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Friday, January 7, 2011

Sunday Readings for the Celebration of the Baptism of our Lord

"In other words, Matthew focuses our attention on Jesus as one before whom we shall have to give account. Whether we think of that in traditional terms of a day of judgement or in more existential ways, the message is clear: in facing up to him we are to face up to ourselves."

"First Thoughts on Year A Gospel Passages in the Lectionary: Baptism of Jesus,"William Loader, Murdoch University, Uniting Church in Australia.
Matthew 3:13-17 13Then Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan, to be baptized by him. 14John would have prevented him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” 15But Jesus answered him, “Let it be so now; for it is proper for us in this way to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he consented. 16And when Jesus had been baptized, just as he came up from the water, suddenly the heavens were opened to him and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. 17And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”

A Little Bit for Everyone

Some interesting articles on this passage:
As we celebrate today the mystery of Jesus' baptism in the river Jordan, renew in us our own baptism: pattern our lives on this Christ, your chosen one, the Child on whom your favor rests, the Beloved with whom you are well pleased.

From Prayers for Sunday and Seasons, Year A, Peter J. Scagnelli, LTP, 1992.

Some thoughts...

The Gospel is one directly related to Mark's account and this connection helps us to understand the import of Jesus' baptism to the earliest of Christians.  It is also important in continuing the theme we spoke of during Advent which is the increasing importance and role of the prime actor Jesus in the Gospel narrative and the ever shrinking role of John the Baptist.

Certainly the connection between Jesus' baptism and our own has brought with it questions about the baptism of the Holy Spirit and the baptism by water. But I am not interested in this debate, but rather the importance and meaning this story has for the person of Jesus.  We are able through the lens of Jesus' baptism to understand how he was viewed by his first followers. It is all to easy to get focussed on us and to preach this Sunday on the meaning of our baptism.  This gospel lesson is essentially a lesson about Christology.

It is the heavenly voice who makes clear that this is God's Son.

Daniel Harrington writes and gives an explanation for naming this passage the "Jesus made manifest": attempt has been made to be faithful tot eh focus of the biblical account -- the manifestation of Jesus' identity at the very beginning of his public ministry.  The baptism of jesus by John in the Jordan River is the occaion for the identification of Jesus by the voice from heaven.  Matthew agreed with the other evangelists in this Christological emphasis.

We are given here several other ways to understand the person of Jesus: Son, servant, inaugurator of the new exodus and creation, and the one who fulfills all righteousness.

In our passage today we see these themes continued.  Jesus who climbs out of the water is the new Adam (John of Nazianzus -Davies, Matthew, vol 1, 345) and like the creation narrative itself he rises out of the waters of chaos.  Jesus' own Red Sea deliverance in baptism reminds us too of the Exodus story.  Remember, this story exists in between the flight to Egypt and his journey into the desert to be tested.

We have a unique opportunity in this cycle to read the story of Matthew's Gospel and to recognize that our baptisms and life as Christians are unique only in that they are deeply connected with the very person of Jesus Christ.  It is in his identity, in our own Christology that our lives and our ministry have meaning.  It will be all to tempting to move quickly into our own baptismal imagery in our preaching. However, we may miss an incredible opportunity to speak to the personhood of Christ and his mission in the world. 

I draw our attention to our own Catechism and invite you to consider the questions and answers as they relate in a clear line from Jesus' own personhood and mission to our understanding of ourselves in the waters of baptism.

Q. What do we mean when we say that Jesus is the only
Son of God?
A We mean that Jesus is the only perfect image of the
Father, and shows us the nature of God.
Q. What is the nature of God revealed in Jesus?
A. God is love.
Q. What do we mean when we say that Jesus was
conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit and became
incarnate from the Virgin Mary?
A. We mean that by God's own act, his divine Son received
our human nature from the Virgin Mary, his mother. 

 Q. Why did he take our human nature?
A. The divine Son became human, so that in him human
beings might be adopted as children of God, and be
made heirs of God's kingdom.
Q. How can we share in his victory over sin, suffering, and
A. We share in his victory when we are baptized into the
New Covenant and become living members of Christ.

Q. What is Holy Baptism?
A. Holy Baptism is the sacrament by which God adopts us
as his children and makes us members of Christ's Body,
the Church, and inheritors of the kingdom of God.
My hope is that we might this Sunday lift our eyes from our own waters of baptism to the heavens and draw apart the veil and explore with our members who we say Jesus is and how his uniqueness in the family of God provides the salvific Good News of God's loving embrace for all people.

The Lambeth Bible Study Method
This Bible study method was introduced by the African Delegation to the Lambeth Conference of the Anglican Church. It is known by both names: "Lambeth" and "African." This method is derived from the practice of Lectio Divina. The entire process should take about 30 minutes.
Question #5: "Briefly identify where this passage touches their life today," can change based upon the lesson. Find lesson oriented questions at this website:
Opening Prayer: O Blessed Lord, who caused all Holy Scripture to be written for our learning. Grant us so to hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them that we may embrace and hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life, which you have given us in our savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
1. One person reads passage. This person then invites a member of the group to begin the process.
2. Each person briefly identifies the word or phrase that catches their attention then invites another person to share.
3. Each shares the word or phrase until all have shared or passed using the same invitation method.
4. The passage is read a second time, preferably from a different translation. The reader then invites a person in the group to begin the process.
5. Each person briefly identifies where this passage touches their life today, and then invites someone who has not shared yet.
6. The passage is read a third time, also from another translation, and the reader invites a person to start the process.
7. Each person responds to the questions, "What does God want me to do, to be or to change?"
8. The group stands up in a circle and holds hands. One person initiates the prayer “I thank God today for …” and “I ask God today for…” The prayer goes around the circle by squeezing the hand to your right.

9. When the circle is fulfilled, the person who initiated the prayer starts the Lord’s Prayer, “Our father…”

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