Branded by Baptism Against Identity Theft
Editor’s note: Glory E. Dharmaraj, Ph.D., executive of the Women’s Division of the United Methodist General Board of Global Ministries, looks at baptism in a four-part meditation during this Epiphany season. She turns to Theologian Kosuke Koyama for inspiration:
“With Jesus, the event of love comes first, then the explanation of it.”
Question of Identity: Child of God
As the people were filled with expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Messiah, John answered all of them by saying, “I baptize you with water; but one who is more powerful than I is coming; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire....”
Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heaven was opened, and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”
Luke 3:15-16 and 21-22
Love hovers over primeval darkness at the dawn of creation. Genesis opens with a spectacular scene of the Spirit of God hovering over the emergence of the cosmos (Genesis 1:1-2). Then God breathes love in the form of breath into the first humans.
The exuberant gift of breath is daily showered on God’s living creation.
Among a series of love-hovered events in the Bible, the church remembers one particular event during Epiphany, the liturgical season that marks the time when Jesus becomes known to the world. That event is Jesus’ baptism.
The Holy Spirit hovers over Jesus then alights on him in the form of a dove. Love has the final word in this event: “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased” (Luke 3:22).
The hour has come for Jesus to begin his ministry. He is called to give himself for others.
In the moment of baptism, God reinforces Jesus’ identity as God’s child. Jesus has dealt with this identity question before as a 12-year-old visiting the Jerusalem temple. In Luke 2:49, he says to his distraught mother, who has been searching for him:
“Why were you searching for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?”
Jesus prioritizes his Child-of-God identity above other identities, such as his Jewish identity, hometown identity, family identity and kinship identity.
At the threshold of his ministry, Jesus receives a resounding affirmation of his true identity. The heavens open, making way for a breathtaking, sound-and-sight event: “You are my Son, the Beloved.”
Jesus redefines identity for his followers in terms of another kinship model. Whoever does the will of God is a member of Jesus’ family (Matthew 12:50).
Eugene Peterson in his paraphrase of John 1 in The Message says the true identity of a person is the “child-of-God-self.”
Prayer: Dear Jesus, thank you for accompanying us in our walk. Help us to listen to the Holy Spirit’s guidance into a new creation, a new earth and a new heaven of open possibilities. May God’s fullness of life for us and for everyone be our guiding principle this year and all years to come. Amen.