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Baptism (C)

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Readings for the Celebration of the Baptism of the Lord, Cycle C

 

1. Isaiah 40, 1-5 and 9-11

  • Today I hear the words with which Handel began The Messiah.  Indeed I can take my cue from that oratorio and its forthright style.
  • I hear three oracles that are loosely connected, and that build toward encounter with God in Zion.  The first message is as clear and assuring as can be.  Comfort, give comfort.  I hear these encouraging words of deliverance, placed in God’s  voice, and I will find the way to bring them up to date for our congregation. 
  • Then comes another voice that cries out: In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord!  I think of the vast road building projects of the Roman Empire and the Camino Real in Spanish America, each of which linked scattered populations with the great metropolis.  Today we remember those who were scattered after the Babylonian exile, and God’s command for them to return to the Promised Land.  I will use my voice today to remind our own scattered people to walk home in spirit through filled in valleys, lowered mountains and hills, and flattened plains. 
  • Finally we acknowledge the presence of God with the whole people in Jerusalem: Here comes with power the Lord God.  Why shouldn’t I dare to Cry out at the top of your voice?  Amid the exhausted days of post-Christmas. we bear witness to the God who is always present with the people of the covenant.
  • High point: It comes at the beginning with the repetition of Comfort, give comfort.
  • Climax: A new and more imposing theophany than the people ever knew in the days of the two kingdoms.  Here is your God! 
  • Message for our assembly: Let us regain our focus on the faithful God who came to share our humanity, at a time when we are exceedingly distracted by other worldly tasks.
  • I will challenge myself: To catch the cry of comfort, to make it infectious for my listeners by sustaining my own joy.

2. Titus 2, 11-14 and 3, 4-7

  • I have already heard these two passages on Christmas night and morningBut in fact we are always in the final days as these letters say, watchful and awaiting the return of Jesus.  And so the apostle reminds us: We await the blessed hope, the appearance of the glory of our great God and savior Jesus Christ. 
  • The hymn we proclaim now prompts us to follow a measured way of life, living temperately, justly and devoutly in this age.  I note the words reject godless ways and worldly desires, eager to do what is good. 

  • Sometimes people ask us to summarize our faith in a single sentence.  Impossible?  The letter to Titus gives us two formulas.  Here is our 40-second catechism.
  • In the two creeds that have the most acceptance among Christians, we focus our attention on God first and foremost.  We speak of ourselves in a derivative way, as the created ones, the saved ones, the forgiven ones, and the ones who are to be raised on the last day.  In this shorter and simpler creed, we share the stage with God.  I mean to say that the God revealed to Moses – the God who will be with us – is the God we celebrate in this passage.  We are the reason for God’s acting with kindness and generous love.  The apostle states the first person plural five times.  I want my listeners to hear all of them.
  • We celebrate God’s presence among us, and we renounce any notion that God our savior could possibly be absent from the world.  Listen to all these reassuring words of action: save, renew, pour out, justify. 
  • God’s generous love is not vacuous, or merely full of good feeling like ours so often is.  It shows itself in all these ways. 
  • Climax: He saved us through the bath of rebirth and renewal.  The pace of the reading picks up with those words, as we hear of the baptism of the Holy Spirit.
  • The message for our assembly: Let us direct our attention to Christ, the sign of the grace of God and the one who gave himself for us to deliver us.
  • I will challenge myself: To read this short catechism with meaning and with attention to the Christ connection: through Jesus Christ our savior.

 Gospel - Luke 3, 15-16 and 21-22

  • In each of the Gospels, the climax is the declaration that this Jesus is my sonWhenever I say it, with its accompanying images of the heavens torn open and the Spirit descending, I raise the account to the level of God's presence.
  • The message for our assembly: to identify with Jesus through our own baptism.
  • I will challenge myself: to represent the wondrous appearance of God to Jesus, as I in my life have been blessed with a sense of God's presence.
  • All the evangelists report the baptism of Jesus at the beginning of his ministry.  Luke tells the event in the presence of all the people, and I want to do the same.
  • First comes the expectation and questioning in their hearts concerning John.  John answers: One mightier than I is comingHe will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.  Let me give the congregation a sense of that expectation.
  • Then all the people were baptized.  Among them was Jesus who had been baptized and was praying.
  • Jesus receives the revelation, seeing heaven opened, sensing the Holy Spirit descending upon him in bodily form like a dove, hearing a voice from heaven.

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