First Reading: Genesis 1:1-5
1In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, 2the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters. 3Then God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light. 4And God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness. 5God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day.
Psalm: Psalm 29
1Ascribe to the Lord, you gods,
ascribe to the Lord glory and strength.
2Ascribe to the Lord the glory due God’s name;
worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness.
3The voice of the Lord is upon the waters; the God of glory thunders;
the Lord is upon the mighty waters.
4The voice of the Lord is a powerful voice;
the voice of the Lord is a voice of splendor.
5The voice of the Lord breaks the cedar trees;
the Lord breaks the cedars of Lebanon;
6the Lord makes Lebanon skip like a calf,
and Mount Hermon like a young wild ox.
7The voice of the Lord
bursts forth in lightning flashes.
8The voice of the Lord shakes the wilderness;
the Lord shakes the wilderness of Kadesh.
9The voice of the Lord makes the oak trees writhe and strips the forests bare.
And in the temple of the Lord all are crying, “Glory!”
10The Lord sits enthroned above the flood;
the Lord sits enthroned as king forevermore.
11O Lord, give strength to your people;
give them, O Lord, the blessings of peace.
Second Reading: Acts 19:1-7
1While Apollos was in Corinth, Paul passed through the interior regions and came to Ephesus, where he found some disciples. 2He said to them, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you became believers?” They replied, “No, we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit.” 3Then he said, “Into what then were you baptized?” They answered, “Into John’s baptism.” 4Paul said, “John baptized with the baptism of repentance, telling the people to believe in the one who was to come after him, that is, in Jesus.” 5On hearing this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. 6When Paul had laid his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came upon them, and they spoke in tongues and prophesied—7altogether there were about twelve of them.
Gospel: Mark 1:4-11
4John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. 5And people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him, and were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. 6Now John was clothed with camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. 7He proclaimed, “The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals. 8I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”
9In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. 10And 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. 11And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”
One of the popular childhood fables that has come back into vogue is the story of Beauty and the Beast. Handsome prince who is so self-centered is cursed to live as a beast until true love kisses him before a prize rose dies. Through the story, the young heroine learns to love the beast that keeps her captive in his palace. As the last leaf of the rose falls to the table, the heroine kisses the dying beast, begging him to not die. At that moment, he transforms into a handsome prince and they live ever after. We cheer.
Question: When did the creature become a prince. Choice 1: at birth. Choice 2: with the kiss. Choice 3: Somewhere in the process. .
Let us pray: Lord may the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be pleasing to you, my God and my Redeemer.
Has there been a defining event in your life? The kiss that changes you from a beast to a prince or princess? For Jean Val Jean in Les Miserables, the moment he decided to steal the loaf of bread, his life changed. He went to prison and was branded “criminal.” In the story, that fatal choice sets the course of his life and the stage for the battle between law and grace. For some of us the “I do” changed the course of our life and defined us. Perhaps there was an accident that T-boned your life or a differently abled child altered your dreams or Corona or Alzheimer or, or, or. Major and minor events in our lives define us and direct our lives down a path we did not anticipate.
One of the major defining events of Jesus’ life was his baptism. We look at that event through the eyes of Mark today. How did baptism impact Jesus’ life and our lives? In full disclosure I first point out that, as clarified in the New Testament reading, baptism at Jesus’ time had a different focus as people were preparing for the coming Messiah so now we baptize in the name of that Messiah. This passage and Jesus’ baptism are the changing point in our understanding of baptism.
First, Jesus’ baptism was when he “went public.” I like the phrase, “Going public,” because it gives the feel of a process that implies preparation, support, and focus. A candidate, who declares his candidacy, goes public about “throwing his or her hat in the political race.” It has not just been a sudden decision but signals preparation, gathered support, raised funds, counting the cost, and research of the issues. Going public places self in the public eye for cross examination, for critiquing, and for possible rejection. The prince was born the prince and the kiss made public his real identity or would he have continued as beast if she had not kissed him? Beauty did kiss him but the Prince has yet to live out how that prince-ship will display itself. Jesus has yet to live out what that baptism meant.
Last week we read that Jesus is the Word, present at creation, the light of the world. He entered humanity and was not recognized or received by his creation. Christmas events testify to his identity. I suspect he probably confounded the rabbis in Nazareth as he did the rabbis in Jerusalem when he was 12 years old. We have glimpses that Jesus is true God and true man. This same Jesus did not suddenly become something new at baptism but I would understand his baptism to be his “going public,” the starting of his public ministry.
John the Baptist, Jesus’ cousin, was calling people into the desert to prepare and repent. That John, not John the Apostle, baptized Jesus. John was preaching a baptism of repentance to prepare the way for the coming Messiah. There could be no faith baptism yet as Jesus had not yet died. Jesus’ baptism is going public about his identity and his identification with the plight of humanity, struggling under the law but looking forward to a Messiah for deliverance.
When we baptize, we go public about our identity and commitments. How Jesus reveals God’s character will unfold in the coming weeks. When I said, “I do,” I thought I would be “happy ever after” and have someone who would make life work for me. “Houston we have a problem.” Marriage is a lot of work, not the solution to identity, nor necessarily leads to happy ever after. Jesus was at the beginning of his ministry and perhaps as true God understood the implications of the cross but he had yet to live through how that would play out, entering all the struggles of humanity. Baptism was the beginning of that public journey that reveals to us the character of God facing slippery politicians, debilitating disease, soul wrenching sorrow and all the philosophical cross examination and questioning. As he reveals himself in the coming weeks, we know how he will respond to our future too. We will discover what sort of God/man walks with us. Baptism is a public confession that he was walking with us and our baptism testifies that we desire to walk through life with him.
Infant baptism as practiced by many Christians also publicly confesses the family’s commitment to Christ and their intentions to walk with the baby through the trials of faith. Baptism does not save us. Jesus’ death on the cross saves us. We are not saved because we understand and can explain. We are saved because God is faithful and holds onto us in our unfolding journey. We consider baptism a sacrament that places our salvation in the hands of God.
Second, the voice from heaven speaks, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” One of the clearest pictures of the Trinity: Father, Son and Holy Spirit is seen here: the voice, the dove, and Jesus. God addresses Jesus not as “the chosen,” “the favored,” “the perfect,” or even “the Holy” but rather calls him “Beloved Son.” Wow. That is a strong word that brings tears, words that we all want to hear. We do not need to run to alcohol, to popularity, to drugs for affirmation because the God of the universe values us. I hear words of affirmation but it is quickly followed by that little voice on my shoulder – it’s only because she’s your mother, she has to love you, it’s only cause you are convenient sex that he stays, it’s a partnership. Doubt enters human relationship commitments. God calls Jesus and us his “beloved” children. Baptism is a going public but it is also a relationship commitment that seals us in love. We are loved and valued!
As we walk into 2021, we may not be first for the vaccine that is somehow going to protect us. We may not receive the alimony or stimulus check due to economic restraints. We will continue the aging process. We will meet unexpected challenges but baptism is the beginning of a love relationship that does not abandon, is not conditional and that we can trust. Jean Val Jean wore the tattoo of his imprisonment, marking him as a criminal but in the end, law must commit suicide and fall into the river because grace and love are stronger. The true identity of the Beast becomes apparent as he is kissed by Beauty. Our true identity is revealed as we are loved through our baptismal life by God.
Thirdly, Jesus is baptized by John the Baptist, but John predicts that a baptism of the Holy Spirit is coming. Baptism is not a “destination event” like booking a wedding at a Cancun hotel. Baptism is going public about a journey you are taking with a God who loves you and wants you to live with him for eternity. But just as buying that plane ticket to Cancun does not mean the journey has happened, or the Beast kissing Beauty guarantee he will be a good prince, so the act of baptizing is followed by living into the relationship. It is a grievous event to a pastor when baptism is treated like a destination event, a graduation ceremony that is done to please grandparents and is treated like a dusty diploma that can be kept in a safe somewhere for emergencies like death. Promises are made at the altar, are forgotten, and we all grieve.
John the Baptist says, “8I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.” Baptism for us is not only a “going public” about who we are committed to, not only the affirmation of a love relationship, but it is also a power source, the real presence of the Holy Spirit. It is sacramental, a sacred moment for Jesus and for us.
The public presence of the Holy Trinity at Jesus’ baptism, declares that Jesus does not stand alone in what is to unfold. We do not stand alone in whatever unfolds in the upcoming year. Baptism is a sacrament, a sacred act combining the Word of God with an element, water. We are not just testifying to a belief we hold. We are not just putting our body where our values are. Through baptism the Holy Spirit “shows up” in life in a physical, life changing ways. The Spirit of God at Jesus’ baptism begins to appear with physical imagery like “dove” or at Pentecost with imagery like “flames of fire.” All of God is “touchable” in this event – the Father as a voice, Jesus as a human, and the Spirit like a dove. Baptism is not just a belief but transforms reality.
The God who walked with Jesus, walks with us. But having a million dollars in the bank is useless if we do not use it. Having money in the bank is not that useful when we need a quarter at the Turnpike or Aldis. The debit card that we carry in our pocket, use often, and know how to use is what gives us instant cash power. Being baptised gives us that million dollar power but we grow in our ability to relate to the Holy Spirit. Baptism is a sealing with the Holy Spirit that means we are never alone, we are never disconnected from God and we have resources beyond our beliefs and beyond our relationships. Jesus stood with the Trinity and we stand with Jesus. Epiphany teaches us what that means.
Unlike the Beast, Jesus was not “born” a prince but was the Creator, the Word, from eternity. Baptism goes public giving us a new insight into what the nature of that God means. The God we believe in comes down to us and identifies with the limitations of our humanity. He walks through the baptism of repentance to fulfill the law. Unlike the Beast who must earn the love of Beauty to remove the curse, God comes to Christ and us and declares his love while we are yet sinners and before Christ does any act. Unlike the Beast who has no power to win Beauty’s love but must transform himself, Christ stands together with the Holy Spirit and God the Father. We too have the God of the universe walking with us into 2021, not because we are so wonderful but because it is his character to love and save.
Perhaps this week you might take some water and mark the cross on your forehead or back of a hand or on your lips to remind you whose you are, who loves you, and where your power comes from. Beauty kisses the Beast and he transforms. We have the power to reach out to others with the good news and watch them transform also. Thank you Lord that we are not alone as we face 2021.