The baptism of Jesus, celebrated in the season of Epiphany, is all about the revelation of who Jesus is and what that means to us and how we live into our faith. (The Baptism of our Lord. Mark 1:1-11, Genesis 1:1-5; Psalm 29; and Acts 19:1-7.) Our readings remind us of beginnings and becoming new-again creations; of being declared beloved and our need to re-orientate ourselves toward the things of God with the nudging of the Spirit; and about the new again commitment to stepping out on the Way of this Jesus.
You may wish to read what I have previously written about the Baptism of Jesus according to the gospel of Mark.
Or you may wish to consider the readings for Epiphany.
This week has a lot to do with beginnings and beginning again, which suits where we are in a new secular year, and possibly reflecting on our life and purpose. It is the beginning of Mark’s gospel and the beginning of the Hebrew Bible and the creation story. In Genesis order, life and every holy interconnected thing is about to emerge from the chaos. And in Mark’s gospel the good news of Jesus the Christ – and all that means - is beginning, unfolding, emerging in front of our eyes. In Mark’s gospel this is the first time we see Jesus and he comes striding into the scene already adult and apparently ready for his life’s purpose, or at least the public part of it, to begin. And yet we the audience are introduced to this Jesus by observing this intimate moment when he is baptised, when he turns towards his purpose and opens himself to the tearing apart of the heavens, of the in-pouring of the Spirit and the declaration of God’s great love for him and through him. This is surely not the first moment of declaration of love but more of revelation for our sake and maybe confirmation, equipping and encouragement for this next chapter of the life of Jesus.
In this, baptism seems to have been the same for Jesus as it is for all of us – an outward sign of an inward process. Not a crude transaction between parent and child, creator and created, but a moment of empowering love in an ongoing process of creation, becoming and being. Love fuels and inspires every step. It is worth noting that Jesus is declared beloved before he is tested or tried in the wilderness not as a reward for passing a test! Love enables him to enter fully into the process. And so it is for us. Being declared beloved is not a reward for having changed and become worthy. Accepting that we are – and have always been – beloved is how we find our direction, our way in life.
And whilst baptism is a moment, that we revisit in the cycles of the church, becoming people of the Way is not a moment but a way of living and growing as individuals and as a community. It is good to have this reading at the beginning of the year as we reflect, realign and rediscover what is most important, what is bringing life, and what is being asked of us.
And lest we forget where this story is going (to Jerusalem and the cross) and where the story of the Epiphany took us (to the darkness that does not welcome the coming of the light) we need to remember that to be people of the Way of Jesus - followers of one who loved the poor and outcast, who declared God was near to all who were open to this news – is to stir up resistance and suspicion. Most of the world may have been happy enough to pause for the sentimental remembrance of the birth of a baby but the world was not and sadly still does not seem very interested or welcoming of a prophet and teacher, a healer and disturber, a saviour and a scandal, that will tear the heavens apart with a new way of loving.
Let us not spend too much time or energy listing weight loss and increased muscle tone, financial improvement and home renovations, even niceness as New Year goals (although there is not necessarily anything wrong with these aspirations) but rather turn our hearts and minds towards to things of God and the emergence of the kingdom in our lives and worlds. The world is too desperate a place for so many and for us much of the time to think and hope such small and unimportant things. Let our hearts break open with desire for the well being of our neighbour and gratitude for all that is just as the heavens tore open with the voice of God over the baptism of Jesus.
Even so, come Lord Jesus Christ, love us into your Way of being and becoming.