9th January 2022
Thus says the Lord,
he who created you, O Jacob,
he who formed you, O Israel:
Do not fear, for I have redeemed you;
I have called you by name, you are mine.
When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;
and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you;
when you walk through fire you shall not be burned,
and the flame shall not consume you.
For I am the Lord your God,
the Holy One of Israel, your Saviour.
I give Egypt as your ransom,
Ethiopia and Seba in exchange for you.
Because you are precious in my sight,
and honoured, and I love you,
I give people in return for you,
nations in exchange for your life.
Do not fear, for I am with you;
I will bring your offspring from the east,
and from the west I will gather you;
I will say to the north, “Give them up,”
and to the south, “Do not withhold;
bring my sons from far away
and my daughters from the end of the earth–
everyone who is called by my name,
whom I created for my glory,
whom I formed and made.”
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.
When the apostles at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had accepted the word of God, they sent Peter and John to them. The two went down and prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit (for as yet the Spirit had not come upon any of them; they had only been baptised in the name of the Lord Jesus). Then Peter and John laid their hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit.
Luke 3:15-17, 21-22
As the people were filled with expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Messiah, John answered all of them by saying, “I baptise you with water; but one who is more powerful than I is coming; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandals. He will baptise you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”
Now when all the people were baptised, and when Jesus also had been baptised and was praying, the heaven was opened, and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”
Last week, Epiphany Sunday, we heard of the glory of God that rises above us when we are in darkness and which draws together the peoples of all nations along with the abundance that the earth has to offer. And we had the image of the star shining down over Bethlehem where God had become incarnate as a human child, attracting the attention and the worship of kings and the offering of gifts on such as scale as to unnerve the then Judean King, Herod.
Today’s psalm looks to the natural world to describe the glory of God. This glory – this weightiness, this honourableness, this splendour, this abundance and dignity (recall how rich the Hebrew word is) – is like the thunder of falling water, the breaking of cedar branches (think of the strength needed and the loud cracking noise), the liveliness of hills and calves, the energy of fire and storms! This description of glory sounds both energising and terrifying. Yet Isaiah also talks about the glory of God. He tells us that we humans are loved by God, that God knows us and calls us by name, and that he has made us for his glory! We should not underestimate how wonderful humanity can be, nor the the power of God’s presence. God knows how risky and dangerous and unpredictable life can be, and therefore God will always be there for us.
The ministry of John the Baptist was equally electrifying and terrifying. A figure standing out in the wilderness challenging people to reflect on the quality, the rightness of their lives, to be honest and own up to their failings, their greed, their apathy. His earnest desire was that they should not be going unprepared when the glory of God would appear in their midst. He doused those who were repentant with water to assure them that their past sins were expunged – but he also warned them of complacency.
‘I may be washing your sins away, he said, but beware that you do reform your lives, because there is one who is coming who will deal not in water but with fire! His will baptise with the Holy Spirit!’
The writer of the gospel then tells us of Jesus’s own baptism. The heavens break open and he is filled with the Holy Spirit and a voice from heaven You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”
To be baptised with the Holy Spirit is to filled by – engulfed by – the glory of God. It is to experience that God know us and call us by name. It is to be empowered to live life as God’s children.
The word Greek word translated as open also has the meaning of disclose which is a reminder to us that this is the season of Epiphany. Let us be willing this season to be open to the wonder – even the shock – of the glory of God that is being revealed to us. And to let that glory transform the way we respond both to God, to our neighbour and to the world around us.