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1 Epiphany: The Baptism of our Lord   January 7, 2018

Genesis 1:1-5
Psalm 29
Acts 19:1-7
Mark 1:4-11

Today is the First Sunday after the Epiphany, the day we celebrate the Baptism of our Lord. All of our readings tell about new beginnings.

In our first reading, from the Book of Genesis, God begins with a “formless void.” God makes a wind come up over the waters, and then God says, “Let there be light,” and the light comes into the world. Epiphany is the season of light and the season of mission.

In our reading from the Book of the Acts of the Apostles, which gives us the account of events in the early Church, Paul arrives in Ephesus. He finds that Apollos had been there before him. Apollos was a Jewish man from Alexandria who had been deeply impressed with the teachings of John the Baptist and had traveled around the Mediterranean Sea with a group of other followers of John spreading the word about John the Baptist just as Paul had traveled with his helpers spreading the Good News about Jesus.

When Paul talks to the people in Ephesus, he learns the they had been baptized by Apollos into John’s baptism, that is, a baptism of repentance. They knew they had to change their ways and turn to God. But they had not received the baptism of Christ and the Baptism of the Holy Spirit.

As he learned these facts, Paul did not criticize Apollos. He simply shared the information that there was another, deeper baptism. Once they heard about this, the people wanted to receive that baptism. When he laid his hands on them, they received the gifts of the Holy Spirit. This is another new beginning. The congregation in Ephesus, composed of twelve people, has taken a giant step in faith, They have become members of the Body of Christ. They have now been equipped to carry out their ministry as ambassadors for Christ.

In our gospel, Mark tells us about John the Baptist, who so eloquently and powerfully called the people to repent and to turn toward God. Thousands of people flocked out into the wilderness to hear him preach and to receive his baptism. He made it clear that he was not the Messiah but that his job was to prepare the way for the Savior. He also made it clear that he baptized with water, but the Savior would baptize with the Spirit. So, when the congregation in Ephesus heard about this from Paul, they could relate it to the teaching they had received from John the Baptist.

To fulfill the word of the prophets, and to begin his formal ministry, Jesus came from Nazareth to be baptized by John in the Jordan River. At that time Jesus was completely unknown and John was a spiritual rock star attracting huge crowds. Yet John, with true humility, knows exactly what is happening. He has done his work. He has called the people to repentance, and they have responded in droves. Now his  work is done. He must decrease, and Jesus must increase.

John immerses Jesus, and, when Jesus comes up out of the waters, he sees the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove. He also hears the voice of God saying, “You are my Son, the beloved, and with you I am well pleased.” Now the Savior is beginning his ministry. The true light has come into the world. This is the greatest new beginning the world has ever seen.

The true light has come into the world. We are following him. We are patterning our lives after his life. How can we help his light to shine even more brightly? How can we help him to build his kingdom, his shalom, this Epiphany? How can we bear the fruit of the Spirit—love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness. and self-control? How can we help Him to make the world a better place? As we discover the answers to these questions, we can be sure that he will be with us every step of the way and that he will give us his grace and love to light our path.  Amen.

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