Thursday, January 26, 2012

God Still Speaks: The Baptism of Our Lord

On Monday evening, I stopped by a friends’ house to chat on my way home. As you know, there had been a few snow flurries throughout the day, but nothing to get excited about.  I stood to leave and looked out the window: snow covered the streets. It was spectacular: impressive because it happened so quickly; astonishing because it was so unexpected; magnificent because of its sheer beauty. As I drove home, I felt overwhelmed by joy and awe. And once I was home, I stood at the window and watched as the snow covered the earth.

The next morning came very early. Tuesday was the first day back to school for our children and none of us
was ready. I am not a morning person. Neither is our daughter. School mornings are always a shock, especially the first morning after a week and a half of sleeping in.  Needless to say, I was not very awake as we left the house.  As we walked to the car, I heard, “Wow.  Mama, look at the sky.” It was absolutely gorgeous. The sky was awesome: red, pink and orange ripples of clouds and sunlight: the perfect way to wake up and prepare for the day.

Friday night we celebrated the Epiphany. A group of us gathered for Eucharist and dinner. I directed the service primarily towards the children, stopping to explain what we were doing and why.  You can imagine
that there was a lot of activity: children standing on pews and lots of talking. We came to the moment
of the prayers.  I asked everyone to hold hands, think of their prayers, and then for quiet.  Slowly, a few folks named their prayer; otherwise, it was quiet. And it was striking.  The energy emanating from the
children became fully directed in prayer: the presence of God was palpable.

“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…Then God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light…”  
These words are stunning. To imagine that simply by the voice of God light came into being, shattering the
darkness. Can you imagine? 

They invite us to consider the very act of creation.  For some, this is the description of how it all really happened.  For others, it is a false myth created to explain what is beyond our knowing.  For others, the
truth is somewhere in the middle, a combination of Genesis and the Big Bang Theory. Whichever it may be, this image, God’s voice calling creation into being is the cornerstone of our faith.  

The story of creation is the basis of our belief in God.  This first act, separating light from dark, day from night, establishes order, time and history.  It declares God’s dominion over time and history. The story of creation is the first revelation of our dependence on and our bond with God.

Mark’s Gospel does not begin with stories of Jesus’ birth. There are no angelic visits, no shepherds, no kings.  Instead, Mark begins with John the Baptist. 

Now, this is the second time we’ve heard this story in about a month.  During the season of Advent, the story sets the stage for Jesus’ arrival and ends just before the baptism.  Today, though, the story continues. 
Jesus arrives at the River Jordan to be baptized by John,
“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.’”   
The image is stunning: Jesus rises from the water, the heavens tear open, the Spirit descends and God speaks. 

Who needs angels, shepherds and kings when you have God’s own voice claiming Jesus as the beloved?  This revelation, Jesus is God’s Son, is the point of the story. Some theological scholars argue over the actual baptism, wondering why Jesus needed baptism.  This, though, is not the question Mark seeks to answer.  This moment in scripture is one of the few revelations of God’s whole self at once: God, Son and Spirit all present. Mark uses Jesus’ baptism to fully establish who Jesus is: Jesus is One with God, Jesus is God’s Son. 

Jesus’ divinity is one-half of our belief in Christ; the other half is his humanity.  Together, Jesus’ humanity and divinity make our dependence on and bond with God real.   All the stories of Advent and Christmas establish that Jesus is the Messiah, God’s Son.  Epiphany is the revelation of Christ to the world beginning with the visit of the three kings.  

This season of the Church Year is seven weeks, making it one of the longest, and is part of Ordinary Time.  The length and quality of the season is important. Seven weeks is just long enough to make us complacent,
forgetful.  It is just long enough to make Jesus’ divinity seem normal, ordinary.  We might hear these stories and not even blink an eye, thinking, “Oh yeah.  I know this one. It’s about that leper Jesus healed.” Yet each story, each moment, is stunning.  This is God wearing our skin, walking in our midst, bearing God’s kingdom into the world. 

The psalmist sings 
“The voice of the LORD is a powerful voice; the voice of the LORD is a voice of splendor…The voice of the LORD splits the flames of fire; the voice of the LORD shakes the wilderness…” 
The common thread in our scriptures today is the voice of God. The voice of God calls creation into being and declares it good.  The voice of God thunders across creation causing creation to stand in awe and worship.  The voice of God declares Jesus the Son of God.  For centuries, the people of God have stood in awe. We might ask ourselves today: does God still speak? 

When do we hear the voice of God in our world and our lives?  From creation, to Jesus’ Baptism, to the
rising sun, and the energy of children, God continues to speak.  The Psalm reminds us that we witness the voice of God in creation. Epiphany is the season to notice, to witness God’s voice manifested in our world and our lives.  For indeed, God is still awesome; God still speaks.

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