This upcoming Sunday, we will celebrate Baptism of Our Lord Sunday, where we hear one of the accounts of Jesus being baptized by John the Baptist in the Jordan River. As we commemorate Jesus' baptism, we are reminded of our own baptisms...or, if we are not baptized, perhaps we feel a renewed tug to the font, a new invitation to be baptized.
What about you? What do you hear when you read these passages? What questions are you left with? What do you notice this time around that you have overlooked in the past? You can share your responses in the comments below! My comments will be in italics after each passage (all Bible passages are from the New Revised Standard Version or NRSV).
Genesis 1:1 - 5
1In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, 2the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters. 3Then God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light. 4And God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness. 5God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day.
Genesis 1 is the first day of the Creation story. The light is born and is separated from the darkness. We hear echoes of this in John 1: “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness does not overcome it.” Otherwise, it’s just kind of there.
1 Ascribe to the LORD, O heavenly beings, ascribe to the LORD glory and strength.
2 Ascribe to the LORD the glory of his name; worship the LORD in holy splendor.
3 The voice of the LORD is over the waters; the God of glory thunders, the LORD, over mighty waters.
4 The voice of the LORD is powerful; the voice of the LORD is full of majesty.
5 The voice of the LORD breaks the cedars; the LORD breaks the cedars of Lebanon.
6 He makes Lebanon skip like a calf, and Sirion like a young wild ox.
7 The voice of the LORD flashes forth flames of fire.
8 The voice of the LORD shakes the wilderness; the LORD shakes the wilderness of Kadesh.
9 The voice of the LORD causes the oaks to whirl, and strips the forest bare; and in his temple all say, "Glory!"
10 The LORD sits enthroned over the flood; the LORD sits enthroned as king forever.
11 May the LORD give strength to his people! May the LORD bless his people with peace!
Psalm 29 emphasizes the Lord’s power over creation. It goes well with the reading of the Creation story, but how does it play with Mark’s account of Jesus’ baptism?
Acts 19:1 - 7
1While Apollos was in Corinth, Paul passed through the interior regions and came to Ephesus, where he found some disciples. 2He said to them, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you became believers?” They replied, “No, we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit.” 3Then he said, “Into what then were you baptized?” They answered, “Into John’s baptism.” 4Paul said, “John baptized with the baptism of repentance, telling the people to believe in the one who was to come after him, that is, in Jesus.” 5On hearing this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. 6When Paul had laid his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came upon them, and they spoke in tongues and prophesied—7altogether there were about twelve of them.
Acts 19 extends the discussion of the differences between John’s baptism and what we have been given as the sacrament of baptism. John’s baptism was a form of confession and repentance. Baptism in the name of the Lord is the Lord’s action, making the salvation that comes through the Cross and the Resurrection applicable to us as individuals and bonding us to the rest of the Body of Christ.
Mark 1:4 - 11
4John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. 5And people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him, and were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. 6Now John was clothed with camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. 7He proclaimed, “The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals. 8I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”
9In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. 10And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. 11And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”
During the Advent season, we heard the portion about John himself. The new part of the story is the baptism of Jesus. The Gospel of Mark does not waste much time in telling the story: Jesus arrives, John baptizes Jesus, the Spirit descends, a voice is heard, the end. Then, Jesus is driven into the wilderness…but that’s for February. Certainly, the arrival of the Spirit is the key moment. Perhaps we can connect this to the arrival of the Spirit in Acts 19 and spin something out of that…
Returning to the Acts 19 and Mark 1 passages: We can make the point about the differences between John’s baptism and the Lord’s baptism by pointing to our practices regarding bathing and confession. We bathe on a regular basis to keep ourselves clean. We confess our sins at the beginning of most worship services (and preferably at other times during the week as well). While John’s baptism primarily marked entry into a community of disciples, it is a baptism that would need be repeated regularly when used as a ritual form of confession and forgiveness. The Lord’s baptism is different: it is a one-time event that we cannot erase or invalidate (though sometimes we may lose the meaning of baptism). In baptism, we are united with Christ and initiated into the community of the Church. We may wander from the community, or we may feel like we are separated from Christ, but we do not need to be re-baptized to re-establish our connection with Christ or re-enter the community of the Church.