Isaiah 62:1-7, 10-12+Psalm 18:2-11, 16-19+(2 Corinthians 6: 2-10)+Matthew 3:1-6, 11-17
Like clockwork, the first Sunday after the Epiphany rolls around telling us, again, the story of Jesus’s baptism, and every year, we have not 30-something-year-old adults to baptize, but the littlest and youngest ones. We have hardly gotten our Christmas decorations packed away (or maybe we haven’t) and celebrated the coming of the magi from the East, and all of a sudden, we have a grown-up Jesus showing up at the Jordan River to be baptized. It can cause whiplash trying to keep it all straight.
Imagine for a moment that you meet someone who knows only two things about Jesus: the birth narrative with the Virgin Mary and the angels and shepherds and the manger and all of that; and the resurrection narrative that Jesus suffered and died, was put in a tomb, and then came back to life again before returning to God in heaven. This person with just these two stories is probably going to have a lot of questions.
How do we know this isn’t just all made up?
Where does it say the Jesus is the Son of God?
What did he do in all those years between birth and resurrection?
What difference did it make to anyone who knew him as just their childhood friend or neighbor?
The season of Epiphany begins to fill in the answers to some of these questions. Merriam-Webster defines an epiphany as “a moment in which you suddenly see or understand something in a new or very clear way.” The stories we read through this season are intended to help us see or understand something about who and what Jesus is, all pointing toward his identity as the savior of the world.
So, we are given a scene at a wedding. Jesus had friends. He liked to have fun. Everyone is happy and the DJ is just getting warmed up when the wine runs out. Jesus tells the servants to fill the jugs with water, and, voila! More wine – the best wine.
And then there are those fishermen, tired from working the nets all night when this Jesus shows up and tells them to try again. Are you crazy? We’ve been at this for hours – there are no fish! But the fishermen, Peter to be precise, drop the nets and then can hardly get them back into the boat they are so heavy with fish.
Or maybe you can tell your questioning friend about the time Jesus went up a mountain with just his closest friends, and the most amazing thing happened. Moses and Elijah had a little chat with Jesus, and then a cloud came down and wrapped them all up in it, and a voice boomed at them, “This is my son, my Chosen one. Listen to him!” (Luke 9:36.
These and other stories of miraculous happenings are assembled as a way of revealing who Jesus is.
And it always, always starts with baptism. It starts with Jesus coming to John, his cousin, who was preaching at people to turn around – repent – and to be cleansed of their sins. John is not yet fully aware of who Jesus is, but he recognizes him as of greater importance. John knows that he – John – is just the one making ready, and he knows he is not worthy to pour water over Jesus’s head or dunk him in the river. But Jesus says it must be done to “fulfill all righteousness.” This is Matthew looking back to the Hebrew scriptures to those parts that point toward a Messiah as the one who will execute justice and righteousness (e.g., Jeremiah 33:15). Jesus is the fulfillment of that, and this is confirmed in the descent of a dove and the first of the booming voices from heaven saying, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased” (Matthew 3:17). An epiphany, a revelation of something no one knew before.
From the earliest days of the church, then, baptism has been a sign and symbol to us that we are a part of this story, that we participate in the story of the Son of God in human flesh, humbling himself to receive the baptism of John, and being called God’s beloved.
This is the story your child is stepping into today, is becoming part of today in her baptism. She, too, becomes an epiphany, when we can see that she is not just your daughter or grandchild or sibling. She is beloved of God, sealed and signed with the Holy Spirit and marked as Christ’s own…forever. As she makes her way through this world, her life will point to the One who brought you all here today; her life will tell the story of how God leapt down from heaven and walked among us.