Sunday, January 11, 2015

the baptism of our Lord

May my words be in the Name of the Holy & Undivided Trinity: + Father, Son, & Holy Spirit.

The Sunday after the Epiphany is one where we remember the Baptism of our Lord in the Jordan by St John. It might seem a little odd at first that we do so today: we are only a few weeks past Christmas; the visit of the Magi to Bethlehem to pay homage to the Christ-child, bearing their gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh is still fresh in our minds. In a few weeks time, on February 2nd we will celebrate the presentation of Christ in the temple. So why go off on what appears to be a tangent by jumping to the beginning of the ministry of the adult Jesus?

To understand why, we have to understand what the word Epiphany means. The Greek word  ἐπιφάνεια comes from a root which means to appear or to manifest – hence the reason you will hear the feast of the Epiphany often referred to as the Epiphany of Christ to the gentiles. The most common use of the word in classical Greek was to describe the manifestation of a deity to a worshipper – something we would more commonly call a theophany. And while Christ was indeed manifested to the gentiles when the Magi came to kneel before him, he was also made manifest to the world the day of his baptism by John, when not only did he allow himself to be baptised, but the Holy Spirit hovered over him in the form of a dove, and the voice of God the Father was heard declaring that this was his beloved Son. Very much a scene where God is made manifest, as I'm sure you can see; in other words, very much an epiphany also.

But why, you may ask as many do, was Jesus baptised at all? Baptism, after all, washes away sins; it is dying to the old life of sin in the waters of baptism and rising to new life; and Christ, being without sin, naturally had no need of it. There are many good and sound theological explanations as to why our Lord felt that this was something he should do 'to fulfil all righteousness' as St Matthew's gospel puts it. But this morning I would like to draw your attention to the many ways in which the scene by the Jordan that morning echoes the opening verses of Genesis. In Genesis we have God the Father, creator of heaven and earth; we have God the Son, in the form of his creative word by which all things were created; and we have God the Holy Spirit, hovering over the waters of the deep. By the Jordan we God the Father as he speaks and identifies Christ as his beloved Son; we have the Son, the Word of God now made flesh; and we have the Holy Spirit, hovering over Jesus and the water in which he was baptised in the form of a dove.

So just as in Genesis we have 'in the beginning' we have at the baptism of Christ a scene of New Beginnings – a new beginning in Christ. Note well how St Mark begins his Gospel: it is with the words - The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ the Son of God. God has been made man and now manifests himself to the world so that all men might be saved through him. It is as if God says to mankind: Let us start again. Before you were rebellious and chose sin over obedience; put that behind you now. I have sent you my Son, my only beloved Son; listen to him. And what are the first words that Christ speaks in this Gospel? They are The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.’ 

It is as St Paul says in 2nd Corinthians: if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them.

Remembering the Baptism of Christ at this time reminds us of the reason why Christ came into the world in the first place: for the salvation of us all, so that the light of the world might bring light into our lives, so that we might live in the hope we have in knowing that God loves us and wants us to be with him in heaven so much that he sent his only, and beloved Son in order to make that possible. And for those, like us, who have been re-born through baptism, all that remains is to accept God's love and grace, to listen to his Son and obey; something I pray that all will Amen.  

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