BY DAVID MARION
Baptism of Our Lord: Isaiah 42: 1-4, 6-7 Acts 10: 34-38 Luke 3: 15-16, 21-22
TODAY'S READING IS ISAIAH at his gentle best. The Lord's servant will come, not as a conqueror, but as a thoughtful pastor. He will not "quench the wavering flame". It sounds like a regime of encouragement for doubters and wanderers, not one of harsh condemnation.
The purpose, twice repeated, of the One who is coming is to bring "true justice". How often the Old Testament prophets make justice central to real religion. In our churches kindness, generosity and charity are words more often used. But justice should come first. Fifty years ago Archbishop Temple had this to say about Christianity's lack of impact in public affairs: "I am convinced ... that its spokesmen have talked too much about love and not nearly enough about justice". If Isaiah could see the notices in our church porches would he be convinced that we feel as he felt about justice?
Equally thought-provoking is today's passage from the Acts of the Apostles, which might be better described as the second volume of St Luke's Gospel. It is that lovely story in which Peter comes to accept and welcome Cornelius the Centurion and his whole family. They were not Jews. Despite all that Our Lord had taught Peter, he still thought that the non-Jewish world was, in religious terms, made up of second-class citizens.
It took a dream to show Peter how wrong he was. He had the honesty to admit that he had not yet understood all the implications of faith in Jesus Christ.
Then comes his wonderful admission, "God does not have favourites".
How often have we in practice assumed exactly the opposite? God, we think, is always on our side especially in war and especially in religion. Often the two are put together a very dangerous mixture indeed.
Finally comes Luke's account of the baptism of Our Lord by John the Baptist. This is not, as John himself says, the baptism that Jesus will bring, but it certainly is a new beginning. Most early Christians started their accounts of the life of Jesus with this encounter between John and Jesus. This is when the public ministry started. It is the second great Epiphany in which he is shown to the world. Those of us who have down the centuries received His baptism have reason to be nervous. If we take the baptism seriously it will turn our lives upside-down. t