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Epiphany 1 The Baptism of Christ  January 12, 2020

Isaiah 42:1-9
Psalm 29
Acts 10:34-43
Matthew 3:13-17

Our opening reading is a glorious poem from the prophet we call the Second Isaiah. The people who have been in exile in Babylon are coming home. The new society of peace, compassion, and justice is described.  The passage also described God’s servant. We as Christians think of Jesus as that servant. But scholars tell us that this description of the servant can also apply to God’s people. 

The servant and the servant society are here to bring peace. The servant is gentle. He does not break a bruised reed. The servant brings forth justice. With God’s grace, the servant nation is a light to the world. The servant nation opens the eyes of the blind and frees the prisoners.

Our gospel today is the baptism of our Lord as described by Matthew. This year, I have been thinking of Jesus and John the Baptist in this amazing encounter. We know that their mothers, Mary and Elizabeth, were relatives, and thus Jesus and John were also relatives, Back in the old days we used to think of them as cousins, but the truth is we are not sure of their exact relationship.

Soon after she was told by the angel Gabriel that she would become the mother of Jesus, Mary went to visit her relative Elizabeth, who had become pregnant even though she was way past childbearing age. At that time, the baby John the Baptist, who was in Elizabeth’s womb, jumped with joy at the presence of Jesus.

Now they meet again. John has been with the Essenes studying, and he is now called to offer people a baptism of repentance.  Jesus comes from Galilee to John at the river Jordan. Imagine how they felt. They had both studied the scriptures. They were aware that John the Baptist was the forerunner described by the prophets, and that Jesus was the Messiah. 

Imagine your relative who is the Messiah coming to you for baptism, This is why John tells Jesus that Jesus should be baptizing him.  But they accept what they need to do to fulfill the scriptures. John baptizes his relative. The Spirit of God descends like a dove and alights on Jesus. God speaks, “This is my Son, the Beloved with whom I am well pleased.” This is the beginning of Jesus’ formal ministry. I wonder how John the Baptist felt at this moment. He has just baptized the Savior.

In our reading from the Book of Acts, we see the result of Jesus’ baptism and ministry. A centurion named Cornelius is described as “a devout man who feared God.” He is a faithful Gentile soldier, a commander of 100 men, who is generous and kind to all and who supports his local synagogue even though he is not Jewish. An angel of God has told Cornelius to send to Joppa, find a man named Peter, and ask Peter to come to his home. While the messengers from Cornelius are on their way to find Peter, Peter is having a vision.

Peter has been a faithful Jew all his life, He has kept the dietary laws and has been faithful in observing every part of the law. He goes up to the roof to pray and God gives him a vision of all kinds of food. Then God says, “Get up, Peter. Kill and eat.” Peter replies that he cannot  do that because he has never eaten anything that is unclean according to the law. God tells him that now everything has been made clean. There are no more barriers. Every barrier has been removed. Just then the messengers from Cornelius arrive, and Peter goes with them to Cornelius’ house.

When Peter arrives, Cornelius falls down before him and worships him. Peter tells him to get up, saying, “I am only a mortal.” Peter finds out that all of Cornelius’ family and friends have gathered at his house to listen to what Peter has to say, and he realizes why his vision of the foods is so important. He shares this with Cornelius and the people gathered, and he  tells them that, as a faithful Jew, he was not supposed to associate with Gentiles, but he has learned in the vision sent by God that nothing is profane or unclean. Peter says,” I truly understand that God shows no partiality but in every nation anyone who fears[God] and does what is right is acceptable to [God].” Then Peter describes the ministry and message of Jesus. It is the ministry of the servant described by Isaiah.

While Peter is sharing this message with the people at Cornelius’ home, the Holy Spirit falls on all the people, and Peter and his team realize that they should baptize these people. 

The message is that Jesus is the Savior of all people. This is the first baptism of Gentiles in the Book of Acts. This is the sign that the new faith is for everyone. God loves everyone.

The Epiphany season is the season of light, love and mission. With the baptism of the first Gentiles to join the new faith at the home of Cornelius, the new faith began to spread around the whole world. We are called to help to share this good news. God is a God of love. God has a big family. God is a lover, not a lawyer.

Each of us in our daily life shares the good news of God’s love. Some of us do that in words. Some of us share the good news through our actions. We don’t say a whole lot. We just show God’s love to others. Some of  us do both.

As members of the body of Christ, reaching out to share his love, healing, and  forgiveness with others, we are part of the servant nation spreading the love of God in the world. May we be the eyes of Christ, looking at others with compassion. May we be the hands of Christ, reaching our to others to meet their needs for food, clothing, shelter, and medical care. We are his living body here on earth, sharing his love with all the people we meet. Amen,

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