January 10, 2021
Revised Common Lectionary
Lectionary for Mass (RC)
Isaiah 12:2-3, 4bcd, 5-6 (3)
1 John 5:1-9
Recently a friend of mine visited our church and was struck by the very prominent baptismal pool located at the front of the sanctuary. He mentioned to me that since he was not a Christian believer, he had never been baptized. He had never seen any point in going through what he had heard described by some as a “commitment ceremony” and by others as “magic.”
I winced a bit at these two terms my friend used to characterize Christian baptism. As I recalled that conversation later, I began to wonder how members of our congregation would describe their own baptism: a commitment ceremony? magic? something else? Today’s celebration of the Baptism of the Lord offers us an opportunity to reflect on that question.
Clearly the baptism of Jesus is regarded by New Testament writers as completely unique. While he joined large numbers of people at the Jordan River who were submitting to John’s baptism of repentance, Jesus’ baptism was accompanied by various signs that gave it new meaning. In Mark’s account that we hear today, these signs include the opening of the heavens, the descent of the Spirit like a dove, and the voice from heaven proclaiming, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased” (Mk 1:11). All four of the Gospel writers understand the baptism of Jesus as the inauguration of his mission to proclaim the reign of God in word and deed.
For Mark, Jesus’ affirmation as “Son of God” by the voice from heaven provides a backdrop for events that occur later in the Gospel. A voice from the cloud repeats this declaration at the Transfiguration (9:7). Jesus is convicted of blasphemy at his religious trial when he responds affirmatively to the high priest’s question, “Are you the Messiah, the Son of the Blessed One?” (14:61). The climax of Mark’s Gospel occurs when the centurion proclaims, “Truly this man was God’s Son!” (15:39), just after he witnessed the death of Jesus on the cross—a death that revealed the true nature of Jesus’ mission and messiahship.
The story we hear today is a rich source for reflection on the meaning of our own baptism. Every human person, of course, is a child of God, for all of us come into being through God’s creative love. Still, baptism is transformative, as God recreates us in the image of the beloved Son who entered the waters ahead of us. As Jesus submitted to John’s baptism in solidarity with sinful humanity, so in the waters we are set free from sin’s power. At our baptism God is proclaiming to us, “You are my child, my beloved,” joining us with Christ in a new and deeper relationship. Baptism is not “magic”—but we are indeed changed as the Holy Spirit comes upon us.
As the baptism of Jesus set him on his mission, so at our baptism does the Spirit commission us as witnesses to Christ and to the coming reign of God. As people remade in his image, we are members of his body, sent to bring good news of grace, salvation, and freedom to others, just as he did. Like him we are to be persons for others, offering our very lives in service. The mission that Jesus undertook at his baptism would ultimately lead him to the cross, the same path on which the baptized embark in their life of discipleship. And so, baptism is less a “commitment ceremony” than a commissioning by the Spirit which we receive as we emerge from the watery tomb to new life with and in Christ.
Today’s celebration presents us with an opportunity to recall our own baptism and to reflect on its meaning. Can the memory of that event push aside any negative messages that have made us feel unloved or “less than”? Can we rest secure in the affirmation that we are God’s children, chosen and beloved? Can we accept the call that presents itself each day to live out our baptism through faithful witness and service? Can we embrace our struggles, our suffering, and even our death, in solidarity with the crucified and risen One in whom we were baptized?
The good news we hear today is that in the baptism of Jesus, we come to know that our own baptism is far more than a commitment ceremony and not at all like a supernatural magic trick—We are beloved children of God, siblings of Christ, and filled with the Spirit!
A Hymn for Today: “To Jordan Jesus Humbly Came”
This text by Hymn Society member Alan J. Hommerding makes a direct connection between the baptism and mission of Jesus in each of the first three stanzas. The final stanza presents Christ’s baptism as the pattern for our own entry into the waters and for a new and deeper relationship with him. The pairing of this text with the tune WINCHESTER NEW evokes images of John baptizing at the Jordan River because of its connection to the hymn “On Jordan’s Bank.” In this way the tune makes a musical connection between Advent and the manifestation of Christ that we celebrate at Christmas and Epiphany.
To Jordan Jesus humbly came,
His Gospel mission to proclaim;
On earth, in heav’n, God’s will was done
by God’s beloved only Son.
John plunged him in that wat’ry grave,
Christ rose to teach and heal and save,
To show us how to die to sin
And share eternal life with him.
God’s thund’ring voice the heavens rends,
The Spirit’s might on him descends;
The Word-made-Flesh, with grace infused,
Anointed, goes to bring Good News.
God names us sons and daughters, too,
In font and Spirit born anew;
in Christ we die, with Christ we rise,
Through Christ we enter paradise!
Text: Alan J. Hommerding, © 2004 WLP, a division of GIA Publications. Used by permission.
Tune: WINCHESTER NEW
Image Credit: Baptism of Christ, David Zalenka, 2005
“Word and Song: A Lectionary Reflection” is written by the Executive Director of The Hymn Society, Rev. Dr. Mike McMahon. For his full bio, click here and scroll down to the “staff” section.