January 7, 2019
The passage that appears before our Sunday gospel reading is about the preaching of John the Baptist. John is clearly identified with the great Old Testament prophet Elijah. By connecting John the Baptist to the prophet Elijah, Luke is making a clear statement about the long awaited day of the Lord—it is here! This message is repeated in the story of Jesus’ baptism by John. The story itself has three elements: the heaven opens, the dove appears, and a voice proclaims, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.” All three elements contain allusions to other Old Testament texts. For example, the opening of the heavens harks back to a text in Isaiah, where the prophet Isaiah gives voice to the frustration of the people of Israel, who fear that the Lord has forgotten them: “Oh that you would rend the heavens and come down, with the mountains quaking before you” (Is 63:19)! The Luke text suggests that God has finally listened to God’s people and “has come down” in the person of Jesus. The day of the Lord is here!
Similarly, the dove hovering over Jesus reminds the reader of two other passages from Isaiah about the spirit of the Lord and how it will rest upon a shoot from the stump of Jesse—“a spirit of wisdom and understanding, a spirit of counsel and strength, a spirit of knowledge and fear of the Lord” (Is 11:2). The dove hovering over Jesus alludes to another passage in Isaiah that looks forward to the one who is anointed “to bring glad tidings to the lowly, to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to captives and release of prisoners, to announce a year of favor from the Lord and a day of vindication by our God, to comfort all who mourn” (Is 61:1-2).
Finally, the voice that proclaims that Jesus is God’s Son alludes to another passage in Isaiah, where God notes that this “is my servant whom I uphold, my chosen one with whom I am well pleased, upon whom I have put my spirit” (Is 42:1).
All in all, the stories of John the Baptist and the baptism of Jesus function in the gospel to alert the reader to the good news that the long awaited day—that day that had been long foretold by the prophets—has been prepared for by John and has finally arrived in the person of Jesus, the Son of God, who has been anointed to bring good news of God’s compassion and fidelity.
This feast of the Baptism of the Lord, reminds us that we are called—through our own baptism—to live within God’s reign furthering God’s compassion and justice as disciples of Jesus