Then Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan, to be baptized by him. John would have prevented him, saying, I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me? But Jesus answered him, Let it be so now; for it is proper for us in this way to fulfill all righteousness. Then he consented. And when Jesus had been baptized, just as he came up from the water, suddenly the heavens were
opened to him and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting
on him. And a voice from heaven said, This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I
am well pleased. (Matthew 3:13-17)
"the most important thing about this festival is Christ’s baptism. I wish the day were called “The Baptism of Christ”.* At the Jordan, in his thirtieth year, Christ reveals himself fully for the first time. John is shocked by [his desire to be baptized] and says, “Shall I baptize you? I am not worthy.” But Jesus responds, “Be content; this is the way it should be.” The Son, who is without sin, allows himself to be baptized for our example and our comfort. He does something here that is not required of him, whereas we do nothing that is not required of us. More, we do what is evil. How will we ever get to the point of doing something not required? Christ is holier even than baptism, yet still allows himself to be baptized. Thereby he institutes baptism. So those accursed people who despise or ridicule baptism are banished to the depths of hell. May God blight them and blind them, since they don’t have the ears and eyes to see what is going on here. Although they do not choose baptism, God’s Son does! Are we so arrogant that we should despise baptism? Even if it offered us nothing at all, we should honor baptism simply for Christ’s name’s sake, and be baptized to honor him. But [something is offered]: God in heaven poured himself out when Christ was baptized." Martin Luther, Sermon on the Baptism of Jesus (January 6, 1534)
* At this time in the Christian West the baptism of Jesus was celebrated on Epiphany, as it still is in the Christian East to this day.
The original text of this sermon (partly in German, partly in Latin) is in WA37:249-253. The English translation is by Frederick J. Gaiser and is available in full here. A contemporary German version is available in Martin Luther, Ausgewählte Werke, vol. 3, Ausgewählte Predigten (Stuttgart: Calwer Vereinsbuchhandlung, 1935) 63-70.
Pic: 'The Baptism of Jesus', stained glass panel by William Morris, in the parish hurch, Troutbeck, Cumbria, England (courtesy stainedglassphotography.com).