Monday, 10 January 2011

A bit on the Baptism of the Lord

Happy New Decade, my friends. Winter is a horrid time for me - the cold and darkness already seem as if they have been persistent for the past eight months, and I shudder to think we have months of this ahead. As well, when one has maintained a blog for five years, one wonders if one has said anything of note. Some of my entries may contain humour, insight, and the like, but right now my thoughts seem as chilly as the weather. This entry is purely a gesture of 'yes, I'm still very much alive.' :)

I very much liked a way in which a priest-friend of mine developed a sermon regarding how Jesus was baptised into our humanity that we could be baptised into his death and resurrection. Oh, my theological training was quite good - perhaps too good.. with my brain in winter fog, I naturally thought of fifteen or so relevant references, and didn't have the stamina to tie them together. Yet there were images that entered my mind in reference to Jesus' baptism - particularly the recognition that, rudimentary though this concept was for the earliest Christians, the entire scene is a revelation of the Trinity. As well, Jesus, always the divine Person, in his human nature was given the gift of the Spirit for his ministry - the prophet, the healer, the crucified 'blasphemer,' the high priest.

Naturally, I feel inadequate without going into a thousand images, and treatment of whether theophany is historical, and so forth. Must save that for the spring thaw, I suppose. Yet, aside from my spirituality being centred on the Trinity (... well, why not? God as unknowable and beyond us keeps us from making Him into an idol, perhaps a super-charged version of ourselves such as Odin or Zeus), it always moves me that God is Creator and source of Revelation. By contrast with the gods of Canaan, and however much Israel had dealt with myths of many pagan cultures (these far stronger than their own in any natural sense - some must have wondered if territorial gods had the upper hand) long before Jesus' time on earth, Yahweh is constant creator - the material world is not an accident or regrettable development. Creation itself came into being from "and God said..." - he speaks, reveals, and calls us to 'hear' the Beloved Son.

I'm sorry that all too much of past treatments of our own baptism were centred on 'washing away the stain of original sin.' As my regulars know, I favour Irenaeus on that topic - for all that I love much in Augustine, he certainly was a bit excessive on this. Yet Augustine was defending divine omnipotence, in a culture where (as he'd experienced in his Manichean days), there was a dualism, where the material was seen as evil, creation as the work of a false god. Ironically, later developments of what was based on Augustine made it appear that our default location was hell. This was coupled with an uneasiness about Jesus' humanity, stopping just short of its denial. I well remember such old gems as the idea that Jesus was omniscient during his earthly existence and, for example, during his temptations, wasn't genuinely troubled but merely hiding his divine knowledge because, otherwise, Satan might not have seen to it he was crucified and the ransom for sin paid (with the gates of heaven opened in the process.)

Forgiveness is not a gift I'm about to belittle! But I do not see it as the action of a Creator who, however with regret, would have had to send us to hell (or limbo.) Reconciliation is a restoration to intimacy - and, if there are obstacles to this, that is not the Creator's doing.

However faulty or limited exegesis was until very recent history, I believe that it always was agreed that, in theophanies such as Jesus' Baptism and Transfiguration, He was revealed as priest, prophet, and king. (Thankfully, this is a far cry from a magician tricking the devil...) Given that, just a few days ago, we celebrated Epiphany, I was moved to think of Margaret Barker's treatment of the gifts of the magi. It has a valuable connection with Jesus as the 'new Adam,' but with an emphasis on priesthood - on sacrifices of glory rather than appeasement. I am thinking that our own call to spread the gospel, but also to take part in the Eucharist (sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving), is rooted in our baptism and common priesthood, and much prefer this to baptism's not being seen as an alternative to remaining in some vestibule because the pearly gates couldn't otherwise be unlocked.

Margaret Barker makes reference to several ancient sources which refers to Adam as priest, and to angels worshipping God's icon (as I've developed in the past, mankind as making the transcendent God immanent.) She mentions a Jewish text, the Apocalypse of Moses, where Adam, on leaving Eden, begged the angels for perfumes of Paradise (gold, frankincense, and myrrh), that he may continue the sacred offerings. "Adam driven from Eden represented the original priesthood driven from the temple in the time of Josiah.. Jesus was the new Adam, the new creation, opening the way back to Eden and restoring the true temple. The magi..were a sign for the Hebrew Christians that the ancient ways were being restored."

It occurs to me, as well, that revelation came more through our worship than we often realise. The Trinity were praised in early texts, long before actual formulation of a doctrine. This privilege of baptism (worship), all that has held our flawed Church (us!) together for two millennia, also reminds us of that eternal Creator - who continues to speak.

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