Baptism of our Lord, Year B

Pastor Barbara Thrall

Greetings to you in the name of our Lord, Jesus Christ, at the end of the first full week of 2021.

To say these past days have been challenging and eventful would be an understatement.  After last Wednesday, someone wrote on Facebook, “I’m missing 2020”, but I don’t think we want to go back there.  This is the day and the year the Lord has made, so let us rejoice and be glad in them.  And let us find some strength and truth in the midst of our difficult times.

Last month many of you expressed a love for the season of Advent, with its lead-up to Christmas and its theme of light and new life coming into the world.  I will offer that I love Epiphany, this season of revelation.  For me it’s kind of like watching a flower opening in time-lapse photography.  Leaf by leaf, petal by petal the breadth and depth of Christ are revealed to us in Scripture.  Through manifestations and showings (that is what Epiphany means, to show), we find that Christ has been and is in our midst in amazing and powerful ways.

Last Sunday Episcopal Bishop Fisher preached about the manifestation, the Epiphany of the Christ Child to the Magi.  The wise ones from the East, the non-Jews, the outsiders who are drawn by a cosmic occurrence to the very person and presence of Christ. We are told they encountered him and  recognizing his greatness they left their treasures as a sign of what he meant to them, and to the world.

Then today, the scene quickly shifts, and we find ourselves among the throngs at the Jordan River, with the very adult John the Baptist preaching, and an equally adult Jesus standing among the crowd.  By this time Jesus has had years of study, of thought and reflection that bring him to this decision to meet up with John.  The sinless one to Jordan came, but let us leave him there for a moment and come back to the present day.

Have you ever seen that Youtube video in which parents have placed a new pair of glasses on a tiny, 5 month-old baby?  What we see is pure joy and astonishment on her face when for the first time she can see clearly. Her eyes grow wide, her mouth opens, she moves her head and squeaks. It is incredibly heartwarming and powerful to watch that little revelation.

This past Christmas a friend told me that his own 16 year-old son, like my friend’s father before him, is red-green color blind.  Through the miracle of modern technology, my friend was able to get a pair of glasses for Greg, ones that would change his view and give Greg the full range of colors.  Greg’s response was the same as the little baby’s, only this time with words.  “Wow!  Is this what you guys have been seeing all along?  Is this what the world looks like to you?  Oh my gosh, how beautiful this is!”  Greg literally had an epiphany.

That moment of revelation, that awakening to what is out there, that having one’s eyes opened, is akin to what I imagine happened to Jesus.  When John baptized him and the heavens opened and God spoke, it was Jesus’ personal epiphany, showing him, showing us God’s favor and blessing upon His Christ in the Holy Spirit.  Jesus did not go to John and the river for forgiveness or remission of his sins, but to be one with us and to encounter God there.  It was his huge ah-ha moment, and in hearing the story, we are meant to know, this Jesus is like no other.

This past Wednesday we Americans and the whole world, unfortunately,  had our own ah-ha moment.  Like the baby or the young man with the new glasses, we had our eyes opened, but this time we witnessed a horrifying reality that has been lingering with us for a long time, and then boiled over this week.  The sentiments of the mob in Washington, their insistence on their own white supremacy, their predilection for violence, their willingness to put their trust in falsehoods and assertions of conspiracies, the overt manipulation by the highest elected leader in our land, all were on full view for all to see.  The very foundations of our democracy – the smooth transition of government following a free and fair election, these foundations of democracy were deeply shaken.  Condemnation was quick to come from just about everywhere and everyone.

And yet, we still stand.  Hopefully with eyes and ears open to the truth and possibilities of our hard-won democracy, we go forward.  The trick, of course, will be to go forward together.  Our duly elected, now certified president-elect has called upon our nation for unity, strength and purpose, for healing the self-inflicted wounds of selfishness, hatred, racism, xenophobia, and demagoguery.  As a nation, we have a lot of work to do.

So let us return to the man at the side of the Jordan River, to whom and about whom God has spoken so forcefully and with such encouragement.  Jesus is being revealed, manifested to us as the Savior, the savior in whom we put our trust and to whom we look for guidance, hope, and strength.  Jesus, as a singular presence, God’s beloved Son, was sent to lead us in truth and faithfulness, sent to show us how to live with one another, sent to redeem us from our sins and to lead us into life abundant and everlasting.  He wants a relationship with us, individually, yes he does. And he also wants that relationship with us so that we may be one with our fellow human beings.

That is why he was baptized by someone else, John his cousin, in the midst of a crowd.  That is why he was revealed to the shepherds nearby, and the visitors from the East who had been led by a star.  That’s why he gathered his disciples, and turned water into wine and healed the sick, so that his God-ness might be made manifest in community, not just in himself, but for all of us.

Our Congregational Church friends have a large red sign that sometimes hangs in front of their churches, proclaiming an important truth.  You’ve probably seen it.  It says, “God is still speaking…” I wonder, too, because I believe God does it, how God is still showing himself, still making himself manifest to us and to a hurting world? I believe God showed us a view of ourselves in the events of this past week, and revealed for us the work of justice and reconciliation that is before us.   What will we do with these ah-ha experiences of God’s in-breaking urgency?

Will these situations move us to prayer and action, embracing our own baptismal promises to seek and serve Christ in one another?  Will we have our eyes opened and see more clearly the need for God’s abiding, stirring presence among us?  Will we, like Jesus, take a moment of decision and allow God to transform it into something much bigger?

Now, if I were Bishop Michael Curry I would break into song right here, but instead I will close with the words of an old hymn that touches on this Epiphany theme. The hymn goes like this, with an apology for the antiquated language:

Once to every man and nation, comes the moment to decide.

In the strife of Truth with falsehood, for the good or evil side;

Some great cause, some new Messiah, offering each the bloom or blight,

And the choice goes by forever, ‘twixt that darkness and that light.

My brothers and sisters, let us choose to follow Jesus, the light of the world, where he leads us, and trust that he will bring us both closer to God and to one another.  May he continue to reveal in himself the likeness of God, and inspire us to do the same.  Amen.

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