Excerpted from How Will We Welcome the Prince of Peace? An Advent Guide for Lectionary Year A from the NC Council of Churches.
Then Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan, to be baptized by him. John would have prevented him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” But Jesus answered him, “Let it be so now; for it is proper for us in this way to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he consented. And when Jesus had been baptized, just as he came up from the water, suddenly the heavens were opened to him and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”
Matthew 3:13-17 ____________________________________________________________________________________
Jesus’ baptism is the final piece in our Advent and Christmastide mosaic. Advent teaches about the fruition of receiving something long awaited. We celebrate the coming of Immanuel – God with us! We celebrate the tangible hope of physical newness that only a newborn baby can offer. We celebrate the spiritual hope that a beginning brings. We celebrate the symbolic birth of a new way of living and relating with the world. The hope of birth, whether it is metaphorical or literal, revitalizes us during this time of the liturgical calendar.
There is a succinct parallel between the birth of Jesus and the baptism of Jesus with the new ways that the Spirit reveals itself. Of course an infant is ‘new’ but there is also newness found in Matthew 3 with the baptism of Jesus. Baptism, in itself, represents new life. Jesus was always the Immanuel, but this marks the beginning of an entirely new season, including the wilderness and then the start of his public ministry.
It is during the baptism of Jesus that we first see the union of Creator God, Son, and the Holy Spirit. This unification empowers Jesus to be tested in the wilderness for 40 days and then onward throughout the rest of his ministry. However, this is our first tangible introduction to this relationship. With baptism comes new revelations; Jesus could better witness and articulate the world around him as soon as the Spirit embraced him. Baptisms symbolically realign us with God, resuscitate us, and refocus us as we are batted within the chaos of this world. In the newness of his baptism, we see that Jesus has favor with God because of his public commitment. In the same way that Jesus’ birth-event would change everything, so would this baptism. That the Spirit of God descends in the form of a dove – a symbol of peace for many of us – underscores that the one being baptized, this Prince of Peace, will conduct a ministry characterized by reconciliation and justice.
Newness can only come from endings, and so it is appropriate that this is the gospel reading shortly after Christmastide. I say this because in many ways, it seems that the baptism of Jesus is the benediction of Advent. The Spirit is here, with us, and sends us. No more waiting – we, too, are loved and in the presence of God. An important piece of Advent and Christmastide is that God is with us; the baptism of Jesus teaches us that God is with us no matter when and where, and that God also sends us.
Matthew tells us that the Spirit descended on Jesus like a dove after two actions: John agreeing to baptize and Jesus being baptized. This reminds us that our participation is required in order to experience God. After all, if John the Baptist didn’t agree to baptize Jesus, he would have possibly missed out on this event. We are given an opportunity to recognize the holy and sacred throughout each day. Even in the midst of post-holiday burnout, there are holy acts happening around us. Yes, God is with us, but we must be looking for the Spirit.
The newness of a savior being born, a person being baptized, a world being awakened…it all comes with us being able to witness the transforming newness that the Spirit invokes.
The liturgical calendar gives us a chance to walk closer with God in all the seasons of the year. We are offered these readings as a way to experience the seasons of Jesus alongside the seasons of our own lives. Each year we arrive at Advent tired and worn out, needing new energy and new life. We are given hope with this birth but then quickly the narrative of Jesus hits a remarkable pace. It is evident that the Spirit is moving and we are offered revitalization through the swiftness of this short but important time in the church-year.
In the newness that is found in Advent and baptisms, we are basking in a God who offers a chance to strengthen our spiritual energy to carry us through the year. We participate in this life with an ever-dynamic God that invites us to participate in a narrative far bigger than what we can imagine. The Spirit is here, with us, and sends us.