The First Sunday after the Epiphany: The Baptism of Jesus, January 8, 2023

November 27, 2022 | by Bruce Epperly

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Isaiah 42:1-9, Psalm 29 Acts 10:33-43 Matthew 3:13-17

The Baptism of Jesus is the first Sunday in the Epiphany Season.  When we consider Jesus’ baptism, we must place it in the context of God’s global revelation, embodied in the visit of the Magi, persons of another faith tradition, and Peter’s outreach to Cornelius and his family.  In a time in which becoming a Christian often shrinks peoples’ sense of revelation and ethical concern in many quarters, Peter needs to be reminded that for God, nothing and no one is unclean. Knowing Jesus broadens our scope of concern and delight in the wellbeing of others. The light of Epiphany shines on everyone and everyone is welcomed into God’s realm of salvation.   In the Baptism of Jesus, we are invited to reflect on our own baptisms and the global reach of God’s love.  Jesus is God’s chosen Child, the Beloved, and all of us are also God’s chosen.  While Jesus may be the decisive revelation of God’s love, all newborn children reveal the face of God, as Pelagius asserts.

In words echoed in Jesus’ first public message (Luke 4:18-19), Isaiah describes the persistence of God’s chosen servant whose mission is to “open the eyes that are blind, to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon, from the prison those who sit in darkness.”  Suffering and sacrifice will not deter God’s chosen messenger.  In fact, God’s servant embraces downward mobility and sacrifice for God’s sake, to expand God’s realm on earth. God’s chosen servant will persist until God’s realm of justice comes to fruition.  While we don’t know the identity of the chosen servant, we do know the servant’s vocation: to be a light to the nations, to enable persons throughout the world to experience God’s wisdom and choose the path of salvation.  Revelation is a call to serve, and an invitation to inclusiveness.  Mysticism takes us beyond self-interest and self-preoccupation to world loyalty.  The separate, isolated, and self-aggrandizing self dies to give birth to a global, generous self.

Psalm 29 exalts God’s power.  The Psalmist experiences God’s powerful voice resounding everywhere and in all things.  God’s wise speech gives birth to a complex, orderly, and beautiful universe.  Divine creativity is not value neutral.  In the spirit of Whitehead, the aim of the universe is toward the production of beauty, whether in the creation of galaxies and planets or the evolution of the human adventure.  Those who imitate God’s power are ethical and aim at beauty.

In the Act’s reading, Peter proclaims the universal impact of God’s revelation in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.  God shows no partiality: God’s love envelopes the Gentile Cornelius and his family with the same care as God’s love embraces the Jewish people.  Every nation – every condition of life – has a home in God’s love. The death and resurrection of Jesus is global, not parochial, and this has ethical implications.  Peter must reach out to Gentile Cornelius, letting go of his Jewish privilege, and we must reach out to our “others,” enabling the distant other to become a “holy other.” Jesus’ life encompasses the undocumented worker, refugee on the border, struggling single parent, and bloviating politician. The waters of salvation are given to all, requiring us to treat everyone as God’s beloved.  Or, as Dorothy Day once averred, “I speak to people as if they are angels.”  We are always on holy ground.  We address God in every encounter and every face.  Loving God in the abstract matters little; loving God in the concrete world of diversity and otherness gives glory to God and advances God’s mission of Shalom.

Jesus goes to the Jordan to be baptized. While John the Baptist sees no need for this ritual, Jesus insists on having John baptize him. Although the Holy Spirit descends on Jesus, his baptism unites him with us and enables us to be more Christ-like.  Spirit-filled, Jesus evokes the Spirit in us.  Baptism is an act of awareness and grace.  It does not change our relationship with God but transforms our sense of relatedness to God. God is at work in our lives moment by moment, the source of healing and transforming possibilities, claiming our baptism awakens us to a greater influx of divine influx.  Grace abounds and is prevenient, prior to our efforts.  Grace is also personal, shaped by our response to God’s presence in our lives.  God provides “greater” or “lesser” insight and illumination, and possibility, in relationship to our openness.  Still, God is always providing possibilities even when we turn away and the “best for that impasse” may simply be the first step, and not the final destination, in our personal reformation and healing.

Today, with Martin Luther, we remember our baptisms and the ubiquity of divine grace.  Baptism is God’s pronouncement on us as beloved, as worthy of love, and challenge to participate in the new life God mediates to us. Baptism is the reminder that nothing – internally or externally – can separate us from the love of God.  We are in God’s care – God will not give up on us – and we can mediate that divine care to others, welcoming them to God’s circle of love.

Bruce Epperly is a pastor, professor, spiritual guide, and author of over seventy books, including The Elephant Is Running: Process and Open and Relational Theology and Religious Pluralism; Prophetic Healing: Howard Thurman’s Vision Of Contemplative Activism; Mystic’s In Action: Twelve Saints For Today; Walking With Saint Francis: From Privilege To Activism; Messy Incarnation: Meditations On Process Christology, and From Cosmos To Cradle: Meditations On The Incarnation. His latest book is The Prophetic Amos Speaks To America. He can be reached for seminars and talks at