According to the gospel of John, what is “the Word”? It’s Jesus, actually. Not scripture. The Word of God is Jesus. And we are told that, in the beginning, this third person of the trinity already existed.
“In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God. The Word was with God in the beginning. Everything came into being through the Word, and without the Word nothing came into being. What came into being through the Word was life, and the life was the light for all people…The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world. He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. … The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.”
The Word was already in the world, it was there since the beginning. Jesus, as the Word, was there from the beginning. And yet Jesus was born and Jesus was baptized as one of us. What does that mean?
As I mentioned at Wednesday evening’s service, Epiphany actually has three parts, or three events. Epiphany is the revelation or revealing of who Jesus was. The first part of the epiphany is the visit of the Magi, their recognition of who Jesus was, through the star, through their study and wisdom and their declaration of who Jesus was by their commitment to travel, to bring him gifts, to honor him. The second part is what we read today, the revelation of Jesus by the Spirit descending on him like a dove, with the voice that came from heaven saying: “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.” The final piece of the epiphany is the assigned lectionary passage for next week which is Jesus’ first miracle or his turning the water into wine. The Magi represented the revelation to the Gentiles of who Jesus was. The Baptism was God’s own naming of who Jesus was. And his first miracle was done for his own community, for those attending the wedding, or other Jews.
But baptism, the piece of epiphany on which we focus today also has other meanings for us. And the fact that Jesus was baptized shows the extent to which God joined us in this human journey, including this, the baptism or the second revelation of God’s coming to be with us. It was, for Jesus, as it is for us, a renewing. It is a commitment to living in the way of Christ, in the way God calls us to be, it is a commitment to being God’s children and therefore doing our best to live with integrity, faith, love and grace. It is also a commitment to see with eyes open what God is calling us to do and to then do it.
There once was a little boy named Sam who was very excited about Halloween. But his parents kept putting off getting his costume until finally the day of Halloween his mother came home with a costume that Sam hated. It was of some comic book character who had been big once but who now was seen by all the kids to be ridiculous and only for the littlest of children. Sam was devastated. How could he ever wear this? He couldn’t possibly go out on Halloween in this costume! He was so upset, he ran down the street to where an older couple who had become surrogate grandparents to Sam lived. He ran into their house and cried and cried about the terrible costume his mother had picked out for him. Well, Norm, the older man thought for a few minutes and then he said to his wife, “Don’t we have some old costumes up in the attic from when our kids were children?”
“Why, I believe we do!” she replied. Up they all went into the attic and down they came with an old ghost costume. Really, it was just a sheet with holes cut in it for the eyes. But Sam was so thrilled with the costume, he just couldn’t wait to put it on. With a look of awe in his eyes, he pulled the sheet down over his head and before anyone could stop him, he went running out the door to go trick or treating and ran straight through the yard and bam into a tree! Norm saw this and he dashed out after him, picked up the little boy, but before he could stop him, there Sam took off again, running as fast as he could until bam he ran smack into another tree! This time the force pushed him flat onto his back where he lay still until Norm came running up. Norm wondered what on earth was going on until he looked into Sam’s face and realized that Sam had not lined up the eye holes to match his eyes. He had been virtually blind, running around the yard, completely unable to see where he was going. Norm gently but firmly took hold of the sheet, pulled it around until Sam was able to see through the eye holes, tied a rope around his waist to hold the costume in place and sent Sam off on a much more successful and enjoyable Halloween evening of trick-or-treating!
We, too, sometimes walk around in the dark, not because it is dark, but because our vision is covered, obscured in some way. We sometimes fail to realize that we could see, if someone were to just help us adjust our costumes, adjust our outlook, adjust our approach, just a little bit. Oftentimes it is this blindness which causes us to err, to sin, to take a wrong path so that somebody gets hit, whether it be just a tree or another person, someone gets hurt: and we obviously do as well.
On this, baptism of the Lord Sunday, we remember our baptism in which God comes and washes the dirt, the blindness, the darkness from our eyes. The Spirit revealed Jesus on this day for all of us, the light which can guide us, bring us from the dark, help us to see. And when we are baptized, we are called to see who we really are too – God’s children, chosen, called, loved into being. It is the day when we celebrate that God offers us first, calls us first, even before we are able to ask for it, the gift of being made new, being made clean. With its cleansing and renewing waters, then, we can see enough to give to others, to give to each other, to run around doing God’s work, hopefully without slamming into too many trees along the way.
Today, on this second Sunday of Epiphany, we are called to reflect on the amazing gift of baptism that God has given to first Jesus, and then us. It is a gift of remembering that God calls us into relationship with God. It is a gift of remembering that God initiates care for us, call to us, purpose and meaning for our lives, before we are even old enough to choose to respond. It is a gift that says, “because I first chose you, because I first brought new life to you, because I begin your life by giving to you every day again and again; now you are called to return that gift to all God’s people, caring back, giving second chances to others, choosing to love and live and care for others in the way that I have cared for you.” It is a gift, like the star, that shows us the light and invites us to use it to see.
Today as we install our new elders and deacons and recognize the trustees, we are given a concrete example of responding to the call that is within our baptisms with a “yes”. It is not the only way. And so, in all that we do, let us search for God’s call for our lives, invite God’s call into our lives, respond to God’s call for our lives with a “yes” and a “yes” and a “Yes”! Amen.