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Epiphanies of God (January 7, 2018)

Yesterday was the feast of the Epiphany. We usually celebrate Epiphany by telling the story from Matthew’s gospel about the magi coming from foreign lands, following a star to worship “the child who is born King of the Jews.” We sing all those wonderful Epiphany carols, “We Three Kings of Orient are”, “The First Noel”, “As with gladness men of old did the guiding star behold” and so on.

We didn’t celebrate Epiphany this year … mostly because it fell on a Saturday. I figured none of you would want to come to church yesterday and then again today .… and honestly, I don’t blame you. I didn’t want to either!

None of the other gospels tell the story of the magi. It’s only in Matthew. Mark doesn’t have any story at all about Jesus’ birth. He jumps right in with John the Baptizer, and Jesus showing up to be baptized. That’s what we celebrate on the 1st Sunday after Epiphany—the Baptism of the Lord.

As I was reflecting on this over the last week, it occurred to me that for Mark, this is his epiphany story.

Do you remember what I said a month ago about the opening of Mark’s gospel? (Of course you do!) Mark titles his gospel, “The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” I suggested that Mark’s whole gospel is the beginning of the good news, and that this good news story is completed in us and by us as we live as faithful followers of Jesus. We complete this good news story which begins in Jesus.

John the Baptizer is out at the Jordan river, baptizing, shouting that the people needed to repent, to change the way they were living. “Someone else is coming,” he repeats over and over again, “someone so cool I’m unworthy even to tie his shoes. My baptism just got you wet … he is going to set your life on fire.”

And then, just like that, Jesus shows up to be baptized. And the good news story of Jesus takes off.

The ministry of Jesus begins with baptism — just like our own ministry. Here’s part of the way in which we complete this good news story. Like Jesus, we are baptized. We are joined to a community. We become part of a covenant community, working and living together in partnership with God for the healing of the world.

Mark tells the story of Jesus’ baptism slightly differently than the other gospels. The way Matthew and Luke tell the story, everyone who is there sees the heavens opened and hears the voice.

Mark tells it differently. Only Jesus hears the words—“You are my son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” This is a moment of intimacy. Deep in his soul, Jesus is affirmed in his ministry. He knows at his core who he is.

That’s what it means when we say, “Remember your baptism and give thanks.” It’s not just about remembering the moment the water was poured over us. To remember our baptism is to know deep in our gut that we are God’s beloved, precious people. We remember our baptism, and we become more deeply aware that we are the apple of God’s eye. God chooses us. Nothing can make God give up on us. God is with us. God is for us, in every moment of our lives. Nothing in all creation can separate us from God’s love.

From the creation of the world, God has chosen to love us. From the beginning of time, God’s powerful love for us is real and deep. In every moment of our lives, God’s love surrounds us, lifts us, holds us, keeps us close.

This is what we choose to trust—that God is this deeply for us, that God holds us this profoundly, that God surrounds us with grace, compassion and love.

This deep trust becomes part of our DNA. Just as Jesus emerged from the water and felt it resonate to his core that he was God’s precious child, and God was joy, so we know it to our core. We are the people of God.

Now, remember again the title of Mark’s gospel. This is the beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ. The good news is completed in us.

At his baptism, we see that Jesus himself is an epiphany. Jesus is the sign of God’s love. And we, as we live out our baptism, we also become an epiphany of God’s love in the world. We become a sign that God’s love is for all people, for all of creation. We are an epiphany of God in the world.

This is the challenge the gospel puts before us this week—to choose to live in such a way that we become signs of God’s love. That our lives might shine with God’s glory. That we choose to bear the light of Christ into the darkness of the world. That we choose to live as beloved daughters and sons of God. That we choose to treat all other people as the beloved daughters and sons of God.

We are an epiphany of God.

In us, God is breaking into the world.

As we live generously, God’s generosity is shown in us.

As we live with grace, God’s grace is shown in us.

As we live with compassion, so we show God’s compassion in the world.

As we reach out to make the lives of other people better, God’s hope is shown in us.

As we live with joy, we are proclaiming God’s love for the world.

We find all of this in our baptismal covenant:

  • we will persist in resisting evil;
  • we will proclaim by word and example the good news of God in Christ;
  • we will seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving our neighbours as ourselves;
  • we will strive for justice and peace among all people;
  • we will respect the dignity of every human being;
  • we will strive to safeguard the integrity of God’s creation, and respect, sustain, and renew the life of the earth.

As we do so, we are an epiphany of God. We reveal God. We show God to the world. We are a manifestation of God.

Therefore, beloved daughters and sons of God, remember your baptism and give thanks. In everything you do, show the love, grace, compassion and joy of God. You are epiphanies of God.

One final word. You don’t need to be baptized to be a child of God. All you have to do is be born. That is enough.

But we baptize as a way of reminding ourselves of that eternal truth. We baptize to make visible the truth that we are all a beloved and cherished child of God, that we all are sacred vessels who contain the holy.

We baptize to remember our mission to live as epiphanies of God.

We are beloved sons and daughters of God. God accepts us, blesses us, acknowledges our worth, and sends us out to live with grace and joy.

Thanks be to God.

Rev. Dr. Yme Woensdregt

January 7, 2018 (1st Sunday after Epiphany, Baptism of the Lord)

Mark 1: 4–11

Genesis 1: 1–5

Acts 19: 1–7