By Barbara Klugh
Genesis 1:1-5; Psalm 29; Acts 19:1-7; Mark 1:4-11. Go to www.lectionarypage.net to read or print the weekly lectionary text. This week we have especially rich readings. We hear about the very beginning of creation, Paul performs a second baptism to “incomplete” Christians, and Jesus himself is baptized by John.
Epiphany: The word Epiphany comes from the Greek, meaning “to show forth” or “manifestation.” Sometimes called the Twelfth Day, the Feast of the Epiphany takes place on January 6 and celebrates the manifestation of Christ to the Gentiles, and, by extension, to the whole world. The Magi, or wise men, were the first non-Jews to have contact with Jesus, and they were aware of his divine nature. So the Epiphany “shows forth” that God’s promise of salvation includes all the people of the earth—even you, even me.
The First Sunday after the Epiphany always commemorates the Baptism of Jesus Christ. The season after the Epiphany continues until Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent.
Genesis 1:1-5: The Book of Genesis opens with beautiful poetry, a way of describing God’s divine power in the creation of the world. “In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the 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.”
The word for wind in Hebrew is ruach, meaning “breath,” “wind,” “spirit” and is, according to Strong’s Concordance, a feminine noun. To me that affirms that God is beyond gender.
“Then God said, ‘Let there be light’; and there was light. And God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness. God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day.” Thus God began to impose order and goodness on the dark chaos of the universe by calling light into existence. It’s fitting to include this text in this light-filled season of the Church Year.
Psalm 29: Likely an adaptation of a Canaanite hymn to Baal, the storm god, this week’s psalm is an enthronement psalm or hymn that praises the Lord’s glory, power, strength, and supremacy. Verses 1 and 2 invite all the other gods (or heavenly beings) in the Lord’s court to “ascribe to the Lord glory and strength.” The voice of the Lord thunders in earthquake and fire, but the Lord also bestows blessings upon his people. The psalm concludes, “The Lord shall give strength to his people, the Lord shall give his people the blessing of peace.”
Acts 19:1-7: This week’s reading takes place in Ephesus during Paul’s third missionary journey and involves about twelve disciples. When Paul met them something must have prompted him to ask, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you became believers?” It turned out that they had been baptized “into John’s baptism” of repentance, but had no knowledge or experience of the Holy Spirit. So Paul baptized them “in the name of Jesus” and laid his hands on them. Immediately the Holy Spirit came upon them and they received gifts of the Spirit. They spoke in tongues and prophesied.
This is the only recorded incident of a second baptism in the New Testament. Before this second baptism they had a partial or incomplete understanding of faith; they were missing out on the reality of new life in Christ, and the strength and power of the Holy Spirit to help them to grow into greater Christlikeness.
Mark 1:4-11: You may remember in our reading for the second week of Advent we were introduced to John the Baptist. He was the long-awaited prophet who preached a baptism of repentance, and who told of the one more powerful than him who will baptize with the Holy Spirit.
In this week’s reading Jesus came from Nazareth and was baptized by John in the Jordan River. “And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart [perhaps a foreshadowing of the Crucifixion] and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. And a voice came from heaven, ‘You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.’”
Why was Jesus baptized, since he was without sin? William Barclay suggests that Jesus’ baptism served four purposes: It was for Jesus “the moment of decision.” After living in Nazareth for thirty years, his time had come. It was “the moment of identification,” where Jesus aligned himself with the movement of bringing people back to God. It was the moment of approval; Jesus heard from God, “You are my beloved Son.” And it was the moment of equipment. The Holy Spirit descended upon him, equipping him for his ministry.
The interpretation I like best is that of Bishop Maximus of Turin who preached in the fifth century. He said, “Christ is baptized, not to be made holy by the water, but to make the water holy, and by his cleansing to purify the waters which he touched….For when the Savior is washed, all water for our baptism is made clean, purified at its source for the dispensing of baptismal grace to the people of future ages.”