January 10, 2021 - First Sunday after Epiphany
You are Christ’s own forever… what does that mean for your life?
Today, we start with the Gospel of Mark. And to get into the story, we need to remove from our memory any vestige of Christmas or the birth of Jesus or the journeying of the Magi. For Mark, the story of Jesus’ life begins with his baptism in the River Jordan. Because having Jesus’ baptism begin the story about Jesus underscores Jesus’ humanity and solidarity with us even though he is clearly divine. Jesus comes to be the human that God created each of us to be.
John is preaching and performing a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. People came to be washed by him in the Jordan River in order to demonstrate their readiness to live in God’s coming kingdom. They probably weren’t the most religious people you could find, but they knew that they were living out of step with God. They knew enough to know that their own sinfulness and imperfections were not what God expected of them and that in God’s kingdom, only the cleanest and purest would be appropriate. They felt they needed a change in mind. And so, in spite of the fact that the River Jordan was and is one of the muddiest, dirtiest rivers around, they came by the hundreds to be made clean and to show, through their repentance, their readiness to be claimed for God’s kingdom.
In the midst of this hodge-podge group of sinners stands Jesus, who has come to John, also. He comes, right amongst all of the ordinary folks -- those who have gotten in trouble with the law, those who have made mistakes with their lives, those who’ve let God down. It may seem strange to imagine Jesus in that line because, to our knowledge, he has done nothing to get in trouble with anyone. Mark has told us he is the Son of God. And, in addition to that, John himself declares that one is coming after him who is so powerful and outstanding that it may seem he won’t even need to be baptized.
John says he won’t even be worthy to stoop down and untie his sandals. Yet there is Jesus, placing himself amidst the people. And when Jesus is baptized, he sees the heavens torn open and the Holy Spirit descending like a dove. A voice thunders from above, identifying this man as the Beloved Son of God.
By telling us the story about Jesus’ baptism and using it as the starting point of Jesus’ life, Mark means to get this important lesson across: Jesus comes to be immersed in the experience of humanity. God anoints Jesus to be his Son and yet have him live as a man. There will be no hiding Jesus’ mission to be one of us and feel all the pushes and pulls of life lived in the news of the coming kingdom of God. By having Jesus’ baptism begin his story about Jesus, Mark underscores Jesus’ solidarity with us, that though he is clearly divine, Jesus comes to be the human God created us to be.
This is why Jesus’ baptism is so critical. In Jesus, true humanity is redeemed and shown for what God originally intended it to be, for joy and pleasure in the sight of God, for the freedom to live to our utmost potential of love. We take the word “human” and drag it through the mud. Jesus takes back the word “human” and plunges it in cleansing water. As the dove descends overhead, a new creation is begun in Christ that will overtake the world. From this wet start, Jesus will embark on a mission to claim back for God all that has been marred by sin. From this river, Jesus begins life by interpreting God’s law to show mercy and love and to live God’s will even to the point of death.
Friends, my favorite part of baptism is not pouring water. That always makes children - and even adults - mad. No, my favorite part is the chrismation, when the priest or bishop uses chrism and marks the baptized’s forehead with the words, “you are sealed by the Holy Spirit in Baptism and marked as Christ's own for ever” (BCP, 308). Just before that, the priest prays that the baptized will be given “an inquiring and discerning heart, the courage to will and to persevere, a spirit to know and to love God, and the gift of joy and wonder in all God’s works.” These are the things we hope for for OUR children, and these are the same things that God hopes for for God’s children. And in Jesus’ baptism, we learn that God wanted the same thing for his only son.
Over the next week, I invite you to look at yourself in the mirror as you wash your face and imagine that water flowing over your face as at your baptism. You are Christ’s own forever… what does that mean for your life?