The Lion King is perhaps old hat these days. But there is a scene in that story which is helpful as an illustration for baptism. At Simba’s birth he is held up for all the animal kingdom to see. The wise monkey Rafiki baptises, Simba. Mixing some concoction in a half coconut shell, Rafiki then places his thumb in the concoction and then makes a mark across Simba’s head. Simba is marked forever. Later and following Mufassa’s death, Rafiki suggests that Mufassa is in fact still alive and can show Simba. He takes him to pool of water … Look ….. But that is only my reflection says Simba. Look harder …….. Simba sees his father in the reflection... Rafiki reflects: see your father lives in you Simba. Our father and loving parent God lives in us. Our lives reflect our loving parent and father, God. “And the sign and seal of the Holy Spirit shall be placed upon them”
Today in the Churches Calendar many remember the Baptism of Jesus and do so as a big event. There are a lot of things that come together in Jesus' baptism. There are a lot of things that come together in our Baptisms. First, there is John the Baptist. John is a wild man. He came from the wilderness. He dressed in camel hair but it wasn’t an elegant camel's hair coat as we know it today. He ate locusts and wild honey. This is hardly a conventional diet, either then or now. His sermon said, "You den of poisonous snakes, who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?" This was not an approach designed to gently convince people that they should come to a conclusion about God in their life.
The people who came to John for baptism were desperate to change their lives. The crowd is identified as a mix of tax collectors prostitutes, soldiers and religious people like the Scribes and Pharisees. The Pharisees may have been there to spy. They may have been there to determine whether or not John was the Messiah. Most likely, they were desperate to know the move and peace of God just like the obvious sinners. John said he wasn't the Messiah when he was asked if her were. John said "Jesus is." John's baptism was a washing for repentance. And he believed Jesus didn't need to repent. So, Jesus' baptism changed the meaning of baptism.
As Jesus was praying after the immersion, the heavens opened. The Holy Spirit came down on him in bodily form, like a Dove. This is a strange event. Something outside of the normal is happening. Then a voice, a thunderous voice said, "you are my son, the Beloved, with you I am well pleased." This is God's anointed. God is well pleased, God loves him. He is even identified as God's son. Presumably, Jesus then looked out and saw the gathered tax collectors, prostitutes and other sinners who had been baptised with him. These are the things that happened to Jesus in baptism.
He was given an identity...God's son.
He was identified as the focus of God's love.
He was identified as being very pleasing to God.
He was physically given God's Holy Spirit.
He was joined into a new group, those who were baptised by John.
Jesus changed what baptism means for us. We receive the same gifts when we are baptised. We receive the gift of water. Water is life. Without water there is no life. We are given an identity. The meaning of our name is transformed. It is now a name given by God. Some of us have had the experience of being a sponsor, a God parent or parent, at a baptism. When the name is pronounced and the words "I baptise you in the name of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit are joined to the gift of water a new person or creature is proclaimed. A child of God, where life with spirit and power is held up. The new person, known as a child of God, is in our midst.
Well for Christians when a baptism takes place we are named as beloved by God. In the same way that God announces that Jesus is beloved, we are announced as beloved. We are given a community. We join with the people present at our baptism who are baptised and with everyone who was ever baptised. In fact, one of the ways we know that God loves and accepts us just as we are is because God loves and accepts other people who are as messed up and as sinful as we are. For Christian people baptism is a big deal. It is a chance for people who are desperate to change their lives to gain the same identity, in God's eyes, that Jesus has. It is in a way, the event that leads to salvation. Jesus bought us this gift and God gave us this gift. Also the Holy Spirit sustains us in this gift.
To quote that wonderful song from ‘Life of Brian,’ “always look on the bright side of life.” God has given us a magnificent gift. The gift is the unconditional love and presence of God in our lives.