Last Sunday, the Sunday that the Wise Men come to visit Jesus, we gave thanks that people who were never supposed to show up at the cradle of Jesus did. And we rejoiced that we, like the uncircumcised, pagan men we know as “the Magi,” were found by God and led to Jesus to worship and adore him, even though they (and we) did nothing to deserve or earn our place by the cradle of the King. This week we discover anew who the real “Three Kings” are (The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit) and we live with the gifts they give us, in Holy Baptism: forgiveness of sins earned by One who is like us, peace between God and earth symbolized by the dove who descends from heaven, and the promise that we have been claimed by our Father in heaven…all with the outcome that we live in confidence as children possessed by their Father in heaven no matter what the world may throw at us…no matter what a New Year may have in store.
The baptism of infants is a moment in church that all children (even when they cry!) are cute and adorable. Yet this is no sentimental and mawkish moment. In connection with the water and the Word there is…an exorcism. The sign of the cross on the forehead and over the heart of the baptismal candidate during the Baptism Rite indicates that God takes possession of what He claims as His own. Though evil is real…and the monsters arrayed against us are hell-bent on our destruction…God has gone to battle for us…and won! The real Three Kings appearing at the Jordan River in our text for today (a voice from heaven, a dove, and a man who stands in our place, Luke 3:21-22) are a reminder that in Holy Baptism we and all whom we are privileged to bring to the baptismal font receive the benefits of that victory. The dove at Jesus’ Baptism is not only a physical representation of the Holy Spirit; it is an echo of the dove that returned with the olive branch after the Great Flood, a visible sign that God’s victory over the watery deep (and all the monsters therein) is sure. “Baptism,” St. Peter writes, “which corresponds to [God’s rescue of Noah through water], now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body, but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 3:21).
The gift of the real Three Kings is a game-changer because nothing…neither fire/brimstone nor the overwhelming force of the mightiest waters (Is 43:2) can ultimately overwhelm us and do us in. Why be anxious about tomorrow? What is left to fear?