The Old Testament reading for today comes from a portion of Isaiah that scholars call Second Isaiah. It was written near the end of the Hebrews’ Babylonian exile and is replete with themes of doxological praise of God’s sovereignty, hope and assurance, comfort and promise. Verse 2 speaks of God’s power over waters and is reminiscent of the Red Sea waters the Hebrews were obligated to pass through to leave behind their enslavement in Egypt. These waters will not overwhelm them any more than the waters of the Red Sea did – nor will any fire consume them!
Through this text, God is speaking directly to the reader, assuring us that he is with us, reminding us that he created us and redeemed us. God will gather us from all corners of the earth – from all places of physical, spiritual, or emotional exile – because we are precious to him. “Fear not! Fear not!” God continues to tell us – we were created for his glory!
Yes, this is a powerful and salvific Creator God – but even more, this is an intimate God who calls us by name and claims us as his own. This is a God who manifests himself through deep relationship with his people.
- From what place of exile has God gathered you, or from what place does God need to gather you? Is it a physical, spiritual or emotional exile?
- How do we respond today to God’s desire to be in relationship with us? How can we live our lives today in a way that reflects God’s glory?
Again, on this Sunday when the Church celebrates the Baptism of our Lord, there are more images of water in our scripture readings. The psalmist is comparing God with a powerful thunderstorm, a common image for a theophany. “Theophanies” are manifestations of God, one of the means by which God enters directly into human lives and events. Most theophanies get people’s attention, whether God speaks out of a burning bush, a thunderstorm, a chance encounter, a sunset or headline news. Regardless of the form in which they come, theophanies first force us to stop, look and listen – and they generally require us to respond.
- Do theophanies happen today? What do they look like? Have you ever experienced a theophany? How did you respond?
At first reading, it appears this scripture is our only one today without a reference to water. But read a little more closely. The Samaritans had been baptized – but the manifestation of the Holy Spirit so tightly linked to the receipt of baptism in the early church was not present. Peter and John had to come and lay hands on the already-baptized Samaritans. Is Acts telling us that we sometimes require a second washing, a second touch?
Baptism is a one-time event when a person is united with Christ and his church. Through submergence in the baptismal waters, we are united with Christ in his death and resurrection. The power of sin is broken, and we receive a new identity in Christ. No second, third or fourth baptism is required!
But because of our proclivity to sin, to live self-absorbed rather than “God-absorbed” lives, a “second” baptism of sorts may be needed. This “second touch” can be understood as the conversion of our hearts, a process that begins with our baptism and does not end until our death when we are drawn into the very heart of God.
- Have you experienced a “conversion of the heart?” Has a theophany led you to a deeper experience of God, one that requires you to re-evaluate your priorities, your way of living in this world? How do you draw, or are drawn, closer to the heart of God?
Luke 3:15-17, 21-22
John the Baptist is quick to clarify his identity. The people had misidentified him as the Messiah, the longed-for king and Son of God who would transform their lives and their world. No, says John, I only have water – a mere symbol for cleansing – while the Messiah who is to come will be manifest by Spirit and fire.
The scene in verses 21-22 at the Jordan River is the first manifestation of the three-in-one persons of the Godhead: God the Father’s voice spoke from heaven, God the Son was baptized, and God the Spirit descended upon Jesus in the form of a dove. It is here that God the Father not only proclaims Jesus’ identity to the world but also God the Holy Spirit is sent to empower Jesus for ministry.
- Have we ever “misidentified” our Messiah? Has God proclaimed your identity? What ministry has God empowered you to do?