Saturday, January 19, 2013

Jesus Baptism Day (Russia)

The Epiphany season in Russia includes “Jesus’ Baptism Day.” The English-Russia website is one of many that include a brief explanation of how the day is observed with the following paragraph (it is copied so frequently I can’t take the time to find the origin), plus a gallery of photos highlighting the icy conditions:

“In Russia there are few traditions for a Jesus Baptism Day. This day is celebrated in 19th of January and the night before the main tradition is going bathing in some natural source of water. So at this day usually the local rivers and lakes are full of the people wishing to commit this ritual, not minding the temperature of the air and of the water, which is usually just a half degree up from the freezing point at this time of year. Also, many people in Russian believe that the water being picked up at Baptism Day has some sort of magic. It can be kept next 365 days without getting any smell or become rotten. So many collect the water at that night and keep it at home, drinking it from time to time during all the year.”

The Baptism of Jesus is a unique event in the life of Christ that has direct implications for all mankind, and making our Lord’s baptism a time of celebration is something to which we westerners could give more thought--but why not wait until it’s warmer? I’m just asking.

What’s so special about Jesus baptism? A three features come to mind:

1) All three persons of the Godhead are present: God-incarnate being baptized publicly, God the Holy Spirit descending and God the Father expressing His pleasure audibly.

2) This is the first of three public declarations regarding Jesus. First, John the Baptizer calls Jesus, “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29), who “existed before me” (John 1:30). Second, the next day Andrew calls Jesus, “Rabbi (which means ‘teacher’)” (John 1:38). More on this in a later post. Third, Jesus is called the fulfillment of prophecy, “Him of whom Moses in the Law and also the Prophets wrote,” (John 1:45).

3) John’s baptism was of repentance yet Jesus insists His baptism was different, fulfilling the  righteousness of God. Jesus conformed to the Holy character of God and obeyed all commands being fully human yet His mission required identification with sinners. Also, the prophet Isaiah described God’s Servant as being Spirit-empowered (Isaiah 42:1) and the dove symbolizes peace.

One feature that stands out concerning the Russian celebration is that people do not seem to be at peace with God. Instead of trusting what God has accomplished by the life, death and resurrection of Christ by faith, there seems to be hope in magical powers--as if what Jesus has done was not enough.

The baptism of Jesus changes how we think of our Lord and Savior. He cannot be bribed, but a celebration should slow us down enough to think.

Have you been baptized? Why--or why not?

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