January 8, 2022 • Life for Leaders
Scripture – Luke 3:15-17, 21-22 (NRSV)
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 baptize 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 baptize 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 baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized 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.”
As we hear the stories of Jesus’s miracles and sermons and journeys and friendships and daily life, which the lectionary will share with us over the next weeks of the season after Epiphany, let us remember that Jesus comes not only to preach, to teach, and to heal—but also to save.
As I talked about both last year and yesterday, Christians have historically celebrated this first Sunday after Epiphany as honoring the Baptism of the Lord. The main theological reason for starting off the season after Epiphany with Christ’s baptism is that, though the arrival of the Magi marks the beginning of Christ’s manifestation to the Gentiles, for quite a long time after that—28 years, if we hold to the traditional view that the Magi visited when Jesus was 2 and he was baptized at the age of 30—nothing much happened to Jesus in terms of any obvious manifestation of glory.
Jesus grew up, raised by Mary and Joseph. We have just a couple of stories from when he was a baby (Luke 2:22-39) and a pre-teen (Luke 2:41-42), and we know that he followed his father’s trade and became a carpenter. But what the church has traditionally called his “public ministry” began at 30 when he showed up to be baptized by his cousin John (a story told in all four gospels: the lectionary gives us Luke’s version this year.) Was he in ministry during those quiet years as he grew, made friends, learned a trade, and learned Torah? Yes—the same kind of everyday ministry, dealing with friends and neighbors in our daily work, that so many of us are involved in. But when he was 30, God’s calling on his life changed, and a different kind of epiphany began.
Luke’s story of Jesus’s baptism focuses mostly on John the Baptist’s prophecy of who Jesus is; it doesn’t report the conversation between John and Jesus that we find in Matthew 3:13-15. In Luke’s story, John the Baptist calls himself the forerunner of one who is to come, who will powerfully baptize us with the Holy Spirit and fire (Luke 3:16). Then in Luke 3:21, Jesus simply appears, already baptized, as the Holy Spirit descends on him. Thus commissioned, he is ready to begin preaching and traveling and healing—and, eventually, walking the road to the Cross.
For, after all, this epiphany is not simply a glorious appearing for its own sake. Just as the thirty years of quiet growth had purpose, this public beginning of a different kind of manifestation has purpose. As we hear the stories of Jesus’s miracles and sermons and journeys and friendships and daily life, which the lectionary will share with us over the next weeks of the season after Epiphany, let us remember that Jesus comes not only to preach, to teach, and to heal—but also to save. To save us, and all humankind.
How has Jesus’s glory been manifest in your daily life?
How can you manifest his glory to others?
Often in my tradition, on both Baptism of the Lord Sunday and the last Sunday before Lent when we celebrate the Transfiguration, we sing a hymn called “Songs of Thankfulness and Praise.” It lists many of the miracles performed by Jesus in his public ministry, culminating with the grand miracle of Easter, and always with a refrain reminding us that Jesus is “God in man made manifest.” I share it with you today as a gift for the Epiphany journey; listen and worship.
Lord, may your glory shine forth in all I do. Amen.
Find all Life for Leaders devotions here. Explore what the Bible has to say about work at the unique website of our partners, the High Calling archive, hosted by the Theology of Work Project. Reflection on today’s Life for Leaders theme can be found here: Epiphany: The Appearing of God in Jesus Christ and Through Us
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Jennifer Woodruff Tait (PhD, Duke University) is the editor of and frequent contributor to Life for Leaders. She is also the managing editor of Christian History magazine and web editor for the Theology of Work Project, and a priest in the Episcopal Church. She has written a book of poetry, Histories of Us. Jennifer lives in Berea, Kentucky, with her husband, Edwin, and their two daughters.
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