Sunday, January 11, 2015

The Baptism of the Lord

Today we celebrate the “Baptism of the Lord,” and it gives us an opportunity to remember this event and reflect on its impact. It’s a perfect example of how meaning shapes memory.

So what do you remember about the day? John the baptizer appears in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. 
People from the city of Jerusalem and all Judea flock to him, and are baptized in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. After years of living with a filthy buildup of sin and unrighteousness, the people of the region are relieved to be washed clean and made right with God.

This feels very good to them. John’s providing a much-needed spiritual service, and you wouldn’t be surprised to hear the people saying, T.G.F.J. — Thank God For John. But then John switches gears and reveals that he’s not simply in the purification business. He proclaims, “The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me … I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”

When we look at the actual events that occurred at the Jordan, we see a variety of emotions. There’s gratitude for the gift of forgiveness. Surprise and shock at the sight of the baptizer’s camel’s hair clothing and diet of locusts and wild honey. Certainly some confusion about the identity of the powerful one who’s coming after John. So the actual experience of John’s ministry is a jumble of emotions, not a carefully crafted stained-glass picture of pure joy and happiness.

All of this changes when Jesus comes on the scene, because meaning has a powerful effect on memory. Mark tells us that Jesus comes from Nazareth of Galilee and is baptized by John in the Jordan, and just as he is coming up out of the water, he sees the heavens torn apart and the Holy Spirit descends on him like a dove. And a voice from heaven says, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”