The Baptism of Jesus – Epip. 1C – Lk. 3:15-17, 21-22
St. Mark’s – 1/10/16 – Lorraine Ljunggren
This past Wednesday evening, amid the glow of candles, we celebrated the Feast of the Epiphany. We read Matthew’s story of three sages, or wise men who travel from the east in search of an infant – an infant whose birth is marked by the appearance of an amazing star. We know the baby turns out to be Jesus, born of our sister Mary and nurtured by our brother Joseph. Wednesday night brought to a close our annual reading about and celebration of Jesus’ birth.
But it also set us on a journey through the Season of Epiphany – a season in which we begin following the adventures of the adult Jesus’ life. The word ‘Epiphany’ is from the Greek epiphaneia, meaning ‘showing forth’ or ‘manifestation.’ In this season Jesus is made manifest – is made known to the people he meets in his travels. Jesus is also made known to the whole world – to those of us who are Gentiles – to those of us born outside of Jesus’ faithful Jewish people. The Season of Epiphany is characterized as a season of light – of Jesus bringing, renewing the light of God’s love in a world very much in need of it. This light is a powerful symbol for those of us living in the northern hemisphere where daylight is slender at this time of year. Our sisters and brothers to the far south celebrate this light amid the glow of summer’s sun.
In her wisdom the Church decided to embark on this journey each year by first remembering and celebrating the Baptism of Jesus on the First Sunday after the Epiphany. This year we re-live this experience through the writer of the Gospel of Luke. We learn quickly some of the things Luke wants us to know and understand about Jesus.
The writer makes very clear that Jesus is baptized in the midst of, alongside other people. This is no solitary, privatized event. Luke locates Jesus among all the various kinds of people who come out to the Jordan River to be baptized. It shows us from the get-go that Jesus’ ministry will be people-oriented. In fact, when we keep coming back to hear how the stories of his life continue to unfold, it becomes immensely clear that Jesus will identify with and care for the diversity of God’s people. Jesus will be among the people as healer, guide, and advocate.
The writer of Luke also wants us to pay attention to the importance of prayer in Jesus’ life and ministry. From beginning to end we experience Jesus as a person of prayer – as one who is shaped and formed by and through the intimacy of time spent with God – in the middle of a worshipping community as well as in solitude and quiet. It becomes obvious as we hear or read Luke that Jesus relies on prayer in times of transition, change, or challenge.
The Gospel is also quick to recount one of the most important realities in the life and ministry of Jesus.
Remember today’s reading says, “…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.” (3:21b-22)
The opening of the heavens here is a symbol of the Divine-Human relationship. It is a symbol of Divine revelation. The opening of heaven catches our attention, inviting us to listen with the whole of who we are – with our hearts as well as our minds – inviting us to listen for God to reveal in new or ancient ways God’s love for us and for creation. Luke wants us to attune ourselves to the various ways in which God breaks into life in this earthly realm.
And, of course, once again into human history comes God’s Holy Spirit. Here in Luke’s Gospel the Spirit is said to appear in bodily form like a dove. When we think back, the Holy Spirit and the dove are woven into the fabric of scripture.
The Spirit of God moves over the waters in the beginning of creation bringing form out of chaos, shaping the world as we know it. Tradition says the Spirit – also called ruach or wind – is said to hover over the waters like a dove. The very breath of God in-spires – inspirits the world and, as the story goes, breathes life into the first of the human family.
If we remember the story of Noah’s ark, we remember that it is a dove which first discovers the dry land after the Great Flood. Doves are symbols of the Divine – of God, so when doves appear, something special is happening.
It appears that the people who surround Jesus see the parting of the heavens as well as the descent of the dove. Luke wants us as readers and listeners to be certain we understand the Divine-Human connection here. Luke wants us to understand that God’s Holy Spirit is, in effect, anointing Jesus for the ministry he is about to undertake. Luke is the only Gospel writer who uses the phrase ‘bodily form.’ This is a phrase inviting us to believe the descent of the Spirit is real and tangible.
But there is another layer of meaning as well. Luke writes, “And a voice came from heaven, ‘You are my Son, the Beloved, with you I am well pleased.’” (3:22b)
Here Luke, like other Gospel writers, hopes we will recognize in Jesus a relationship which is bound in love. Here the Creator God claims Jesus as God’s very own. Here God claims Jesus as Beloved.
And with this Divine affirmation, Jesus is ready to begin fulfilling his call to be with and among the people of God in all the circumstances of their lives. Jesus is empowered to face the years to come, with all that awaits him: all the sorrows and the joys, all the opportunities and occasions to serve God and God’s people.
We can give thanks that this story opens our own journey into the Season of Epiphany now upon us. It is with gratitude we acknowledge once again that the same Spirit of God present at the beginning of creation and present at Jesus’ Baptism is present with us in our here and now. We give thanks this day that the same Spirit continues to move over, in, and through the waters of Holy Baptism, breathing renewed life into us. We give thanks that, as followers of Jesus, we are empowered by the Spirit to fulfill our individual and communal call to be with and among the people of God in all the circumstances of our lives theirs.
Like Jesus we are to be among the people as healer, guide, and advocate. Like Jesus we are to be people of prayer, shaped and formed by and through the intimacy of time spent with God – in the middle of a worshipping community as well as in solitude and quiet. Like Jesus we are to attune ourselves to the various ways in which continues to God break into life in this earthly realm, especially as God does so through us.
As we renew the promises of Holy Baptism – thereby renewing our covenant to love God and God’s people, to seek and serve God’s people – we give sincere and Spirit-filled thanks that we, too, like Jesus are each and every one called by name as Beloved of God. Amen.