What struck me in the readings for Christ’s Baptism this week was the quietness of it all. There is no fanfare, no glitz and no loud, forceful declarations. God’s affirmation of Christ, and the ministry of Jesus, are all rather quiet and subdued. This does not mean that proclamation does not happen, but that the proclamation of the Gospel happens less through loud, dramatic displays and more through gentle, quiet, ordinary encounters.
May we be inspired to live lives of quiet proclamation as we worship this week.
Isaiah 42:1-9: A prophecy of God’s coming servant, who fulfils God’s promise, and who will bring justice and comfort.
Psalm 29: An exhortation for the heavenly beings to give glory to God, for God’s mighty, majestic voice.
Acts 10:34-43: Peter preaches about the Jesus who was baptised by John and empowered by God’s Spirit, who taught about God’s reign and did good, and who is now the judge of all and the one who brings forgiveness.
Matthew 3:13-17: Jesus appears at the Jordan and John hesitates to baptise him, but ultimately submits to Christ and baptises him. Then the heavens open, the Spirit descends on Jesus as a dove, and God’s voice proclaims God’s pleasure in Jesus.
REFLECTIONS ON THEME:
The twin themes of proclamation and justice run through the readings this week. Isaiah prophecies the servant who fulfils God’s previously proclaimed promise and who brings justice by proclamation without raising his voice, in word and action. The voice of God, which causes strong responses in creation, is praised in Psalm 29. In Acts, Peter’s proclamation of the Gospel is the focus, and he points people to Jesus’ own message, proclaimed and demonstrated in words and acts of compassion and justice. In the encounter with John, Jesus proclaims that what they do is in fulfilment of righteousness (what God requires) and then God proclaims Christ to be God’s well-beloved son, in whom God delights. The beautiful challenge of these readings is that justice, God’s reign, God’s presence and God’s salvation in Christ, must be proclaimed, and be seen to be proclaimed, for them to have impact and influence in our world. However, as Isaiah indicates, and Peter preaches, the proclamation is quiet, without a raised voice, and is shown to God’s “hand-picked” witnesses who must then carry the message further. The Baptism of Christ, then, is for us a listening to God’s proclamation of who Christ is, and what Christ has come to do. We are the witnesses to Christ. And then, it is also a call for us to be proclaimers, messengers, carrying what we have seen and experienced into the world in quiet, but significant, words and deeds.
CONNECTING WITH LIFE:
Some years ago there was an advert on South African television that began with a quiet voice saying “If you want to catch someone’s attention, whisper!” This may be one way of seeing this week’s theme. Although, the Baptism of Christ may be thought of as a dramatic event with lots of fanfare, and great supernatural proclamation, it appears that it was actually a rather quiet affair. Certainly, it did not create the kind of stir that would be expected if such an event was witnessed publicly. Rather, Matthew seems to indicate that only Jesus saw the dove and heard the voice, and directly after this event, Jesus was led into the wilderness – a place of seclusion and isolation. The other readings also indicate the power of quiet proclamation in word and deed, and the effect of Jesus’ practice of such quiet proclamation, which still had very significant impact. In the same way, we who follow Christ and seek to influence the world in the direction of justice and love, would do well to allow our words to be quiet, and our proclamation to be as much in lives of gentle justice as in words of challenge. It may seem that such quiet proclamation can have little effect on our world, but in fact it is really the only thing that makes any significant difference. When my neighbours see justice in my life, when those around me are treated with compassion and dignity, when my giving, my ethics and my values all speak of God’s reign and justice, then my world is made a little more whole, and the world is changed for the better. And when the numbers of people doing this grow, then the impact grows too. So, whatever issue you may seek to proclaim God’s justice into, reflect on how you can adopt, at least in part, the strategy of Jesus’ baptism – quiet proclamation.
Somehow Christianity seems to have become a religion of public words proclaimed loudly: from Christian billboards, to street evangelists complete with sandwich boards and bullhorns; from sports stars publicly making a show of kneeling and praying, to celebrity preachers; from political lobbying to religious media – you would think that the church would be growing in leaps and bounds. And yet, people seem to be deaf to our message and disinterested in our words. Perhaps that’s because in all the noise, there is has been little action – a lot of shouting, but not much grace and love. Perhaps the word we need to hear from Jesus’ baptism is that God seems to like quiet proclamation. No raised voice, no huge public displays (note Jesus’ rejection of the temptations to this kind of attention grabbing). Rather, a quiet affirmation here, a gentle act of justice there, a constantly lived love and grace that gently, but profoundly, touches and changes lives. I wonder if God might be calling communities of faith to this kind of quiet proclamation in their neighbourhoods: seeking to bring life and grace and love and justice, without expecting anything back (not even a commitment to attend on Sundays); giving a voice, where possible and necessary, to the voiceless and challenging whatever brings pain and destruction, but doing so with a strong, gentle, enacted message – not loud, emotive and actionless words. What might it mean for us to put our baptism into practice? What might it mean for us to take St. Francis’ words seriously – “Preach the Gospel at all times. Use words if necessary.”