Epiphany is celebrated on 6 Jan, 12 days after Christmas Day. It is a great day of joyous celebration for all Christians as the church observes the manifestation of God’s Word made flesh, made known to all nations and people. For the Western churches, 6 Jan has come to be celebrated as the coming of the wise men (Magi) bearing gifts to visit the Christ child. In the Eastern churches, however, this festival emphasises the baptism of Jesus and his first miracle at Cana.1
The common thread that links Christmas to Epiphany, which means “to show” or “to reveal and to manifest”, is summed up in a word: identification. Throughout the season of Epiphany, the Scripture lessons seek to highlight the physical manifestation of Jesus to the Gentiles, not as a cute baby that was born in Bethlehem, but as the Son of God who exchanged divinity for humanity because He loves us dearly. And what better way for Jesus to identify with sinners than by His baptism at the Jordan River?
The Rev Fred Pratt Green’s 20th century hymn ‘When Jesus Came to Jordan’ clearly brought forth the message of the sinless Son of God fulfilling the requirements of the Law for sinners who could never hope to do so on their own (stanza 1). By subjecting Himself to John’s baptism, the perfect righteousness of Christ is provided for all sinners who come to Him in repentance. Jesus’ baptism thus represented the willing identification of the sinless Son of God with the sinful people He came to save. Jesus’ supreme identification with sinners was His taking their sins upon Himself, which He did at Calvary (stanza 2).
Throughout this hymn, the late Rev Green (1903-2000) was theologically accurate and profound in describing the defining moment in the life and ministry of Jesus. The Third Person in the Godhead is mentioned in stanza 3 to highlight the work of the Holy Spirit in helping us keep our baptismal vows. Just as the Spirit had played a significant part in Jesus’ baptism by descending like a dove, the Holy Spirit will enlighten and empower us in dying daily to our sins and rising with Him in the newness of life.
All thanks be to God whose mercy is clearly displayed at the baptism of His Son when out of obscurity, Jesus was manifested as the Son of God who comes to take away the sins of the world.
1 Laurence Hull Stookey, Calendar: Christ’s Time for the Church (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 1996), 111.
When Jesus Came to Jordan
(The United Methodist Hymnal, #252)
When Jesus came to Jordan to be baptised by John, he did not come for pardon but as the sinless one.
He came to share repentance with all who mourn their sins, to speak the vital sentence with which good news begins.
He came to share temptation, our utmost woe and loss, for us and our salvation to die upon the cross. So when the dove descended on him, the Son of Man, the hidden years had ended, the age of grace began.
Come, Holy Spirit, aid us to keep the vows we make; this very day invade us, and every bondage break.
Come, give our lives direction, the gift we covet most:
to share the resurrection that leads to Pentecost.
Words: Fred Pratt Green, 1973 Music: Attr. to William Walker, 1836; harm.
by Carlton Young, 1988
Dr Yeo Teck Beng is Principal of the Methodist School of Music, and a member of Telok Ayer Chinese Methodist Church.