Take a deep breath. You made it. We’re officially on the other side of Advent, Christmas, and New Year’s Day. After all the preparation, the complex emotions, and the celebrations in December, the allure of the return of Ordinary Time in January is probably all too real. But don’t put those white paraments or festive altarscapes away quite yet! Today is a day of celebration—possibly two celebrations—if that’s what you choose—although a different kind of celebration than Christmas. Rather than the celebration of Christ’s arrival, think of today as a celebration of our send-off as we join Jesus on a path that takes us into Ordinary Time and ultimately the beginning of Lent. As the first Sunday after the Epiphany (observed on January 6), today we celebrate Baptism of Our Lord Sunday. However, since January 6 is the day before, you may also choose to observe Epiphany on this day in addition to the Baptism of Our Lord.
If you do choose to celebrate Epiphany and Jesus’ baptism, embrace the opportunity to marry the revelation and wonder of Epiphany with the affirmation of Jesus’ nature as fully human and fully divine at his baptism. Join the magi and the crowds as they encounter Love made flesh, dwelling on the earth in a simple home as a child and being cleansed in the water of a flowing river. Too often we get caught up in the extraordinary gifts brought from the East or the dove and the booming voice in the sky, and we miss the holiness of the ordinary elements within these extraordinary events. So, help your people notice. Tell them the story of Jesus playing on the dusty floor when wise men appear in the doorway. Surround the worship space with reminders of flowing water, literal and physical. I did say not to get rid of the white just yet, but mix it in with blues and greens, the colors of earth and water. And maybe even a little gold, something to catch the light as it plays with the shadows, reminding the congregation that in the beginning, God set apart light and dark and called it all good. What a necessary reminder as we continue on the journey of becoming the people of God in this new year!
Today is also a day to revel in ritual. For many, this will be a day to celebrate Holy Communion, but don’t let that keep you from also celebrating the reaffirmation of baptism. (You can find the Baptismal Covenant IV liturgy in the Book of Worship and here.) Invite the congregation to once again renounce sin and profess their faith. Invite them to hear the story of God’s presence among the waters from Genesis 1, Jesus being nurtured in the womb, and the Great Commission Jesus gave the disciples at his ascension. Encourage congregants to touch and feel the water and remember the grace that saves and forms us as disciples of Jesus Christ. Embrace Baptism of Our Lord Sunday as a time to reassert our identity as baptized people who are saved by grace, incorporated into Christ’s Body, the Church, and called to a life of discipleship. And then, ask the congregation to come to the Table and join in the Holy Meal, having reaffirmed that all who are gathered are members of God’s family. In so many ways, the rituals on this Sunday both proclaim the Word and respond to the Word, inviting all who gather for worship to embody the message of the day with their words and actions.
Dr. Lisa Hancock, Director of Worship Arts Ministries, served as an organist and music minister in United Methodist congregations in the Northwest Texas and North Texas Annual Conferences, as well as the New Day Amani/Upendo house churches in Dallas. After receiving her Master of Sacred Music and Master of Theological Studies from Perkins School of Theology, Lisa earned her PhD in Religious Studies from Southern Methodist University wherein she researched and wrote on the doctrine of Christ, disability, and atonement.