Through the Waters to New Life

The Christmas season closes with the feast of the Baptism of the Lord. This is not the end of things, but rather the beginning. The readings remind us that the one born of our flesh is the servant of God—the very Son of God—who brings a promise of justice and hope to a world in desperate need.

John’s baptism was “for the repentance of sins.” We might wonder why the sinless Jesus would submit himself to it. Commentators maintain that Jesus’ baptism was for him a kind of ritual entry into his ministry. To this God gave divine approval: “I am well pleased.”

According to Isaiah, the ministry is concerned with justice for all and tenderness toward those who have been broken. According to Acts, the disciples of Jesus widen the scope of that ministry to include the household of the Gentile Cornelius. That same ministry, with the same divine approval, has now been given to us. Our own baptism brought us into the circle of the children of God and commissioned us to continue the work begun by Jesus. And what might this entail?

We live in a time of great unrest. The world seems poised on the brink of chaos; businesses and individuals face financial instability; the turmoil within the church threatens its longstanding foundation. No one is untouched by some form of the chaos that threatens to swallow us alive. Where can we turn when the institutions meant to give refuge from chaos are themselves the source of its threat?

In the Bible, chaos is frequently portrayed as unruly water threatening to wipe out every living thing (for example, the flood in Genesis). Today’s psalm reminds us in no uncertain terms: “The Lord is enthroned above the flood.” It assures us that God rules over the chaos in which we find ourselves. The response invites us to trust in God; Isaiah offers us a plan for restoring order; Acts challenges us to continue the work of Jesus. As he came forth from the waters of the Jordan, his life took a new direction. As his followers, we emerge from the waters of baptism as new people, who with God’s help are willing to counter the chaos of our world.

On this day we do not look back to Christmas, but forward to the task ahead, trusting that some day it may be said of us, “Here is my servant whom I uphold.”

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