A Reading from the Book of Isaiah (43:1-7)
Now thus says the Lord, he who created you, O Jacob, he who formed you, O Israel: Do not fear, 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; 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. For I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior. I give Egypt as your ransom, Ethiopia and Seba in exchange for you. Because you are precious in my sight, and honored, and I love you, I give people in return for you, nations in exchange for your life. Do not fear, for I am with you; I will bring your offspring from the east, and from the west I will gather you; I will say to the north, “Give them up,” and to the south, “Do not withhold; bring my sons from far away and my daughters from the end of the earth— everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory, whom I formed and made.”
1 Ascribe to the Lord, you gods, *
ascribe to the Lord glory and strength.
2 Ascribe to the Lord the glory due his Name; *
worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness.
3 The voice of the Lord is upon the waters;
the God of glory thunders; *
the Lord is upon the mighty waters.
4 The voice of the Lord is a powerful voice; *
the voice of the Lord is a voice of splendor.
5 The voice of the Lord breaks the cedar trees; *
the Lord breaks the cedars of Lebanon;
6 He makes Lebanon skip like a calf, *
and Mount Hermon like a young wild ox.
7 The voice of the Lord splits the flames of fire;
the voice of the Lord shakes the wilderness; *
the Lord shakes the wilderness of Kadesh.
8 The voice of the Lord makes the oak trees writhe *
and strips the forests bare.
9 And in the temple of the Lord *
all are crying, “Glory!”
10 The Lord sits enthroned above the flood; *
the Lord sits enthroned as King for evermore.
11 The Lord shall give strength to his people; *
the Lord shall give his people the blessing of peace.
A Reading from the Acts of the Apostles (8:14-17)
Now when the apostles at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had accepted the word of God, they sent Peter and John to them. The two went down and prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit (for as yet the Spirit had not come upon any of them; they had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus). Then Peter and John laid their hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit.
The Holy Gospel of Our Lord Jesus Christ according to Luke (3:15-17,21-22)
As the people were filled with expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Messiah, John answered all of them by saying, “I baptize you with water; but one who is more powerful than I is coming; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.” Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heaven was opened, and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”
by the Rev. Michael Kreutzer
That was a pretty short gospel reading, wasn’t it? But it could have been even shorter. About 2/3 of it consisted of verses that we already heard a few weeks ago during Advent, verses referring to the ministry of John the Baptist. Without them, today’s gospel would have been just one sentence: one that gives Luke’s entire description of Jesus’ baptism.
Actually, the part of that sentence that recounts the baptism itself is only two-words-long in Greek: “Iesou baptisthentos,” “Jesus, having-been-baptized.” Luke’s emphasis is clearly, not on the baptism itself, but on the declaration from heaven which follows: “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” For Luke, this pronouncement establishes God’s designation of Jesus as God’s Son.
But if we step back just a bit and look at the wider context of this scene in Luke’s gospel, we find what I think is an amazing corollary of this assertion. In the verses that immediately follow that declaration, Luke provides a genealogy for Jesus. It begins, “Jesus was about thirty years old when he began his work. He was the son (as was thought) of Joseph, son of Heli, son of Matthat”; and it continues until it reaches its ultimate point: “son of Enos, son of Seth, son of Adam, son of God.” Just when we begin to narrow in on the uniqueness of Jesus and of his relationship with God, Luke takes us in the opposite direction. He pushes back the boundaries of our thinking and portrays for us Jesus’ place within all of humanity.
Jesus is a child of Adam, the child of God. But then, of course, so are we. Just when we start to get comfortable with setting Jesus up on a pedestal, at a place distant from all of us, Luke has him reach down from that pedestal and pull us up to stand there at his side as fellow children of God: the loving parent of us all.
That is certainly a comforting and uplifting image. It echoes the message of Christmas: the proclamation that God has sent Jesus as God’s child so that we might all be God’s children. But, if we take that image seriously and explore its implications, it inevitably leads us to places that we might not want to go.
Those of us who are blessed to be parents love our children. We care for our children. We sacrifice for our children. But we do not intend for our children to continue being children. They need to grow up, and we need to help them do that. They need us to prepare them to take on the same kind of roles that we have taken on and to live as loving, contributing, and responsible adults in the world. That is what children must do; and the same thing is true of the children of God.
Jesus’ baptism was not just an isolated celebration of his unique relationship with God. It was the prelude, the opening to everything that he did from that point on in his life. It set the stage for what his entire life would be about.
If our baptism is to be more than just an empty, religious ritual, then it, too, needs to serve as a prelude to everything that we do. It needs to set the stage for what our entire life is about. It needs to be seen as our entrance into the life of Jesus himself and into a life that is lived as Jesus himself lived, with the same set of priorities and values that directed everything that he did.
For Jesus, his baptism did not confer on him a special, privileged status, separate from everybody else. It did not somehow raise him up above the suffering and the needs and the messiness of the world in which he lived. Instead it served as the beginning of a life that was totally immersed in the lives of others, immersed in their suffering and their needs, and immersed in the overall messiness of the world.
Former Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, focuses on that approach to baptism when he writes (Being Christian): “To be able to say, ‘I’m baptized’ is not to claim an extra dignity, let alone a sort of privilege that keeps you separate from and superior to the rest of the human race, but to claim a new level of solidarity with other people. It is to accept that to be a Christian is to be affected – you might even say contaminated – by the mess of humanity. This is very paradoxical. Baptism is a ceremony in which we are washed, cleansed and re-created. It is also a ceremony in which we are pushed into the middle of a human situation that may hurt us, and that will not leave us untouched or unsullied. And the gathering of baptized people is therefore not convocation of those who are privileged, elite and separate, but of those who have accepted what it means to be in the heart of a needy, contaminated, messy world. To put it another way, you don’t go down into the waters of the Jordan without stirring up a great deal of mud!”
That is what Jesus experienced in his life. And if our baptism and the promises that we made in baptism have any significance at all, that is what we must be prepared to do and to experience also. Our life in Jesus can never be an escape from the needs, the sufferings, the longings of others, or from the messiness of life in our community and in our world, but rather an immersion in them, a prelude to a life lived in them. That was Jesus’ calling, and that is our calling as well.
And it is only if we accept and embrace that life, just as Jesus did, that we will be faithful to the Spirit into which we were baptized. It is only if we accept and embrace that life, just as Jesus did, that we will be faithful to the one who calls to each of us, “You, too, are my beloved daughter or son; in you, too, I am well pleased.”