WHOSE WE ARE
A Reflection on the Baptism of Our Lord, January 11
“John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance
for the forgiveness of sins. 5 And people from the whole Judean countryside and all
the people of Jerusalem were going out to him, and were baptized by him in the river
Jordan, confessing their sins. 6 Now John was clothed with camel's hair, with a leather
belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. 7 He proclaimed, ‘The one
who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and
untie the thong of his sandals. 8 I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize
you with the Holy Spirit.’
9In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the
Jordan. 10 And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn
apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. 11 And a voice came from heaven,
‘You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.’"
This text describes a complete change in the game—the world as we know it is forever
different because of what has happened in Jesus’ baptism. The description of the various
places lend to the narrative of what is really going on here. We begin in the wilderness—
the wild, the uncertain, the unknown, the obscure.
John the baptizer appears in the wilderness. He himself wears camel’s hair with a leather
belt and eats locusts and wild honey. In this wilderness—in this wild unknown world—
John proclaims a clear message: baptism for the forgiveness of sins.
Forgiveness of sins. This it is an idea, a message so compelling, that the people—people
from the whole Judean countryside and ALL the people of Jerusalem—EVERYBODY!—ALL
the people were going out to John for this baptism of forgiveness.
That is a seriously compelling message.
All the people go out to this wilderness—to this person who himself comes from the
wilderness—for clarity. For certainty in the wild, uncertain world. Clear and certain
John the baptizer knows something else, though. He knows that what he is doing is not the
culmination of what will happen. It’s not just forgiveness that God is sending to the world
There is more.
John states, “The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me.” He knows there is
more to God’s intentions than his work. In the wilderness of our lives, we often look for
clarity, but we can be tempted to stop with the simple answers. John baptized with water
for the forgiveness of sin. All the people came out to him for this baptism—for this answer
to the problem of sin.
However, there was a bigger answer—a better answer still coming after John.
Jesus came to the river. Jesus came to the river and changed it all. God was suddenly among
us. More than declaring forgiveness, God broke through every barrier that had separated
God from humanity.
God had become humanity.
Jesus was baptized, and this time, it was different. This time, the kingdom of heaven broke
into our world and we would have this knowledge, this insight, this experience of what God
really was. What God really meant. We—humanity—would gain clarity in Jesus. We would
find an insight about God that had not been possible in this way before, because God would
now walk among us—human. Jesus. God incarnate.
In Jesus’ baptism, we see the heavens broken apart. We hear a voice—the voice of the
heavenly parent naming the son. We see the Holy Spirit descending as a dove. God is One in
Three and Three in One. All distinct persons and one being are revealed in this event.
From the story that starts in the wilderness, we have come to clarity in Jesus.
The kingdom of God has come near. John’s words have come to reality.
God has come to us. In the book of Mark, this is the first chapter. Mark writes his Gospel
account so that we as the readers hear this story as Jesus’ ministry begins. What Jesus
teaches, what he does, what he makes possible by taking on all of humanity—every part of
it that the world has to give—is begun.
Every year, we celebrate that event and all that Jesus has brought to us. We celebrate
baptism—the Holy Spirit coming to us through this sacrament of water and word. We
celebrate God’s continued presence and guidance in and among us. We celebrate God’s
kingdom come near to us in our lives.
May we always remember the source of that celebration, the source of who we are and of
all that is revealed in that river in the wilderness.