Father in heaven, who at the baptism of Jesus in the River Jordan proclaimed him your beloved Son and anointed him with the Holy Spirit: Grant that all who are baptized into his Name may keep the covenant they have made, and boldly confess him as Lord and Savior; who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, in glory everlasting. Amen. Collect for the First Sunday after the Epiphany, Episcopal Book of Common Prayer.
Revised Common Lectionary readings may be found here.
Whether it feels like a let-down or a relief, this week we are finally past Christmas. And in this year B, we jump headlong into the opening of Mark’s gospel and the baptism of Jesus by John. We read the opening verses of this tale, focusing on John’s role, during Advent. Now we get to the main event: Jesus’ baptism and God’s revelation to him. “You are my son, the Beloved…”
Mark’s story about Jesus’ baptism is like those told in the other gospels, save for one important detail: God’s message, both the opening of the heavens with the Holy Spirit descending like a dove, and the declaration of Jesus’ identity, was apparently perceived by Jesus alone, and not by the crowds around him This, of course, is fitting with Mark’s theme of secrecy. Not until Peter’s confession that Jesus is indeed the chosen one is that information made public. In fact, Jesus is quite clear that the disciples should not tell anyone what they have seen and heard until the time is right.
One way to think of this passage is as Jesus’ commissioning. No matter what Jesus might have thought or wondered about his identity and his role. there can be no question about his sense of identity now, and there can be no delaying of the beginning of his ministry. Similarly, in our own baptisms, our identity as Christ’s own is affirmed, and we are commissioned to live into that identity from that point onward, to grow into that reality, especially in those traditions, like my own, where infants are baptized. In our liturgy we will renew our baptismal covenant to bring this point home.
Baptism is central to our identity as Christians, and so this Sunday provides an opportune time to focus on that identity. What does it mean for us to be marked as Christ’s own, and to embrace a life dedicated to God? How do we live out those promises? How seriously do we take them, whether we make them for ourselves, or as parents and godparents, on behalf of our children? In this increasingly secular world, will baptism become more or less important for people of faith? Lots to consider here…
Where are you headed this week, preachers? Will you be doing baptisms? Renewing baptismal promises? Or taking another direction entirely, perhaps preaching on the creation story from Genesis? Wherever you’re going, or wondering where you might be going, join the conversation!