The Baptism of the Lord
We continue the theme of Epiphany which is the manifestation of Christ to the world. We celebrate today the manifestation of Christ through our Lord's baptism by John in the Jordan. Our Lord is made manifest as the Christ, for Christ means “anointed”. And this manifestation of Christ is a Trinitarian manifestation, as Christ is anointed by the Father with the Holy Spirit. The Father is the anointer, Christ is the anointed, and the Holy Spirit is the ointment.
This manifestation is not just a manifestation of names – it is a manifestation of our salvation. Christ does not need Baptism. Christ does not need anointing. Christ does not need salvation. BUT WE DO!
Our Lord is made manifest as the Christ precisely at the Jordan, where sinful humanity came to John for repentance. Christ enters into the place where humanity was asking for forgiveness. And Christ is made manifest to sanctify the baptismal waters for the forgiveness of sins. He reveals His saving nature by bringing sanctification to humankind. He doesn't need sanctification, He doesn't need the Holy Spirit for Himself as it were (He is already one with the Holy Spirit), but at the Jordan He is anointed by the Holy Spirit for OUR sanctification. We need the Holy Spirit.
The uniting of the human nature and the divine nature in Christ provides a pathway for our salvation – this pathway is sanctification. Where Christ is there the Spirit operates, though the Holy Spirit remains His own person. Christ opens up the pathway for the Spirit – as Christ walks, makes human steps, so He unites human life with the Holy Spirit, from Baptism to death. When the risen Christ Ascends, the Person of the Holy Spirit descends again on the Apostles. The Holy Spirit descends on the Body of Christ (for the Apostles are the beginnings of the Church) and the Church is brought to birth and made manifest to all the representatives of the nations in Jerusalem at that time. By baptism the church is enlarged, and by the anointing of the Holy Spirit, the new members of the body of Christ are equipped with what is needed for the mission of the Church to be completed.
So as we can see there is a necessary partnership between baptism and confirmation/anointing of the Holy Spirit. And these are partnered in the teaching of the church. [The Ordinariate with the blessing of the Pope has restored the ancient sequence of Baptism, then Confirmation, then Holy Communion.] By baptism we are made by adoption sons and daughters of God; confirmation anoints us with the Holy Spirit so we can be effective in the mission of the Church; and Holy Communion is the divinely given nourishment needed in our journey of sanctification and missionary work.
In the 20th century we have seen various efforts by Christians to start doing things in the power of man. This is a great temptation in an age of technology when man appears to have very great power to change things. But man's power (however great) cannot save. Thus experiments in ecclesial governance, or of democratisation, bring not greater sanctification but greater worldliness. The Church must work by Apostolic ways of governance, because that is of the Holy Spirit and from Christ. Only God can save.
At the Baptism at Jordan, Christ went to the place where sinful humanity gathered, to sanctify the waters of baptism. In this Epiphany at the Jordan, when Christ was anointed by the Father with the Holy Spirit and was revealed truly as the Christ – so for our salvation the Holy Spirit was revealed as the close partner of Christ. All Christ's ministry was a ministry in the Holy Spirit, so that after the risen Christ ascended to the Father, the ministry of the Church would continue to be the ministry of the Holy Spirit founded and rooted in the Apostles (and not the ministry of man). Yes the Holy Spirit uses us frail human beings, but the ministry and mission of the Church is of the Holy Spirit. - or to use the words of a collect: we have no power of ourselves to help ourselves. Amen.