Baptism of Our Lord
Dear fellow ministers of the gospel of Jesus Christ,
grace and peace to you from the one who gifts us with the Holy Spirit. Amen
And just like that
the season of Christmas is over.
It concluded yesterday with the festival of Epiphany
observed on January 6th,
marking the visit of the magi from the east
and the revelation of Jesus as messiah to the gentiles.
Epiphany means manifestation,
and our task in this time after Epiphany
is to explore the many ways that God is made manifest in Jesus,
the many ways that Jesus is the revelation of God to us.
today we start with Jesus’ baptism.
As Mark tells it
Jesus goes out into the wilderness
to be baptized by John
who is clear that he is only preparing the way
for the one that will bring the Holy Spirit,
John baptizes Jesus,
dunks him in the river Jordan,
and as Jesus comes up out of the water
Mark says that the heavens are torn open
and from them the spirit descends on Jesus
and the voice of God rings out proclaiming to Jesus
“You are my son, the beloved, with you I am well pleased.”
Now if that is not an epiphany
I don’t know what is,
and in Mark’s brief telling
several things are revealed,
first the heavens are torn open,
in the ancient concept of the universe
the heavens were where God lived,
separate from the people on earth,
at Jesus’ baptism,
that which has separated the people from God
is opened in a way that cannot be closed again
Mark uses this tiny detail
The tearing of the heavens
as foreshadowing for what will happen at the end of this story,
where when Jesus dies
the curtain in the temple that separates the holy of holies from everything else,
is torn from top to bottom
and that which has separated the people from God
is opened in a way that cannot be closed again.
At his baptism
Jesus is revealed
as the one who removes barriers between people and God.
Next the spirit descends on Jesus,
this signals that Jesus
is the one for whom John has been preparing the way.
Now the spirit is the most elusive member of the trinity
I think we often have a hard time with it,
even Mark uses similie to describe the spirit,
descending like a dove,
but what is the spirit?
I think the best definition of the spirit
is the living and active presence of God.
With the spirits’ descent
it is revealed that Jesus carries the living and active presence of God into the world.
Finally, the voice of God is heard
claiming Jesus as son,
saying “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”
We heard in our first reading,
How in the beginning God’s spirit moved over the chaotic waters like a wind
as God began creating the world as we know it
speaking the world into being.
With these words from heaven
there can be no doubt about who Jesus is,
the Son of God.
And just like that,
God’s presence on Earth in Jesus
is made manifest,
both revealing and putting into action
the scope and direction of Jesus’ life
from this point on.
Jesus, God’s Son
will bring the living and active presence of God
to people who have been separated from God
and he will do so by breaking down the barriers that have stood in the way.
In our own baptisms
we are joined to this identity and mission.
Our baptisms are epiphanies too,
God speaks words claiming us as beloved children,
gifts us with the Holy Spirit
and promises that nothing will ever separate us from the love of God
and this happens because in our baptisms
we are joined to Jesus’ life, death and resurrection.
Through baptism we have life in God,
through baptism Christ lives in us
through baptism the spirit lives in us
and we are charged with sharing that spirit with others,
we are called to be an epiphany to others,
to bring the living and active presence of God into the world,
tearing apart boundaries that previously separated people from God,
speaking words of love and adoption to those we encounter.
And yes, this isn’t always easy,
it is scary to tear apart boundaries,
crossing paths and walls and taboos that society says we shouldn’t,
and it’s scary to offer love to someone
unsure if they will return it
but we are able to do it
because it is the spirit of God working through us,
directing and guiding us.
This guiding by the spirit is often subtle,
a nudging in the gut that we should do this or that,
we have to practice listening for the spirit
both as individuals and as communities,
and when we hear what the spirit is saying to us
the direction it takes us is often surprising
but always life giving.
Now that the season of Christmas is over,
after we pack away all the decorations and celebrations
we are left with a gift,
the gift of the Holy Spirit
who reveals to us who we are and whose we are
and who calls us out into the world
to make manifest the living and active presence of God. Amen
Pastor Emily Johnson preaches weekly at Christ Lutheran. These are manuscripts of her sermons given at Christ Lutheran. Feel free to engage with them in the comments section of the blog.