The text of the sermon, based on Mark 1.4-11, videorecorded and shared with the people of St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church, Spartanburg, SC, on the 1st Sunday after the Epiphany, January 10, 2021.
Epiphany. From the Greek, meaning “revelation.” Theologically, revelation always is God’s initiative in choosing to make known to human consciousness some aspect of the Divine nature.
Now, regarding the Epiphany season, centuries ago, the Christian church designed the year-round commemoration of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. Epiphany was placed after Christmas, so to deepen our contemplation of the reason for the birth of the Bethlehem baby. During Epiphany, we read and reflect on gospel accounts of Jesus’ ministry – his calling of disciples to follow him, his teaching, preaching, and healing – all revealing the nearness of the kingdom of God: God’s Person, Presence, and Power.
Today, we read of the beginning of Jesus’ ministry in his baptism; which raises an immediate question.
John the Baptizer appeared in the wilderness as God’s messenger to herald the coming of the Messiah. John baptized with water as an outward sign of the inward, spiritual cleansing of repentance for the forgiveness of sins as preparation to meet, as John proclaimed, “the one who is more powerful than I (who) will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”
Then, why did Jesus, the Messiah, the one more powerful than John, need to be baptized?
How wonderful it is that the Bible has four gospel accounts of the life of Jesus. Therein we find parallel passages with different views of the same event. (Truly, the Bible often is its own best commentary as one passage illumines and interprets another.) In Matthew, when Jesus came to be baptized, John protested, “I need to be baptized by you!” Jesus answered, “Let it be so now, for it fitting in this way to fulfill all righteousness;” that is, to satisfy the will of God.
Thus, this revelation… The sinless Jesus, who needs no baptism of repentance, is baptized as a sign that he shares our life. Jesus is our Savior and can be our Savior because he identifies with the fullness of our humanity. Our joys and sorrows. Our triumphs and failings. Our goodness and, yes, sinfulness.
Thus, this revelation… As Jesus shares our lives, so we share his life. Therefore, Jesus’ baptism is the paradigm for our baptisms.
Through baptism, we are to see what Jesus saw: the heavens torn apart, preparing the way for the reunion of heaven and earth in the coming Spirit, the indwelling presence and power of God, descending like a dove upon us.
Through baptism, we are to hear what Jesus heard: vox Dei, the voice of God saying to us, “You are my daughters and my sons, the beloved with whom I am well pleased.”
Through baptism, we are called to be as Jesus is and to do as Jesus does.
So it is that we, in our Baptismal Covenant, with God’s help, pledge:
To continue in the apostles’ teaching, the Bible, and fellowship, the church, in the breaking of the bread, the Eucharist, and in the prayers of adoration and praise, confession and thanksgiving, intercession, petition, and oblation; and
To persevere in resisting evil, in the world and in ourselves, and, whenever we fall into sin, repent and return to the Lord; and
To proclaim by word with our lips and example with our lives the Good News of God in Christ; and
To seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving our neighbors as ourselves; and
To strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being.
Thus, this revelation… This is what it looks like when the heavens are torn open and the Spirit of power descends upon us and God speaks, sending us into the world to be and to do as Jesus is and does.
Thus, this revelation… This is what it looks like when we are epiphanies, revelations of God Person, Presence, and Power!
Thus, this revelation… As faith gazes longingly, beckoningly, especially in the face of doubt, as hope clears its voice and sings especially in fervent reply to the cry of despair, as love opens its arms of boundless benevolence especially to embrace and to bear the pain of fear and hatred; so, an epiphany of God, as Light, beams brightest in the darkness.
In these our American dark days and bleak nights, let us, by God’s Spirit, be epiphanies of faith, hope, and love.
© 2021 PRA
Illustration: Baptism of Christ (c. 18th century), Giovanni Battista Tiepolo (1696-1770)
 Properly, the title of this period of the church year/calendar is the Season after the Feast of the Epiphany. The Feast of the Epiphany, being the 13th day after Christmas Day, always falls on January 6 and is accompanied by the reading of the story of the visit to Bethlehem to see the Christ Child by magi from the East (Matthew 2.1-12). The coming of the magi, who were Gentiles, traditionally has been interpreted by Christians as a sign that the mission and ministry of Jesus was not only to Israel, but to the whole world.
 See Mark 1.2-8
 See Matthew 3.13-17