Acts 8. 14 – 17
Luke 3. 15 – 17, 21, 22
On Thursday we celebrated the great Feast of the Epiphany, which brings to an end the traditional period of the Christmas festivities. But our rejoicing is not over yet, because it begins an extended period of reflection on the manifestation of Christ, the eternal Word, in the world.
The Church has long held that the ‘Epiphany’ is actually a celebration of a number of Epiphanies – not just the arrival of the wise men.
On the same day (though of course about 30 years later), Christ is baptized in the River Jordan.
And on the same day, Christ revealed his glory in his first miracle, at the wedding at Cana, in Galilee.
Our lectionary readings bring us deeply into these revelations over the course of a couple of weeks – on Thursday, of course, we heard of the magi and their gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh, given to the saviour of all the world.
Today is the Feast of the Baptism of Christ, the revelation of Jesus as the Son of God. And next Sunday the Gospel reading will recount the story of the wedding at Cana, and Christ turning all that water into fine wine – revealing his glory, and the abundance of God’s love.
So although Christmas might seem to be over, we’re actually encouraged by the Church’s calendar to devote more than a month – 40 days in fact – to the celebration of the mystery of the incarnation. Just as many days as we’re encouraged to spend in preparation for the celebration of his resurrection, as it happens.
I could go on and on about all the wonderful symbolism involved in all these manifestations – but you’ll be very pleased to hear that today I’m just going to reflect on one aspect of the Gospel reading.
It’s the very beginning: “The people were filled with expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Messiah.”
This jumped out at me, because I think I’m “filled with expectation” too, at the start of this new year. Perhaps you are as well. Yes, we’re still in a very uncertain time, and the numbers with this omicron variant are pretty daunting. We still need to be careful and cautious.
But I’m very hopeful, too. The vaccines provide incredible protection. The vast majority of people who get this new variant have only very mild symptoms.
It feels to me, at least, that there’s hope for the future. The weather will improve, the numbers will go down. Things will open up, as they did last spring and summer. And we know so much more, and are so much better protected than we were last year.
I’m excited to see what new opportunities there are. What kind of community we’re going to be. Who is out there we’re yet to meet.
But tempering all of this expectation and hopeful questioning – is the worry that things might just go back to the way they were.
All those homeless people who were given shelter through the first lockdown – forgotten again. People who came together to support their neighbours in need and looking out for others – going back to isolated, individual lives.
People who exploited the pandemic for their own gain at the expense of others – getting away with it, and doing it again.
The signs aren’t that promising. I’m pretty uninspired by leadership almost everywhere, at the moment. There doesn’t seem to be the will and the courage to make changes to systems that clearly aren’t working for the good of all. It doesn’t feel like we’re all in it together.
But look at what Jesus does, in the Gospel this morning. The people are filled with expectation; John proclaims that the great one, Jesus, is on his way: and Jesus, God’s own Son, submits to John to be baptized.
In other Gospel accounts of the baptism, John resists: he tries to prevent Jesus, saying “Hang on, I need to be baptized by you; and you come to me?” But Jesus lowers himself; he joins with all those others there in a common commitment to a new way of life, and is baptized.
The whole act of the incarnation is God lowering himself, so that the lowest might be raised up. The leadership that Jesus shows, the new and better way of life that he brings us, is one of service – of giving of ourselves, for the good of others.
As this new year begins, we have an opportunity to change the way things are. Not to change the whole world, we can’t do that. But we can choose to live differently, so that people around us see us Christians and think ‘that’s a better way.’
Imagine if all the good things that were revealed in pandemic life – those moments of togetherness, of care, of compassion, of thoughtfulness, of taking time for people – imagine if all of that could become the new normal.
Those aren’t new things, of course. Those are the things that we have been called to do, as Christians, for millennia.
Those are the things that show there is more to life than what we’ve got now. That there is a better way to live.
So do enter into this month of reflection on the revelations of Christ as fully as you can. Let’s keep our eyes and ears open for what God might be revealing to us – and how we can help to reveal his glory in our own community, through the way we live. And let’s keep that sense of hope alive, in the weeks and months to come. Amen.