By Barbara Klugh
Isaiah 43:1-7; Psalm 29; Acts 8:14-17; Luke 3:15-17, 21-22. Go to www.lectionarypage.net to read or print the weekly lectionary text. In this week’s readings we can grasp the power of the Holy Spirit expressed in different times and circumstances.
Epiphany: The word Epiphany comes from the Greek, meaning “to show forth” or “manifestation.” Sometimes called the Twelfth Day, the Feast of the Epiphany takes place on January 6 and celebrates the manifestation of Christ to the Gentiles, and, by extension, to the whole world. The Magi, or wise men, were the first non-Jews to have contact with Jesus, and they were aware of his divine nature. So the Epiphany “shows forth” that God’s promise of salvation includes all the people of the earth. And as saved people, our responsibility is to show forth God’s nature to the world by what we say and by what we do.
The First Sunday after the Epiphany always commemorates the Baptism of Jesus Christ. The season after the Epiphany continues until Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent.
Isaiah 43: 1-7: This week’s reading comes from what is known as Second Isaiah, chapters 40-55, that was addressed to the people in exile in Babylon c. 540 BC. At this time they had been in captivity for around 40 years. In chapters 1-39, Isaiah warned the Israelites of the coming of God’s judgment (and later restoration) because of their idolatry, economic injustice and exploitation of the vulnerable. But now the Lord has forgiven his people and will bring them back home.
In this poetic text, the Lord announces through the prophet, “Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name; you are mine.”God will protect his chosen people through water, rivers, fire, and flame as he leads them back from the Babylonian exile to freedom across the desert in a new exodus. The Lord will gather all of his people who have been scattered from the four corners of the earth.
In our day, God is still with us through our unfaithfulness, our trials and our sufferings. Just as in 540 BC, the Lord continues to say, “Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name; you are mine.”
Psalm 29: Likely an adaptation of a Canaanite hymn to Baal, the storm god, this week’s psalm is an enthronement psalm or hymn that praises the Lord’s glory, power, strength, and supremacy. Verses 1 and 2 invite all the other gods (or heavenly beings) in the Lord’s court to “ascribe to the Lord glory and strength.” The voice of the Lord thunders in earthquake and fire, but the Lord also bestows blessings upon his people. The psalm concludes, “The Lord shall give strength to his people, the Lord shall give his people the blessing of peace.”
Acts 8:14-17: When persecution of Christians started in Jerusalem, Philip traveled to Samaria and preached the gospel, leading many to believe that Jesus was indeed God’s Messiah. Although they had been baptized, the Spirit had not yet come to them. When Peter and John heard this news, they traveled to Samaria to pray with these new Christians, and “then Peter and John laid their hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit.”
Luke 3:15-17, 21-22: In our reading for the second week of Advent, we were introduced to John the Baptist. He was the long-awaited prophet (400 years!) who preached a baptism of repentance. John’s teaching was so passionate and powerful, that some thought he might be the Messiah, but John pointed to the one greater than he, saying , “I baptize you with water; but one who is more powerful than I is coming; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.”
Along with other people, Jesus came from Nazareth and was baptized by John in the Jordan River. After Jesus was baptized and at prayer, “the heaven was opened, and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, ‘You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.’” We see that Jesus’ public ministry began in prayer.
John’s ministry and baptism was about repentance and the washing away of one’s old life. Jesus’ ministry was about moving one’s life in a totally new direction under the influence and guidance of the Holy Spirit. But we do need to be receptive, and be willing (or pray to be willing) to have our sins burned away and our souls burnished in the fire of God’s love as revealed in Jesus.