07 January 2024

The celebration of Christ’s baptism is always a special way to begin the year. This year the readings give a number of possibilities, but perhaps the most exciting is the way Christ steps not just into human flesh, but completely into the human predicament. As he is baptised along with crowds of people seeking forgiveness and change, Jesus makes a clear statement that God is not separate from humanity, but is in complete and committed solidarity with us. This is both Good News and a challenge for us to be similarly committed to one another.

May our worship this week lead us closer to God and to one another!

Genesis 1:1-5: On the first day of creation the earth is formless and God’s Spirit hovers over the waters. Then God speaks and begins to create the universe.

Psalm 29: A psalm of praise for God’s voice which is strong and majestic and which thunders over mighty waters, where God is enthroned.

Acts 19:1-7: Paul finds a group of believers in Ephesus who have been baptised with John’s baptism, but not with that of Christ. He explains that John’s points to the One who came after him, and they are baptised in the name of Jesus.

Mark 1:4-11: John the Baptiser baptises people in the Jordan River, calling them to repent. He preaches that One is coming after him who will baptise in the Holy Spirit.

The first Sunday after the Epiphany is always rich with symbolism and possibilities. This year the themes of water, creation and, of course, God’s Spirit all come together. In the creation account, we see God creating through the word and the Spirit who hovers over the waters. In the Psalm God is celebrated as awesome and mighty, enthroned over the waters with a thunderous voice. In Ephesians, the act of baptism in Christ’s name is seen to be a saving and empowering act, which brings the Ephesian believers into a new relationship with Christ beyond what they had experience through John’s baptism. Finally, in a wonderfully brief but powerful narrative, Mark describes Jesus being baptised, and receiving both God’s Spirit and God’s affirmation. There is so much here that it could easily become confusing to preach on the readings this week – there is the Trinitarian nature of both Christ’s baptism, and the creation account. There is the difference between John’s baptism and that of Jesus. It may be best, though, to allow the season of Epiphany to dictate the theme, in which case, God’s glory as revealed through Christ’s baptism would be a good focal point. What is significant here, is that God’s glory is primarily seen not in grand shows of supernatural miracle-working, or displays of grandeur and blinding light. Rather, in Mark’s Gospel, it seems, only Jesus sees the dove and hears the voice. For all others, God’s glory is revealed in a very human moment, where the One to whom John has been pointing stands with all humanity and receives the same baptism we do. In this way God’s glory is seen in Christ’s humanity, and Christ’s solidarity with the human race which is so loved by God. But, as the readings indicate, this coming of Christ is a creative act – an empowerment of Christ for his saving mission, but also a moment in which humanity is redefined, both because God has become human, but also because human beings are invited to experience God’s presence and to become one with God – as described in the experience of the Ephesians.

Global Application:
If there is anything our world needs, it’s to recognise God’s solidarity with us, to discern God’s glory in humanity – especially the poorest and most vulnerable – and to know the empowerment of God’s creative Spirit to address our challenges. At the start of a new year, the sense of possibility is a gift, but we face an uncertain year with many difficulties still requiring resolution. Despair and a sense of abandonment by God can easily derail our attempts to bring God’s grace and justice into people’s lives. We can take heart, however, from the knowledge of God’s presence with us in Christ, and from the inspiration, strength and creativity that we receive from God’s Spirit. With this in mind, the celebration of Christ’s baptism gives us an opportunity to renew our commitment to serve our world with hope, to call our leaders to justice and to increasing our efforts to serve and uplift the poor, the marginalised and the voiceless. In Christ’s solidarity with humanity, we find an example which calls us to solidarity with the suffering. The challenge is for us to be involved practically as well as financially or philosophically, in the work for justice, peace and equity. Perhaps this week is a good time to make a new commitment to some organisation or movement which is bringing positive change, and to commit to participate in advocacy work of some kind. But, perhaps it is also a time to build (or increase) specific actions into the lives of our communities that can get us involved in practical and creative ways with bringing change. One thing is sure, though. This week starts the year with a clear message that we cannot ignore justice issues in our following of Christ. We cannot avoid God’s gracious and compassionate concern for the least, and we cannot avoid the call to be participants in God’s creative, saving work in our world.

Local Application:
Too many church communities are simply meeting places for individuals who have little connection with each other. Baptism has become, for many, an individual experience with little connection to community or shared life. However, as Jesus demonstrates, baptism begins with Christ’s willingness to step into relationship and solidarity with us, and calls us into creative community with one another. The empowerment of God’s Spirit, then, is not just for the individual, but for the community, and for us to be creative in serving one another, and serving our neighbours. Baptism is always a mark of our belonging in God’s domain, and an empowerment for bringing God’s saving, restorative work into the lives of others. So, even as we celebrate Christ’s baptism, and the glory of God that is revealed through it, this week, may we also seek to celebrate one another, and learn to see God’s glory in each other, even as we stand together to serve those around us. Commitment to one another, and commitment to the wider community in which we, as church, operate are the marks of a Christ-following church, and are the calls which the Lectionary offers us this week.

God’s Ability
Partnering with God
Growing Together
God Speaks
The Voice

Hymn Suggestions:
O Love How Deep
All Creatures Of Our God And King
Breathe On Me Breath Of God
Here I Am To Worship (Link to YouTube video)
Mighty To Save (Link to YouTube video)
We Give Glory (Awesome Trinity)
All Who Are Thirsty (Link to YouTube video)

A Liturgy for the Sacrament

Video Suggestions:
Into the Jordan