The Baptism of Our Lord (Epiphany I), 7 January 2018

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

Background: Chaos

Both the Psalm and the First Reading for this Sunday make reference to the waters – an allusion to the primeval waters and the primeval void that is present not only in the Genesis story of creation, but also in other ancient near eastern creation stories, in which the waters play a role as well. The Greek word “chaos” has as its meaning a void, or a formlessness that precedes creation. The verbal form means to “gape” or to be “wide open.” In Hebrew, it is expressed as tohu wa-bohu.  It is the nothingness into which God breathes a creative word, and the water is separated from the land. This state indicates that there was something there in the beginning with God, but the Christian theologians looked at the “nothingness” of the term, and talked about creation as being ex hihilo.

First Reading: Genesis 1:1-5

In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters. Then God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light. And God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness. God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day.

The waters are clearly here in this first of the creation stories. The wind (ru’ah, spirit, breath) is blowing over the waters. It is unfortunate that this pericope does not pick up verse 6 in which the waters are divided by the vault or firmament, so that the later baptismal waters have a reference in this verse as well. There is an emptiness or futility here – a potentiality that is enlivened by God’s breath.

Breaking open Genesis:
1.      What has been created in your lifetime?
2.      In what ways do you see God reflected in it?
3.      Where has God’s breath blown in your life?

Psalm 29 Afferte Domino

     Ascribe to the Lord, you gods, *
ascribe to the Lord glory and strength.
2      Ascribe to the Lord the glory due his Name; *
worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness.
3      The voice of the Lord is upon the waters;
the God of glory thunders; *
the Lord is upon the mighty waters.
4      The voice of the Lord is a powerful voice; *
the voice of the Lord is a voice of splendor.
5      The voice of the Lord breaks the cedar trees; *
the Lord breaks the cedars of Lebanon;
6      He makes Lebanon skip like a calf, *
and Mount Hermon like a young wild ox.
7      The voice of the Lord splits the flames of fire;
the voice of the Lord shakes the wilderness; *
the Lord shakes the wilderness of Kadesh.
8      The voice of the Lord makes the oak trees writhe *
and strips the forests bare.
9      And in the temple of the Lord *
all are crying, "Glory!"
10    The Lord sits enthroned above the flood; *
the Lord sits enthroned as King for evermore.
11    The Lord shall give strength to his people; *
the Lord shall give his people the blessing of peace.

In this psalm we have evidence of the relationship of biblical literature to Canaanite and Syrian/Palestinian poetry and vocabulary, as well as the on-going pantheon of gods and goddesses. The images here are a reflection of the images of Ba’al in Canaanite literature, but it is clearly YHWH here that functions as the powerful God that performs these acts. In the mention of the cedars of Lebanon, and the wilderness of Kadesh, the psalmist sweeps over the whole geography of Israel, indicating the scope of YHWH’s rule and might. The earth has a response to this display of power, with all observing it crying, “Glory!” The psalm begins with the people (or the gods) granting to God honor and devotion. It ends with God granting God’s people the blessing of peace, a reversal.

Breaking open Psalm 29:
1.     What modern stories and songs have spoken to you of God?
2.     Where have you seen God’s power in life?
3.     How have you responded?

The Second Reading: Acts 19:1-7

While Apollos was in Corinth, Paul passed through the interior regions and came to Ephesus, where he found some disciples. He said to them, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you became believers?” They replied, “No, we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit.” Then he said, “Into what then were you baptized?” They answered, “Into John’s baptism.” Paul said, “John baptized with the baptism of repentance, telling the people to believe in the one who was to come after him, that is, in Jesus.” On hearing this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. When Paul had laid his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came upon them, and they spoke in tongues and prophesied— altogether there were about twelve of them.

Here Paul identifies a necessary force in forming the Christian Community, namely the Holy Spirit. We are clued in right away with his question, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit?” And then teaches them about the Holy Spirit, and differentiating the baptism in Jesus’ name, and baptism by John. We have a glimpse at not only the development of Christian baptism, but in the theology surrounding the Holy Trinity, for the baptism that the disciples accept is baptism “in the name of the Lord Jesus.” The “some disciples” become twelve, and indication of their new status and function. They prophecy and they speak in tongues. In this small pericope we have a storyboard indicating the growth of Christianity in several aspects.

Breaking open Acts:
1.     What are the gifts of the Holy Spirit?
2.     Which have been given to you?
3.     How have you used them?

The Gospel: St. Mark 1:4-11

John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. And people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him, and were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. Now John was clothed with camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. He proclaimed, “The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals. I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”

In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”

Mark has no birth narrative and so we are introduced to, in short order, the Baptizer, and then Jesus. It is all quite succinct and urgent; briefly told. We are reminded of John’s task – that of being a herald, and of calling people to repentance. Clearly, however, he notes that he is not the final aspect of what the people are waiting for. “There is one who is more powerful than I…” In the baptism performed by John, again we meet the Holy Spirit, and there are indications of chaos as well, for the heavens are torn apart. Thus, Mark touches the beginning of things, and the new times as well.

Breaking open the Gospel:
1.        What do you think of the simplicity of Mark’s account:
2.        What is the story of your own baptism?
3.        How do you remember and celebrate it?

After breaking open the Word, you might want to pray the Collect for Sunday. 

Father in heaven, who at the baptism of Jesus in the River Jordan proclaimed him your beloved Son and anointed him with the Holy Spirit: Grant that all who are baptized into his Name may keep the covenant they have made, and boldly confess him as Lord and Savior; who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, in glory everlasting. Amen.

Questions and comments copyright © 2018, Michael T. Hiller


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