The Baptism of Our Lord - 13 January 2013

Isaiah 43:1-7
Psalm 29
Acts 8:14-17
Saint Luke 3:15-17, 21-22


Background: The Baptism of Our Lord
Always a major theme in the celebration of the Epiphany (especially in the East), the Baptism of Jesus with the revisions of the Lectionary by the Roman Church, and subsequent revisions by Anglicans and Lutherans, saw the baptismal emphasis transferred to the First Sunday after the Epiphany (its Octave).  In the 1928 Prayer Book, the Gospel concerning the Baptism was read on the Second Sunday after the Epiphany, so that the new emphasis was merely moved.  References to the Baptism of Our Lord prior to that time were largely confined to the Daily Offices, so the changes in the Eucharistic Lection represent a renewed devotion to the day and its meaning.  Even in the Roman tradition the day took on more and more of a significance moving from a spotty recognition under Pius XII, to a feast (second class) kept on the 13th under John XXIII.  With the revisions under Paul VI, the date was set as the first Sunday after the Epiphany.  With this day the season of Christmas ends.

Isaiah 43:1-7

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."

The second Isaiah rehearses a very concise Salvation History in the first reading, a history with which he chooses to clothe Israel.  From the words of “creation” and “formation” we move on to more salvific formulations of redemption and salvation.  These are not just unassociated theological expressions, however, but are tied to events that loom large in the national history.  Water, in both sea and river, along with fire, calls to mind the Red Sea experience, and the wandering of the people.  For Christians, these associations bring to mind the readings during the Easter Vigil, and are thus related to today’s celebration of Jesus’ baptism. 

The thoughts move on to describe the family of God, those who have been redeemed by God’s favor.  It is here that the prophet moves beyond the usual theological notions and language of Israel.  Israel remains the chosen people, but others are mentioned – Egypt, Ethiopia, and Seba (the Sudan.)  The meanings are almost parallel.  The cardinal directions are mentioned as places from which Israel is called to return, and by implication “all my sons and daughters”.  These are those who are “called by my name,” and the text returns to the notion of creation and formation.  Second Isaiah’s universe is not static, but changes as God’s intentions are thoroughly revealed.  These comments on his part help us understand the words and actions that Jesus knows when he comes up from the water.

Breaking open Isaiah:

1.     In what ways do feel that you have been formed by God?
2.     How has your baptism formed you?
3.     Who are you missing in God’s family?

Psalm 29 Afferte Domino

Ascribe to the LORD, you gods, *
ascribe to the LORD glory and strength.

Ascribe to the LORD the glory due his Name; *
worship the LORD in the beauty of holiness.

The voice of the LORD is upon the waters;
the God of glory thunders; *
the LORD is upon the mighty waters.

The voice of the LORD is a powerful voice; *
the voice of the LORD is a voice of splendor.

The voice of the LORD breaks the cedar trees; *
the LORD breaks the cedars of Lebanon;

He makes Lebanon skip like a calf, *
and Mount Hermon like a young wild ox.

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.

The voice of the LORD makes the oak trees writhe *
and strips the forests bare.

And in the temple of the LORD *
all are crying, "Glory!"

The LORD sits enthroned above the flood; *
the LORD sits enthroned as King for evermore.

The LORD shall give strength to his people; *
the LORD shall give his people the blessing of peace.

This psalm shares a great deal of phraseology and nomenclature with its Canaanite antecedents.  A common theme in the ancient near east was the image of the god overcoming the chaos symbolized by the waters of the sea.  It was an image that Israel adapted wholly, and from which came a profound understanding of God’s sovereignty over nature at significant points in the nation’s history.  Thus as we read the poets’ words we see and understand the Red Sea and the Jordan River differently.  This power evidenced by YHWH 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 YHWH 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.

Breaking open Psalm 29
1.       How do you see God’s sovereignty over nature?
2.       How does God exhibit power in your life?
3.       What does the gift of “strength and a blessing of peace” mean to you?

Acts 8:14-17

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.

What a powerful little snippet this reading is.  It is not generic “gentiles” who receive the power of Baptism and the Spirit here, but the hated Samaritans.  If Luke’s agenda is the giving of good news to the “lowly” and the “poor”, this must represent the gift to the lowest of the low.  So Peter and John go to “confirm” the baptisms that have been reported to them.  In Luke’s vision of this we see two acts: the baptism in the “name of the Lord Jesus,” and the reception of the Holy Spirit.  There is an apostolic laying on of hands, and a subsequent reception of 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. 

Breaking open Acts:

1.               How has the Spirit been active in your life?
2.               What do you think about when you think about your baptism?
3.               If you have not been baptized, why not?

St. 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."

Here we have three separate instances.  First, there is the preaching of the Baptist, which looks forward to the Coming One – the Messiah.  This new baptism is differentiated from John’s for it will be a baptism of the Holy Spirit and fire (see the reference in the first reading).  Secondly, and this is missing in the lectionary selection, is the conclusion of the Baptist’s ministry and of his demise under the judgment of Herod.  Luke literally removes John from the picture so that Jesus can come up out of the water and begin his ministry.  The third instance is the actual baptism of Jesus, reported with a minimum of detail.  The link to John’s baptism is not severed, for Luke mentions that “when all the people were baptized”, then comes this new revelation.  Immediately we find Jesus at prayer, (the connection with the Baptist’s baptism is missing – it is simply not described).  What happens after or with the prayer is a crisis – a crucial point in time described by Luke with the words, “the heaven was opened.”  Something new is going to happen.  It is a fulfillment, in Luke’s mind, of Isaiah’s (63:19b) vision, “Oh, that you would rend the heavens and come down, with the mountains quaking before you.”  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.”  When the second Isaiah (42:1) describes the servant of the Lord, God indicates the anointing with the words, “Upon him I have put my spirit.”  Thus, Luke’s baptism reflects the ancient hopes of the prophets.  This servant too will suffer, but a people will be redeemed.

Breaking open the Gospel:
  1. Do you hear violence in John’s preaching?
  2. How is the experience with Jesus different?
  3. How often do you enter into things with prayer.

After breaking open the Word, you might want to pray the Collect for Sunday. 

Father in heaven, who at the baptism of Jesus in the River Jordan proclaimed him your beloved Son and anointed him with the Holy Spirit: Grant that all who are baptized into his Name may keep the covenant they have made, and boldly confess him as Lord and Savior; who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, in glory everlasting. Amen.

All commentary and questions are copyright © 2013 Michael T. Hiller


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