Scott Mims, Virginia Beach, VA
- Have you made any New Year’s resolutions for 2016? If so, what are they?
- If not, then are there any things you hope will be different in your life this coming year?
- What hopes do you have for the world in general?
Okay, I’ll admit it, this is yet another piece about “Star Wars: The Force Awakens”…sort of. Currently the film is just 12 days into its box office run, and already it has grossed over $1.2 BILLION worldwide. As one who has seen the movie twice myself, I certainly understand the appeal. It’s a great story; I find myself both drawn in and left wanting to know more. For instance, I am intrigued – who is this new character named Rey, really? Where does she come from? Where is she heading? As the storyline plays itself out in the inevitable sequels, where will the drama take us and what part will she have to play? Will my current speculations turn out to be true, or is there a twist awaiting?
At their heart, these are more than just questions about the plot. They are identity questions and questions about meaning. And even though most of us live our lives on a much less epic scale, they are the same questions we all confront in one form or another. Who am I? Where do I come from and where am I going? What difference does my life make? The answers we give help to shape and form us in many ways. Yet there is a sense in which the options we have these days to answer such questions are more fluid than ever. For a recent look at how these questions of identity been very much a part of the landscape of our news this past year, checkout a recent program from “On Point with Tom Ashbrook.” You can find a link to the program here: https://onpoint.wbur.org/2015/12/23/culture-race-identity-politics-year-in-review
- How do/would you answer the question, “Who are you and why?”
- What impact do you think some of the following have on how we understand our identity: race, gender/orientation, friends/social groups, extracurricular activities/sports, careers/professions?
- Do the “labels” we wear or the ones others put on us truly define who we are? Why/why not?
Baptism of Our Lord
(Text links are to Oremus Bible Browser. Oremus Bible Browser is not affiliated with or supported by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. You can find the calendar of readings for Year B at Lectionary Readings
For lectionary humor and insight, check the weekly comic Agnus Day.
A fiery young preacher appears in the wilderness region, and, with echoes of Israel’s own entrance into the Promised Land, he calls people to make a new start by being immersed in the Jordan River. His message is stark yet stirring, while the baptism he offers speaks in symbols both powerful and prophetic. Like rumors of a map to Luke Skywalker, John’s appearance awakens the hopes and expectations of many people. Could he be the long-awaited Messiah?
Who exactly is John, son of Zechariah (a.k.a. John the Baptist), really? And who is Jesus, son of Mary? These are the essential identity questions that swirl around our gospel lesson this week. Part of this passage we have just recently heard. Our readings from the middle weeks of Advent focus specifically on John and his call to repentance. Furthermore, for those who have been following the story since Chapter 1, Luke has made clear that John’s roles are those of preparer and messenger (Lk. 1:16-17, 76-80). Now, the people who are actually in the story hear from John himself what we already know: John is not the Messiah. “I baptize you with water;” he tells them, “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.” Who is this coming one? His name is Jesus.
The Baptism of Jesus
According to Luke’s chronology in 3:1-2, Jesus appears at the Jordan to be baptized by John as a man in his early 30’s. Unlike Matthew and Mark, Luke does not have the Holy Spirit descend upon Jesus just as he is coming up from the water. In fact, Luke doesn’t describe Jesus’ baptism at all. He only says that Jesus had been one among many who had been baptized by John. Perhaps this is due in part to a certain sensitivity about having Jesus partaking in John’s “baptism of repentance.” Or perhaps Luke simply chooses to focus on two themes that will play important roles in all that is to come: prayer and the work of the Holy Spirit.
“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.”
Throughout Luke’s gospel account, Jesus is shown to be a person of prayer. What’s more, his life of prayer serves as an example and model for all who would follow him. We see this especially in Luke’s second volume, the book of Acts. Likewise, the Holy Spirit is a very important character in the Christian story and the hallmark of the life of the church as Luke understands it. Both of these themes will surface again and again in the year ahead as we hear the story of Jesus primarily from Luke, but for now the focus is solely upon Jesus.
Identity & Vocation
While Luke’s phrase that the Holy Spirit descended upon Jesus “in bodily form” asserts the certainty of the experience, it is the voice from heaven that affirms Jesus’ true identity: “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” What we have heard thus far only through the voices of angels (Lk. 1:31-32; 2:10-11) is now confirmed by God. And with this confirmation of Jesus’ identity there is also a foreshadowing of his vocation – how he will live this identity out. The beginning part, “You are my Son, the Beloved,” comes from Psalm 2:7. This psalm is a royal psalm that was used at the coronation of Israel’s kings. The second part comes from Isaiah 42:1, one of several prophecies in Isaiah that speak of God’s redemptive activity through a servant who suffers on behalf of the people. Thus, even at his baptism, Jesus – God’s Son and Messiah – comes under the shadow of the cross.
- God says of Jesus, “You are my Son, the beloved….” What does this say to you about who Jesus is? What difference does that make?
- When we are baptized, God names us as “beloved” and claims us as God’s very own. What does this say about our true identity, who we really are? What difference does this make?
- Look over the promises that are made during the Affirmation of Baptism. How can/does following Jesus shape your own life?
- Jesus & Prayer – using a Bible concordance, or a Bible app on your tablet or phone, search for the verses in Luke and Acts which mention pray, praying, or prayer. Split the results up among your group, and have them read and report back:
- At what moments is Jesus shown to be in prayer?
- At what moments are his followers shown to be in prayer?
- What does Jesus demonstrate /teach about praying or prayer?
- What do you discover in these verses about the place of prayer in the life of a Christian?
- The Holy Spirit – similar to activity above, search for verses in Luke and Acts which mention the Holy Spirit or Spirit.
- What role does the Holy Spirit play in Luke? That is, at what moments is the Holy Spirit active, and what does this Spirit do?
- What role does the Holy Spirit play in Acts?
- What sorts of things does the Spirit do in the lives of people in Acts?
- Do you expect the Holy Spirit to be active in your own life? Why or why not? What assurances does Luke give us that the Spirit is present in our lives?
Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy upon us. As God’s voice affirmed and confirmed your true identity, send your Spirit upon us that we know that we, too, are among God’s beloved people. Guide us in our living that we may boldly follow where you bid us go. This we pray in your holy name. Amen.