Sunday, January 07, 2018

Epiphany 1, Year B (2018)

Genesis 1: 1–5; Psalm 29; Acts 19: 1–7; Mark 1: 4–11
This is the homily that was given at St. John’s; Huntingdon, Pennsylvania on Sunday, January 7, 2017 by Fr. Gene Tucker.
(Homily text:  Mark 1: 4–11)
As the Church Year unfolds, some of the Sundays have a theme or a subtitle. For example, the last Sunday of the Church Year is known as “Christ the King Sunday”. There is also a “Good Shepherd Sunday”, which is the Fourth Sunday of Easter. This Sunday is one of those, for on the First Sunday after the Epiphany each year, we celebrate and observe this day as “The Baptism of our Lord Jesus Christ”.
This event in Jesus’ life and ministry must have been very important to the early Christians, for each of the three Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark and Luke) record this incident. (John’s Gospel account does not narrate Jesus’ baptism, but does tell us that Jesus’ disciples were baptizing….see John 3:22 and 4: 1, 2.)
We might wonder why Jesus went to the Jordan River to meet up with His cousin, John the Baptist, and to be baptized by him. Some plausible reasons might include:
  • Curiosity about what was going on with John’s ministry and activity out in the wilderness. After all, John’s work was gathering a lot of attention, and perhaps Jesus had heard about John’s presence and activity when He Himself went to Jerusalem on pilgrimage.
  • A desire to reconnect with John, after having heard about the relationship between His mother, Mary, and her cousin, Elizabeth, who was John’s mother. (See Luke 1: 39–45.)
  • A desire to give approval to John’s work by submitting to baptism Himself.
  • A desire to lead by example by submitting to baptism.

This last point needs some explanation.
John’s baptism was a baptism for repentance of sin. If Jesus was without sin, as many passages in the New Testament make clear,[1] then why did Jesus press John to be baptized?
The most likely answer is that Jesus – in His baptism – leads us by example.
We might characterize all of Jesus’ actions as His earthly ministry unfolds by altering a very familiar statement: In essence, Jesus tells us to “Do as I say, and do as I do.”
From here, from Jesus’ baptism, Jesus will go out into the wilderness to be tempted by the evil one. So Jesus experiences temptations, just as we are tempted.
From His temptation, Jesus will encounter every sort of human condition in which people suffer and are estranged from God and from one another. Jesus inhabits a world in which disease, death and sin reign.
From this world, Jesus experiences rejection, suffering and death, just as we are subject to those very same things.
From His rejection, suffering and death, Jesus rises from the dead, conquering those things that would threaten to destroy us and which would separate us from God’s love.
Jesus’ victory over all these things gives us the down payment of our own victory over suffering, estrangement and death, guaranteeing us a place at the Father’s throne in heaven, providing the assurance that nothing can separate us from the love of God, made known in Christ. (See Romans 8: 31–39.)
God’s willingness to send His only Son, Jesus Christ, to break into the human condition is one of the distinctive hallmarks of the Christian faith. For in Jesus’ coming, we understand that God stands not outside of human history, but has entered it Himself in the person of Jesus Christ. (See Philippians 2: 5–11.) So God takes up our human condition, completely and fully, immersing Himself in every sort of disappointment, pain, separation and loss that we can ever imagine.
In sending Jesus Christ, God is telling us, “Do as He (Jesus) says, and do as He (Jesus) does.”

[1]   Examples which emphasize this point include:  II Corinthians 5: 21, Hebrews 4: 15 and I Peter 2: 22.