Readings Gen 1:1-5 and Luke 3:10-22
Image, JMW Turner, Study of Sea and Sky (1823–6)
The baptism of Jesus occurs against a backdrop of injustice, amidst calls to redistribute wealth, lay aside profit, and fight corruption, and within a growing sense of religious fervour and political hope. The people were filled with expectation and hopes that John might be the messiah, and yet he is violently swept off the scene.
This is a stark difference to the peaceful quiet beginning, when the Spirit of God hovered over the waters. When God, uncontested and unrivalled, slowly and sublimely spoke the world into being. Where God once looked on creation and saw that all was good… now, Christ walks among this creation looking upon despots and desperation.
Toward the end of that first account of creation human beings are created in the image of God. We bear God’s image and in doing so are called to live as God’s emissaries on earth. Like still waters our lives should reflect the image of the Holy One, on earth as it is in heaven… and yet generations of struggle and strife have muddied the waters, the reflection is disrupted as rough tides occlude the vision of the sky above.
So Christ comes to the river. The eternal Word, through whom all things came into being, comes to be with us. Jesus comes as the image of the invisible God so that if we should struggle to reflect that image, or fail to see it in another’s visage, we can look to Christ. In an act of new creation, Christ plunges into the waters of our worries and woe and emerges in glory. He sees the Spirit that hovered from the first, hovering once more, hears the voice which first spoke all things into life, speaking once more. This scene, taking place in waters marked by human yearning and imperial violence, shows that God remains committed to the goodness of creation, inviting us still into the great work of love and life. The world may no longer be formless, the waters might not be so resplendent, but God is with us and for us.
Jesus plunges into the waters of human struggle and frailty, sharing the burden of all that distracts us from the way of God, all which distorts our ability to behold the image of God in our neighbour and ourself. In his baptism Jesus stills the waters. He is the reflective pool in whom we see the invisible God and understand the gift and responsibility of image-bearing. Jesus shares in our baptism so we may share in his life. So that the divine pronouncement of belovedness offered over him, should be offered over all of us as well. He goes down into the waters with all of us sinners, and draws us up siblings.
And as siblings we not only share what is Christ’s by grace, but are called to what is Christ’s by nature. We who share Christ’s righteousness now share in Christ’s commission. A commission to proclaim and pursue the justice of the kingdom of God. For just as John’s teaching before the baptism of Jesus concerned the material requirements of justice and community, the teaching of Jesus following his baptism takes up the same: ‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.’ Baptism leads us into action, leads us into a particular way of living together, where we pursue justice and equity in our material relations.
We behold the invisible God in the image of Christ, and are led forth with renewed sight into the wilderness of the world to proclaim with Christ the things that make for peace, and to perform with the Spirit, the works of justice and mercy that unbind, raise up, and restore. We are called to become part of Christ’s body the church so we may live together in such a way that stills the waters around us. So that we might better reflect who it was that made us, and who we are made to be.
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