my miscellany

Epiphany I: The Baptism of Our Lord Jesus Christ, 2018 — 7 Jan 18

Epiphany I: The Baptism of Our Lord Jesus Christ, 2018

RCL Year B Epiphany 1
Genesis 1:1-5, Psalm 29, Acts 19:1-7, Saint Mark 1:4-11

People do what they think is important. And today’s Gospel presents to us three people doing what they think is important.

First, there is Saint Mark who begins his Gospel with the Baptism of Jesus Christ. The Baptism is, from Mark’s perspective, the beginning of the Gospel. We have no account of Jesus’s birth or childhood; Mark simply gives us in the three verses preceding today’s Gospel the title of his Gospel and two verses of prophecy about John the Baptist. Mark understands unquestionably the Baptism as the first event in Jesus’ ministry.

The second person in the Gospel today doing what he thinks is important is John the Baptist himself. And what do we see him doing? We hear him announcing that he will be supplanted by someone greater: “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. I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”[1] This is the only quotation from John in the Gospel today. The important thing that John is doing is handing his ministry off to Jesus.

The third person in the Gospel today doing what he thinks is important is Jesus who comes to the Jordan to be baptized by John. The baptism itself—Mark places it first in the story of Jesus; John says that in it he is handing off his ministry to Jesus; and Jesus submits to it. The Baptism, then, is tremendously important, but important in what way?

I am sure you noticed that in the Gospel today Jesus says nothing. He does not give us a comment about his baptism. But Mark does something very interesting. He switches his point of view to what Jesus sees. Mark says of Jesus: “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.”[2] Mark tells us that this is what Jesus saw. It is not what Mark sees or what John sees. It is what Jesus sees.

And, consequently, Jesus is affirmed in his baptism. Mark is clear that Jesus understands this. Mark is clear that God does not proclaim this; it is what Jesus experiences in his baptism.

And this is tremendously important for you and for me. For you see, we too do what we think is important. But we are human, and we do not always do what we think is important. And when we do not do what we should do, we can do what Jesus did. We can place our baptism before our eyes as the defining moment of our lives, the moment when we certainly did or coöperated with God’s will for us. Jesus’ example paves the way for us.

Just as he was the Word made Flesh, in a similar way, we are both human and God’s own children by adoption and grace, and we oscillate between the two. Our true identity is as God’s children rather than as God’s sinful creatures. And when we do what we think is important, let that important thing be this. Let it be that we reaffirm ourselves as God’s own creatures, as God’s own children, who, whenever we need to do it, “repent and return to the Lord.”[3] Let us be like Jesus in his baptism, let us at all times remember exactly who we are and whose we are.

[1] Saint Mark 1:7-8.

[2] Saint Mark 1:10.

[3] BCP, page 304.

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