Before the pandemic, there had been a huge rise in the influence and importance of social media, of blogs, posts and videos created to keep people connected. Since the start of the pandemic this way of communicating has become even more important for keeping people in touch with all sorts of things. Contributors’ popularity is measured, not just by content, but by how many people watch a certain post and how many like it. Those who get serious numbers following them, and I mean at least hundreds of thousands, are known as influencers. They have the capability and opportunity to speak to a whole crowd of people and influence what they do and what they say. So many good ideas which have had a positive impact on your life will have started with an idea somewhere on social media.
Against that cultural backdrop of communicating to the masses we arrive at Baptism of Christ Sunday. No social media back then but John the Baptist knew how to get the crowds in. The way the Gospels describe him seems to make him stand out; is that why he was noticed? He seemingly appears out of nowhere, is dressed in a startling fashion and speaks of repentance and baptizes so many people. Can you imagine the scene? One person hears what John is doing, then another, and before you know it you’ve got a real life social influencer having significant influence. I never think of this as an orderly process. I imagine chaos, crowds and more chaos, and I’m left wondering what the experience was like for the individual.
Into all of that hustle and bustle Jesus arrives. Into the midst of all that busyness of repentance and baptising the attention is suddenly shifted to Jesus and the crowd appear to be not quite so important now. John has finally done his job as the amazing influencer that points to Jesus, and as if to make that really clear, something incredible happens. Above the hubbub of the crowd God speaks, and speaks in such a way that everyone stops and listens to this most intimate of moments in Jesus’ life. I have the feeling that those who were there on that day probably thought they would go home and say it had been another busy day by the river, so many people baptized, tell everyone! But instead they went home and said, God spoke to this man called Jesus, and not only that God called him his Son. Quick, tell everyone that!
For Jesus, his baptism is a moment of clarity, a beautiful and clear moment when God speaks to him and makes apparent that the journey he is about to embark upon is the one that he should be on. And if he has any doubts or concerns along the way, which is bound to happen, especially when the cross looms large, perhaps he could come back to this precious moment when the strength and power of God’s affirmation was made known. At a baptism service today, baptism is described as being born again of water and the Spirit. For Jesus his baptism was certainly a new start, the moment when his life and ministry turn to face the reality of the promise of God’s Kingdom. A ministry that will not only change Jesus’ life but will also change the lives of all those who are inspired and influenced by his baptism and this personal affirmation from God, whatever the cost.
Being baptized might already be an important part of your life and journey of faith. Maybe it’s the event in your life that has influenced so much of what you have chosen to do and be. Perhaps you have that sense of God calling out to you and telling you just how much you are loved and encouraging you on a certain path. The challenge for anyone who has been baptised, or who is thinking about being baptised, is that it’s important to listen out for God speaking. Don’t worry about the crowd, real or online, that might be around you trying to get you to go in a particular direction. Just try and listen out for God’s voice, knowing that God loves you and is always journeying alongside.
- What does baptism mean to you?
- What opportunities do you have in your daily life to spend time listening to God?