On Friday we marked Epiphany: The visit of the Magi to the Christ child. And today we celebrate The Baptism of our Lord. Epiphany is not transferred to today. We have two special days back to back and they are paired for a reason.
“…when Jesus had been baptized, just as he came up from the water, suddenly the heavens were opened to him and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.’”
This is a Trinitarian moment Father, Son, and Holy Spirit calls on our senses. It invites us to hear God’s voice, see the Holy Spirit and feel the movement of Jesus coming up out of the water! It invites us to use our senses.
Otherwise it is quite difficult to wrap our minds around the Trinity. Our Trinitarian understanding of God may not easily be captured by the mind alone, or as one image.
Primarily because as this moment expresses: the Trinity is the ever dynamic movement of exchange. It was actually described as a circle dance by the earliest of Christian thinkers; Perichoresis.
Our Fourth Century theologians, The Cappodocian Fathers, described the Trinity as an ever out pouring, self-emptying flow of love. This dynamism. It is the exchange between God: Creator Love; Son: Human Love; Spirit: Returning Love. That redemptive Love that returns us to God through love working and moving in the world.
It requires all of our senses.
In this baptism imagery, We see it, hear it, feel it.
With all aspects of the Trinity in motion we are given a true picture of the dynamism of our God.
Recently in our Wednesday study of Julian of Norwich we read a section she entitled Sensuality. She wrote:
“At the very moment that our Soul is made sensual, the dwelling of God is established, divinely placed within us since before the beginning of time.”
She really captures Jesus’ constant teaching that “The Kingdom of Heaven is within.”…
Jesus says, you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you.
Believing in Jesus is the same thing as believing about Jesus:’ following in the character and way of Jesus. Allowing Jesus this indwelling. God in you, and you in me, and I in you.
We hear from Peter in Acts that all those who believe in the character, the name of Jesus, and who are living justly, will be forgiven for their sins. Jesus is ordained judge The way of Jesus is into right relationship, with God…
Righteousness as it is called in the Bible. The covenant with God is about being in relationship.
This emphasis on Righteousness shows up in our Gospel passage today too. John the Baptist at first doesn’t think that it is his place to baptize Jesus. Shouldn’t it be the other way around? But Jesus says, “Let it be so now; for it is proper for us in this way to fulfill all righteousness.”
John the Baptist protests that Jesus should be the one baptizing him. So what is this righteousness? In the Old Testament righteousness is about trust and faith in God, not about perfection. The whole thing is really about being in right relationship with God, rather than pretending to somehow be perfect. Jesus joins others in the Baptism of John to be in right relationship with God and Others.
Returning to Julian Of Norwich, Another question that came up for us in our Wednesday study related to the gift of the Holy Spirit at Baptism…While we also hear from Jesus and the mystics that we have had the Holy Spirit from birth… that the Spirit breathed life into us.. and our souls become the dwelling place of God. So which is it?
Baptism is a rite. It is one of our sacraments. We define sacraments as the outward sign of an inward grace. They are a ritual to mark what already is.
Baptism means we are recognizing what already is seeded in us and what we are making a commitment to live out. Like marriage as the sign and commitment to our love which is already there.
Baptism is recognizing that indwelling of God and the gift of the Holy Spirit already there, already brimming with potential. For infant baptism, it is the community and family making the commitment to help the child live into this identity to the fullest… to be in relationship with God.
We are in the Season of Epiphany. This Sunday is called the First Sunday after the Epiphany and The Baptism of our Lord.
On Friday we celebrated Epiphany as the Wise Men (the Magi) arrive in Bethlehem to seek out and honor the Christ Child born in a manger.
It is a story full of excitement: danger, dreams, prophecy and miracle. It is also connected with the word epiphany itself which we use year round to express a sudden insight. The word comes from the Greek, meaning “revelation from above.” Generally, when we have an “epiphany" it is a great idea that surprises us. It often comes suddenly and with the power to shift our perspective, illuminate a situation, even change our minds. It is an awakening.
Epiphanies usually happen when we are problem solving…we are trying to figure something out, and a light bulb goes off in our heads; awakening us to a new possibility.
Epiphany for us marks the new way of the Christ Child. The problems of humanity will be solved through a new revelation. Like the Magi (who do not return to Herod who had plans to kill the Christ child). Our wise men will not sell out to leaders through perpetuating cycles of violence.They will find another “route.” We will begin to follow "the way" led by the Prince of Peace.
Our vision, is that Like Mary and Joseph, we will start to embrace the epiphany that God may be made manifest through us;
And Like the shepherds we will announce to one another that joy and love are our inheritance.
The Gospel of Matthew fast forwards us from the Magi’s visit to Jesus’ as a two year old, to his Baptism as a grown adult. These two feast days are paired for a reason.
Jesus (our Epiphany ) comes down to the Jordan and at his baptism, we hear: Look! See: the Holy Spirit! Listen: You are the Beloved! Touch the living water. Use all of your senses to be engaged, to be awake, to be present. And be one with others.
Jesus goes down to the river to be baptized with everyone else. He doesn’t stand apart, aside, or above. Jesus immerses himself in the creation completely. He immerses himself in the waters of creation and in humanity. He is immersed in his senses.
He places himself in the muddy waters of the Jordan with a wild and unruly prophet, and with all of the other people seeking forgiveness. And like at the beginning of Creation: God said “it was good.” “In you I am well pleased.”
Here is my servant, whom I uphold,
my chosen, in whom my soul delights;
I have put my spirit upon him;
he will bring forth justice to the nations.
He will not grow faint or be crushed
until he has established justice in the earth;
and the coastlands wait for his teaching
I have given you as a covenant to the people,
a light to the nations,
to open the eyes that are blind,
to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon,
from the prison those who sit in darkness.
Jesus did not take on human form to teach us perfection, but to teach us belovedness, justice, mercy… and the divine and dynamic flow of that work in our lives.
Epiphany reminds us of this Revelation. That each day we may recommit to this righteous path that we have inherited.
And Jesus’ Baptism reminds us to live in this dynamic flow of love that Christ came to reveal.
In the name of the Father,
and the Holy Spirit,