I. Theme – Participating in Jesus’ Baptism and receiving the Holy Spirit
Baptism of Christ – Fra Angelico (1400-1455)
The lectionary readings are here or individually:
The first Sunday in Epiphany is traditionally about Jesus’ baptism. However, this year, the focus is less on Jesus, and more on how God’s people are invited to participate in the baptism and to receive God’s Spirit.
Isaiah suggests that God chooses and gathers us to bring compassion and justice to a suffering world In the Psalm, God’s voice is celebrated, which shakes the earth, but which also – by implication in the Psalm – strengthens and brings peace to God’s people, even as God’s voice affirmed Jesus. In Acts, we witness Peter and John spreading the good news of Jesus Christ beyond their comfortable social and ethnic borders. In today’s gospel, Jesus is baptized, and we are invited to acknowledge him as God’s “Son, the Beloved.” It is significant that Jesus begins his public life with baptism. Not only is he baptized, he also hears the assurance of the Holy Spirit. A voice proclaims him God’s beloved, empowering him and sending him to the blind, the lame and the prisoners awaiting his good news.
We read about baptism year after year because God is still at work in the world, and still invites us to participate in God’s saving and liberating work. But, to do this, we, like Jesus, will need to be strengthened and empowered. We will need to be baptised in the Holy Spirit. We surrender our usual sense of control, because we must sacrifice what we are for what we might become.
Rev. Mindi Welton-Mitchell writes of the symbolism of the waters in the passages
" The waters were a symbol of trial and tribulation, a boundary to be crossed, perhaps the Red Sea or the Jordan River in ancient times. For the people who had been exiled, the waters may have symbolized the entire time of exile—a turbulent time in which all they knew had been taken from them. For Christians, we seem the waters of baptism as a symbol of those trials and troubles, a symbol of death itself, and we come out on the other side, with the gift of new life, the hope of resurrection, everlasting life in Christ. We commemorate the baptism of Jesus today, reminded that we all have the gift of new life, of starting again with God, of renewing our commitments and reorienting our lives to God. The same God whose voice called out over the waters, who called down from above over the waters of Jesus’ baptism, is the same voice that calls us Beloved, and calls us into the promise of new life"
Old Testament – Isaiah 43:1-7
In the second half of the book of Isaiah, the prophet proclaims a message of consolation and encouragement. The people have been exiled to Babylonia but will be restored back to Jerusalem
"When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you."
Today’s reading reminds the people that the same God who created and punished Israel has now redeemed Israel. The suffering that Israel experienced in captivity did not change God’s love and devotion to Israel.
For a people who had felt like they were forgotten by God, the assurance of God’s love and care for them is paramount. Isaiah assures the people that God will deliver them, God will be with them, and God will provide for them. Though the way forward is unknown, and the return from exile won’t be exactly what they expect or hope it to be, the hope is not in human assumptions but in God’s presence with the people. So we, too, looking back on these passages find signs of hope for our future.
Psalm – Psalm 29
Psalm 29 is a hymn to Yahweh as the God of storm which shakes the earth. It may have been written as an objection to the pagan assertion of Baal as the thunder-god. Yahweh alone exercises dominion over nature and over all gods and so is the source of strength and blessing for the people.
A common theme in the ancient near east was the image of the god overcoming the chaos symbolized by the waters of the sea
Psalm 29 recalls the act of God in creation: the voice of God that moves over the waters of creation continues to call over creation and bring forth new life. God who created the earth is continuing to create in our lives, and do new things in the universe. This is the God whom we follow, and worship. This power evidenced by Yahweh is not limited to the waters, however. Other images prevail as well – the “breaking of the cedars”, the power over other nations, and the power over the wilderness itself. Above all this Yahweh sits as a king with a powerful voice. It is interesting that at its beginning, the psalm asks the reader to render to God “glory and strength.” In the final verse, the mighty King/God renders “strength, and a blessing of peace” to the people.
Epistle – Acts 8:14-17
In the reading, the gospel penetrates a new field of ministry: Samaria. The apostles, having heard the news that the Samaritans had accepted God’s word, laid hands on the Samaritan believers and prayed for them to receive the Holy Spirit, which they did
The Jerusalem church, which oversaw the spread of the gospel, sent Peter and John to confirm the creation of a new Christian community. The Holy Spirit authenticates this new mission through another outpouring similar to Pentecost.
The passage reflects a later view of needing to receive the Holy Spirit to be fully “saved,” and that the Holy Spirit was not necessarily received at one’s baptism, but needed to come through the prayers of those who had received the Spirit.
In a way in parallels the actions in the Gospel. Jesus is baptized by John the Baptist, and upon coming out of the water is confirmed by the voice coming from heaven.
Gospel – Luke 3:15-17, 21-22
Each of the four Gospels gives an account of the baptism of Jesus. There are differences. Was the Spirit that descended that of God himself (Matthew) or the Holy Ghost (Luke) or just “the Spirit” (Mark, John)? Did the Spirit perhaps descend only once, or perhaps twice: once before the baptism (John) and again right after? Did the voice from heaven come right after the baptism, or apparently afterward as Jesus was praying (Luke)? Did the voice say to John, “This is my beloved Son” (Matthew), with the added words “Hear ye him” (Matthew JST), or did the voice say to Jesus, “Thou art my beloved Son” (Mark, Luke), or did only the Baptist testify, “This is the Son of God” (John)?
Like Mark and Matthew, Luke records John’s denial of his own importance. It is the mightier one who is coming who will baptize with the Holy Spirit and with fire. Jesus is baptized along with “all the people” (v. 21), identifying himself with those who acknowledge their sins.
As Jesus was praying (in Luke often a prelude to major events), the Holy Spirit descends. With the title formerly applied to the nation, to the king and later to the Messiah, Jesus is now openly called the Son of God, dramatizing and confirming what was implicit in his conception (1:35). Thus Jesus is anointed for his mission. The link to John’s baptism is not severed, for Luke mentions that “when all the people were baptized”, then comes this new revelation. Luke wants his readers to understand that reality has been changed. It is not an amorphous “spirit” that has descended upon Jesus, but rather something real, “in bodily form.”
Baptism was a practice that began before John, but was reinterpreted by John—no longer just a ritual cleansing, this was a symbol of one’s change of life, of changing orientation to God from this world. With Jesus, this becomes a symbol of orienting one’s life to The Way of Christ, a symbol of renewed life and the promise of eternal life. "He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire."
We are reminded that God is doing a new thing. God is not only sending God’s Son to us, God is becoming flesh, human being, one of us. To become one of us, even Jesus goes through the waters of baptism, showing repentance—the turning back to God—and starting afresh with God. God is sweeping away the things of the past and creating all things new. Just as their ancestors had new life coming out of the desert through the Exodus, just as we hear the hope of new life in Isaiah for the people coming out of exile, so now God is doing something new, walking through the waters of baptism for repentance, becoming one of us, so that we might know God’s love fully revealed in Jesus the Chris
III. Articles for this week in WorkingPreacher:
Old Testament – Isaiah 43:1-7
Psalm – Psalm 29
Epistle – Acts 8:14-1
Gospel – Luke 3:15-17, 21-22