This is the sermon I had written for this morning at the Bethany Convent of the Sisters of St. Anne in Arlington, MA. I have been sick in bed and with our current cold weather I was not able to go to the convent to preach this morning, but I felt that I would like to share the message that I put together after several days of meditation on the appointed Gospel reading and the theme for this Sunday.
– David Allen, SSJE
On this first Sunday of Epiphany the Baptism of Jesus can be understood as a manifestation of Christ.
Mark’s Gospel brings together the O.T. Prophecy of Jesus birth and John the forerunner’s ministry. Without delay we read, “Just as Jesus was coming up out of the water he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. And a voice came from heaven, ‘You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” (Cf. Mk. 1:4, 10-11)
Characteristic of Mark’s Gospel, we don’t linger on unnecessary details. Both Matthew and Luke gave us glimpses of what happened before Jesus’ birth and what occurred afterwards. Mark cuts quickly to the chase. After a period of preparation in the wilderness we see Jesus choosing disciples and beginning his ministry.
There are many questions left unanswered by Mark’s spare style of narration. One of the most common concerns the reason for Jesus’ Baptism. The Baptism of John is referred to as a Baptism of Repentance. This may leave us to wonder just why Jesus, without sin, presented himself to John for baptism.
If Jesus was without sin, he was not in need of repentance. But as we reflect on this, I think we will come to see that receiving John’s Baptism was seeking the Father’s approval on the ministry that Jesus was about to begin, as well as approval of the preparation already done by John as forerunner. From the Baptism of John given as Baptism of Repentance, the Baptism received by Jesus was a Baptism of Approval, of Acceptance.
If we look at the form for blessing the water to be used for Baptism we can see how the Baptism that we have received has been changed by the work of the Holy Spirit.
From the simple symbolic washing represented by John’s Baptism of Repentance it has been changed by Jesus’ Cross and Resurrection and become for us the way to New Life.
In the water of Baptism we are buried with Christ in his death. By it we share in Jesus’ resurrection. Through it we are reborn by the Holy Spirit. (BCP p.306)
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