Things that were once separate – creation and the creator, human and divine, flesh and spirit – are being declared Beloved and at-one-ment with God in the story of the Baptism of Jesus. (RCL Mark 1:4-11) At the beginning of his public ministry the same great truth that was present in the act of creation and will be at his transfiguration is being spoken so loudly that all with ears can hear, all with eyes can see, and all with an open heart and mind can receive.
It is strange by normal ways of thinking about things to be celebrating the Baptism of Jesus as a fully grown adult just days after celebrating his birth. Indeed we keep circling around baptism. During Advent we had several encounters with John the Baptiser and now only two weeks after his birth we celebrate his baptism. And come Lent we shall again visit the baptism of Jesus. So it’s important.
In this reading we have a powerful mystery at work alluded to in the language of the spirit that hovers. We have the creation story and the Spirit of God moving over the face of the deep. We then have the Spirit descending on Jesus at the moment of his baptism. That is, the same force of the divine that is at work in the very creation of the world is at work in the initiating and anointing of Jesus as Son of God. And even more amazingly this same Spirit will be seen to be at work in the disciples as the result of being baptised in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ!
So what is happening in all this movement of the Spirit? And what does it have to do with us? Firstly I think we should understand that Creation and the Creators purposes are still unfolding. The forces at work in creation were at work in Jesus and were, and are still to this day, given to those who give themselves to the purposes of God. Therefore creation and the work of God are not neatly finished but still being worked out in, and around, and I believe through us. This is reassuring and very unsettling as it requires us to be full participating members of the holy undivided family of God’s creation. Sitting back and watching the cute Christmas Nativity is over and we need to be participants of the groaning of creation.
Secondly, and closely related to this, we are created in the image of God just as Jesus was. We are told this from the beginning of the creation story. “Let us make them in our own image.” Plural. This speaks to the communal nature of God and the multiple images of God that includes us but does not begin or end with just us. We are incredibly important and also part of the everything. It is interesting that about twelve, the number of the tribes of Israel, are baptised suggesting that baptism in to Christ is to belong to the holy one and the whole of the chosen. Jesus was not only the representative human but a very particular one. He in particular was beloved so that he could become who he most fully was, and so that we can know ourselves beloved of God also.
And thirdly I think we are to see that the heavens are torn apart by the Spirit of God. What once separated heaven and earth is torn apart and that first seamless relationship between God and humanity, Creator and Creation, is restored through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus the Christ.
Because of the birth and the baptism of Jesus and our inclusion in this, we are: co creators with God in the unfolding work and celebration of creation; we are individually and together part of the myriad expressions of the likeness of God and beloved; and we are able to find our way back to the garden – not as naive innocents but as restored ones – and enjoy union with the divine.
And if you think that is a bit poetic and fanciful then remember the words that are spoken over the baptism water when we trace our spiritual ancestry back to the waters of creation, the parting of the Red Sea so that we with all the people of God can pass from slavery to liberty, the baptism of Jesus, and our journey through the watery depths of death, and the gifting of the Holy Spirit so that we might be formed in the likeness of God and fully participate in the establishing of God’s kingdom.
So early in the secular New Year I think this is challengingly good news. This understanding of the significance of baptism means at least three things. God is not done with this creation and therefore neither is our work done so matter how negative and scary some of the outlook is – in terms of climate change, sabre rattling between nuclear armed nations, etc – there is still divine and human outworking going on and we need to stay in the action to make real the loving purposes of God. As we say in the collect “You do not hate anything that you have made” and therefore God does not want any of us or this world to suffer and be scorched alive by climate change or nuclear war or any other atrocity. We have a holy duty to make this world a sacred dwelling place for God’s Spirit and all who have been made is God’s image.
We also have a holy duty to declare all flesh – human, creaturely, and earth itself – as sacred and to act accordingly. Any practice or belief of ours that treats one group of people or animals or part of the ecosystem as not of God and beloved is a practice and belief that is of itself not of God. So much so that our practice in the investing of capital, disposing of rubbish, purchasing of clothing, giving of gifts, gardening, farming – everything we do has holy or unholy implications. This is where faith is made real – our daily lives in the real world. There are no unimportant thoughts, feelings or acts – only those which are more conscious or intentional than others.
And there is grace. Heaven and earth are once again no longer divided. The Spirit of God descends like a dove on the one holy child and the disciples. We are not alone in our endeavours and duties. Indeed all that we are called to be and do is only possible because of the Spirit which comes to us out of a clear blue sky, or the inky darkness of a desperate night, and initiates us into the fullness of life so that, like Jesus, we can live and love and die and live most fully and eternally.
So happy New Year – happy and full and blessed life in Christ without end.