We are inviting you to combine the recognition of Epiphany and the baptism of Jesus into one event. It might seem like too much for one sermon, but we think it works. It might seem like we are not giving enough attention to the usual Epiphany observation. Yet, it seems as though this year is one where we need the light of Christ to resonate within our human experience most concretely. We need to find that light within as well as outside our experience. We need to remember that Christ works in us as well as beyond us. If this series is about anything, it is about the response of the church and the individuals within it to respond to that light and walk the path of Jesus each and every day.
Besides, we are taking our cues from the Gospel of Mark. There are no magi in Mark’s story, no star guiding the path. There are no dancing angels singing a proclamation of the coming of the one for whom all creation waits. The story begins with John, and a river, then the tearing of heaven as everything gets remade; and a dove descends. If anyone combines and packs together and over weights meanings and symbols and moments, it is Mark.
Ah, yes, this is the year of Mark. So, catch your breath now because once Mark gets going, there’s no stopping until Holy Week anyway! Mark’s Gospel is a fast gallop through the story of Jesus, and we are often left panting on the roadside wondering what is going on. Even this story, the baptism of Jesus, seems more concerned with meeting a flight schedule somewhere than with telling the tale.
Notice that there is nothing here about John’s preaching that we get from Matthew and Luke. There is nothing about the conversation between Jesus and John that appears in the Gospel of John. Just in and out, get it done. There is no actual description of the baptism at all. Did you notice that? He came to be baptized; then as he was coming up out of that water, he saw what he saw. It is like we skipped over the event itself. And given how much we argue about the methodology of baptism, you would think there would be some more detail here. It is almost as if the real importance is what happens afterward.
Do you remember your baptism? Some do, those who were baptized as youth or adults. Many don’t, because it happened before their rememberers kicked in. Yet even those of us who remember our baptism only because someone told us about it much later, we can still remember what happened afterward. Because now is afterward. The life we live as baptized followers of Jesus is that afterward. The new creation that we choose to make of ourselves every single day of our lives is that afterward.
And the new creation that we are and are becoming is a curious mixture of Word and Spirit. There are Words pronounced over us at our baptism and there is Spirit conferred from the community of faith. And we are remade. A new creation, a fresh start. So we need reminders.
Of course we need reminders of our baptism. It is too much of an event to keep in our hearts all the time. We forget what a transformative moment baptism is. We forget that everything old is torn away, like the heavens were rent apart, as Mark says. We forget that our orientation is from that moment; our new life is claimed in that moment. We forget that what we are looking for, longing for, is already ours in that moment. We lose our grip; we forget it even happened. We are still running; we are still looking for what we already have.
Remember your baptism. It isn’t just an empty ritual for Sunday mornings. It is a way of living that keeps our eyes open for the descending doves of the Spirit. It is a choice that we can claim to embrace the possibilities in front of us instead of the doubts within us. It is an opportunity to know that we are loved and claimed and that whatever darkness is hiding away in our past or our hearts need not define us anymore. It is a family we’ve entered into, who will run with us as we search for what we are looking for, and who will avoid saying “told you so” when we realize what we are looking for has been with us all the time.
The tearing continues. The remaking continues. Our lives are constantly being taken apart and put back together. And whether we see it descending upon us like a dove or not, the Spirit is a constant companion throughout our lives. It is what inspires us to love and serve and learn and grow. It is what equips us to be a part of the body of Christ in unique and powerful ways. It is what tears us open to new ways of living, new ways of being.
And whether we hear it or not, the word that is spoken over us is a word of affirmation. God sees the light placed within us and pronounces it good. The voice proclaims, “you are my beloved, with you I am well pleased.” Not done, not complete, not perfect, but good. In God’s eyes, good.