The Baptism of Christ has traditionally been one of the big Sundays of the year, and for good reason:
First, it marks the first recognition of the adult Jesus as Spirit-filled and particularly beloved of God.
Second, it gives us a symbol of what the way of Christ asks of us—the ritual death of his immersion followed by resurrection as he rises from the River Jordan and the Spirit of God fills him, representing our own inner humble, loving gesture of self-emptying and opening to the Spirit (kenosis) followed by our consciousness expanding and a higher power flowing through us (metanoia).
The question of what we let flow through us is of paramount importance for us as individuals and as human civilization. Joanna Macy and Chris Johnstone say this in their book Active Hope:
“When we are facing hard decisions, a question that can help orient us is, ‘What happens through you?’ Our decisions are like rudders that steer the flow not only of our lives but also of the unfolding stories we participate in…. We can look at our pain for the world in a similar way: it is the world…feeling through us…. If we trace the development of life…we see a recurring pattern of smaller parts coming together to form larger integrated wholes…. Throughout human history we have followed this same evolutionary pattern of smaller parts coming together to form larger complex wholes….. With the planetary emergency we face, we are in danger of falling apart into factious fighting for what is left of the world we have depleted. Another possibility is that this crisis can become a turning point… toward the next evolutionary leap…. When our central organizing priority becomes the well-being of all life, then what happens through us is the recovery of our world….”
The ministry of Jesus was all about helping us make an evolutionary leap toward a loving oneness with God and neighbor and the whole creation. We will read Isaiah 42:1-9 and see a description of what it looks like when we make that leap and the Spirit of God flows through us. It looks like a force of justice, nonviolence, healing, liberation and the light that shines in the darkness that the darkness cannot overcome.
Our greatest hope is that God is about to do a new thing, that an evolutionary shift is underway, that humanity is about to go through its own Jordan baptism and rise full of a new Spirit to guide and empower us to fullness of life for countless generations to come. Our part in that is to prepare ourselves to let the Spirit flow through us, and to find in each of our hearts the particular way in which the Spirit is calling us to serve in our time and place.
Jesus assures us that his path leads to the most abundant and joyful life possible, so the Baptism of Christ with all its symbolic meaning is a cause for celebration, even as Jesus turns from the Jordan toward the wilderness of trial and temptation and confrontation with society and the cross. We would not have a church today if it were not true that the love and comfort, the enthusiasm and miracles that come from the Spirit-filled life far outweigh life’s inevitable struggle and loss.
We will also read Psalm 29 about the power of God flowing through a thunderstorm. The congregation will sing “Hymn of Promise (In the Bulb There Is a Flower)” and “Breathe on Me, Breath of God” and “Christ Needed His Immersion.” The choir will sing “Imagine” by John Lennon and Yoko Ono, “Spirit of the Living God,” and the beautiful Taizé chant, “Bless the Lord, My Soul.”
You can see and hear a moving version of “Imagine” below: