BAPTISM OF THE LORD -C- January 9, 2022

Isaiah 42: 1-4, 6-7; Ps 104; Acts 10: 34-38; Luke 3: 15-16, 21-22

by Jude Siciliano, OP

Dear Preachers:

Luke is beginning to shift our attention away from the charismatic John the Baptist to Jesus. Today’s gospel omits the verses (19-20) that tell of Herod’s imprisoning John. In those verses Luke is anticipating what will happen to the Baptist. The focus of his Gospel is now on Jesus. For Luke, the period of Israel comes to an end with the Baptist (16:6). It’s as if a curtain is drawn on John and then opens on Jesus. Now a new age is beginning.

Luke passes over the baptism quickly to move on to the Holy Spirit, who is featured in this gospel and its sequence, the Acts of the Apostles. Jesus’ childhood has ended and we are introduced to the adult who is commencing his public ministry with the descent of the Holy Spirit and the proclamation to us that he is God’s "beloved Son." From now on all he does and says is as God’s beloved and under the influence of the Spirit. He is well-equipped for his life of mission and ministry.

In the gospel we hear echoes of the first reading, Isaiah’s description of the one God has chosen as servant and upon whom God has put God’s Spirit. "Here is my servant whom I uphold, my chosen one with whom I am pleased, upon whom I have put my spirit…." John, the last prophet, has withdrawn and a new age has begun with the emergence of God’s Spirit-filled, loving and faithful servant – Jesus Christ.

We cannot reflect on Jesus’ baptism without feeling linked to him through our own. We too have been baptized as servants to a loving God. The baptized community is united to Christ and one another. When we were baptized we also received the Spirit, began to experience the love of God in a more intimate way and were sent forth into the world. Luke’s account reminds us that we are a community connected to one another through our baptism. We are not saved by ourselves. We are not alone on our journey with Christ. We are a community on a pilgrimage together through history.

There is a lot that separates us from those worshiping with us today. Just look around and see the visible differences in our skin color, the quality of our clothes and our ages. Listen for our regional and national accents. See the cars we drive out of the parking lot in after the service. Catch sight of the different wristwatches we wear, some are plain and practical, others tell the same time, but may cost in the thousands.

How did we ever get here, so varied, yet all in the same worship space? What draws us here today? Maybe we are here out of a sense of obligation? That’s not enough. Maybe we came to draw closer to God, or we need help with a problem and so we came to pray. That’s good, but there’s more. Being here brings us together with all these people around us in the pews. They may be very different from us, but we share the same baptism and are drawn together to follow more closely the one we call our Savior.

What is the source of the tug that urged us to drop things at home and put off, till after worship, the shopping and cooking we need to do for the week ahead? What is the glue that keeps us together as a worshiping community, despite our complaints about the music, preaching, liturgical styles and the discomfort of the kneelers? Luke has named the source and the glue for us: it’s the very Spirit that descended on Jesus at his baptism and fired him for his mission and the sacrifices that lay ahead of him. Our baptism was our entrance into the life of the Spirit and it incorporated us into this community – yes, even with the man next to us in the pew who is singing so loudly and off key!

Luke begins his narrative of Jesus’ baptism by telling us, "The people were filled with expectation and all were asking in their hearts whether John might be the Christ." John did his job well. He got his hearers fired up and excited with expectation. Could it be that God was finally coming to set Israel free? Finally, after all the generations of waiting under oppressive foes, after longing for so long, God was coming to deliver them.

Well, Jesus wasn’t exactly what the people expected, or hoped for. He certainly didn’t make his entrance at the head of a powerful army to overthrow the Romans. If they had reflected on our Isaiah reading, those who were with Jesus at his baptism and throughout his ministry, would have been better prepared for Christ and his ways.

The Isaiah passage is the first of four Songs of the Suffering Servant. These songs describe the one appointed by God who will free Israel. This servant will be anointed by God’s Spirit and will call people to God with a gentle voice ("not crying out, not shouting") and a kind presence. He will not be coercive; not threaten people with God’s vengeance.

Those of us who respond to the gentle servant God has sent us, Jesus, have in our baptism, entered into a new life in the Spirit. We might say that God could have picked a better crew of workers to accomplish the plans God has for the world. We may not be extraordinary, but the fact is we have been anointed by the Spirit. So, we always have with us the intimate presence of God, the foundation of our lives and the driving energy that sends us into the world. After Jesus’ baptism he went on mission. Our baptism impels us to do similarly, in the many and diverse places God has sent us.

Throughout his gospel Luke shows Jesus praying at key moments of his ministry, even while he is hanging on the cross. One place his Spirit has led us is here to worship. Together we are moved to pray; not only for our personal needs, but for the church, the community of the baptized. Still more, the Spirit moves us to pray for our world, for peace and justice among peoples. In celebrating the waters of baptism, we are also reminded of the vivid images we have seen of refugees making their passage over the dangerous waters of the Mediterranean, or fording the Rio Grande. They are hoping the waters will be life saving for them and enable them to begin a new life. Our baptism has given us new life and so we pray for those who have risked their lives, hoping to begin again in safety.

We may consider ourselves just ordinary folk. Perhaps we don’t make a big splash, even in our personal worlds. Still, we are called, like the Isaian servant, to work gently in the world. How and where can we do that? We pray today and trust that the way will be shown to us for, like the Servant, God says to us, "I have grasped you by the hand. I formed you and set you as a covenant of the people, a light for the nations...."

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