Sunday, January 8, 2012

First Epiphany: Baptism of Our Lord

Mark 1: 4-11

Good morning and welcome, the 15th Day of Christmas, as I like to mark that season all the way to Candlemas, which is the 40th Day of the season, the Feast of the Purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary and the Presentation of Our Lord in the Temple, on February 2. So the seasonal calendar will roll on for a while--though perhaps with all the Lords a-leaping and drummers drumming and swans a-swimming the Christmas season feels about as full as it can be, and we’re back at work and school and ready to move on to the next thing.

On the 15th Day of Christmas my true love gave to me one large American Express bill, two pretty much dry Douglas Firs shedding needles on the living room floor, three boxes of family Christmas Cards not yet mailed--and a partridge in a pear tree! In any event, just five weeks until pitchers and catchers report to Bradenton for the beginning of spring training, and even with these frosty mornings and the football playoffs starting, some of us are already thinking about summer evenings at the ballpark . . . .

In the old Prayer Book and going back through the Anglican tradition to the 17th century the First Sunday after the Epiphany had in its one-year cycle of readings the familiar story about Jesus coming to Jerusalem during the Festival of the Passover.

Not the Holy Week story, but as a kind of anticipation and foreshadowing of the Passion, as Jesus at the age of 12 wanders away from his family and comes to the Temple and for the first time but not the last time stymies and astonishes and perhaps even challenges the Temple authorities, the learned scribes and Pharisees.

You remember this story. And when Joseph and Mary find Jesus they ask him what he is doing. And he replies, almost sharply, “Didn’t you know that I must be about my Father’s business.” And of course for Mary and Joseph there is the memory here of Angels and Shepherds and Magi--and then of Candlemas and Simeon right there in the Temple twelve years earlier, when Mary came with Joseph and the child for her ceremonial purification after childbirth, and another foreshadowing of the Passion. Lord now lettest though thy servant depart in peace, according to thy word, for mine eyes have seen thy salvation. A light to lighten the Gentiles, the Glory of thy people Israel.” Mary takes all this in, Luke tells us, as she watches her young almost teenaged son, and ponders it all in her heart. A wonderful word. She “ponders” it.

In this context, to remember the traditional theme of the Epiphany and these Sundays after the Epiphany, how the One born in the obscurity of the Bethlehem stable is revealed to all nations and peoples as Lord and Savior.

The one who will be ever blessing, ever blessed--at whose name “every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess” as “Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”

The new calendar and propers for these Sundays after the Feast of the Epiphany is more complicated, with a three-year lectionary pattern, and in the Episcopal Church now the in the calendar of the 1979 Book of Common Prayer we observe the Sunday after the Epiphany as the Feast of the Baptism of Our Lord. This is a new observance at least on Anglican calendars, and relatively new on Roman Catholic calendars as well, but certainly one that makes sense within the framework of the season, and very dramatically as we see that unfold in the reading from St. Mark, as we hear John the Baptist in his sermon to the crowds by the Jordan anticipate Jesus. “The one who is more powerful than I is coming . . . . I have baptized you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”

And then of course we see this ourselves at the baptism of Jesus in the following verses, as the skies open and the Spirit descends and the heavenly voice proclaims “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” A word that would be repeated again on the Mount of Transfiguration. In case we missed it the first time, there with Peter, James, and John. “This is the one, this is my Son. Listen to him.”

Epiphany. The word itself has to do with seeing, “seeing through,” or perhaps with "shining" and "shining through"--and we use it all the time to talk about that sudden moment of insight, or of revelation. I puzzled and puzzled over that problem, and then while I was waiting for the bus suddenly I had an epiphany. I saw the answer. Here, “the” Epiphany. The One born in the obscurity of the Bethlehem stable is revealed to all nations and peoples as Lord and Savior.

It seems to me to be just right that we come to this season after the Epiphany and to this great theme in the first days of our secular calendar. We’ve turned a new page, started fresh at least as best we can. We have our New Year Resolutions, perhaps a new set of goals. Health, family and relationships, financial well-being, work, study. Accomplishments in the areas that are most important to us in our lives. And it’s an election year, and the life of our community and the nation and the world.

In that of course we reflect on substance and character and direction of our lives as Christian people. The beginning of a new year as good a time as any to step back, to give thanks to God for the blessings of our lives, to ask his care and protection, to seek healing and forgiveness and renewal. True for each of us individually, and meaningful for us as members of the Body of the Church as well, members of Christ’s Body.

Here in this parish, with the situations of our lives here, challenges and opportunities. In our diocese, and with all our challenges, and as we are looking to some important times of discernment and decision that we will have in the election of a new bishop this April, and all that will unfold around that. And in the context of our life in the wider Church and family of Christian people.

That it might be a year ahead for us that is all about Epiphany.

That we would pray that God would fill us with the grace and power, gentleness and strength, the insight, the faith, the love and generosity, the spirit kindness, of worship and service and thanksgiving, so that in us and through us, messed up as we are, the world might catch a glimpse. In great big ways at center stage, and in small ways at the margins, off to the side. It’s his work in us, of course. Not something we can pull off all by ourselves. As we conduct ourselves in our personal integrity, in our relationships to one another and to others, and most especially in our relationships to those with whom we have the most trouble. On the easy days and on the challenging days. In our stewardship of vast resources of time, talent, and treasure, and as we care for the widow’s mite. Each of us in our own way, and all of us working at it together as best we can.

Epiphany. In us, through us, all around us. A resolution for the fresh page of the calendar and the new year of our lives. The one born in the obscurity of the Bethlehem stable is revealed to all nations and peoples as Lord and Savior.

Walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God.

No comments: