Today we celebrate the baptism of our Lord Jesus Christ. Our first reading today is from Genesis. “In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters. Then God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light. And God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness. God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day”. (Genesis 1:1-5)
The Genesis twin in the New Testament is the gospel of John as was read on Christmas Day. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it”. (John 1:1-5, NIV)
Everything comes from God. Whatever your view on science is, whatever your take on the history of this world, however it has come to pass, is from God. The very first thing was and is from God. Where does that creative element, which the physicists are trying to lay hold of, the God element, the Higgs Boson; behind everything how does life goes on? How does this thing called life happen? We can grasp principles of science, but behind all of that there is the Word of Creation. Just as the Spirit blew on the waters in Genesis One, so God is the creative light and originator of all things.
In our gospel reading today we have a picture divinity and humanity united in Christ, coming into the waters of baptism, being baptized by John, as our example; being humbled to become as one of us, to identify as one of us, so that we can follow his example. And, what is the example? We are called to follow Jesus into baptism. He leads the way for us to follow. We are encouraged to be baptized into the name of Jesus. Just as in Acts we read this morning that when Paul is in Ephesus, he runs into a group of John’s disciples and asks them, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you became believers?” They replied, “No, we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit.” Then he said, “Into what then were you baptized?” They answered, “Into John’s baptism.” Paul said, “John baptized with the baptism of repentance, telling the people to believe in the one who was to come after him, that is, in Jesus.” On hearing this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. When Paul had laid his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came upon them, and they spoke in tongues and prophesied– altogether there were about twelve of them”.
There are two epiphanies in our readings this morning. The first is from Mark, and we read: “And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” (Mark 1:10-11)
I remember a beautiful baptismal mural behind a font in the church Naomi and I were married in, a church in Muskegon, Michigan. Behind the font, on the mural painting, the heavens are opened and a dove is descending over the waters of baptism. What a beautiful picture. That is exactly what was going on here. It was an epiphany, a revelation, a divine encounter with God. In Acts we are told that the disciples of John were baptized into the name of Jesus, and when Paul had laid his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came upon them, and they spoke in tongues and prophesied– altogether there were about twelve of them. (Acts 19:1-7) Just as the early church on the day of Pentecost fire came down on the believers gathered together, so these disciples in Ephesus were also a part of this Pentecostal experience.
We are encouraged to follow Jesus into the waters of baptism. We might not see fire, speak with other tongues, see a dove descending from heaven, but we are baptized into the death of Christ, and arise anew in the life of Christ, and become united with Christ in that baptism. Our lives are forever changed, never to be the same. We are born anew in the waters of baptism, and we come out into resurrected life. And, we are sealed with the chrism, the holy oil, the mark of the Holy Spirit. That is an epiphany. Try to envision that. It is an epiphany. Whether or not you see it so expressly as Jesus did or the disciples of John did when they were baptized.
Baptism is a sacred moment, an epiphany; something that you can live into. You’re baptized and you are living into that baptism experience. That’s what we are told in scripture, and that’s what we teach our children, to live into their baptism covenant and to enjoy their relationship with Jesus Christ, not just a religious ceremony we go through because we are good church goers. Our baptism and identification with Jesus through baptism is built on a relationship, an ongoing life, a way of living. In baptism we experience an epiphany and our lives will never be the same again.
Just as the Apostle Paul says, “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me”. (Galatians 2:20)
January 11, 2015
The Reverend Dr. David Madsen