1st Sunday after the Epiphany: The Baptism of Christ

Lectionary 1st Reading Psalm 2nd Reading Gospel
Anglican lectionary:
Isaiah 42: 1-9
Acts 10:34-43
Matthew 3:13-17
Catholic lectionary:

Water is a significant substance in our Gospel text today. The baptism of Jesus by John the Baptist is a major event in the life of Jesus which is described in the three synoptic Gospels of the New Testament. As Jesus was baptized in the Jordon River. Water in the Bible serves as a reminder of its central role in the ecosystems upon which our wellbeing depends. If we are going to participate in God’s reconciling work with all creation, we will have to pay attention to water as a symbol of salvation.

Comments on Isaiah 42: 1-9

We often read backward into this lesson words about Jesus. The words were written about someone who would save God’s people, who would live the righteous life and who would establish justice. We understand that person to be Jesus. Even though Isaiah did not know that it would be Jesus who would fulfil these qualifications, clearly the one who was to come would embody what he understood to be quintessential qualities of God. We believe Jesus to be the one who has made all things new, who breathes life into the people again. We believe God has given new meaning to all life. God as Creator created the world and the interrelatedness of humanity and ecologies.

Comments on Psalm 29

The Psalm today praises the God of the storm who rules over thunder and lightning, who governs the fearful waters, and who at the end of raging storm sits enthroned to bless his people with peace. Shalom (peace) embraces all our life wherever we live and work. Even though nature produces no theology, nature does however reflect the glory and strength of the Creator as all of creation is a theatre of the glory of God.

Comments on Acts 10:34-43

The New Testament reading is a sermon which the apostle Peter delivers, emphasizing God as the agent behind all aspects of the life, ministry, death, and resurrection of Jesus. God’s choice of a people who experience his saving grace — whether the nation of Israel or individuals for salvation — rests on his unmerited act of grace. 

Comments on Matthew 3:13-17

We return to this story year after year because Jesus’s baptism fundamentally reveals who he is. It’s also the foundational story of our life in Christ. Most of us probably can’t remember our baptisms, and sometimes we forget how powerful our baptism was and is. But tapping into the power of our baptism can give us the clarity and moral courage we need to live with integrity in these challenging times. It is for such a time as this that we need to take hold of the richness of our baptism.

Sermon Notes

The Gospel text invites us to celebrate the baptism of Jesus and we affirm the power of our own baptism in His name. We are loved beyond measure by a divine love that will never let us go. Day by day, as long as we live, we have countless opportunities to bear witness for justice seeking and peace-making in this precious world entrusted to our care?

Life on Earth is faltering and civilization could be at risk of collapse, the political and corporate powers-that-be relentlessly drive forward with business as usual, drilling for more oil, pushing to expand pipeline construction, cutting down forests, polluting oceans and generally acting as if the Earth were a private business up for liquidation.

Is it any wonder that we see Jesus calling us to carry out justice to all of creation? If God’s justice is complete and transformative, is it not transformative for all of the creation? Does not God call us to examine how we are consuming resources, the extent to which we through greed and selfishness, the reasons we allow entire ecosystems to be destroyed? God’s light shines out in the darkness and puts a spotlight on how we live. Are we truly agents of transformation and justice? Cape Town has a battle for justice regarding a site which developers want to use to commecialize for their own gain. The battle for history and a river — the Liesbeek and the River Club site: https://www.dailymaverick.co.za/article/2022-07-07-the-battle-for-history-and-a-river-the-liesbeek-and-the-river-club-site/

As I reflect on the baptism of Jesus, imagine the scene as it unfolds on the banks of the Jordon River and how Jesus lived free from all narrow restrictions.  He chose to go out into nature to a river with all its movement and mud to be baptised. Jesus chose to identify with all humanity, to identify with you, to identify with me. We through our baptism should also identify with others and creation. Jesus’ act of humility and compassion joins us to the One who identifies with every human being and with the whole community of creation. It joins us to a love that will never let us go. Through our baptism we have been drawn into the divine life of God and marked as Christ’s own forever. Therefore baptism gives us the power to live in love, and to be rooted in love. Baptism affirms our prophetic witness as the people of God in the world. The prophetic power of our baptism, enables us to confront the forces that are unravelling life on Earth as we co-create a sustainable earth.

Additional Resources and Questions

(From Rev Dr Rachel Mash:  http://sustainable-preaching.org/2020/01/12/1st-sunday-after-the-epiphany/)

The Sacredness of Water

We have become separated off from the sacredness of water – it comes to us from a tap or in a bottle.

  1. Do we know where the water that we use in that tap comes from?
  2. From which river or dam does it come?
  3. How polluted is that river with plastic or toxins?

Jesus was baptised in the Jordan River.

  1. What does it mean for us that we entered the family of God through water?

Photo: Upper Liesbeek River in Cape Town


Jeremy Smith

Curate at Christ Church Constantia in the Diocese of Cape Town. MA student in Practical Theology at the University of Stellenbosch. 

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