Baptism of Our Lord, 1/13/19, Luke 3:15-17, 21-22, “An Identity Revealed”

When I was a child I enjoyed watching television programs where the hero either wore a mask to protect his identity or wore a cape to fly speedily through the air and leap over tall buildings.

One of the masked heroes was “The Lone Ranger,” who with his Mohawk Indian friend named Tonto, brought justice to the American West.  At the end of most episodes someone asked, “Who was that masked man?”

No one knew his real identity.

Then there was Zorro, another masked man who wielded a sword and also wore a black hat and cape.  He fought against corrupt officials in California.  At the end of each episode, Zorro slashed a “Z” with his sword on the villains he defeated.

No one knew his real identity.

Then there was Superman.  No mask.  He, too, fought against injustice.  He quickly changed into his Superman uniform complete with cape and big “S” on his shirt, and flew away to save the day to defeat crime.

No one knew his real identity in the television show, but we knew he was the mild-mannered Clark Kent.

Did anyone in the Gospel of St. Luke know Jesus’ real identity?  As St. Luke began to tell the story of Jesus’ life, his identity was revealed to only a few people.

The angel, Gabriel, told Mary about giving birth to Jesus who would be the Son of the Most High.

The Holy Spirit revealed to Elizabeth that the baby in Mary’s womb would be born the Lord of All.

The angels announced to the shepherds the birth of the Messiah in Bethlehem.

In the Temple Simeon praised God when he saw Mary and Joseph present their baby, Jesus, to the Lord for their baby was the long-expected Messiah.

And the prophetess, Annarecognized Jesus as the promised One to come.  Then she, too, praised God.

So in the opening of St. Luke’s Gospel only a few people knew Jesus’ real identity when he was an infant.

But in today’s gospel reading, Jesus is a grown man.  He was about to begin his earthly ministry.  It was at Jesus’ baptism that his identity was revealed once again.  But this time an angel would not do the work of revealing Jesus’ real identity.  There were other heavenly signs to do so.

St. Luke does not give us many details about the moment of Jesus’ baptism.  Matthew and Mark provides more details such as telling us that it was John the Baptist who had the honor of baptizing the Messiah.  Nonetheless, when Jesus was baptized the Holy Spirit descended on him like a dove and God’s voice was heard proclaiming, “You are my Son, the Beloved, with you I am well pleased.”

Now there could be no doubt about Jesus’ true identity.  He was more than Mary and Joseph’s son who grew up learning how to be a carpenter.  He was more than a good man obeying the law of Moses.  He was more than a pious Jew going to the synagogue from week to week.

At his baptism Jesus was declared to be God’s beloved Son.  At his baptism the Holy Spirit descended on him like the hovering of a dove to strengthen him for mission in this world to be our Savior.  That was a divine revelation.  That was the manifestation of God’s Son.  That was an epiphany.  And Jesus’ identity as the Messiah, as the God who became flesh for us to bring us hope and life, was revealed when he was baptized.

Our baptism into the name of God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit tells us a lot about our true identity.  Oh, certainly, we identify ourselves in various ways – northerner or southerner; school teacher or secretary; city dwell or rural resident; rich or poor; educated or not; Baptist, Methodist, Catholic or Lutheran or none of the above.  There are various ways we identify ourselves.

But holy baptism is a gift from God which gives us an everlasting identity.  We are God’s sons and daughters.  We are members of the body of Christ.  We are his missionaries in this world.  We are his people to reflect the love Christ first gave to us.  We are people in which the Holy Spirit creates faith in our hearts so that we love God and love our neighbors.

Sometimes we wear a mask so to speak to cover up who we really are.  We wear a mask of strength to others while deep inside we are hurting.  We wear a mask of kindness while deep inside we struggle with revenge and hate.  We wear a mask of sin which separates us from God and drives us to despair.

But God loves us so much that he tears away the ugly masks of our lives.  God loves us even when we are hurting, even when we desire to get even with others through some kind of mean scheme, and even when sin drives us to forget about God himself.

God still loves us through Christ.  God still sends us the Holy Spirit.  This Holy Spirit removes the masks we wear so that we truly know who we are.  We are truly God’s own sons and daughters.  We are truly God’s forgiven people.  We are truly set free by Christ to live with hope and peace.  We are truly people endowed with the Holy Spirit to do good works and to love our neighbors as we love ourselves.  Now that is our true identity given to us as a free gift in holy baptism.

At his baptism, Jesus’ true identity was revealed.  So, too, in the water and word of this sacrament, we are beloved by God forevermore.  Now that is an identity in which we can truly rejoice.

Thanks be to God!

Amen.

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