“There’ll Be Some Changes Made”: Sunday, January 13, 2013 (The First Sunday after the Epiphany: Baptism of Our Lord)

“Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine.”—Isaiah 43.1b[i]

In the Name of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Amen!

I am a huge lover of jazz—specifically of traditional standards and songs associated with the Great American Songbook.  One particular song that I enjoy was first written in 1921 and the lyrics are as follows:

For there’s a change in the weather, there’s a change in the sea

So from now on there’ll be a change in me.

My walk will be different, my talk and my name,

Nothing about me is going to be the same.

I’m going to change my way of living and if that ain’t enough

Then I’ll even change the way I strut my stuff.

Cause nobody wants you when you’re old and grey.

There’ll be some changes made today, there’ll be some changes made.[ii] 

On today, the First Sunday after the Epiphany and the commemoration of our Lord’s baptism, these lyrics help to convey a mostly synonymous image of the outward and inward effects of both an epiphany and of baptism.  The word “epiphany,” coming from the Greek word epiphaneia, can be interpreted to mean “manifestation” and a “sudden and striking realization.”  Baptism, being one of the two dominical[iii] sacraments of the Church, is an outward and visible sign through water of the inward and spiritual grace that Christ gives to us through His death and resurrection, His forgiveness of our sin, and our new life in the Holy Spirit, all of which incorporates us into His family, the Church.[iv]  All in all, the common characteristic of all these meanings is that of a change.  More specifically, the common characteristic is that of a positive change—something that points us in the right direction and helps us be better at being human.  The commemoration of our Lord’s baptism, as well as the entire Epiphany season, points us to the revelation of Jesus Christ as the divine agent of positive change, the manifestation of God in incarnate form.  For us, Christ’s baptism is the signal that the time of promise, the time of fulfillment, the time of Jesus has officially begun, never slated to come to an end.

There are three factors regarding our Lord’s baptism that warrant serious consideration—the first being the preparation for our Lord by John the BaptistJohn is the representation of the turn from that which is old and unsubstantial to that which is new and continually substantial.  His role as the forerunner of Christ was preordained, as it had been proclaimed by an angel of the Lord to Zechariah, John’s father: “With the spirit and power of Elijah he will go before him, to turn the hearts of parents to their children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous, to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.”[v]  Zechariah, himself, proclaimed that his son would “…be called the prophet of the Most High; for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways, to give knowledge of salvation to his people in the forgiveness of their sins…”[vi] As the preordained forerunner of Christ, John the Baptist is the link of the cessation of the old covenant age to the beginning of the new kingdom age personified through Jesus.  He is the first person to proclaim to God’s people the Good News of Jesus Christ.  John’s wilderness cries were a turning point, a shift, a proclamation of a new, positive change and his baptizing was the symbolization of one’s inward spiritual change, of their acceptance of the coming new kingdom age, and their changing from the old way of thinking and living to the new, opening themselves up to the ways of the Coming One.  Because of John the Baptist’s preparation, the link between God’s Old Testament promise of salvation and His salvation of the people through the person of Jesus Christ in the New Testament became solid and built on firm ground.

The second factor is that of Jesus’ baptism itselfUnlike today’s Gospel account, as well as that found in Saint Mark’s Gospel, Saint Matthew’s Gospel highlights a short, yet highly significant exchange between John and our Lord before the latter’s baptism by the former.  Various biblical translations have interpreted Jesus’ response to John in either one of two ways, yet both of them clearly give the reason as to why He submits Himself to John’s baptism.  Across most of the major translations, John’s question and insistence to Jesus is pretty uniform: “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?”  The Revised Standard, New Revised Standard, New International, and English Standard Versions and the Common English Bible similarly translate Jesus’ answer to John as this: “Let it be so now; for [thus] it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.”  But both the New English and Good News Bibles similarly translate Jesus’ answer differently: “Let it be so for now.  For in this way we shall do all that God requires.”[vii] 

Saint Matthew’s noted exchange between John and Jesus provides the crucial reasoning and context for the need for Jesus, who ranks above John, to submit Himself to John’s baptism.  The overall crux of the context is embedded within Jesus’ divine nature and humanity and of what His divine nature will accomplish by His taking upon Himself humanity’s form and substance.  In his first letter to Timothy, Paul states that “the saying is sure and worthy of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.”[viii]  Saint John augments that by stating that “we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous, and he is the expiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.”[ix]  As God incarnate, Jesus Christ came to Earth, within the course of our own time, to be the agent of reconciliation between God the Father and the human race.  He came down to Earth to be the full, perfect, and sufficient sacrifice for the world’s sin, casting away wrath and condemnation and replacing it with God’s forgiveness and mercy.  In order for Jesus to have effectively carried out His mission of restoring all of humanity unto God and fully be the expiation of its sin, He had to submit Himself to John’s baptism.  By doing so, Jesus, through His human nature, though without sin, identified Himself with us and our sin, signifying the beginning of a new way and the shortening of the Law and the elongation of grace.  Jesus’ submission to John’s baptism and His identification with the human race by it is the beginning of that which will be achieved on the Cross—deliverance from the sting of death and beginning a new life through the power of the Holy Spirit.

Lastly, the third factor is the nature of the sacrament of baptism upon all Christian believersPerhaps the best definition regarding baptism comes from The Book of Common Prayer: “Holy Baptism is full initiation by water and the Holy Spirit into Christ’s Body the Church.  The bond which God establishes in Baptism is indissoluble.”[x]  Today’s Old Testament lesson from Isaiah goes even further: “Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine.  When you pass through the waters I will be with you…For I am the LORD your God…your Savior.”[xi]  Through Jesus’ submission to John’s baptism, done in the form of our humanity, identifying Himself with our sin, and bringing about humanity’s restoration to God through His sacrifice on the Cross, once and for all, God’s assurance from Isaiah falls down to us by virtue of our own baptism.  God’s words from Isaiah are reconfirmed by the sound of His voice coming from Heaven after His Son’s baptism: “Thou art my beloved Son; with thee I am well pleased.”[xii]  Through Jesus, we, who have been ransomed, healed, restored, and forgiven through Him and made new creations through the waters of baptism, are pleasing to God.  Heaven has been opened to us; it has not, nor will it ever be closed to us again.  Through our own baptism, we are all brought back home to God and are the living proof that God does save and still saves all who earnestly desire His love, mercy, and presence.  Because of Jesus, we can have the full faith and assurance to believe that the establishment of an indissoluble relationship with God through the sacrament of baptism is true and ever sure.

For there’s a change in the weather, there’s a change in the sea

So from now on there’ll be a change in me.

My walk will be different, my talk and my name,

Nothing about me is going to be the same.

I’m going to change my way of living and if that ain’t enough

Then I’ll even change the way I strut my stuff.

[Cause God always wants you, even if you’re old and grey.]

There’ll be some changes made today, there’ll be some changes made.  [Amen!]


[i] Unless otherwise stated, all Scripture quotations contained herein are from the Revised Standard Version of the Bible, Old Testament Section, Copyright 1952; New Testament Section, First Edition, Copyright 1946; Second Edition, Copyright 1971 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America.

[ii] “There’ll Be Some Changes Made,” first published in 1921 with music composed by Benton Overstreet and lyrics written by Billy Higgins.  This song is a well-established jazz standard.

[iii] The New Oxford American Dictionary (New York, New York: Oxford University Press, 2001) defines “dominical” as being “of Jesus Christ as the [L]ord.”  Therefore, a simpler definition of a “dominical sacrament” is a sacrament that is directly “of the Lord.”

[iv] “Holy Baptism,” from “An Outline of the Faith commonly called the Catechism,” The Book of Common Prayer and Administration of the Sacraments and Other Rites and Ceremonies of the Church Together with the Psalter or Psalms of David According to the Use of the Episcopal Church (New York, New York: Church Publishing Incorporated, 1979), 858.

[v] Luke 1.17 (NRSV)

[vi] Luke 1.76-77

[vii] Matthew 3.13-15.  At 3.15, the Common English Bible specifically translates Jesus as having said: “Allow me to be baptized now.  This is necessary to fulfill all righteousness.”  Jesus’ answer in comparison between the New English Bible and the Good News Bible comes specifically from the Good News Bible.  The New English Bible translates Jesus as having said: “Let it be so for the present; we do well to conform in this way with all that God requires.”

[viii] I Timothy 1.15

[ix] I John 2.1b-2

[x] From “Concerning the Service” regarding the liturgy for Holy Baptism, The Book of Common Prayer (1979), 298.

[xi] Isaiah 43.1-2a, 3.

[xii] Luke 3.22

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