Sermon for the First Sunday of Epiphany--The Baptism of Our Lord: Irony of Ironies
January 11, 2015
Calvary - St. George's Church
Everyone has heard about the horrific events that occurred in Paris earlier this week. A group of radicals attempted to silence a voice that they despised. Irony of ironies, that voice is now louder than ever...
Today is the first Sunday of the season of Epiphany. Christmas celebrated the coming of the God-man Jesus, Epiphany celebrates the manifestation or showing forth of the glory of God in Jesus. On Tuesday, many of us took part in the Feast of the Epiphany. We witnessed the showing forth of the glory of God to the wise men from the East; to outsiders, to people who do not belong. Today is the Baptism of our Lord Sunday. This morning we’ll witness the showing forth of the glory of God in the baptism of his Son.
Or will we? Yes, you’ve heard right, the first Sunday of the Epiphany season is about the manifestation of the glory of Jesus in his baptism, but, ironically enough, the Gospel lesson for today does anything but show forth his glory. In fact, if anything it conceals it.
You see today’s Gospel reading is from the Gospel of Mark. Now, if you know anything about Mark and how it’s distinctive from the other three Gospel accounts, you know that Mark is really into secrecy. More so than in Matthew, Luke, and especially John, in Mark Jesus does not just come right out and tell his followers who he is. In Mark the identity of Jesus is withheld until the Gospel’s end. The main characters do not know who he really is until the chosen moment.
In keeping with this literary strategy, Mark sacrifices a historical detail in his account of the baptism of Jesus. In Matthew and Luke, when John the Baptist baptizes Jesus, the heavens open, the Holy Spirit descends upon Jesus in the form of a dove, and the Father’s voice is heard proclaiming “This is my Son, in whom I am well pleased.” Everyone around witnesses these remarkable events. But, in the account that we just read, notice that while the masses witness Jesus being baptized, only he sees the dove down come and rest upon him; only he hears the proclamation of the Father, “You are my beloved Son, with you I am well pleased.”
Unlike Matthew and Luke, Mark presents this event as a private transaction between the Father, the Spirit, and the Son. It’s part of the larger secrecy motif that he employs; not giving away the identity of Jesus until the chosen moment. For this reason it seems ironic that every three years on the the First Sunday of Epiphany (the Baptism of Jesus Sunday, a season where we celebrate the showing forth of the glory of Jesus) we read this veiled account of the event.
So it’s ironic, but, while ironic, I don’t think that this is a mistake. I don’t think it’s something that the people who put together the three-year cycle of Sunday readings simply overlooked. What I do think is that reading Mark’s unique account at the beginning of the Epiphany season serves to introduce us to the ultimate showing forth of the glory of God in Jesus.
You see Mark’s Gospel is very fast-paced. He is willing to speed past the other great Epiphanies that we’ll celebrate in upcoming weeks in order to get his point across that the ultimate Epiphany, the ultimate showing forth of the glory of God is at the Cross. For Mark, the ultimate manifestation of the glory of God is seen not in splendor or greatness but in an innocent man suffering on behalf of all. Irony of ironies the God-man’s humiliation is also his greatest glory.
And this irregular Epiphany, this upside down showing forth of the glory of God involves you and me. It involves you and me because you and I are personified in the Roman centurion who witnessed this great glory. You and I are represented by a Gentile, a man who had a hand in the murder of Christ. An outsider. A sinner. But this is an outsider who was made an insider. A sinner who was made a saint. An orphan who was made a son.
And by virtue of our baptism, we outsiders have been made insiders. We sinners have been made saints. We orphans have been declared sons and daughters. And as sons and daughters of God we receive the same word that the Son of God received at his baptism. “You are my Son, You are my daughter, with you I am well pleased.” Only this time there is no concealment. This time there is no veil. This time the proclamation is shown forth to all.
Irony of ironies, the ultimate Epiphany came through loss. I hope and pray that the same will be true in Paris.