Sunday, 10 January 2021

Accepting the promises
made at our Baptism,
‘Because we’re worth it’

‘Will you strive for justice and peace …, and respect the dignity of every human being’ … a reminder of the Baptismal questions and promises during a recent protest in the US

Patrick Comerford

Sunday 10 January 2021

The First Sunday after the Epiphany (Epiphany I, the Baptism of Christ)

The Parish Eucharist

Readings: Genesis 1: 1-5; Psalm 29; Mark 1: 4-11

There is a link to the readings HERE.

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)

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

We celebrated the Feast of the Epiphany on Wednesday (6 January 2021), but this morning’s Gospel story is one that also associated traditionally with Epiphany – the story of the Baptism of Christ (Mark 1: 4-11).

Apart from the visit of the Magi and the Baptism of Christ, there is a third traditional Epiphany story is the Wedding at Cana, which is not provided for in the Epiphany readings in the lectionary this year (John 2: 1-11).

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, gold, frankincense and myrrh, before the Christ child, proclaiming him Priest, Prophet and King, 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.

In the Gospel story this morning, 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, which we hear part of this morning (Genesis 1: 1-5), 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, following motivation analysis and work into consumer psychology, this was changed again to: ‘Because we’re worth it.’

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’re worth it, you’re worth it, I’m 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.

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 the Book 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 Genesis, 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 and 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 have gone out the window, 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).

As we move on from the celebration of Christmas to preparing for Lent, Good Friday and Easter, may each one of us be assured of our place as a Child of God, a new creation.

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

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

Liturgical Colour: White

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.

The Collect of the Day:

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.

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)

Preface:

For Jesus Christ our Lord
who in human likeness revealed your glory,
to bring us out of darkness
into the splendour of his light:

Post Communion Prayer:

Refreshed by these holy gifts, Lord God,
we seek your mercy:
that by listening faithfully to your only Son,
and being obedient to the prompting of the Spirit,
we may be your children in name and in truth;
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Blessing:

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

‘On Jordan’s bank the Baptist’s cry’ (Hymn 136) … the Baptism of Christ by Saint the Baptist depicted at the Duomo in Florence (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Hymns:

136, On Jordan’s bank the Baptist’s cry (CD 8)
386, Spirit of God, unseen as the wind (CD 23)

The Baptism of Christ … a stained glass window in Saint Brigid’s Church, Ardagh, Co Longford (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition copyright © 1989, 1995, National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org

Material from the Book of Common Prayer is copyright © 2004, Representative Body of the Church of Ireland.



This sermon was prepared for the Rathkeale and Kilnaughtin Group of Parishes for Sunday 10 January 2021, the First Sunday after Epiphany.

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