A Meditation for Baptism of Christ Sunday

A Meditation for Baptism of Christ Sunday

Luke 3:15-17, 21-22


What would it mean to live as though the love of God and the love of humanity were one?[1]  What a wonderful notion, what a gift to this broken world.  To do so we would certainly be living a new kind of life, and one that we most likely couldn’t  construct left to our own devices.  Basically, it would mean to live like Jesus lived, to minister with others like Jesus ministered.  The season of Epiphany is when we think about the life and ministry of Jesus and the way in which his light broke into the world.

On this baptism of Christ Sunday, we read Luke’s take on this important first day of Jesus’  public ministry. Yet there was no press coverage, no fanfare, no welcoming committee.  In fact, we suspect no one except John even knew who he was.   And even John wasn’t so sure about Jesus!

John was baptizing by the Jordan River.  Many had come to the water that day.  Jesus stood in a long line of overwhelmed and weary people.  Scripture indicates that he was baptized only after all the other people were baptized.   I picture him at the end of the long, slow moving line, standing patiently in the hot desert sun.   It would have taken hours.  The people came to be baptized by John, because they wanted to start over.

They had been hearing since they were babies about a messiah who would set the captive Israel free and they so hoped John would be that messiah.  He tried to set them straight, but you know how it is when people make their minds up.  Their eyes were fixed on John.   Unfortunately, so were Herod’s eyes fixed on this radical troublemaker, and John was soon removed from the scene.

And yet Jesus was baptized that day because he was the means by which the people could start over.  Jesus was the means by which new life and new possibilities were flowing into the world.  The world just didn’t know it yet.

Robert Brearley points outs that Luke does not have Jesus say a single word out loud at his baptism.  But after he is baptized he prays.  That means he undertakes his public ministry not under his own power, but under the power of God the father and the Holy Spirit.  Jesus begins his ministry on the right foot.  The work that is begun in baptism is continued in prayer.  As it is with Jesus, so it with us.

Jesus goes into the water as the son of a carpenter, but comes out the Son of God.  He makes a turn in his life, just as our baptism—whether infant or adult—is to mark a turn in our lives.  It is not a private thing, but a turning point after which nothing is ever the same.   We now belong to something much greater than ourselves and are engaged with God in bringing about a brand new world.  One commentator (Richard Swanson) says that baptism connects people with,  ”promises too big to fit in this world as presently constituted.”[2]

Who among us does not know the feeling of being overwhelmed, frightened, ready to cash it in? And yet the prophet Isaiah reminds us that the one who created us will stand by us.  When you walk thru the water you will not be overwhelmed, when you pass through the flames you will not be burned.   Do not fear for I have redeemed you.  Child, you are mine.  That is why Jesus stood in that line of “ sin-sick”, weary, overwhelmed people.  To let us know that he has never left us, and never will.   His public ministry began 2000 years ago on the banks of the Jordan River, but continues today.  His baptism started it, our baptism continues it.

Baptism not only connects us with God, it connects us with other people.  Our family increases exponentially in one stunning action.  We are set apart as a people for the new world that is coming, but we are given work to do in the world that is here.  We are to work every day in the bringing in of God’s new creation.  And the work is endless because the family is so big! This past week, we were reminded of that partnership.

This week I could feel the Holy Spirit hovering over us like a dove as various opportunities for ministry were presented.  It is interesting that the symbol of the Holy Spirit in the gospel accounts of the baptism is always a dove.  Not a whirlwind, not a burning bush, not an earthquake…but something so subtle, so fragile.  A dove would be easily overlooked, easy to ignore.  Like a family in a crisis of grief and financial emergency. Like a pregnant woman at the homeless shelter, bringing a child home from the hospital to the shelter with nothing but the clothes on her back.  Like the children at Hoffman Homes, broken and in need of love and healing.

We remember the words sent from John in prison, via his disciples, when he heard of the way in which Jesus was ministering.  John’s disciples asked Jesus, “Are you the one who is to come as messiah, or are we to wait for another?”  In other words, the way in which you are going about things will never overcome the powers of the world.

Yet this is the way Jesus chose to minister, and chose to live…strength masquerading as weakness.  As Robert Brearley [3] puts it, “When the line of downtrodden and sin-sick people formed in hopes of new beginnings through a return to God, Jesus joined them.”    The world as it is today, is not the way that God intends to leave it.  Through our baptism we join it and become part of the healing.  There is a new world coming!

Many came to the water that day, but only Jesus came to pray.  Of all the gospel accounts only Luke tells us that Jesus came up from the water and began praying.  We also need the spiritual stamina to do the work set before us.  In this Epiphany season may we re-dedicate ourselves, may we renew our baptismal vows and take our place with Jesus in that line of people who have come to the water.




[1] Quote from educator and minister Benjamin Mays, used by Stephanie Paulsell in the Christian Century article, “Soul Experiments,” Dec. 26, 2012, page 31.

[2] Quoted in “Weekly Seeds” for Sunday January 13, 2013, written by Kate Huey.

[3] Feasting on Word, Year C, vol 1, 236-240.  I found Robert Brearley’s insights helpful in writing this meditation.