Thursday, January 7, 2010

First Sunday after the Epiphany: The Baptism of the Lord Year C

First Sunday after the Epiphany: The Baptism of the Lord C
(Revised Common Lectionary)

Isaiah 43:1-7; Psalm 29; Acts 8: 14-17; Luke 3: 15-17, 21-22

Using the same verb for "create" as in Genesis for God's creation of all that is, the prophet-narrator in the tradition of Isaiah signals that the God of creation also "created" Jacob and "formed" Israel.  Because of this generous act of love, God's people are, therefore,  instructed to "not fear."  God called and named the chosen one/s, Israel.  The crisis in which God's people saw the extent of God's protection-- the "passage" "through the waters"-- that saved their lives and set them on the path from slavery to freedom results, the prophet declares, from the fact that God "loves" this people.  The larger, more venerable empires that surround Israel will be given by God "in exchange for you."  Those who live in diaspora due to past conquests of Israel will be gathered by God: "everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory, whom I formed and made."

Thunder over water at creation is a recurring theme among many cultures of the ancient near east.  The psalmist uses the theme and applies it to the Lord as creator.

In Luke's continuing narrative titled the Acts of the Apostles, the Holy Spirit retains the prominent role to break news to individual women and men and to the whole world as the ultimate sign of God's participation in and through the actions of individuals and all human history.  When the apostles learn that many in Samaria have believed and been baptized, they dispatch Peter and John to "lay hands" on those who have been baptized and thereby "receive the Holy Spirit." 

Luke's gospel account draws a distinction between two strong figures: John the Baptizer and Jesus.  The Baptizer himself says it:  I baptize you with water but "one who is more powerful than I am will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire."  Luke briefly describes the baptism by water of Jesus and "of all the people"  so he can quickly get to the climax of the scene: "the heaven was opened, and the Holy Spirit descended upon Jesus in bodily form like a dove.  And a voice came from  heaven, 'You are my Son, the Beloved: with you I am well pleased."  Jesus and all who love and follow him share God's love and designated roles in the world to advance God's reign.

Faith is a decision, a judgment, an investment.  Biblical faith invites/calls a person to reach the decision that life is a gift and that she is a beloved recipient as is every individual who is also to be regarded as a recipient.  Isaiah described God's motive as "love" that "forms and "shapes."  In Luke's narrative about the beginnings of the church, the lead actor in his drama, the Holy Spirit, is now bestowed on individuals by Peter and John who travel specifically to those who had been baptized to make sure they have this seal of status for themselves, family and community.  This is the same Holy Spirit whose appearance at the baptism of Jesus shatters mundane reality so that a "voice" from "heaven" can announce that Jesus is the "Son" and "Beloved."  In the work of Jesus and all the baptized, i.e. the church,  God's love is restless, indiscriminate, insistent, bold, busy, innovative and life-altering!  Jesus is the single clearest manifestation of God at work, but all who are baptized share this same work, too.  Each is named, shaped, formed, called by the same God who begat all creation and for the same motive-- love.

In the closing essay of the collection, The Visible and the Revealed, Jean-Luc Marion takes up this theme of the universal meaning of Christ for every individual.  He asks; "What does Jesus Christ, therefore, deliver to all, everywhere and always?"  And then answers:  "A nonobjective and saturated phenomenon without equal, one that would remain inaccessible without him-- love...."  The corollary that necessarily follows is that "...those who love God live in him , namely those who love each other....  This announcement becomes good news for innumerable reasons, and all time in the world would not suffice to proclaim or to celebrate it." (p. 152)  This is a bold claim which requires a decision about one's status and the status of all other persons.