Sunday, 7 January 2018

And a voice came from
heaven ... ‘I am well pleased’

The fifth century mosaic of the Baptism of Christ in the Neonian Baptistry in Ravenna (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

Patrick Comerford

Sunday 7 January 2018

The First Sunday after the Epiphany: the Baptism of Christ.

11.30 a.m.: Saint Brendan’s Church, Kilnaughtin (Tarbert), Co Kerry, Morning Prayer.

Readings: Genesis 1: 1-5; Psalm 29; Acts 19: 1-7; Mark 1: 4-11.

May I speak to you in the name of God, + Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.

Three Gospel stories are traditionally associated with the Feast of the Epiphany, which fell yesterday [Saturday, 6 January 2018].

1, The first and the best-known Epiphany story is the story of the visit of the Magi in Saint Matthew’s Gospel. It is such a traditional part of our Christmas celebrations, that few people take down the Christmas tree, the decorations or the cards until at least Twelfth Night, Nollaig na mBan (‘Women’s Christmas’), or Little Christmas, on 6 January.

2, The second of these three Epiphany stories is the story of the Baptism of Christ, which is the Gospel reading this morning.

3, And the third traditional Epiphany story is the Wedding at Cana (John 2: 1-11), which is not provided for in the Epiphany readings in the Church of Ireland lectionary this year.

We often describe the moment when something profound dawns on someone, when the penny really drops, as an Epiphany moment. But in theological terms, an Epiphany or, as it is called in the Orthodox Church, a Theophany, is a moment when God becomes manifest, when people realise who Christ truly is.

In the story of the Magi, God-incarnate-in-Christ is made known to the Gentiles when the Wise Men lay their gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh before the Christ Child, proclaiming him as Priest, Prophet and King, as the promised Messiah.

The wedding at Cana is the first of the seven signs in Saint John’s Gospel, when Christ shows who he truly is through turning water into wine, which also prefigures the Last Supper and our own celebrations of the Eucharist or the Holy Communion.

Saint John the Baptist baptises Christ in the River Jordan ... a detail from a window in the north ambulatory in Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

In today’s Gospel story, we have that other Epiphany moment, which is a revelation of not only who Christ is, but also a revelation of God as Trinity.

In the creation account in Genesis and the new creation in Saint Mark’s Gospel, we are told about the light that comes into the darkness, the waters being separated or parted, and the Spirit of God hovering over those waters. And the voice of God says this is good.

L’Oréal’s original slogan declared: ‘Because I’m worth it.’ In the 1990s, this was replaced by: ‘Because you’re worth it.’ In 2009, this was changed again to: ‘Because we’re worth it’ – following motivation analysis and research into consumer psychology.

The shift to ‘we’ was supposed to create stronger consumer involvement and more consumer satisfaction. But God does not see us as mere consumers to be motivated to buy into what God produces and markets. God creates, not produces.

In Christ, at the Incarnation, on the first Christmas, God takes on our image and likeness. Because we are worth it, you are worth it, I am worth it.

The Genesis account of creation goes on to say that when God looked at all he created, he said it was good.

But when God looked at humanity, he declared we are very good. In Christ, we realise how very good God thinks we are.

Saint Mark’s Gospel has no Christmas story: no baby born in Bethlehem, no shepherds watching their flocks by night, no wise men arriving with their gifts. Instead, in Saint Mark’s Gospel, our first meeting with Christ is when he arrives from Nazareth of Galilee and is baptised by Saint John the Baptist in the River Jordan.

It is like the story of a new creation. All the elements of the creation story in Genesis are here: we know we are moving from darkness into light; the shape of the earth moves from wilderness to beauty as we are given a description of the landscape; there is a separation of the waters of the new creation as Jesus and John go down in the waters of the Jordan and rise up from them again; and, as in the Genesis story, the Holy Spirit hovers over this beautiful new creation like a dove.

Then, just as in the Genesis creation story, where God looks down and sees that everything is good, God looks down in this Epiphany story and lets us know that everything is good. Or as Saint Mark says: A voice came from heaven saying: ‘You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.’

What a fitting crowning for the end of the Christmas Season: God is pleased with the whole of creation, God so loved this creation that Christ has come into it, identified with us in the flesh, and is giving us the gift of and the blessings of the Holy Spirit.

Very few of us can remember our own Baptism. But at that Baptism we were baptised in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

Baptism makes us heirs of God’s promise in this new creation. Christmas is not just the story of Christ’s birth, but also a reminder that we too are the beloved children of God.

And our Epiphany story this morning is not just a reminder of Christ’s Baptism, but a reminder to us that in our own Baptism we were claimed, adopted, loved as the Children of God.

And when God looks down on us as his baptised, adopted, loved children, as we live in the power of the Holy Spirit, God is saying to each and every one of us: ‘You are my Child, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.’

If all your New Year’s Resolutions flew out the window in the past week, then why not resolve to simply accept that God accepts you, that you are made in God’s image and likeness, and that when God looks at you, new every morning, God sees God’s own image and likeness, that when God looks on each of us as a sign of his new creation, he sees that it is good, and that we, them, all of us, are his beloved children in whom he is well pleased: ‘And a voice came from heaven ... I am well pleased’ (Mark 1: 11).

And so, may all we think, say and do be to the praise, honour and glory of God, + Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.

An icon of the Baptism of Christ, worked on a cut of olive wood by Eleftheria Syrianoglou, in an exhibition in the Fortezza in Rethymnon, Crete (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)


Eternal Father,
who at the baptism of Jesus
revealed him to be your Son,
anointing him with the Holy Spirit:
Grant to us, who are born of water and the Spirit,
that we may be faithful to our calling as your adopted children;
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Penitential Kyries:

God be merciful to us and bless us,
and make his face to shine on us.

Lord, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy.

May your ways be known on earth,
your saving power to all nations.

Christ, have mercy.
Christ, have mercy.

You, Lord, have made known your salvation,
and reveal your justice in the sight of the nations.

Lord, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy.

Introduction to the Peace:

Our Saviour Christ is the Prince of Peace.
Of the increase of his government and of peace
there shall be no end. (cf Isaiah 9: 6, 7)


Christ the Son be manifest to you,
that your lives may be a light to the world:

(Revd Canon Professor) Patrick Comerford is Priest-in-Charge, the Rathkeale and Kilnaughtin Group of Parishes. This sermon was prepared for Sunday 7 January 2018.

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