Epiphany: Baptism of Jesus

15th January 2023

Reflection (readings below)

The Gospel story today is full of drama. Be amazed! Be in awe! This is an epiphany moment – the breaking of the true nature and identity of Jesus. In this moment earth and heaven are in perfect communion. Jesus is anointed with the Holy Spirit. Jesus is openly declared to be the Chosen One, the very unique and beloved Son of God. 

This is the chosen servant imagined in the words of Isaiah. This Chosen One would be as a covenant to the peoples, through whom salvation will be accomplished. Isaiah and the other prophets were all clear in their messages that salvation required justice. Salvation would be achieved through that justice that brings  healing for sick, sight to the blind, release for  prisoners and those trapped in darkness. 

I think that we and the churches too easily forget the importance of seeking justice – perhaps because  we can’t quite imagine how we can do this. Looking around our world there seems to be so much injustice. We only have to open our newspapers or turn on the television, to know that even in our own relatively affluent country, there are people who cannot afford to both eat and heat their homes; that there are people in employment who have to rely on food banks – and that includes nurses and teaching staff. We might have to read a little further and we would discover people who can either find an NHS dentist nor afford private treatment, farmers who cannot make a profit growing the food we eat, or people locked up 23 hours of the day because the prison system cannot afford sufficient staff.  

How indeed can we bring about justice in these situations? We can – as many churches do – support food banks. We can – as many of us do – donate winter fuel allowances to help run warm hubs. But justice needs more – system change. Change that will build in rather than exclude justice. Change that will equality and fairness the touch stone. Change that will always protect the vulnerable.

No one says that such change is easy to bring about. It can take  time and perseverance – something Isaiah clearly recognised. It will involve the transformation of the many systems that control our economic and social lives. Such change happens when opinions change, when tipping points are reached. The change often begins at the grass root level, and then grows. As Christians and church communities, we can call out and highlight injustice where we see it. We write to our bishops and our MPs and ask for change. We can be fact finders and information spreaders, ensuring that the truth about injustices and the need for justice becomes widespread. We can become campaigners and activists! We can, as St Paul, says be preachers of the Gospel –  empowering the good news of justice that underpins salvation and following the example of Jesus, God’s Chosen One. This is an awesome calling!

Isaiah 42:1-9

Here is my servant, whom I uphold,
my chosen, in whom my soul delights;

I have put my spirit upon him;
he will bring forth justice to the nations.

He will not cry or lift up his voice,
or make it heard in the street;

a bruised reed he will not break,
and a dimly burning wick he will not quench;
he will faithfully bring forth justice.

He will not grow faint or be crushed
until he has established justice in the earth;
and the coastlands wait for his teaching.

Thus says God, the Lord,
who created the heavens and stretched them out,
who spread out the earth and what comes from it,

who gives breath to the people upon it
and spirit to those who walk in it:

I am the Lord, I have called you in righteousness,
I have taken you by the hand and kept you;

I have given you as a covenant to the people,
a light to the nations,
to open the eyes that are blind,

to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon,
from the prison those who sit in darkness.

I am the Lord, that is my name;
my glory I give to no other,
nor my praise to idols.

See, the former things have come to pass,
and new things I now declare;

before they spring forth,
I tell you of them.

Psalm 29

1 Ascribe to the Lord, you gods, *
ascribe to the Lord glory and strength.

2 Ascribe to the Lord the glory due his Name; *
worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness.

3 The voice of the Lord is upon the waters;
the God of glory thunders; *
the Lord is upon the mighty waters.

4 The voice of the Lord is a powerful voice; *
the voice of the Lord is a voice of splendour.

5 The voice of the Lord breaks the cedar trees; *
the Lord breaks the cedars of Lebanon;

6 He makes Lebanon skip like a calf, *
and Mount Hermon like a young wild ox.

7 The voice of the Lord splits the flames of fire;
the voice of the Lord shakes the wilderness; *
the Lord shakes the wilderness of Kadesh.

8 The voice of the Lord makes the oak trees writhe *
and strips the forests bare.

9 And in the temple of the Lord *
all are crying, “Glory!”

10 The Lord sits enthroned above the flood; *
the Lord sits enthroned as King for evermore.

11 The Lord shall give strength to his people; *
the Lord shall give his people the blessing of peace.

Acts 10:34-43

Peter began to speak to them: “I truly understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him. You know the message he sent to the people of Israel, preaching peace by Jesus Christ–he is Lord of all. That message spread throughout Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John announced: how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power; how he went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him. We are witnesses to all that he did both in Judea and in Jerusalem. They put him to death by hanging him on a tree; but God raised him on the third day and allowed him to appear, not to all the people but to us who were chosen by God as witnesses, and who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one ordained by God as judge of the living and the dead. All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.”

Matthew 3:13-17

Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan, to be baptised by him. John would have prevented him, saying, “I need to be baptised by you, and do you come to me?” But Jesus answered him, “Let it be so now; for it is proper for us in this way to fulfil all righteousness.” Then he consented. And when Jesus had been baptised, 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. And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”

Author: Judith Russenberger

Environmentalist and theologian, with husband and three grown up children plus one cat, living in London SW14. I enjoy running and drinking coffee - ideally with a friend or a book.

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