10th January 2021 - First Sunday of Epiphany

The Baptism of Christ – First Sunday of Epiphany – 10th January 2021

 

Introduction: hold up the Magi at the start of the talk - they have been placed in the crib scene in church - and I had to remove them and bring them back to Vicarage.

Definition of Epiphany – It is of course the Magi who mark the start of the season of Epiphany.   Epiphany means appearance or manifestation – so the Epiphany season is about revelation - the revealing of who Jesus really is to the world.  With the Magi we see the way in which Jesus was physically manifest to the magi – Jesus was unveiled or revealed to the Magi – and they are non-Jews – they represent the gentile world – which is most of the planet.  So Jesus is revealed to the whole planet.  The Epiphany season continues this unveiling of who Christ is.

In the gospel accounts John’s baptism of Jesus marks the beginning of our Lord’s ministry.  Jesus baptism sets the pattern for all people who seek to follow Christ – after the example of Jesus you have to be baptised.  In Mark’s account there are two important ingredients in Baptism – there is the water – with which one is Baptised, and secondly there is God the Holy Spirit – God acting.  The water represents human action – the work of actually Baptising – and the work of the Holy Spirit is the work of God.

Jesus was baptized by John and as he was coming up out of the water, he saw heaven being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. And a voice came from heaven: “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.” Mark 1:9-11.

We find this same picture in Acts: those disciples were baptised in the Lord’s name, but the Spirit came upon them afterwards, when Paul laid hands on them. Human action and divine response form a progressive sequence rather than combine in a single moment.

In Christian thought Baptism is a Sacrament of the church.  In whatever other ways we might disagree with the Roman Catholic Church we are in full agreement about Baptism being a sacrament.  Through Baptism we are marked indelibly, God touches our lives and once Baptised it cannot be undone.

In Mark’s account of Jesus baptism is there is the most beautiful picture here of the Trinity - God revealed as father, Son and Holy Spirit.  We have Jesus - the one who is being Baptised, we have the Holy Spirit descending on Jesus like a dove, and we have the voice of God saying “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased”.

The reason that the Baptism of Jesus is central to Epiphany is twofold. Firstly, up until this point Jesus has been living just like anybody else – he is pretty much an unknown figure who is not known to many people outside of his immediate family.  However, his Baptism marks that point where he is publicly revealed or unveiled for the first time as somebody incredibly special. It’s a bit like those of you who are strictly fans - I know there are a few like me at Christ Church - and right at the start of the series there is that point where the names of the contestants are made public and they are unveiled.  Jesus baptism marks his physical unveiling to the world and the start of his public ministry.

The second critical thing about Jesus Baptism is that Mark records God himself telling us who this Jesus really this “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased”.

Mark records God unveiling to the world – not just Jesus coming into the spotlight but God himself telling us who this Jesus really is. 

Are hope as Christians is completely bound up in who Jesus Christ is.  St Paul in Corinthians goes as far as to say that if Jesus were not the son of God and was not raised from the dead then then our preaching is useless, we are false witnesses, our faith is futile, we are still in our sins, and we are of all people most to be pitied.

This is not the case of course.  This is why God’s own words at Jesus baptism are so important – unveiling to the world that Jesus is the son of God, God with us, Emmanuel.      

“Just as Jesus was coming up out of the water, he saw heaven being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove.  And a voice came from heaven: “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.”