Baptism of the Lord Year B

Thirty years have flashed by in a week. Thirty years framed by two great epiphanies. Between the howling baby adored by shepherds and scientists and the silent figure coming to John at the Jordan—between them there is a lifetime of mystery. Somehow that helpless, demanding, fragile, noisy, tiny baby becomes a kid under his mother’s feet, becomes an adolescent under his own, finds friends and loses some, learns life and discovers death, earns a living, negotiates respect, plays and prays and laughs and cries, falls in love, drinks and dances, gets lost, gets hurt, watches things grow, stands by helpless as others wither, smells the bread baked, sees the vine ripen, hears the desert wind of his people, tastes the bitter tang of illness, feels the lash of Roman tongues (and worse), buries a father, worries over a mother, looks up in awe at starry skies, gazes in shame at poverty and neglect and … wonders why he can’t settle, why—happy as he is—he is restless.

Wonders why the words of Isaiah echo inside him the way they do, like his own words, “To open the eyes of the blind, to bring out prisoners from confinement, and from the dungeon, those who live in darkness.” O God, if not now, when? If not us, who? “I Adonai have called you for the victory of justice, I have grasped you by the hand. I have formed you, and set you as a covenant for the nations.” Burning words, aching hopes. “How much longer must we wait Adonai before you show your glory? Will you not rend the skies in two and show yourself as of old?” If not now, when? If not me, who?

Thirty years. Thirty ordinary, hidden years. About to end.

We’ll never know what finally moves him to get up and leave Nazareth one morning and walk all this way to be standing alone before John—waist deep in water. Some call—told in Torah, whispered in his heart, encountered in community—something gets him here. Something draws him to this preposterous prophet. Something that can no longer be ignored. Something no longer private. Something demanding a public action.

So he hands himself over, to God, to John, to the waters of the Jordan. “Let it be to me as you have said.” And he holds his breath.

Something dies here and something is born. Everything begins here.

When he rises from the water and gasps back his life everything is changed. The sky has been torn in two and suddenly the Spirit is upon him in epiphany after epiphany. Isaiah’s words are ringing all around him. “You are my child, my beloved, my cherished one.” And he knows something. He is, for a moment, settled. For an instant, the restlessness is gone and all makes sense. For a moment. And no one notices as the spirit drives him dripping into the desert to make him restless once again. Restless and hungry and wanting only one thing: epiphany—that the people who dwell in darkness might see a great light.

For ourselves it has been a week of epiphanies. A week to grieve and a week to be proud. Something has ended and something has begun. We saw our strength this week as a community and we did Jim proud as we sent him on his way. He worked so hard to make us a community. He worked so hard to get us to live out our own baptismal ministry. Jim’s passing marks a beginning we have already made, here, together. Three unlikely communities, one in baptism, becoming one in service. We are Jim’s legacy. Something has ended but something has begun. Something that calls to us, something we can only begin to recognise, something unfinished, something new. Something we need to pause and dwell upon and let the spirit shape among us. Because this is a moment of epiphany, this is a moment of passage. If not now, when? If not us, who?