Formations 01.10.2016: Refreshing Traditions

Luke 3:15-22

New Year’s fireworks light up the water below in Portugal.

New Year’s fireworks light up the water below in Portugal.

The first month of 2016 is in full swing. The New Year is our chance to start over in every aspect of our lives. People want to begin the year knowing that they can hope for good health, prosperity, happiness, and success for the next twelve months. Traditional New Year’s celebrations around the world have this idea in mind.

In Spain, Portugal, and Mexico, grapes are an important part of ringing in the New Year. To bring good luck to each month of the next year, the tradition is to eat twelve grapes as quickly as possible as the clock strikes midnight on New Year’s Eve. Southerners in America eat a dish of black eyed peas, ham hock, and rice with collard greens called Hoppin’ John. Each of the ingredients symbolizes wealth and prosperity when eaten on New Year’s Day. Japan eats a special New Year’s dish of soba noodles, whose long and thin shape symbolize longevity. In Germany and Austria, pork eaten at New Year’s symbolizes prosperity, because in the Middle Ages, owning pigs was a sign of wealth. Countries around the world also celebrate by shooting off fireworks, which is a tradition that harkens back to ancient belief that bright lights and loud noises would scare away any evil spirits nearby.

People around the world keep these religious and superstitious traditions fervently. We like to know that we can have some kind of hope for what our future years will hold for us, and we want to begin the year with a feeling of being refreshed and cleansed of anything from our pasts that might hold us back. And even if we don’t keep specific New Year’s traditions, we tend to think similarly on a smaller scale. We start the day differently when we know there’s a big meeting or an important obligation. We begin and end each week in prayer and reflection with our church communities, and we know that the way we start can have an effect on what happens for the rest of the week.

In this week’s text, we’ll consider what Jesus’ baptism signified for both his and John’s lives. Baptism signifies a new life in Christ, and Jesus’ baptism offers a refreshing way for us to understand his ministry. Unlike most of our New Year’s traditions, Jesus’ baptism did not direct us to think about our own monetary wealth or worldly success. Instead, John intentionally drew attention to Jesus’ ministry and our future salvation. This text also invites us to think about how our own baptisms affect the courses of our lives as we continue to draw attention to Jesus this year and every year.

“9 Foods to Eat on New Year’s for Good Luck in 2016”, 29 December 2015


• What were your New Year’s traditions this year? Why are they significant to you?
• How do you like to start your day? How does the way you start your morning affect the rest of your day?
• How often do you think about your baptism? What is the significance of baptism for you?
• What can you do to bring attention to Jesus’ ministry this year?

Reference Shelf

Jesus’ Baptism

Baptist churches almost always have a baptistery behind the platform where the pulpit stands, and there is often a picture hanging in it or a mural painted on the
wall. Sallman’s The Head of Christ is a favorite, or the same artist’s rendering of Jesus praying in the garden; others have a pastoral scene including a river, evoking the Jordan even if the scenery is more American than Palestinian. Few Baptist churches hang a painting of Jesus’ own baptism by John above the baptismal pool. By contrast, ancient baptisteries were typically decorated with a painting or carving of that scene, sometimes also including scenes from John’s life. In some treatments, the baptism becomes a miracle, with the water jumping up out of the riverbed to surround Jesus. In most cases, however, the water stays calm but John becomes a Christian saint, complete with halo, as in the painting by Verrocchio and da Vinci. Perhaps we can see all of these examples as evidence of ongoing Christian discomfort with the notion that John, who was God’s prophet but who never became Jesus’ disciple, baptized the Son of God as if Jesus were any other sinner. Some ancients dealt with their discomfort by making the baptism a miracle or John a Christian, but others—like Luke and many modern Baptists—by treating John’s baptism of Jesus obliquely.

Luke 3:18 is a typical Lukan summary and transitional sentence, tying up what John had been doing in the previous section and drawing his ministry to a close. The Baptist is described as “exhorting” or “encouraging” his audiences; Luke uses (parakaleø), which can mean to urge or to console or to encourage. John’s ministry is summarized with the verb (euangelizø ), meaning “evangelize” or “preach the gospel.” In Luke’s thinking, John the Baptist was the beginning of the gospel’s presentation to the world. Luke’s John was a forerunner, but he was also a Christian preacher, sharing the message of repentance, forgiveness, and the promise of the Spirit.

Richard B. Vinson, Luke, Smyth & Helwys Bible Commentary (Macon GA: Smyth & Helwys, 2008), 100-101.


Bathing for purification are often enjoined in the OT (e.g., Lev 14:8-9); the ceremonial washing of Aaron and his sons when they were set apart for the priesthood is particularly noteworthy (Lev 14:8-9). The Jews of the Qumran community, living beside the Dead Sea attached great importance to such ritual ablutions. They were priests, but viewed the worship in the Jerusalem Temple as corrupt. Their refusal to participate in the Temple sacrifices was compensated for by immersing themselves daily in a communal bath, in a spirit of repentance for cleansing of sin (without repentance it was said to be of no avail). This conjunction of immersion and repentance may well have led John the Baptist to demand all Israel to submit to a radical, once-for-all baptism in preparation for the judgment of the Messiah (Matt 3:7-12). Mark describes his baptism as “a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins” (1:4); repentance signifies “turning to God,” hence John’s baptism was a “turning-to-God baptism”, i.e., a conversion-baptism. This link of baptism with conversion remains constant throughout the NT.

That Jesus was submitted to John’s baptism must be viewed as a unique application of it. Whereas John’s baptism prepared repentant sinners to meet the Messiah in his judgment, for Jesus it will have been an act of solidarity with sinners, that they might enter the Kingdom of which he was the agent.

G.R. Beasley-Murray, “Baptism,” Mercer Dictionary of the Bible, ed. Watson E. Mills et al. (Macon GA: Mercer University Press, 1990), 85.

Michelle Meredith is a graduate of Mercer University, where she was the editor for literary and arts magazine The Dulcimer. She taught third and fourth grade in Mississippi for two years with Teach for America and became even more obsessed with live music and southern food (don’t even get her started on Delta tamales). She loves comedy, board games, roller derby, and hanging out with her dog. She is happy to be back in Macon, Georgia as the associate editor of Formations.


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