Thursday, January 6, 2011

The Word

The Feast of the Baptism of the Lord

Is 42:1-4, 6-7
Acts 10:34-38
Mt 3:13-17 

Begin to prepare for this Sunday's feast of Christ's Baptism by pondering the scriptures. Spend some time in prayer before you come to celebrate.

When Jesus came to the water, John recognized that he was “the one” who “is more powerful than I ... I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the straps of his sandals.” If there were anyone that could skip this baptism it was Jesus. In Matthew’s version, John is incredulous that the Messiah would even need any kind of baptism — “I need to be baptized by you, and yet you come to me?” Yet Jesus willingly steps down into the brown water to take on the same mark as his people.
When we are baptized we take on that same mark. Jesus’ baptism is the prototype for those of us who would follow him. So, what does our baptism say about us?

We understand baptism as a mark of God’s favor. Jesus comes to the Jordan River to be baptized by John and for him it is a form of anointing — not just with water but with the Spirit. Here we see the Trinity in action: the Son receiving the blessing, the Father expressing his love for the Son, and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. Baptism marks Jesus as “the Beloved” in whom God’s own nature is revealed and with whom God is “well pleased.” It’s a powerful expression of the intimacy of God’s own relational nature.

For us, baptism is a sign of God’s favor as well, but it is favor that is unmerited. We recognize that we can’t fake out God and be something that we’re not, so we “come clean” through repentance and confession and simply receive the love of God who created us and sees us as being “very good.”

But wait, there’s more. The baptism of Jesus was a form of anointing by which the Messiah, the promised One, would save Israel and the whole world. Israelite kings were marked as a symbol of their office and their responsibility. For Jesus, and for us, baptism is preparation.

Baptism is a sign that we pledge allegiance to a different kingdom — the kingdom of God. And that allegiance is worked out in our service to others. Baptism marks us, sets us apart as different from the world’s idea of power.

In other words, we’re called to “go” into the world and get dirty serving others. There’s no room for pretending or keeping to our own side of town. Our baptism is a commission and a call to go into the wilds of a hurting world.

What we do now matters!

Our baptism, then, invites us to live in that new reality — a heavenly, God-ordained reality, seeing eternity not “out there” somewhere but seeing God at work in the here and now.

Living as baptized followers of Christ is something we can’t fake. No amount of spray or religiosity can hide who we really are. As Jesus waded into those river waters, he set the example for us.

The bottom line: If the Son of God is willing to get dirty changing the world, we who follow need to do the same.