Forming Faith Blog

Two Baptisms, Two Voices (January 10, 2021)

The Challenge of Epiphany

January 6th is the date of the Festival of Epiphany, though many move this celebration to the previous or following Sunday. The first Sunday after Epiphany is also the celebration of the Baptism of the Lord. It works out well that our Narrative Lectionary readings for the day are on baptism and God’s revelation about Jesus.

Epiphany is about revelation, and so the challenge before us is: where do we see Jesus revealed, both in Scripture and in our lives? This is an easier question to answer in the Gospel readings, as it is the Gospel writer’s aim to show us who Jesus is.

John’s Baptism

Our assigned reading in Luke 3 includes both a vignette of John’s baptismal ministry and a brief description of Jesus’ own baptism, not to mention a promise about the type of baptism that Jesus will inaugurate.

John’s baptism is one of repentance, and Luke quotes the prophet Isaiah to describe John’s voice as “one crying out in the wilderness: Prepare the way of the Lord” (Luke 3:4). This baptism is not about saying you’re sorry; repentance is so much more than that. How is the Lord’s way prepared? The quote from Isaiah shows us two ways. The first is an active command for us to make God’s paths straight. Then, the middle part of the quote uses passive verbs. It is not our actions that will fill in the valleys, presumably with the masses of the mountains and hills bulldozed flat. It is God who will ultimately make the paths straight so that everyone will see God’s salvation.

John’s Voice

John’s proclamations to the crowds emphasize the realities of repentance. Repentance is not about what we say but about what we do and how we live. The washing with water is only the first step. The crowds ask the obvious next question: “what then should we do?” (verse 10). John’s response is basic: share and act justly, don’t be greedy or mean. This might be kindergarten-level expectations, but they are ones we don’t always follow. Imagine for a moment what that world would look like. No one would have more than they need, and no one would be lacking (which sounds a bit like mountains and valleys being equalized). No one would use their power to oppress those without power. This may not be a full description of God’s kingdom, but it’s a good start.

Jesus’ Baptism, God’s Voice

People have spilled much ink has been spilled on the question of why Jesus would be baptized, as he had no sin to repent from (John was even confused in Matthew’s telling). The motivations might be hazy, but the results are not. John’s voice to the crowds demanded repentance and just living; God’s voice to Jesus declared Jesus as the Son of God and God’s Beloved. This is one of the clearest statements revealing who Jesus is, a true epiphany in Jesus’ baptism. It is also a declaration of God’s grace. Jesus is God’s Son by nature, but he is not beloved because of what he has done, but simply because God loves him. Despite being of infinite worth, Jesus is beloved of God through grace just as we are.

Call to Justice

This reading doesn’t declare that we are beloved by God. However, this is clear from the rest of Scripture, so I feel no discomfort in adding it here. You are God’s beloved child. God’s love for you is not based upon your actions, good or bad. But we are not called (commanded if you prefer) to merely sit in this love, but to act justly. Empowered by the Spirit, God wants us to go beyond sharing and not being mean and work to spread the concrete actions of God’s love, those actions that lead to justice and peace for all.

Our Epiphanies

Returning to the subject of Epiphany, where do you see Jesus revealed in the world today, outside of Scripture? Where are our current epiphanies? This is an easy question for some and a difficult question for others. This can also change in periods of our lives or time of day. For me—on clear days—I best see Jesus in the feel and taste of the bread and wine, the wetness of the baptismal waters, and especially the face and hands of others.

Free Resource

This week, give a “Helping Hand” with a free activity from our Living the Word: Cross+Gen Worship (Narrative Lectionary) resource. This was written to be used in intergenerational worship, but it can be done by anyone, anywhere, using just paper and markers or crayons (or pens or pencils if you need to). Download and share it today!

Go in peace, beloved of God.


Gregory Rawn (Publisher)

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