Year A, Baptism of Our Lord: Public, Private, Noise, and Silence

SUNDAY’S READINGS | 1 Epiphany, January 8, 2023

Isa. 42:1-9
Ps. 29
Acts 10:34-43
Matt. 3:13-17

Jesus “came from Galilee to John at the Jordan, to be baptized by him” (Matt. 3:13). John objects, saying, “I need to be baptized by you” (Matt. 3:14). We may, although for different reasons, share John’s objection. John would have preferred to be baptized by Jesus because he recognized Jesus as “one who is mightier than I.” We may object by asking why the one who “knew no sin” undergoes a baptism for the forgiveness of sins. Jesus says, “Let it be so now; for it is proper for us in this way to fulfill all righteousness” (Matt. 3:15). “It is proper” suggests that this is the right time for Jesus to declare his absolute identification with sinners. In the words of St. Paul, “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Cor. 5:21).

Jesus became what we are so that we might become what he is. It is precisely in Jesus’ abasement, his coming down to us, his assuming our nature, that we stand where Jesus is, so that everything said of Jesus is said of us. “And when Jesus had been baptized, just as he came up from the water, suddenly the heavens were opened to him and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, ‘This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased’” (Matt. 3:16-17). Strikingly, there is something deeply private and public in this revelation. It seems the heavens are opened only “to him” and he alone “saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove,” and yet the voice from heaven makes this public announcement.

Like Jesus, we are the public revelation of the sons and daughters of God. Christ alive in us casts a light so that we “shine like stars in the world” (Phil. 2:15). We bear in our bodies and souls evidence of God’s public pronouncement. And yet to each disciple there is a secret opening to heaven, a secret descent of the Spirit, a gift hidden in mystery, real and unspeakable. There is, in a sense, a gift of the Spirit we cannot share.

Jesus sends us out into the world as his shining sons and daughters. Within, we carry our secret treasure. Now, we see the same world, but we see it differently. We see God in all his redeeming work. We listen, and the world sounds forth anew. The noise of nature becomes the voice of God. The Lord is upon the waters, upon the mighty waters. The Lord thunders with a powerful voice; the Lord breaks the cedars, makes Lebanon skip like a calf, splits the flames of fire, shakes the wilderness, and strips the forest bare. The world cries out, “Glory!” (Ps. 29:3-9). God is loud and powerful.

We also see and sense contrasting quietness, gentleness, and nonviolence that have come into the world. “He will not cry or lift up his voice, or make it heard in the street; a bruised reed he will not break, and a dimly burning wick he will not quench; he will faithfully bring forth justice” (Isa. 42:2-3). The gentleness of Jesus is a call to live honorably and quietly in the obscure exercise of one’s daily tasks.

The sons and daughters of God go forth, bearing a light more brilliant than the noonday sun. Together, they are Christ’s body. As individual members, they are secret temples. They see and hear God everywhere, the God of wondrous noise and of piercing quiet.

Look It Up: This week’s collect

Think About It: Baptized into his name, that is, into his life

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