The Baptism of the Lord marks the beginning of the public life and ministry of Jesus as he set out to do the Father's will and announce the arrival of the Kingdom of God. The beginning of this work is marked by his baptism in the Jordan. He is acclaimed on earth by the prophet John and links himself to John by being baptised by him. He is acclaimed from heaven by the voice of the Father and the presence of the Spirit. As the people who have heard his preaching and accepted his call, who have confessed him as the Christ, and set out to follow his way, let us pause and consider the words addressed to Jesus: ‘You are my beloved Son, with you I am well pleased.’
This weekend is a day of celebrating beginnings in the liturgy: the beginning of the preaching and the public ministry of Jesus which is announced with the great cry from heaven of the Father’s joy in the work of his beloved Son. Yet Mark expects that as you hear this opening blaze of heavenly light and glory, you know and remember that this story will end in the darkened Friday of the crucifixion. We are also at a beginning, the beginning of a year. The initial excitement of New Year is over, so we can now stop and reflect that a new period of our lives in the world is beginning.
The public ministry of Jesus today is that which is carried out by you and me, the individuals that go to make up the Body of Christ, the Church. Preaching the truth, doing the truth in love, bearing witness to the Father, caring for the poor, being attentive to the Spirit, recognising the presence of God in respecting the environment, seeking justice and peace, offering thanksgiving to the Father in the liturgy – all these are public works of the Son carried out by his people. Now is the time to take stock and ask are we being attentive to this public ministry with which we are charged.
There is no end to the variety of public ministry to which we are called in imitation of Christ, to do the will of the Father, being empowered by the Spirit. Let us take three examples.
Bearing witness to the truth. We live much of our lives buffeted by propaganda of one sort or another: whether it is formal propaganda intended to create great lies that oppress people , to advertising, to manipulating numbers to prove a point, to putting a spin on a story. There is even the realisation that if you repeat an idea often enough, people will become so familiar with it that they will assume it is some basic fact.
Caring for those suffering oppression. The oppressed are all those who are in need and cannot escape from the situation by their own exertions: be it illness, or poverty, or ignorance, or because of injustice. We believe in a God who forgives and gives us chance after chance, and who challenges us to do to others as we would have them do unto us. To acknowledge the goodness of God is to accept that we have an obligation to show that same goodness.
Respecting creation. Because the environment in which we live is material does not mean that we can look on it with indifference as something simple to be used and discarded. We believe that the whole of God’s creation is God’s gift and that all that was made was made through the Word. But if the world is God’s gift and bears traces of the Creator within it, then we must respect it and use it with care, conscious that it is here to sustain life not just for us but for all the generations to come.
To recall the scene of the baptism of Jesus is to resolve anew to being his public witnesses in the world.
Canon Francis Brown