Epiphany 2 BAPTISM OF CHRIST
LINK TO SERMON RECORDING BAPTISM OF CHRIST 2013
Luke 3:15-17, 21-22
And all of us, with unveiled faces, seeing the glory of the Lord as though reflected in a mirror, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another;
for this comes from the Lord, the Spirit.
Last week we celebrated the Epiphany of Christ, and we are now in the season of the Epiphany which extends until the first Sunday in February when we shall celebrate Candlemas – the feast of the Presentation, albeit a day late, for that feast, falls on Saturday February 2nd.
This habit we have in the church of shifting festivals to the nearest Sunday is a symptom of something which I fear in the end will do us no good. Of making faith fit our lives, rather than making our lives fit our faith. Christmas is unusual, to an extent in that we still come to church on that day irrespective of whether or not it is Sunday, and some folk still come to worship through Holy week, but on the whole we have given up on the celebration of major festivals on the day they fall. We either transfer them to an adjoining Sunday, or ignore them altogether. When, I wonder was the last time we celebrated The Feast of the Transfiguration? It strikes me that such a festival, with its theme of the Glory of Christ, falling as it does in August . . .??? Does anyone know the date? Well it is August 6th – a time when here in New Zealand we are stuck in the darkness of winter. What a wonderful idea to come to church in the darkness and find it ablaze with candles as we celebrate that feast.
Taking time out to worship according to the calendar might not seem much, but it is a simple discipline of ordering our lives to faith – and it is in the accumulation of such small things that our distinct Christian identity becomes more manifest – as we are conformed to the Life of the risen Christ in the church. The gift of the whole season of Epiphany is about the manifestation of the Glory of Christ. Four weeks to contemplate Him. Actually the church gives us half the year to contemplate Christ. From Advent, through Christmas and Epiphany, with perhaps a brief break, then into Lent, and then Easter, Pentecost and Trinity – the subject of our attention is not ‘how to live the Christian life – how to be relevant in the world – how to do mission’ – no. for half the year we are called to attend to the person and work of Christ and that is very necessary.
The crying problem of the church today is not the irrelevance of the church to the world – that church doesn’t fit the world we live in – it is not fitting our faith to our lives – no. It is that so often church does not fit the life of God revealed to us in Christ, and that I suggest is in no small part because we give insufficient time to the contemplation of his glory.
Epiphany especially is given to us for that contemplation. The Glory of Christ is revealed to us – the traditional readings are his revealing to us in the visit of the magi, in the changing of water of wine at Cana where he reveals his glory, the presentation at the temple where Simeon cries out ‘I have seen thy salvation which thou hast prepared in the face of all people’, how he is revealed as the Servant of The Lord, the fulfillment of Scripture at Nazareth = and today – in his baptism – he is revealed as the Son of God – and Uniquely baptised with the Spirit. He is Clothed with the Spirit of God. The Spirit that had departed the Temple and caused the people to cry in dismay ‘Ichabod’ – the Glory has departed. He is clothed as were Adam and Eve at first, not in animal skins, but in the Glory of God. Having taken their life in their own hands, the glory departed.
Perhaps we do not notice this, because unlike the Israelites of old, like those first disciples at Cana, we have not seen his Glory – we do not see how our lives are so small in comparison with the Glorious majesty of God revealed in Christ – we seek too readily to move away from contemplation of his glory – his beauty, his majesty. We want something Practical – some hints and tips for Our everyday lives, not realising that he seeks to utterly transform the essential nature of those lives.
A few weeks ago I saw a rather sad Facebook post – it said ‘Of course if it had been three wise women who came to the tomb, they would have brought something Far more practical, like a supply of nappies and a blanket!’ And it struck me as very sad that someone would use what is a story of immense mystery – something which Mary ponders in her heart – was used to make cheap political gain from. I wanted to say “can you not see?” Can we not see His glory? Have we not been held captive by it? That these gifts tell us here is a child like no other . . . like no other. He comes to be one with us – but he is like no other. He embraces fully our humanity . . . but he is like no other
Jesus comes with the crowds – they are All coming for baptism – he is in the crowds that are all asking if John the Baptist is the Messiah – their Messiah stands among them – they do not see his glory. They do not recognise their Messiah. They look as anyone else would look – John in his own way is impressive – he stands out, certainly! ‘Perhaps he Is the one’, they are all thinking. But they are wrong. They do not See.
So Jesus comes to be baptised . . . and his baptism sets him apart. 21Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heaven was opened, 22and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” His baptism is like no other – he alone is baptised with the Holy Spirit. He alone is declared to be the beloved of God. Just this week I was reading about perhaps the cardinal sin – that of Envy. It is said that Jesus was crucified because of the Envy of the Pharisees – he was like no other – there was something about him that set him apart. He was a tall poppy – and we know what we do with tall poppies! The Life of God is Too Big for us – let’s cut him down to size.
And we also try to cut him down to size. ‘Let’s think on something practical – lets not contemplate the mystery, the gold of kingship, the frankincense of the one who ever lives to intercede for us – the Myrrh – his death’. A death foreshadowed in his humbly going down into the water of baptism. How readily we turn from thinking about Christ to thinking about ourselves. How often do we think of our baptism, how infrequently, even on this Sunday, about His.
This setting apart of Christ at his baptism is I suggest an offense to our modern predilection for not wanting to know of anything more beyond the scope of Our lives. As I meditated upon this earlier in the week, I was reminded of a story – a story with which this ‘cutting down the tall poppy’ was thrown into a horrible irony and contrast.
It is said there was an old woman, who was in hell. The angels of God as they are wont to do sought desperately to find a way to bring her out of hell, and discovered that Once in her life, she had committed a kind act. A passing stranger had asked her for food, and the woman had thrown him an onion. Well it wasn’t a Huge thing – but the angels saw in that a hint of goodness and thought that this might draw her out of hell. So they lowered an onion on a long stalk down into hell and called on the woman to take hold. And as she did – they began to draw her out of the lake of fire. But others seeing that she was being drawn out clung to her clothes, and miraculously many people were being drawn out of hell – until the woman realised what was happening and spat and screamed at them – get off! this is My onion!! and at once the onion stalk broke and they all fell back into the fire.
Well, what we might ask is the parallel between that sad story and our thoughts on Jesus – on our discomfort with him being set apart – like no other . . . well it is simply this – that it is precisely because he is not like us, that He is able to draw us out, to draw us upwards – to draw us into His life – and our cutting him down is like the cutting of the onion stalk. We are saying to Him – don’t be different!! We can’t attain to you – stay down here with us. But he says, why would you stay down there – no you cannot attain to me – so I will come down – to draw you up.
Christ does not come to us to leave us where we are. All our attempts to deny his otherness – that he is like no other – prevent him from doing what he comes to do – to draw us up into the fulness of his life. A life for which we have very little feeling because I suggest we have given little time to contemplating his glory – we are not thirsty for the Life he brings.
Until His Life is released into the world at Pentecost He alone is baptised of the Spirit – perhaps those who had not yet received the Holy Spirit in our reading from Acts were those whom Jesus disciples had baptised before his Passion as John recounts in his gospel. He passes through death, to be raised to new Life – so that we might follow him – so that we might ourselves follow that path – so that we might know His Life, as he baptises us with the Holy Spirit – with His Life.
As I said last week – our faith is not a set of ideas – a moral scheme for living better – a set of ideologies – it is not even About Jesus – it is Christ – His Life is our Faith The more our lives are turned to him, shaped around him, the more we will find the Life he offers us – and to go back to that story of the sad woman – the more, seeing that we are being drawn up to Life in him, others will want to hang onto our coat tails and be drawn up also.
So let us not be quick to turn from the contemplation of his glory, for as St Paul tells us that is key to the transformation of our lives, as we ‘contemplating the glory of the Lord as though reflected in a mirror, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another;’