Baptism of Jesus

January 8, 2023

Lectionary Texts

Isaiah 42.1-9 describes God’s gentle servant, who brings healing and justice—nonviolently.

Psalm 29 celebrates God’s strength and the power of God’s voice, which is “enthroned over the flood” like the Spirit brooding over the waters at Creation.

In Acts 10.34-43 Peter summarizes Jesus’ life and ministry: anointed by the Spirit, he went about doing good and healing; he was put to death but rose again, and sends us to bring grace to other people.

Matthew 3. 13-17 tells of Jesus’ baptism.

Preaching Thoughts

(I’ve offered thoughts on Baptism in more detail here.)
Today is a great day to offer a Baptismal Renewal. Like being married, we are only baptized once, and don’t need to “remarry,” but we need to renew our vows all the time. It’s a great way to start the new year. Here’s a Service of Baptismal Renewal. And here are some general thoughts about the meaning of baptism. And here’s a brief summary of some salient points.
• Baptism is A symbol of death and rebirth. God births us (“born of water and the Spirit, Jn. 3.5) and re-creates us as God’s Beloved, sets us free, and empowers us to live by God’s Spirit. As with the waters of chaos at Creation, God’s water breaks and God gives us new birth as people of the Spirit (1 Pet. 1.3-5). We are born again (always) as beloved children of God.
• God joyfully claims us as God’s Own: “You are my child, my Beloved, with whom I am well pleased” (Mt. 3.17). God doesn’t just tolerate us: God is actually delighted with us!
• God washes us clean of our past, our shame and our fear. God promises healing and blessing. The bath” of baptism isn’t just the washing away of the guilt for the bad stuff we do; it’s also washing away our fear that we’re not good enough. “With you I am well pleased!”
• The Spirit flows through us, makes us alive, and nourishes us like water in our bodies or a plant.
• God invites us to join Jesus in washing people’s feet.
• God shares our tears.
• The trick to being re-born is that first we have to die. We drown in Christ, losing our individual, self-made, self-enclosed “self,” and we are raised to new life as part of Christ’s body (Rom. 6.4; Col. 2.12).
• We surrender our ego’s insistence on being an individual and “die” into unity with the Holy One. We are all part of one life, one heart, one body.
• God goes with us through the Red sea, setting us free from what oppresses us and charging us to help God set others free.
• God invites us to entrust ourselves to God: to let ourselves float in the River of God, trusting that God bears us, letting God take us where God will.
• God anoints us as people who love not by the world’s expectations but by the Spirit.
• Like the water in a river (and its power), the Holy Spirit is the power in us to love boldly, to offer mercy and to do justice.
• We baptize infants because it’s not a symbol of our faith, but God’s “prevenient” action. Baptism is God’s “I do.” Confirmation is our response.

The ritual act of Baptism itself doesn’t make any of this happen like some magic trick; it’s already happening. The sacrament symbolizes all this in a way we can experience it and let it shape our living

Isaiah 42
The song in Isaiah 42. 1-9 is one of the “Servant Songs” praising God’s servant, who suffers in order to do God’s will. God says the servant is “my chosen, in whom my soul delights” (a phrase quoted at Jesus’ baptism). This servant will be nonviolent (“a bruised reed he will not break”) and will establish justice and liberate the oppressed and imprisoned. The allusion to this passage at Jesus’ baptism places his ministry in the prophetic context: not saving individual souls but calling the nation to righteousness and justice. It does the same for baptism. We are not baptized into a club. We are baptized into a workforce, the Body of Christ, sent to do the work of healing and justice.

The voice from heaven at Jesus’ baptism alludes to two Old testament scriptures: “This is my son” sounds like Psalm 2, which people considered to be about the Messiah. The phrase “with whom I am well pleased” sounds like Isaiah’s song about a suffering servant. The combination of the two allusions suggests that Jesus is the anointed one of God—though not a conquering warrior, but a suffering reconciler.

A frequently asked question: If John performed a baptism of repentance and the forgiveness of sin, why was Jesus baptized? He didn’t sin, did he? Three responses.
       A. The idea that Jesus was sinless is related to the image of him as a sacrificial lamb, without blemish. In real life, I bet he did sin. He was a human being. Sin is way too pernicious for even Jesus to avoid. It’s human nature. It’s the function of the ego. We don’t need Jesus to be perfect to believe God lived fully in him, and that he sets us free from our sin. In fact I think Jesus has more authority in our struggle against sin precisely because he did sin, and had to learn to be free even from his own sin.
       B. To repent is to turn to God. We have to do this every moment of the day. Whenever our love, desire, gratitude or attention is focused on anything other than God, it’s sin. Even Jesus had to repent, to continually return to God. His authority as a savior is not in his never having needed forgiveness, but in his always letting go and turning to God, always asking for forgiveness, and always trusting it.
      C. John’s baptism was for forgiveness of sin; but baptism in Christ is a different thing. In receiving baptism Jesus changed it from merely repenting to being re-created, born of God and filled with the Spirit. So sometimes the apostles encountered people who knew of John’s baptism, but not baptism “in the Holy Spirit”—as in Acts 18.25 and 19.1-7. Jesus’s baptism wasn’t primarily about repentance: it was about being open to being born again in the Spirit. That’s the baptism we celebrate. In Jesus’ baptism, baptism itself was reborn: re-created as something new, something which we could share with him.

Call to Worship

Leader: In the beginning when God began to create,
the world was formless and void,
and the Spirit of God brooded over the waters.
All: The voice of the Holy One is over the waters.
And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light.
The light was the life of all beings.
The Spirit like a dove descends upon us.
O God, we worship you. We serve you. We trust you.

Leader: God of love, your grace flows about us like a mighty river.
All: It is gentle, and it is strong.
We are immersed in your presence.
You give us life, and we thank you.
We come to plunge into you, O God.
In the water of your womb, birth us once again to a new and holy life.

Leader: In the beginning, O God,all is darkness, formless and empty.
All: “Light!” you say, and there is light, and the light is the life of all people.
In the desert, water flows, and you invite us.
Christ, river of life, we come to you.
Spirit, dove of peace, pure energy of love, you sing out in us:
We are your beloved in whom you are well pleased.
We plunge into your grace, and we are made new.
We rise, newborn and gleaming. In praise and thanksgiving we worship you.

Leader: Creator God, we praise you!
All:: Risen Christ, we greet you!
Holy Spirit, we are one body by your grace.
You alone are holy, and we worship you.
Jesus was baptized in the Jordan, to share our life and our struggles,
our suffering and our death.
Alleluia! Baptized into Christ, we are one with his resurrection.
We worship you, O God, with praise and thanksgiving,.
one with Christ in the Holy Spirit. Alleluia!

Christ was baptized in the Jordan, immersed in our lives.
And we are baptized into Christ.
You spoke to him, claimed him as your beloved,
and poured out your Holy Spirit upon him.
Alleluia! Speak to us and claim us in his name.Come, Holy Spirit, and transform us by your grace. Alleluia!

6. (Psalm 29:1-4)
Leader: Ascribe to the Holy One, O heavenly beings,
All: Ascribe to God glory and strength.
Ascribe to God the glory of God’s name,
Worship God in holy splendor.
The voice of God is upon the water.
The God of glory thunders, the Supreme upon many waters.
The voice of God is powerful.
The voice of God is full of majesty.
Let us praise the name of the Holy One!
Alleluia! Let us worship in awe!

Collect / Prayer of the Day

God of love, as John baptized Jesus in the Jordan, baptize us in your Word. Immerse us in your presence, fill us with your Spirit, wash us with your grace, nourish us with your joy, and empower us to do your will, for the sake of the world, in the name and the Spirit of Christ. Amen.

God of life we turn to you for life. God of love, we come to drink of your love. God of light, we open our hearts, that we may shine with your light. Bathe us in your Word; immerse us in your grace. Amen.

God of love, as Jesus was immersed in the waters of the Jordan, immerse us in your love. As Jesus heard you speak, so may we hear your Word, your promise, your ever-present, deeply loving voice. Baptize us in your Spirit, O God, and birth us anew in the name of Christ. Amen.

Gracious God, John the Baptist called people to a baptism of repentance, and Jesus came to be baptized. Jesus comes with us now, to hear your Word, to be baptized in your light, and to be drawn into service in the power of your Spirit. Give us life, God: give us your Word. Amen.

Gracious God, as Jesus waded out into the Jordan and was baptized, we wade into your Word; we immerse ourselves in your presence, we bathe ourselves in your voice. May the heavens open to us as we listen and receive. May your Spirit descend upon us. May we hear your voice, and be transformed in order to do your will, in the name of Christ. Amen.

Loving God, at the Baptism of Jesus in the River Jordan you proclaimed him your beloved Son and anointed him with your Holy Spirit. Enable us, and all who are baptized into Christ, to be faithful to our calling as your children and stewards of your Holy Spirit. Open our hearts now, so that as the scriptures are read and your good news proclaimed, we may hear your voice renewing your Covenant with us today. Amen.

Listening Prayer

(suitable as a Collect, preparation for hearing scriptures, or invitation to prayer)

Down, deep
into the water of your grace
we sink.
Hold us, bathe us,
birth us.
We are yours.

Response / Creed / Affirmation

Leader: Eternal God, in the beginning your Spirit brooded over the waters.
All: You breathed into us the spirit of life.
The Red Sea was the water of our womb,
where we came to life by your grace.
We have come out into the world as your children,
your beloved in whom you delight.
Jesus invites us into the waters of his baptism,
into his tears, his suffering, his death.
And with him we are raised to new life,
born again of water and the Word.
God anoints us with the Spirit, to be a light to the nations,
to establish justice, to open the eyes of the blind, to set free the prisoners.
Alleluia! We are baptized into Christ,
and transformed by your grace. Alleluia!


           Baptized into you

Eternal God,

Baptized into you,
I am immersed in you.

You are poured into me:
I am your body; you are my blood.

Baptized into Christ Jesus,
I am Christ myself.

My is life poured into the same cup
as you: one cup, one body.

With Christ, then, let me be poured out
in love for the world;

emptied infinitely, infinitely filled,
a vessel of your infinite Spirit.

Glory to you, O God,
Mother, Son and Holy Spirit.

Baptismal blessing

May the grace of a flowing spring well up in you,
a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.
The renewal of a flowing stream be yours;
the gift of God’s blessing like warm rain fall upon you.
May God’s love, hidden as the darkness of the deepest sea,
full of wonder and mystery, give you peace.
May the river of your life carry you always in grace.
May the love of God flow through you,
making all the world green and beautiful.

Prayer of Dedication / Sending

Gracious God, we give you our lives, symbolized in our gifts. Receive them with love, bless them with grace and use them according to your will. Lead us always into the depths of your love, into the flowing stream of your Spirit, into the clear waters of discernment, and into the world to serve, in the name and Spirit of Christ. Amen.

Gracious God, you have claimed us as your beloved children., promised us your faithful presence, and anointed us with your Spirit that we may do your will in this world. In gratitude we give you our lives, symbolized in these gifts. Receive them with love, bless them with grace, and use them according to your will. Send us into the world as your faithful servants, that in our living we may show forth your grace and proclaim your love, in the name of Christ. Amen.

Suggested Songs

(Click on titles to view, and hear an audio clip, on the Music page)

Light for the World (Original song) – [weekly Epiphany “Theme song”]
A dialogue between soloist and congregation. May be used as a “theme song” throughout the Epiphany season, using one to three verses per week. Throughout the season the congregation sings the chorus; each week the soloist’s verses relate to the day’s lectionary readings. Lyrics for this week:

Love, may we live by your light.
Let us be light for the world.

“You are my servant in whom I delight, a light unto the nations.”
Shine for the ones who dwell in the dark, with comfort and justice.

God said, “Let light shine out of the dark,” and shines with that glory in Jesus.
And when we turn our faces to Christ, God shines in our own heart.

See all songs with Baptism tag, especially these:

God, We Rise to Serve You       [Tune: Sing We Now of Christmas]

God, we rise to serve you, baptized in your love
as your Holy Spirit hovers like a dove.
We, your Beloved, whom you bless with grace,
offer you our gifts with love and joy and peace.

God, your Spirit in us, dove with wings unfurled,
gives us pow’r to bring forth justice to the world.
Baptized in Christ, we serve with mercy’s grace,
bringing to the world your love and joy and peace.

When Jesus Was Baptized (Tune:Cradle Song)

When Jesus was baptized, John said to repent,
and follow the Righteous One whom God had sent.
So wash us, dear God, and create us anew,
born fresh from your grace, living wholly in you.

When Jesus was baptized in waters that flow,
he sank in the Source of what makes all things grow.
So, held in Creation, renewed and made one,
we swim in the grace of your life-giving Son.

When Jesus was baptized in light, like a dove
your Spirit came down and you filled him with love.
So give us your Spirit: let all that we do
be you living in us, as we live in you.

When Jesus was baptized you spoke from above,
saying “This is my servant, my child, whom I love.”
So help us to hear you speak love when you call,
and as your Beloved, share freely with all.

You Are My Delight (Tune: Londonderry Air, “Oh, Danny Boy”)

We come with you, dear Jesus, through the desert hills,
down to the river, flowing gently by,
where through the rocks and valleys, deepening, it spills,
and flows into the sea, the earth, the sky.
As we sink down and rise up from the water
a dove descends, a voice speaks, clear and bright:
“Know you are my beloved son, my daughter,
my spirit is in you and you are my delight.

We go our way, and in our daily living
we follow you, and scatter rays of love
in deeds of caring, healing grace and giving,
for still we hear that voice and see the dove:
“No river can undo you, for with you I go.
I give my heart to you, and give you light.
For you are mine, I hold you and I love you so.
All water says, ‘Remember you are my delight.’”

          Offering Songs (Tune: Fairest Lord Jesus)

Blessed by your Spirit, God, and immersed in deepest grace,
baptized in love, in love we live.
No floods can sweep away what you have given us,
and so our finest gifts we give.


Baptized in love, O God, and immersed in deepest grace,
in your Spirit we are one.
Yours are the gifts we give; yours are the lives we live,
bright shining as the morning sun.

             (Tune: OLD HUNDREDTH,
            or GIFT OF LOVE (“The Water Is Wide”),
            or Tallis’ Canon

To You, O God, our praise we give,
For baptized into Christ, we live.
Thus may your Holy Spirit be
Our life and breath eternally! Amen.

               (Tune: Morning Has Broken)

Baptized, anointed, filled with your Spirit,
we are appointed bearers of light:
for liberation, servants of justice,
bringing the nations joy and delight.

Gladly we praise you, God our Creator,
joyfully raise our hearts up in prayer.
Humbly we give you thanks, Holy Spirit,
help us to live your Word everywhere.

Great holy giver of life and wonder,
deep like a river your blessings flow.
Gladly we give you praise and thanksgiving:
gifts we will give wherever we go.

                (Tune: Be Thou My Vision)

God, we are raised to new life with your Son,
filled with your Spirit and baptized as one.
Branches of one vine, your fruits we will bear,
going to all the world, your great love to share.

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