“New Year, new you.” You may have heard this kind of message so many times. As the New Year 2017 has begun, we vow to make changes…we make promises to ourselves to change our dietary habits or change our lifestyles. Pop culture pushes us hard to change us or chase something new. But in spite of our resolutions, most things stay the same, which may cause some disappointment. However, if we set back a little bit, we can see that there are same things, certain consistencies that we should celebrate and be thankful for every year. And surely, for us Christians, the same promises of God are what we should cherish and hold onto in this ever-changing world. So I invite you to meditate on God’s unchangeable promises for the first six weeks of this New Year, rather than on the promises we make for ourselves. Now, the first promise we look into is God’s promise of new life made through the water of baptism.
We are living in the century of space explorations. It is truly a breakthrough in history that humans can finally reach out to outer space, to the stars, going hand in hand with the advancement in science and technology. Space expeditions are carried out for many reasons…for scientific research, for national prestige, for commercial or military benefits, and so on. But the most important reason would be to ensure the future survival of humanity. Stephen Hawking, a renowned British theoretical physicist, said, “I don’t think the human race will survive the next thousand years, unless we spread into space. There are too many accidents that can befall life on a single planet.” Many scientists agree with him and search out for more possibilities to construct a space colony. And when they look for potential human settlement in space, what would be the first thing they check? What is the most necessary thing that enables human life?
We all know that it is water. Yes, water is an absolute necessity for sustaining our lives. People got excited recently when NASA announced the finding of water ice in several impact craters on Mars. Why? It means that it is a more hospitable environment to life; there is a chance for humans to live on Mars someday. Water, the unique molecule, cradles and nurtures life. See this picture of earth, the beautiful blue star. We can just simply see that there is full of water and there are all things living.
To this common sense, the Bible adds one more absolute necessity. The Bible tells us that not just with water, but only with God, there is life. And only with God, there can be “a new life.” The book of Genesis testifies that when God created heaven and earth, the Spirit of God hovered over the waters and brought out the universe and all creatures from the primal water (Genesis 1:2). In this creation process, humans were created especially in God’s image with full of blessings. But they became sinful and chained to the power of death. So the Creator who physically brought humans into being from the water set a different plan to give us the way to be spiritually re-created, the way to restore God’s image in us. This way is Jesus Christ. Jesus clearly shows us the way of new life.
In today’s Gospel story, Jesus comes to John the Baptist on the Jordan River to be baptized. The Son of God, who has power to renew humanity by love, asks John the Baptist to baptize him. And “John would have prevented him, saying, ‘I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?’ But Jesus answered him, ‘Let it be so now; for it is proper for us in this way to fulfill all righteousness.’” (Matthew 3:14-15) Then Jesus was baptized, and “suddenly the heavens were opened to him and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, ‘This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased’” (Matthew 3:16-17). Being baptized by John, Jesus sets an example of baptism and enlightens us to see God’s promise of new life through water… the new life within the light of the Spirit and the new life within the heavenly delight.
Today, we’re going to have a baptismal renewal ceremony. As United Methodists, we are not re-baptizing anyone. The sacrament of baptism is performed only once in a lifetime, and it is inter-denominationally accepted. What we are doing today is renew our faith in God’s promise of new life, the new life we received at the moment of our baptism. We all know that we are just humans. We make terrible mistakes; we hurt each other; we get angry. We are greedy and selfish; we are jealous; we are dishonest. Even if we could find water and a different suitable environment, we would be same humans. But Jesus, who was a true human, teaches us through baptism that there is the other side of ourselves, through baptism, that the image of God is restored in us. With Jesus, we can live not only a different life but also “a new life,” here and now. We can be more loving; we can be more humble; we can serve each other more. And in this way, we can be more like Jesus.
There is this baptismal font set for us today. And here is water. There is no built-in holiness within water and it cannot automatically sanctify us. It is like even though we found water on Mars, we shouldn’t assume that there would be a life. Only when the Holy Spirit is present within water, this can renew us. It is only God who can create life and make our lives awash with this water. As we come and touch, or scoop up the water, or apply this water to our hand or forehead, let us remember the Creator who formed all the lives on earth from the water. Let us remember the Holy Spirit who descended like a dove on each one of us when we were baptized. And let us remember Jesus who teaches us about the forgiveness of sins, and about God’s promise of new life. As we remember our baptism today, God is telling each one of us, “You are the beloved, with whom I am well pleased.” (Matthew 3:16-17) Amen.