New Year used to be in March! Coinciding with Spring. Many people view the New Year as a chance to begin again and make new year resolutions. I will swear less, eat my greens, become an opera singer this year. Beginnings are important in our lives and we often celebrate them-birth with a blessing or christening, maturity with confirmation or barmitzvah, marriage, and so on. I think maybe we don’t make enough of these events. People like Rudolf Steiner realised that even cutting a new tooth was a very important event for a child.
And so it is in our spiritual journey. At the beginning of any major faith beginning there is a ritual of renunciation, a turning away and of purification and commitment to a new way of being. For the Jews this involved a purification in water, one of the lakes or rivers. Hindus do the same in the Ganges.
We can reckon to date the ministry of John the Baptist, and by implication, the commencement of the ministry of Jesus, at AD 27-29.
The Word of God came to Zechariah's son John in the desert - a place of reflection, retreat and revelation. Probably the wilderness is the area north west of the Dead Sea, leading into the Jordan valley. John's ministry covered the whole of Jordan, preaching - communicating, proclaiming. It was authoritative-a baptism by immersion-used to describe water immersion, but also overwhelmed in/by/with the Spirit. This represents repentance for the forgiveness of sins expressed outwardly in water baptism, imaging cleansing.
Repentance in Hebrew involves a turning back / returning to God, rather than an expression of sorrow. Good deeds are not a necessary component of the inward act of repentance. Forgiveness does not rest on the deeds (fruit), but on a turning toward God.
John was baptizing all Israel with water but one more powerful was coming whose sandels he was unworthy to untie. He will baptize with the Holy Spirit and with fire. And the day of judgment is at hand to clean out, to gather up and burn with unquenchable fire- a fire that can't be put out, alluding to the rubbish dump outside Jerusalem that was constantly burning and often used to image the horror of judgment, although not necessarily "eternal" judgment.
Serious spiritual action is taking place on the margins, in the desert. We know who he is even if others don’t. The Messiah is introduced with its contradictions.
The gospel is good news of victory usually the glad tidings of empire!
Jesus goes forward from the crowd to be baptized.
And we have the advent of an anointed leader who proclaims a kingdom. A challenge to imperial gospel. And a voice from off stage, the prophet Isaiah says ,”This is my Beloved son”, quoting Psalms, the Suffering Servant of Isaiah, Jesus of Nazareth! From Galillee a poor, marginal place. "Thou art my son, today I have begotten thee." Isaiah 42:1 comes from the ordination liturgy of the Servant of the Lord, the Servant whose journey is one of suffering.
Could this Jesus be the fulfillment of ancient prophecies? Jesus' baptism was followed by the temptation and a call to the wilderness.
In Jewish and Christian understanding the Spirit usually comes upon a person to set them apart to lead different lives from the norm more in tune with God and the Spirit of God is often symbolised by a dove, also a symbol for us of peace. So the Spirit comes to Jesus, sets him apart, equips him for service, to proclaim good news to the lost, to heal the broken hearted and announce freedom to the captives, Isa.61:1.
So as we begin our Christian journeys we are baptised as babies or as adults (Ive done both!) And as we start this New Year we commit ourselves to Gods path and Gods resolutions even though its an up hill slog (especially in snow!) because we are on a soul journey that takes a lifetime..