You can join this week’s worship service here.
Below, you’ll find Andy’s reflection and Steve’s prayers for this week.
You can find this week’s Children’s Time video here.
Baptism of Christ Sunday
Scripture: Mark 1: 4-11
Music: God of Still Waiting; When Heaven’s Bright With Mystery
I don’t know about you, but this is one of my least favourite times of year. Not because it’s busy, or because it’s cold. In fact, truth be told, I really enjoy winter. The cross-country skiing and sledding with the kids, it’s a lot of fun. Besides, by April, everything starts to turn to mud, and by June my life is just sweat and blackflies. After the traditions and the warm glow of December lights, though, January feels a little empty.
Now, I’m not recommending that Christmas continue ad nauseum into the winter. There should be a definite beginning and end to the merry-making and, according to my doctor, an end to the eggnog. No, all good things must come to an end, and so much the better to help us appreciate Christmas when it rolls around again next year. But when you spend an entire month anticipating something, the aftermath is a natural let down.
Of course, this year will be a bit different, at least in our family. Because we weren’t able to see either of our families at Christmas, we’re looking forward to the Maritime borders opening and celebrating Christmas again when we can be together. So, this year, maybe there’s just one more cup of eggnog waiting after all.
When we hear this week that John and his followers anticipated Jesus’ arrival, we’re not talking about a few Sundays in December. For months, John had been calling people to the Jordan to prepare themselves, reminding them of God’s promises. And his conviction cultivated an acute desire for the promised One, the who comes in the name of the Lord: the “King of Kings and Lord of Lords, Wonderful Counselor, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” His prophecy was also rooted in the faithful hope of hundreds of generations.
So, when the day came – when John raised his head to the horizon and saw Jesus walking toward him – neither John nor any of the people gathered there that day were surprised that the day had come. What surprised him most was that Jesus asked John to baptize him. And what surprised the crowds was that – for perhaps the first time in his life, John, the mouthpiece of Israel, the prophet of the ages – was speechless.
In a way, the day Jesus arrives at the Jordan is kind of like Christmas Day: the sky opens up, the voice of God speaks, and the people gathered around are witness to the beginning of a new chapter in the story of salvation. And yet, it’s also not like Christmas Day, because, as we know, what happened in Bethlehem happened exactly as it was foretold by angels, to Mary, Joseph and even shepherds.
What’s happening at the Jordan is exactly the opposite of what John believed would happen. He and his followers were expecting someone whose sandal he would not be worthy to untie. “He’s supposed to baptize me,” he thinks. The king of kings and lord of lords is supposed to forgive me, cleanse me, take over for me. What John is experiencing is more than just post-Christmas let down. John is confounded.
Later in the Gospels, we hear that John (now in prison at the whim of a cruel leader) is still not certain what it all means. He sends two of his own followers to ask Jesus who he is. John still wasn’t convinced by the carpenter’s son from Galilee. What does this mean?
It’s an astounding story we recall at Christmastime: a star moving in the sky, angels singing to shepherds, a virgin giving birth and fragrant foreigners coming to kneel before an infant. In a way, almost anything that follows will pale by comparison. But during Epiphany – the season after Christmas, the season of light – we begin to find out why that child is born. John had been prepared for a handover, a passing of the baton. The change he presumed would come would not involve him anymore.
What we discover at Christmastime, for the first time and for the hundredth time each year, is that the child is not born to be adored only, received only. Rather, the child is born to be one of us: baptized and blessed in the same water; created and called to the same purpose.
What John expected, and what many hoped for, was someone special, someone magical perhaps, but at the very least, someone above the rest. But on that day, Jesus staked a very powerful claim, a claim that we repeat in our own baptismal vows and discipleship: that the transformation of the world and of our lives requires all of us, not just one of us.
That is why Jesus wants to be baptized by John and it’s also why he is so often found among the oppressed and forgotten. Jesus did not come to be placed on a pedestal, or reduced to a story about a magical birth. In a way, that would be too easy. He came to reveal that God lives and moves within all of us.
That makes ours a most un-expected Jesus, a very unroyal king; associate of lepers and thieves, prostitutes and peasants, and even you and me. And yet, he is nothing less than the incarnation of God’s promises of hope, peace, joy and love. He embodies God’s long-expected justice, God’s liberation and dignity of body and soul, God’s presence in the midst of sorrow and grief; and all of these for all the world.
In a way, John and many others were prepared for that. What they weren’t prepared for was that the king of kings and lord of lords comes not simply to save, but to make us not just recipients of those promises, but participants in their unfolding.
Once we’ve taken down the tree, put away the Nativity scene, and finished the eggnog for another year, the promises of Christmas are still to come. Depending on where we are at this moment in life, this truth may confound us, or it may cheer us, or it may do a little of both; that’s the way most change feels. In fact, change is kind of like baptism: it doesn’t happen just once, but again and again, as seasons of anticipation become seasons of revelation.
We have yet to see and hear what this year will reveal. The good news is that, from experience and by faith, we know that God will be in the midst of it, blessing us with the hope, peace, joy and love that have always been promised. Amen.
Holy One, Beloved One, we come before you in thanksgiving for you are the One who even in our darkest moments brings new light and renewed hope.
You know us and call us by name. You offer us your blessing and give us that which is truly important in life:
You furnish us with the faith we need to look at life and realize how rich and full it can be.
You fill us with generosity and compassion so we might share that which is most important with our brothers and sisters in need.
You offer us insight and wisdom to discern how to live in your world.
You imbue us with courage and strength to be able to stand on the side of all who are marginalized.
You bestow us with creativity and imagination.
You help us to see the wonder and beauty that is life in relationship with one another, the creation and with you.
For all of these gifts – we give you our thanks.
Yet, our lives are not perfected. Sometimes our lives and the lives of those with whom we are the closest are overwhelmed by struggle.
We remember in our hearts all who are not well; those in hospital, those awaiting test results and those so filled with fear that they do not seek medical attention a sense of your healing presence and the courage to face the coming days with grace.
We pray for those who are grieving and who feel an overwhelming sense of loss.
Again, O God, we are burdened with the weight of the pandemic in this area and across the globe. We pray for those who have lost loved ones, for those who are undergoing treatment and for those struggling to recover from the virus.
We pray too for those who are feeling isolated and whose mental health is suffering. Also the people for whom the economic turmoil creates stress and the fear of what the future might bring.
We remember and give thanks for front line workers who continue to need strength and stamina in the face of the risks they are subject to every time they go to work.
We think of those who are facing other hardships.
Our world O God seems filled with turmoil. Wars and unrest continue to shake our security. Help us to end our warring madness and realize that we must live in peace if we are to live at all. Be with the people of Syria and Yemen, Palestine and Israel. Be also with the people of the United States as they struggle during this time. Help them to know your peace and help us to spread that peace so it envelops the world.
Holy One, we ask that you be with us today, tomorrow and into the future. Together, we pray in the words, Jesus taught us, Our Father,