Baptism of Christ

January 9, 2000
See Also: 
Reading 1: 
Isaiah 42:1-9
Reading 2: 
Psalm 29
Reading 3: 
Acts 10:34-43
Reading 4: 
Mark 1:4-11
By Rick Marshall

Psalm
The text is in the form of a doxology, addressed to heavenly beings, in preparation for the request for strength and peace from God in the last verse. Several metaphors are at work, primarily addressing the meaning of "voice of God," especially thunder and flames of fire. Several strong verbs are at play: moving over the waters (Creation, Gen. 1:1), breaks, flashes, shakes, makes to whirl, strips. Also, several senses are involved in the apprehension of these phenomena: hearing, feeling, seeing.

God is revealed through the metaphors of nature and natural phenomena. Thunder suggests Mt. Sinai and the desert experience of Exodus. The voice is the active agent in the text. It is powerful and both creates and destroys. The voice says in effect "This is my world. "Similarly, in the NT, the voice comes as affirmation of Jesus as the Christ, or the Son. At the Baptism, and the Mt. of Transfiguration, the voice says, "This is my Son." The voice is not only creatively active, but also proprietary: it is in charge and the world belongs to it.

God is seen as the primary force, or power, which both creates and destroys. There is nothing static or abstract about the image of God painted here. God is dynamic, active, working toward strength and (oddly) peace.

The intent of the passage seems to correctly name this power: ascribe to Yahweh (not any other God) glory and strength (vss 1 & 2).

A sermon possibility is to focus on naming the power correctly. God is that power which is Creative Transformation. "Voice" is the primary metaphor expressing the nature of this power. Word, Logos, Proposition are other ways of expressing the creative voice. Another sermon possibility is to explore the ways which the divine is revealed through nature; natural phenomena as "signs" of the divine. Another possibility is to focus on the poetic imagery of the divine, and the use of active verbs as descriptive of the divine. The nature of God is better expressed through verbs rather than nouns.

Isaiah
Who is God's servant? The servant seems to be the one (anyone) who has received a call from God. The call is to bring forth justice. The primary metaphor is light; the servant is the bringer of light.

Reversal seems to be part of justice: Open the eyes of the blind, release the prisoners, bring into light those who sit in darkness.

The ending statement, "the former things have passed away, new things I now declare," suggests, again, that God is creative transformation.

Mark
The baptism of Jesus is rich with possibilities for preaching. The image of water and sea suggests creation. Much can be made of water as an image of the chaos of life, the primordial source of life and death. Also water is an image of cleansing. The simple movement of going down into the water and then rising suggests death and resurrection. If the gospel has motion, it is the going down in death and rising to life of Baptism.

Also, the "voice" of God is present again, as in the Psalm passage. "This is my beloved son; with him I am well please," is an affirmation of Jesus as Christ, but also an affirmation of Baptism as the way of transformation. Within the image of Baptism is the image of the death and resurrection of Jesus as the way to new life. Creative transformation is the gospel. Unlike other religions, suffering is seen as the portal to transformation.

Jesus was driven into the wilderness by the Spirit for 40 days. The number 40 suggests the Noah story, and the temptation to resort to one's own resources to secure the future in the face of danger, rather than trusting the future to God.

Comments on the Passages Together
The underlying theme that draws all three passages together is Creative Transformation: death issuing into life, despair into hope, suffering into wholeness. The power of God, even though it destroys as well as gives new life, can be trusted to issue into new life, strength and peace.

This can be related to the several stories in the NT about the disciples going across the Sea of Galilee in a boat and a storm arises. Jesus is either in the boat sleeping, or walking toward them on the water. In either case, the story points to the ability of God's power to bring peace, even in the midst of chaos. Water, or the sea, are images of the chaos of life, the boat is an image of our individual lives, being cast wildly about. What will secure us? What will bring order? Where does peace come from?

Rick Marshall is co-pastor of Brea Congregational United Church of Christ in Brea, California, a church he has served for more than 24 years. He has contributed many resources to the Process & Faith website, including A Process-Relational Guide to Grief, Death, and Funerals.