Baptism of the Lord

TEXTS: Genesis 1:1-5 and Mark 1:4-11

In the beginning, God created … and Jesus came … and was baptized by John in the Jordan … and God said, “let there be light … You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”

When did you begin? Where did your story begin? Did you begin the day you were pressed upon by waves of strong contractions, and ejected from the warm darkness of the womb into the cold light of this world?

Did you begin as a twinkle in your father’s eye? Or at the moment of conception, when your own unique mix of DNA was formulated?

Or did you begin long before any of that? Are you part of a great and noble race—the fruit of a distinguished family tree? Perhaps the part of you that is most you came from another place entirely—from an ancestor who braved a long ocean voyage to begin a new life in a new land.

Or—if we are talking about the part of you that is most you—perhaps you are younger than your body. Perhaps you began at a moment of great awakening in your own mind, or on the day you met your soul mate and you began living for somebody else. Or on the day you broke free from a poisonous relationship. Some of you, I suspect, would say your life began the day you found sobriety.

Beginnings—whatever form they take—are important because they explain us. As someone has said, they explain us to ourselves. They tell us who we are, and—very often—they show us where we are going in this life … and even, sometimes, where we are meant to go.

The Bible is full of stories about beginnings—including the beginning of beginnings:

In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters. (Genesis 1:1-2)

What a scene! God approaches an empty darkness. And he speaks light and life into the amorphous waste. The Spirit of God hovers over the face of the waters—and from this face-to-face encounter, an orderly world begins. From discord, God brings harmony—and beauty.

Of course, this Creation story was never intended as a scientific account. But—whether or not you take chapter one of Genesis literally—I think we can all agree that this tale of beginnings is one that we human beings need to hear.

We need to hear this story because it reminds us that our God is a God who can create beauty and goodness out of darkness and confusion.

We need to hear this story because—when the world feels like chaos; when we find ourselves trapped in the formless void of loss or grief or despair; when we are desperate for a new beginning—we have this story. We have a creating God who reshapes the chaos into order—even into beauty.

You know, one of the mistakes that most of us make when we read Scripture is that we think the Bible has only one beginning. But (as I said before) it’s a book that has dozens—maybe hundreds—of beginnings; and many of them relate to this theme: God creates order out of chaos. 

And, in fact, that’s a good way to think about the significance of John the Baptist—that fiery prophet who appeared in the wilderness demanding that people step up and take responsibility for their lives and for their society. John proclaimed his baptism of repentance in a world where the powerful oppressed the weak—a world of state-sanctioned violence, dominated by exploitation and greed.

John showed up in the midst of this scarred and disfigured world, standing in the waters of the Jordan River, challenging people to recognize the darkness within themselves—and to see the chaos around them. He called them to make a change—to bring their lives up to code.

And then Jesus waded in next to him. Consider that. Picture that. Focus your mind’s eye on that scene—that moment, there in the rippling waters of the Jordan—when Jesus stood and gazed upon the face of the deep … and saw there his own reflection.

This was creation happening all over again. The Spirit hovered above that river as John plunged Jesus beneath its surface. And as he rose from the water, a heavenly voice broke the silence: “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” 

And once again, there was light in the darkness. As it was in the beginning, God spoke order out of chaos. This time it was by proclaiming good news to the poor and release to every captive. God was in the world speaking peace to the world’s strongest army, feeding the hungry as others hoarded their excess, restoring dignity to all in a world that afforded dignity to very few. God came into the world to forgive our sins and free our spirits.

Again, the Bible contains many, many stories about new beginnings. But they echo the same theme: when the earth was a formless void, God brought order to the chaos and made a good creation.

When injustice reigned everywhere, God sent Jesus to reorder our lives—and our society—from the inside out. When the earth was dark and its Saviour had been laid in a tomb, on the third day he rose again from the dead to show—once, and for all time—that there is no brokenness that God’s love cannot repair; there is no chaos that cannot be transformed into a thing of beauty.

Once more, I ask you: when did you begin? Where did your story begin? When did the Spirit of God hover over the chaos of your life? When did Jesus call you by your name, saying: “Come, and follow me”? 

Beginnings matter. Beginnings tell us who we are—and beginnings tell us whose we are. They tell us where we are going—and even whom we shall meet at the end of our journey. As it was in the beginning, it is now. As it was in the beginning, it ever shall be—in a world without end. Thanks be to God. Amen.

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