Year C Baptism of the Lord Luke 3
Have You Got a Prayer?
Luke 3:15-17, 21-22
That is Luke's version. All four gospels portray this scene. But Luke's version is a little different than the others. In each version, though, the Spirit descends "like a dove." The Holy Spirit is not a bird. Luke and the other apostles use the dove as a metaphor for the Spirit's coming into our lives. It is a beautiful metaphor. Have you ever seen a dove descend and land? It is graceful, gentle, and quiet. That's the point being made. That is the way the Holy Spirit will enter into our lives. The Holy Spirit came to Jesus gently, quietly, and in Luke's version, privately.
That is why Luke is different than the other three gospels. The other writers imply that the Spirit descended upon Jesus at his baptism, apparently when he was still in the water. That is the way this scene is often portrayed in religious art, especially those beautiful paintings out of the Middle Ages. Jesus, standing waist deep in water. John the Baptist standing next to him, pointing at Jesus, as if to say, "This is the one!" or, in the words of the Gospel of John, "Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world!" Above Jesus' head in these scenes is the Spirit, as a dove, descending. It is like the symbol that is in the baptismal font here, a nimbus around the Holy Spirit as he hovers above Jesus' head.
That's the way all the other gospels picture it. But Luke is different. He says, "Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the Holy Spirit descended upon him." Which means that the Epiphany, this special presence of God in this event, came to Jesus when he was by himself, praying. In other words, it wasn't a public event. It was a personal and private experience. No one else saw it. No one else heard that voice from heaven. He came out of the water, went off by himself, and prayed. That is when it happened.
Luke, more than any other gospel, emphasizes that Jesus prayed...
If you ever doubt the power of art to capture the imagination and revive a dead city, take a trip to Providence, Rhode Island.
Some years ago the "town fathers" of Providence, Rhode Island were desperate to find a way to revitalize the city's downtown, and especially its dangerous waterfront. So what did they do? They hired an artist. The artist they chose was a multi-media public artist named Barnaby Evans, who is known for combining science and art, nature and the senses, especially soundcapes, to generate something magical.
The magic in this case took the form of a sculpture, a sculpture installed on the three rivers of the capital city of Rhode Island. This one sculpture has 100 component parts. Each part is a giant metal basket into which firetenders place wood and light the firewood. These sparkling bonfires have attracted millions of people to Waterplace Park. Anyone who has ever walked the river during WaterFire will never forget the experience of how "opposites attract."
Here's a city that set fire to its water, creating a crowd-pleasing, family-friendly WaterFire Festival (www.waterfire.org). 100 "fire-pits" kindle a roaring, but carefully contained, fire in the middle of the water. People flock to water-fire and watch the flames from the shore while they dabble their toes in cold water while warming their faces by firelight.
Note: it didn't take the construction of fancy shopping centers, or giant skyscrapers, or a big urban sports stadium, or a bells and whistles amusement park to bring people back downtown. All it took was the unquenchable artistic combination of two symbols that were allowed to spread their magic: fire-power and water-works.
Why is it that what city planners could see so clearly has been firmly forgotten by twenty first century Christians? Water and fire, that powerful, awe-inspiring combination of opposites, is the birth-right of all Christians. If anyone ought to know the power of life lived out of these two forces, water and fire, it ought to be us.
Before Jesus even started his public ministry, John prophesied and promised that there was one coming who would baptize with "the Holy Spirit and with fire"...