We have entered the season of Epiphany. Many of us have likely taken our Christmas decorations down. Tradition says we take them down after the Feast of the Epiphany whichwas yesterday. That day celebrates the visit of the wise men to Jesus and his family. They always make it on to Christmas carJesus until he was 2 years old. Whatever the time frame, our celebration of Christmas is 12 days and ends with the visit of the wise men. I left our figures up one more Sunday so we could see their visit as we think about what this season is about.
I like to tell people that Epiphany is the season where we answer the question, “Who is Jesus”? At yesterday’s feast, Jesus is revealed as the savior not just of the Jewish people, but the savior of ALL people. The wisemen were not Jews; they were gentiles. And the recognized Jesus’ kingship over the world, and came to him on bended knee bringing gifts befitting a king. As we go through these next weeks of Epiphany, as you listen to the lessons, particularly the gospel, see how the question of “Who Jesus is” is answered. It will make for a good time of mediation and prayer.
Today is the Feast of the Baptism of our Lord. And our gospel tells us that Jesus is God’s son, the beloved, and that God is well pleased with Jesus. It is the beginning of Jesus’s ministry and the proclamation of the kingdom of God here on earth. In our readings today we hear about the Holy Spirit moving over the water in creation, about the baptism that Paul gives to people in Corinth and how the Holy Spirit comes upon them; and then of course in our Gospel reading, we hear about the Spirit coming upon Jesus.
Today is a good day to reflect on our own baptism and it’s consequences for us.
I want to start first with a news story from this week. And a warning that this kind of thing makes me grumpy.
This week, a popular water bottle brand released a new cup in partnership with Target and I believe, Starbucks. For $45, you were able to purchase the cup in a limited release pink or red for Valentine’s day. People reportedly stood in line as early as 3 am to have a chance of scoring one of these cups. Videos showed displays emptying out in 4 minutes, sometimes with pushing and shoving. One store that limited the purchase of cups to one per person had a woman saying that since her 2 year old in a stroller was a person, she was purchasing one for her. Yeah right. Oh, and if you didn’t get a cup from the store, you can probably still purchase one xon eBay for a few hundred dollars.
Now, let me say for the sake of transparency… I love my giant water cup that you have all gotten familiar with; I also paid some good money for it. It had better last me a good long time. I love the color pink; I also have some water cups that I have purchased for some very specific things, one of which is for my dutch bros iced coffee so that perhaps I will stop spilling them on my desk. But I digress.
This reminds me of the insanity of black Friday which at least now we can enter into from the comfort of our homes. I remember as a kid when Cabbage Patch dolls were causing riots.
So what is it I’m getting at here… The cup story really bothered me; it STILL bothers me. And I admit to a fair amount of curmudgeonly grumpiness. But I got to thinking… would these same people fork over $45 to help a homeless ministry? Would they get up to feed or help house the homeless at 3 am? The answer at least for some, might be yes. I hope so. But watching people lose their sense of right and wrong, pushing each other out of the way, cheapens our humanity and the gift of life given to us by God. Baptism, for us, means that the death grip that society has on us is at least lessened. Our behaviors and sense of what is right is very different from the rest of the world because we follow a crucified and risen messiah. A former Bishop of mine called Baptism the “sacrament of expulsion”. We so often think of it as a means for inclusion, which of course it is, but when we look at Jesus, after his Baptism he was immediately pushed by the Holy Spirit into the desert to face a time of isolation and temptation, a time to strengthen him for the ministry ahead.
It is not that different for us. My favorite part of baptism is when the priest anoints the newly baptized with holy oil and says, “you are sealed by the Holy Spirit in Baptism and marked as Christ’s own forever.” Marked… forever as God’s beloved for whom God is well pleased. I wonder what each of us might accomplish as individuals and as a community if we lived as though we believed that to be true? What does it mean to be the beloved of God? It means that everything, absolutely everything about us is different. We are especially different than those who are moved by the fleeting happiness that consumerism brings us, instead reaching for the more permanent joy of a relationship with God and with God’s people – we use our resources to help build the kingdom of God here on earth as it is in heaven; and when we are led astray, we turn back to living a kingdom life of prayer, service, and study. And because everything about us is different, and because we feed our spiritual lives, our relationship to God comes first and we allow it to guide us into right action to love our neighbors. I hope as we continue to answer the question “Who is Jesus” that our study and our prayer might lead us to more or different service to the world that God so loved.