As Paul travels through Asia Minor, modern-day Turkey, he encounters a group of twelve disciples who know of John the Baptist but not Jesus. Because they have never heard of the Holy Spirit either, they are probably Gentiles. (Jews would have known about the Holy Spirit from Israel’s scriptures; see Psalm 51:11.) Paul explains to them how John’s baptism was preparatory, signaling repentance, but also looking ahead to Jesus, the one who was to follow after John. Paul baptizes the disciples in Jesus’ name. They receive the Holy Spirit and prophesy and speak in tongues together.
However, one of Paul’s initial questions to them is revealing. Paul does not ask “In whose name were you baptized?” but “Into what then were you baptized?” Baptism, for Paul, is not simply a symbolic act performed in Jesus’ name that hopefully yields spiritual results. Baptism is a sacred act of mystical union, in which the baptized are united with the Holy Spirit. So these willing disciples in Acts 19 are baptized “into” the Holy Spirit as well as “in” Jesus’ name. Christians sometimes wonder whether the Holy Spirit is somehow inside them or perhaps visits them in particular moments. Paul’s understanding is the reverse: Christians baptized in Jesus’ name are now “in” the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit holds the power, not us. Our efforts to pursue God’s will and accomplish spiritual tasks do not depend for their success on our occasional appeals to the Holy Spirit for assistance. Our successful efforts depend on whether we recall our baptism and our uniting with the Holy Spirit, God’s active presence in the world. The question is not whether the Holy Spirit dwells in us, but whether we dwell in the Holy Spirit.
Holy Spirit, help us to remember our baptism. We strive to live and work and rest within you all our days. Amen.
The beginning of the New Year reminds us of God’s love for all peoples through the celebration of Epiphany. Isaiah uses imagery of a wedding and a garden to declare that the beauty arising from Israel will go to all nations. The psalmist praises the Lord on behalf of everything and everyone on the earth, including men and women from all peoples. Paul proclaims that Christ fulfills the expectations of Israel; he is the open door for all to become children of God. In Luke, Simeon and Anna speak prophetically over the infant Jesus in the Temple, declaring him the light to the Gentiles. God’s promises made in love are fulfilled in love.
• Read Isaiah 61:10–62:3. How are you daily becoming Zion, a person of justice?
• Read Psalm 148. How does your connection to God connect you to creation?
• Read Galatians 4:4-7. How confident are you that God listens to your prayer?
• Read Luke 2:22-40. When have you experienced sacrifice as gain rather than loss?
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