or confirmation? Or, what did your parents or guardians tell you about that moment? Who was present? What did it mean to them?

I’m told I was baptized as an infant, but when I got older, I definitely wandered away from the church. That baptism wasn’t something that I connected to. But as I got older, and really felt God calling me back to the church, I felt as though I was missing something. I wanted to be baptized. I wanted to make a commitment, and outward visible commitment that represented me wanting to be made new. Not like new – NEW. I wanted what God had for me in a new identity. I didn’t want to be the old me anymore. And that’s what this means.  I wanted to be different, and I wanted what God had for me in a future. I didn’t know this was where he was leading me. There’s a reason we can’t always see around the bend in the road ahead – if we could we might not keep going, and it’s possible that we could ruin the surprise, amen?

Let’s take a look back at our scripture passages for today, jumping back to vs 15

(15) . . . all were questioning in their hearts . . .At the same time, the people gathered were questioning whether or not John the Baptist was the messiah.  (16) John answered all of them by . . . (pointing to Jesus)

Much of my experience around baptism remains a mystery, a mystery that God continues to help unravel question by question in my life. What I have learned is that God was always there and always will be there for me. In the Wesleyan tradition, we call this prevenient grace — a grace that goes before us. This is why we are willing baptize children in the United Methodist Church. God’s gift of grace is always present in our lives, even when we’re children. If we were not baptized as children, it does not mean that God’s grace was not present. A loving God is constantly reaching out, wanting to be at the center of our lives. And although we might still have questions even into adulthood, we are directed to Jesus, just as John directed those gathered who were seeking a Messiah.

At some point, each of us usually craves more — a deeper understanding of life and our purpose in it. Sometimes we feel God calling, and we feel a deep need to respond. It is different for each of us. For some, there is a distinct moment that we can recall and point to. For others, it might be a series of moments over time, drawing us closer and closer to God.

As adults, even as teenagers, baptism can be a moment when we clearly see a gift held in outstretched loving arms, and we say yes. Through this gift, we find newness of life, union with Christ, God’s Spirit filling our lives, and true belonging to Christ’s community. A moment when we hear a small voice of God saying, “I love you. You are my son. You are my daughter. I will love you forever.” That’s why choosing to be baptized as a teen or as an adult means more to us personally – because it’s a choice that we’ve made for ourselves.

Most describe during this moment a different feeling flowing through us — that’s grace — that’s God’s Spirit — that’s love. And from that moment on, we are forever changed, made completely new, placed on a path following Jesus.

(21) Now when ALL the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying,

(21) the heaven was opened.

(22) and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove.

(22) . . . And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.

God has chosen to send Christ to save us. It’s a gift that we can choose to accept and receive, and we honor that gift, that change, and new beginning, and as a new creation begin our earthly ministry in the same way that Christ did – in baptism. We are loved greatly. Amen.

In two weeks, if there are any who come forward wanting to baptized, we will celebrate as part of the service as we be baptizing and receiving 2 new members, and then we will explore the passage from 1 Corinthians 12—next steps in how we can move deeper into our God-given gifts. Next week we’ll be digging into discovering our gifts.