The Baptism of Our Lord; Year B (1/7/2018)

Genesis 1:1-5
Psalm 29
Acts 19:1-7
St. Mark 1:4-11

Prayer of the Day:
Holy God, creator of light and giver of goodness, your voice moves over the waters. Immerse us in your grace, and transform us by your Spirit, that we may follow after your Son, Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.  Amen.

1.4 John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. 5And people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him, and were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. 6 Now John was clothed with camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. 7 He proclaimed, “The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals. 8 I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.” 9 In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. 10 And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. 11 And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”

St. Mark 1:4-11 New Revised Version Bible (C)1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America.

It’s All About Jesus

In our liturgical calendar, “The Baptism of Our Lord” is celebrated every year on the first Sunday after the Feast of the Epiphany (January 6th). It is a day when we remember how Jesus, at the very start of his public ministry, joins the crowds of people who are making their way out into the wilderness to hear John preach.

John is a fiery preacher; and powerfully effective. He helps many people see how their living isn’t what it ought to be, and he challenges them to make things different. Lives are changed because of John’s preaching. People understand what he is saying, and they make the commitment to follow where he is leading them. They walk with him into the waters of the River Jordan. They allow him to dunk them under the surface, symbolically putting to death the life they are leaving behind. And then he raises them up out of the water, symbolically bringing them to a new and more faithful experience of life. In this way, he accomplishes two goals. He convinces them of their sinfulness, and their need for things to be different, and he commits them to repentance and renewal — a life of growing in God’s direction. It is a powerful ministry. It changes many lives. John is immensely popular in his day, and a deeply influential leader in the faith. He is about the most exciting thing going in first century Palestine.

That is, until Jesus steps into the waters of the Jordan with John. in that moment, everything changes. John and Jesus go into the water together. John thrusts him down beneath the surface and brings him back up again. And as Jesus comes up, all heaven breaks loose. St. Mark’s Gospel tells us that the heavens are literally ripped apart, the Spirit rests on Jesus, and a voice from above proclaims him as the son of God. It is an awe-filled experience; a dramatic beginning to Mark’s story. And it helps us to see that for all his power — for all the ways he touches people — John is exactly what he claims to be: a minor player, compared to the one who is to come.

This actually is a remarkable perspective for John to maintain.

And sadly, a perspective that is all too rare in our day. In these fiercely self-centered times, we seem able to call to mind far more stories of those who have experienced some attention and adulation and let it go to their heads. Musicians, actors, athletes, politicians, pastors… the story seems all to familiar. Someone begins in relative obscurity, but they become successful. All of a sudden things begin to change. They begin to imagine it is all about them. They begin to imagine they are at the center of the universe; at least at the center of their own. They begin to imagine everything they do and say is very important, and they deserve the praise and adulation and wealth that is showered upon them.

The truth is, whether we are known by many, as John the Baptist is, or known by few, it is not all about us. We, as Christians, should know this better than anyone. It is all about the One to whom we point; the One who is anointed by Spirit and Voice in this morning’s Gospel lesson. This may be one of the most remarkable aspects of John’s ministry: that despite the fact he was so loved by the people of his day, despite the fact that “people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him,” he continued to remember that it wasn’t all about him. It was all about Jesus. His role is to point to Jesus. That’s what he wants us to remember. Perhaps that’s what he wants us to do.

David J. Risendal, Pastor

Exploring This Week’s Gospel:

  1. What message lies at the core of John’s baptismal practice?
  2. What do we learn as we consider the story of Jesus’ baptism?
  3. Why is it important that we understand Jesus to be God’s son; the Savior?

Connecting with This Week’s Gospel:

  1. What does it mean to confess that I am saved by God (not by my own actions)?
  2. How has God’s love and grace changed the way I think about myself and the world?
  3. How might I keep Jesus at the center, and myself to the side?

The author would love to hear what you think about this post.