The Baptism of the Lord

The readings are here

The way that humans understand their role in the world varies; and the understanding that religious people have of the relationship between God and them is never the same and sometimes develops.  In the lead-up to Christmas we have had many passages in which the Jews expressed their hopes and expectations of God; they thought of ideal leaders, of being gloriously successful and of leading the rest of humanity.  But now we hear of other trends that they were developing, based on their experiences of bad times, of disappointments and especially of being away from what they thought of as their God-given homeland.  Tentatively there arises the thought of a subservient role for themselves, even of suffering for the benefit of others.  In part of the book of Isaiah from the time of the Exile in Babylon, there are four poems about a servant of the Lord and what he will do.  The reading for today (Isaiah 42 passim)  is part of the first of these.  It is never clear who the servant is meant to be; it could be an individual saintly person, one of the prophets or all the chosen people as a group; but Christians have always seen Jesus as the one referred to in these poems; that is why this particular passage is chosen for us today.  It speaks of justice for all, of gentle caring for the weakest and of miracles for those with various ills; a servant who is a promise for them and a light for all.  The psalm with which we respond to the reading, is about the thunderous rain and lightning that is both a hardship and a blessing for this agricultural people; it is called the voice of God and it is a revelation of the glory of God and peace but also hardship for His people.

An alternative first reading is from Isaiah chapter 55. This passage originated, perhaps, towards the end of the exile, when hope could be raised for a return to the promised land, but it is also about the need for people to embrace this gift of God i.e. the return to the homeland. As it stands it is a poem of three main sections; God addressing everyone with needs, the poet urging the people to heed God’s word and then God announcing His plans and their utter reliability. Firstly, some people know their needs but others think they will be satisfied with things that are not actually good for them; they should accept the promise of God in a covenant that will never be revoked – and the poet adds the notion that this is open to people of all nations. Secondly, the poet calls us to respond while we can, with words echoed at the time of Jesus in the Baptist’s call to repentance – turn your life around now! And the poem concludes with beautiful similes, as God speaks about the surety of His plans – his word that is not compromising but as certain “as the sky is above the earth… as the rain and the snow fall downwards and water the land…” We should be moved by this poem to renew our commitment to live in accord with God’s plan for us, especially at this time of New Year resolutions.

The second reading is from the first letter of John (1 John 5:1-9). This short section at the end of this so-called epistle is a neat summary of much of what has been covered in earlier chapters. The whole ‘letter’ is more an essay about faith in Jesus Christ and our living response to and involvement in God’s plan. The reading is an example of the intensity of the wording found also in the Fourth Gospel, equally attributed to John. It is about believing, loving and doing whatever God commands; about us Christians, being children of God and free from the control of any worldly deficiencies (just referred to as ‘the world.’ There is a link between being obedient children of God and freedom from the downward drag of ‘the world.’ It is all dependant on Jesus Christ, a genuinely human being, who went through the process of baptism by water, through the trauma of shedding His blood for us and who lived with the Spirit of God. The Christian is similarly engaged with the life of God through baptism, the Eucharist and the gift of the Spirit. All this should cause us to reflect on our faith and its practice in loving!

In this cycle (B) of readings, the gospel is from Mark (Mark 1:7-11) about the baptism of Jesus. John the Baptist was the sort of person who these days would make the headlines in the news for his unconventional behaviour, with his message of dramatic conversion symbolised with emersion in the river Jordan; he drew crowds of all different types of people. Some early Christians at the time of the writing of this gospel were more attracted by John than with Jesus, who was a much calmer and gentler character, though He did propose some hard sayings. So it is that Mark tells of John himself declaring the superiority of Jesus to himself; indeed that Jesus was the very Son of God on whom the true Spirit of God had descended, and who had the grace and favour of God. So the Baptism of Jesus which these readings are chosen to celebrate, speaks to us of faith and love and obedience to God, all through our union in humanity with Jesus and hence with God Himself – we have the power to fulfil God’s plan for us if we just choose and stick at it.

See Jeffs Jottings – Devotion(s)

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