Baptism of our Lord

Pastor Elizabeth Bier

Baptism of our Lord

3 min.
January 11, 2022

Scripture: Isaiah 43:1-7; Psalm 29; Acts 8:14-17; Luke 3:15-17, 21-22

I love this Isaiah passage. Claimed by name. I am with you - through the fire, water, storm and calm. God says: I have called you by name, you are mine. God has put God’s name on us; it’s tattooed on our hearts.

In this passage, we hear Egypt, Ethiopia and Seba given in exchange for the people of Israel. These were powerful empires at the time - and they were very likely at war with one another at the time of this prophecy. This passage is about God acting in history - while empires war with one another, God is acting for this small group of people because he has promised to do so. I will give up the shiny power of empires for you. What shiny promises and power of empires may need to be given up today to live God’s way?

“You are mine” - we hear this in the gospel reading. After Jesus was baptized, as he was praying, the Holy Spirit descended like a dove - “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” But hold up a moment though. Jesus was baptized out by the Jordan River with John’s followers. John was out there preaching and preparing the way for Jesus, inviting people to a “baptism for the repentance of sins.”  

And John and many others have wondered - “Why would a supposedly sinless Messiah need a baptism of repentance?” I appreciate what Debie Thomas offered on this question (JourneywithJesus.net):  Did Jesus really wish to align himself with the folks who streamed into the wilderness to listen to John?  Weren’t those the folks John called “a brood of vipers?”  Weren’t they desperate, broken, tainted, and sinful?  Why would God choose such an odd moment in the Messiah’s life — such a mundane and perhaps even sordid moment — to part the clouds and call Jesus “the Beloved?”

“Why, indeed?  Unbelievable as it seems, Jesus’s first public act is an act of alignment.  Of radical and humble joining.  His first step is a step towards us. “Let it be so” (he says to John in Matthew.) His power lies in his capacity to surrender, to share, and to submit. 

“In this one act, Jesus steps into the common and inescapable experience of living in a broken, sin-soaked world, and hungering for righteousness, redemption, and restoration within that world.  The question at stake is not about Jesus’s personal “sinfulness.”  The question is about what it means to declare genuine and costly solidarity with our neighbors in a world that is structurally, wholly, and jointly “living in sin.” We can’t belong well to each other if we’re busy erecting walls between “our” piety and “their” sinfulness.  We are in this together.  We are in all of this together.”

Yes, we are in this together. Jesus participates in this act of solidarity and then God takes things a step further - that voice from heaven - “You are my Son, my Beloved” - and the Holy Spirit descending like a dove. For those who needed a public moment to know that God is with Jesus - that voice from the heavens probably would’ve done it! And before we go further, notice that Luke writes that it was as Jesus was praying, the Spirit showed up. This will be an ongoing pattern in Luke - prayer, then the Spirit. The same Spirit present with Jesus, in Jesus, is the same Spirit present with each one of us.

And this brings us to Christian baptism, which is different from John’s baptism, and different from other ritual washing in other places in the Bible. Christian baptism is fulfilling Jesus’ command to go to all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. It is more than what was in our Acts reading - where there was separate water baptism in Jesus’ name, and then later laying on of hands for the Holy Spirit.

In our Christian baptism, we baptize in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. We are baptized into the death & resurrection of Jesus. We lay on hands and pray that the Holy Spirit fills you up. We make the sign of the cross in oil & say - you are marked by the cross of Christ and sealed by the Holy Spirit forever.

What does your baptism mean? It links you to the ends of the earth. And to our neighbors across the street, down the road. Go baptism. Anew every day.

Tangible items of Christian baptism

Water - an ordinary item

Water and the Word - baptized in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

Cloth - yes, wipes up water and it’s also a reminder we are clothed with Christ. Our baptism cloths also have a dove embroidered on them - a reminder of the Holy Spirit. Some families have a baptismal gown passed from child to child, generation to generation - a physical symbol showing the connection we have with one another in baptism.

Oil - anointing - for healing, for royalty, sealed by the Holy Spirit. We anoint after we pray over the child/person - for the Holy Spirit to fill them

Candle - fire - symbol of Holy Spirit; let your light so shine before others. 

Yes, that candle you received at your baptism, or that of your child, it’s meant to be lit again! I recommend it on an annual basis. To end, I have a couple of prayers from an annual remembrance of baptism service in the David Erlander baptism booklet we give to parents.

A designated person says to the honored one: “Honored one, on this day you were washed in the waters of baptism. You were buried with Christ and raised with Christ. The Holy Spirit came upon you, you were declared to be a child of God, and you entered the family of Christ. We give thanks for your baptism and for all the promises of God. You never need to doubt that you are a beautiful and precious child of God.”

All lay hands (a sign of blessing) on the head and shoulders of the honored one as one person says: “God of mercy, renew in them the gift of the Holy Spirit that they will trust in you and live in friendship with you, with others and with your creation all the days of their life. Amen.”

Dip your finger in water and make a sign of the cross on one another’s foreheads saying “Remember your baptism. You are a child of God.”

This article was orginally reported by
Pastor Elizabeth Bier

Rev. Elizabeth Bier is the pastor of ONE in Christ Parish, a three-point parish in Greenwood, Longwood, and Withee. She is ordained with the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America (ELCA) and has served the ONE in Christ Parish since February of 2019.