Eternal Father, who at the baptism of Jesus revealed him to be your Son, anointing him with the Holy Spirit: grant to us, who are born again by water and the Spirit, that we may be faithful to our calling as your adopted children; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who is alive and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.
This is what the LORD says— he who created you, O Jacob, he who formed you, O Israel: “Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze. For I am the LORD, your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Saviour; I give Egypt for your ransom, Cush and Seba in your stead. Since you are precious and honoured in my sight, and because I love you, I will give men in exchange for you, and people in exchange for your life. Do not be afraid, for I am with you; I will bring your children from the east and gather you from the west. I will say to the north, ‘Give them up!’ and to the south, ‘Do not hold them back.’ Bring my sons from afar and my daughters from the ends of the earth—everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory, whom I formed and made.”
1 Ascribe to the Lord, you powers of heaven,
ascribe to the Lord glory and strength.
2 Ascribe to the Lord the honour due to 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 mighty in operation;
the voice of the Lord is a glorious voice.
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 Sirion like a young wild ox.
7 The voice of the Lord splits the flash of lightning;
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;
in his temple all cry, ‘Glory!’
9 The Lord sits enthroned above the water flood;
the Lord sits enthroned as king for evermore.
10 The Lord shall give strength to his people;
the Lord shall give his people the blessing of peace.
When the apostles in Jerusalem heard that Samaria had accepted the word of God, they sent Peter and John to them. When they arrived, they prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit, because the Holy Spirit had not yet come upon any of them; they had simply been baptised into the name of the Lord Jesus. Then Peter and John placed their hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit.
The people were waiting expectantly and were all wondering in their hearts if John might possibly be the Christ. John answered them all, “I baptise you with water. But one more powerful than I will come, the thongs of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptise you with the Holy Spirit and with fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand to clear his threshing-floor and to gather the wheat into his barn, but he will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.” When all the people were being baptised, Jesus was baptised too. And as he was praying, heaven was opened and the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven: “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.”
Luke 3:15–17, 21–22
Prayer after Communion
Lord of all time and eternity, you opened the heavens and revealed yourself as Father in the baptism of Jesus your beloved Son: by the power of your Spirit complete the heavenly work of our rebirth through the waters of the new creation; through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Sermon on Second Sunday of Epiphany
Our gospel reading begins with these words: “The people were waiting expectantly and were all wondering in their hearts.” What did you immediately think, when you heard these words, or when you read them before our worship began? Well, my thoughts turned to my family. I wondered, “what are you waiting for expectantly?” “What are you all wondering about in your hearts?”
Then I turned my gaze to myself – what in the world am I waiting for expectantly? Is it that homemade cake waiting for us when we have finished our worship this morning? Is it the company who will come later today? Is it the work I have lined up for tomorrow? However, I have to ask myself – do I wait for these things expectantly? Am I like the pregnant woman awaiting in heightened expectation culminating in the new life about to be delivered to the world? No, there is nothing that momentous event; nothing grabs me, so that everything fades into the faint background of ordinariness.
Then I focussed on another thought – what outside of the world am I wondering about? You all know that I keep company with the philosopher who ever wanders about the field of metaphysics, those thoughts which are beyond the everyday but which make sense of the world. Such wonder I find when I walk those fields with him! There are other times I find wonder like you do, when we look at a sunset, a butterfly wing, the eyes of our beloved – such wonder takes us out of the world and we transcend all the ordinariness of the everyday in which we live.
What do we expect and why do we wonder? This future orientation and remembrance of the past is fundamental to human being. Expecting and remembering somehow define just who we are. So what do we wonder about from our past (individual or collective) and what do we hope to come to us in the future?
These are not idle questions, for, if John is a prophet and a saint, he is speaking directly to us as we watch the spectacle of baptism at his hand. Jesus has come to John for baptism, just as we came to the vicar – the representative of Christ – for our own baptism. That event of the past defines us, doesn’t it? For at our baptism we were named publicly. “I baptise you in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.” And the priest used our name – probably for the first time in public before the assembled throng which had gathered for this infant’s baptism. That voice announced who we are so all would know.
Today we are gathering to celebrate the baptism of Jesus. We acknowledge epiphany in this baptism – when the Spirit of the Lord descended onto Jesus as he rose from the waters. ‘And a voice came from heaven: “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.” ’
This baptism is a naming in the most extraordinary manner, isn’t it? ‘A voice came from heaven.’ The vicar’s voice would have been like that voice from heaven to the infant in his arms at our baptism, don’t you think? The announcement of who this person being baptised is to be called, is revelatory for all those who knew that Mr and Mrs Davis had a son, but didn’t know anything else about the child. This is an epiphany for them all in my little life. But let’s write this large in the life of the world, when that voice from heaven declares Jesus – this anonymous supplicant is the beloved son, in whom this voice from heaven is well pleased. This is an epiphany for the world, and epiphany in its proper sense – because it is the revelation of God.
I think every baptism is a revelatory event, baptism reveals in world history and in our own private experience. Don’t we often speak of “baptism” more widely, not just in terms of that liturgical rite of the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church? We often speak of some sort of baptism, when we move from one thing to another, from one job into another or from one mode of life into another. We often speak of a “baptism of fire”, for instance, which the hero has to go through to gain the prize. We ourselves go through harrowing experiences, which we call our own little baptisms of fire, to reach another place. Baptism, I would like to say, is a change of who we are. These can be seen personal epiphanies, where we are revealed to the world – but, even more importantly, these are times when we are revealed to our very selves – we are seen as just who we are. This is revelation on the grand scale – even within the confines of my own life.
Isn’t this what Jesus’ baptism really is for creation? Jesus is baptised and this shows to everyone just who he is for us. That is the important thing, Jesus is who he is for us, because that voice from heaven exploded in our hearing and wakes us up from our slumber of ignorance. God has appeared right there in front of the world.
Baptism and epiphany go together in Jesus’ life, why shouldn’t they do so in our own lives here and now. They often are a life-changing grand event, but sometimes epiphanies can be seen in the most humble of events and things, as the philosopher keeps telling me. He reminds me that every moment is a possible when, in which the divine can break into the world, into our lives. The Church through its theologians and pastors, its saints and sinners, also tells the same story.
God can come in the most mysterious ways, through something we don’t expect. I suppose this is what the Christmass story is all about, and what today’s readings are telling us – God can come into our lives. We can see the revelation of God here and now, but only if our eyes are open – to take in the light which shines in the world, that light which the darkness cannot comprehend or stifle, that light which guides us to remembrance and hope.
We should be like that crowd gathered by the waters of the Jordan. We should be able to hear the Baptist say that there is something coming greater than this baptism of water, a baptism of fire which will burn away all the chaff of the ordinary. I think we should be just like those “people … waiting expectantly and … wondering in their hearts” for what will come. Perhaps it will be ‘life in all its fullness’ for each and every one.