Sunday, January 15, 2023 | Matthew 3: 13-17
Today is Baptism of our Lord Sunday. And we’re in the season of Epiphany. It’s the season we learn about how God reveals who Jesus is to the world. Hence the meaning of the word “epiphany” which deals with the revealing of Christ. Last week we learned about Christ’s revelation to the Gentiles, when the foreigners known as Magi, or Wise Men, were included in the announcement of Jesus’ birth. This week we fast forward 30 years to the first time we encounter Jesus as an adult and who he is revealed to John the Baptist. We’ll be covering this theme a lot this season: the revealing of who Jesus is. Typical Epiphany readings include Jesus’ first miracle of turning water into wine, the calling of the first disciples, and messages from Jesus’ first sermon, the Sermon on the Mount. All stories that reveal who Jesus is. And today, on Baptism of our Lord Sunday, it is John the Baptist who is shown who Jesus is.
Up to this point John understood that his mission was to prepare the way for the Messiah. To prepare the people of Israel for whatever special thing God was about to do. He didn’t exactly understand what the future would hold, but he knew he had the role of preparing the way and he was faithful to his calling. And at this moment, when he baptizes Jesus, John realizes that this man is the special one he has been waiting for. The Gospel of Matthew tells us John realizes it even before he baptizes Jesus; others seem to suggest it’s the vision of the dove descending and voice declaring who Jesus is that does it. Either way, it is at this moment that John realizes who Jesus is. And it’s because of the baptism.
Jesus’ baptism may have even been the declaration Jesus needed to discover who he truly was. It’s debated whether he always knew he was the Messiah or if it’s what happened at his Baptism that told him. Maybe a little of both. And right after his baptism, Jesus departs for the wilderness and begins his 40-day journey of fasting in the desert where he wrestles with his identity and is tempted by the devil. So perhaps this is not only the moment John realizes who Jesus is; it may also be the moment Jesus begins to understand who he is more clearly. In a way, they both have epiphanies.
The story invites us to reflect on those epiphany moments in our own lives when we understand something deeper about God, about life, about ourselves. Such moments of epiphany can be transformative experiences that are sudden and life changing. Or they can come at the end of a long and slow process of discernment. They can be powerful mountaintop experiences, or realizations that come in the simple routine events of everyday life. However they come, our epiphany moments clarify our purpose, make us feel connected, and teach us something essential. They can be profound realizations about who God is or the Spirit’s role in our life. Or they can be gentle, peaceful reminders of things we may have forgotten or not paid attention to for a long time.
Our realizations about who Jesus is, or what God is calling us to do, don’t need to be accompanied by the heavens opening and a divine voice. Epiphanies can come gradually on the long road of the faith journey. We might not even remember the specific moment looking back, sometimes it just becomes clear God has touched our lives and changed us in ways we can’t exactly pinpoint.
And maybe we’re on the road now waiting for an epiphany. An epiphany about where God is calling us. An epiphany about how to handle a stressful situation. An epiphany about a loved one. An epiphany about our relationship with God and who Jesus is in our lives. Many are still wondering, questioning, pondering the mystery of it all. It’s good to pray for an epiphany, to pray for God’s aid in recognizing the divine presence in our lives. In realizing who Jesus is, who God is, who we are and how we are called to live.
Maybe you’ve been blessed with such an epiphany yourself. Or maybe you’ve gone the slow and steady track of realization, where hard it’s to point to the exact moment of epiphany but you know it happened over time. Whatever the case, I know that God is at work in each and every one of our lives. Providing us with our own little epiphanies to direct us and guide us, to strengthen us and comfort us, to teach us and help us have our own realizations about God, Jesus, and life.
And on this Baptism of our Lord Sunday, we are reminded that baptism can be one of those moments, one of those moments that can provide clarity and proclaim to us who we truly are. It certainly was for John the Baptist and maybe even for Jesus too. At Jesus’ baptism God declared Jesus His beloved Son. This was an epiphany for all who heard it. This was God declaring to the world that Jesus is God’s Son.
And the amazing thing is that at our baptism we all heard that same message: that we are God’s beloved child too. We are all beloved children of God. At our Baptism, we may not have heard the literal voice of God like Jesus did, nevertheless God proclaimed us as God’s beloved daughter or son.
And just like Jesus didn’t become God’s Son at his Baptism, he always was, so we too have always been God’s beloved children. But at our Baptism we heard that promise proclaimed to us and were assured this beyond any doubt and told what was always true about ourselves and God’s love for us. As Paul says in Romans, in our baptism we are joined to Christ’s death and resurrection so that we may have new life in him. In baptism we are sealed by the Holy Spirit and marked with the cross of Christ forever. In baptism we are told who we are and whose we are. In baptism we are called and claimed as beloved children of God.
This may not feel like it’s a huge epiphany. Perhaps we hear it so often that we’re used to this incredibly good news. But we are all children of God and when we truly realize this fact it is truly life changing.
And so this week, remember who you are and whose you are. Remember that you are a baptized child of God. Let that be the realization that carries you through the week, that carries you through this Epiphany season, that carries you through life. Because no matter how mysterious or confusing life gets, we know God’s love for us, and we know Jesus has been born to show us the way to the freedom and new life God offers to all.
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.