Revised Common Lectionary: Isaiah 42:1-9; Psalm 29; Acts 10:34-43; Matthew 3:13-17
Narrative Lectionary: Jesus’s Baptism, Matthew 3:1-17 (Psalm 2:7-8)
Isaiah 42:1-9 is one of the Suffering Servant songs of Second Isaiah, in which the people of Israel are personified as God’s servant who have suffered on behalf of all people. Through the people, God will bring forth justice to all nations, and all nations will see what God has done for them. God is the creator of the whole earth, but the people of Israel are the ones God has chosen to show the world, to be a light to the nations. What God promised in the past has come to be, and what God is doing now, God will tell Israel before it even happens. God is faithful and just to the people.
Psalm 29 is a call to worship, calling the heavenly beings and all of creation to worship God and to be amazed by God’s holiness and splendor. The psalmist uses the forces of creation—water, wind, fire and earth—to show God’s power and might and how God reigns over creation. When we are in the awesome power of our God, we tremble in awe, calling out, “Glory!” Nonetheless, God reigns forever, and grants peace to God’s people.
Acts 10:34-43 takes place after Peter beheld a vision in which God commanded him to eat foods that Peter had previously known as unclean. In the vision, God told him not to call profane what God had made clean. Meanwhile, Cornelius, a Roman Centurion, had been told to go see Peter, for he believed in Jesus. In these verses, Peter has made the connection with his vision and the visit of Cornelius that God’s good news is for all people, that God shows no partiality. Christ has come for everyone, from every nation. While Christ was raised and this was witnessed by those who were faithful, they were also commanded to share the good news and to testify about him.
The first twelve verses of Matthew 3 were the reading for the second Sunday of Advent, and we circle back on this Sunday as we observe the Baptism of the Lord. Matthew’s account is the only one in which John questions if he should baptize Jesus, because doesn’t he himself need to be baptized by Jesus? Jesus tells John he needs to do so, to fulfill all righteousness, and then John consented. Jesus, born as a human, also needs to enter the water and muck of human life. The Jordan River was where the people washed their clothes and bathed and cleaned their dishes. It was where the people gathered to care for the mundane, dirty part of their life, and here Christ comes to meet the people. Not to have power over, but to become one with us. John agrees that this should be so, and as Jesus is baptized, the Spirit of God descends like a dove, a voice sharing God is pleased by this. This act of righteousness is an act of trust in God, by both John and Jesus, and trusting one another. Jesus is placing his very body into John’s hands in an act of mutual trust and consent, showing that God is relating to us in a new, different way than we have understood before. (You can find more thoughts on this act of consent in Judson Bible Lessons Journeys for Winter 2022-2023 from Judson Press).
The Narrative Lectionary also focuses on the Baptism of Jesus in Matthew but includes the prior verses. The writers of all four Gospel accounts link John the Baptist to Second Isaiah, where in 40:3 the prophet declares that a voice cries out from the wilderness. Second Isaiah was writing of the time when the people returned from exile in Babylon, around 520 B.C.E. However, the Gospel writers identify this as John centuries later, who came from the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. Some scholars believe John may have been part of the Essenes, a group of Jews who gathered near the Dead Sea and prepared for the Day of the Lord to come. They had similar practices of not eating meat, and the Jewish practice of the mikveh, a ritual cleansing in water immersion, was practiced more rigorously by the Essenes. John came from the wilderness and proclaimed this baptism, and people from all along the Jordan came to him. However, when some of the Sadducees and Pharisees, two other different Jewish groups, came to be baptized, John warned them not to rely on their identity or ancestry, but that they must go through the inner transformation, to bear fruit worthy of repentance. John declared that one was coming after him who was more powerful, one whose axe lay at the foot of the tree and whose winnowing fork was on the threshing floor. The one coming after John would work on them and they might not like it, for anything bad would be cut off, anything chaff would be torn from the wheat and would be burned. In other words, the one coming after John was coming to purify and cleanse. The masks any of us wear for the world, the things we hide behind—our religious identity, our lineage, wealth, power—whatever it is, it will not hold up to the truth of God—it will be torn away. We can’t hide who we are from God. Too often we want to hide our faults and shortcomings. But if we allow God to work in us, God can help us bear good fruit.
Psalm 2:7-8 is part of a psalm praising God and warning against other nations who plot against Israel that they are plotting against God. In verses 7-8, the psalmist declares a vision in which God, in appointing the king, uses the phrase “begotten son” to show God’s favor and divine appointment.
As we have entered this season after Epiphany, we read the Gospel accounts that reveal who Christ is to the world. At Christ’s baptism, Christ is made known to us in the act of his baptism, of his consenting to be as human as any of us, not exploiting the power of God but emptying himself in humility (Philippians 2:5-11). Throughout this season we will read of Jesus’s teachings, the call of the first disciples and Jesus’s first sermons, but it is in this act that Jesus grounds himself in our humanity, going down into the river with all of us.
Call to Worship (from Isaiah 42:9)
See, the former things have come to pass,
And new things God now declares;
Before they spring forth,
God speaks to us, now.
This is the Good News:
Jesus joins us in the tumultuous waters of our lives.
You are God’s beloved children.
May we worship and love our Lord Jesus Christ.
Prayer of Brokenness/Confession
Living Water, we know that You have entered our humanity by joining us in the waters of baptism, yet we deny humanity to others. We have our fill while others lack food and clean water and shelter. We draw boundaries on maps and determine who receives aid while others go without. We make arbitrary divisions based on race and gender and dehumanize those who do not fit our image, instead of looking to Your image. Call us into Your ways, O God, to remember that we are made by You, and that You call us into the waters of birth and rebirth, to remember our common humanity and that we are Your beloved children. May we remember, may we repair and restore what we have broken, and work to live into Your ways, O Christ, our Living Water. Amen.
Blessing/Assurance (from Acts 10:34-35)
The Apostle Peter once said, “I truly understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears God and does what is right is acceptable to God.” God loves us all and calls us to erase the divisions we have created to proclaim the good news to everyone, but more importantly, to live into it. Go forth sharing in the work of reparation and restoration, knowing that God loves you and calls you Beloved. Amen.
Spirit of Life, as we enter this new year, we give You thanks for all the ways You have remained faithful to us. Guide us into this new year to live into Your intention for our lives. Keep us from the ways of this world that tempt us to put our desires above the needs of others, and lead us into the way of Your love and care for our earth and each other. May we remember that before the whole year springs forth, You whisper us the promise of new life now. You give us hope in every moment, whether we hold our resolutions or not, because You call us Your beloved children. We know we belong to You; we are Yours, now and forever. Amen.