Baptism of our Lord B-18
Immanuel Lutheran, Chicago
‘In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth’ (Genesis 1:1). Biblical cosmology was inspired by cutting-edge work by the ancient philosophers of Babylon. They pictured a flat earth standing on pillars. Underneath was the realm of the dead. Sitting on top they imagined a large dome separating the heavens from the earth. The stars were said to be small holes in the dome through which the light of heaven could be seen to be shining through.
It sounds ridiculous to us, of course, but to this very day every time you hear someone say ‘heaven is up’ and ‘hell is down’, this is the understanding of how the universe is organized they’re talking about. And this is exactly the kind of universe, Mark says, was torn apart when Jesus was baptized.
From the very beginning of Mark’s gospel, the heavens were ripped open as Jesus burst free from beneath the waters of baptism. God broke the barrier between heaven and earth.
Now what is opened can be closed again. But what has been torn apart must remain open for all time. Through Christ Jesus, Mark says, the realms of heaven and the realms of earth have become mixed together. God is now everywhere up close in, with, and under us throughout the world.
God is with you. It’s a theme Mark repeats as Jesus first breaks upon the scene and when he leaves it, Jesus’ entrance and exit. At the moment of Jesus’ death on a cross, as Jesus breathed his last, the curtain in the Temple that separates the profane from the Holy of Holies was torn in two from top to bottom (Mark 15:38).
It means that God cannot be contained in our holy spaces. God is loose in the land. God’s presence fills the world. God’s light shines from the darkness of human hearts. It means the church cannot set conditions for God’s involvement with you. Baptism is not an if-then. If you are baptized then God will be part of your life. God is already always and everywhere part of every life. Period. When will these old discredited ideas be finished among us?
Your baptism is not for God but for you. Baptism is God’s gift, not a prerequisite. Just as the spirit of God moved and brooded upon the waters of creation, so God creates order and blessing from the chaos of our lives. The Spirit of God intercedes and prays for us without ceasing. God is not too big or too busy to care. The Sacraments are a way of speaking that goes beyond mere words to become an indelible part of our identity: Behold, God says, you are my beloved child.
From baptism, we learn that it is God’s very own voice that speaks to us of the dignity of every human life. It is God’s own life that gives our own its infinite depth. It is God who counsels and guides us in the quiet, dark hours. It is God who pushes and cajoles us toward our calling and mission as artists of grace. It is God who shines the light of creative grace upon our feet and casts a light on our path. It is God who has brought us together –God who strengthens and prepares us to work in concert with the Spirit as members of the living body of Christ at work in the world.
It is part of the majesty and glory of God that God is not only the creator. God is a creator of co-creators. God is a lover of artists. God delights to see what new and beautiful things we can make from what God has given and God laments the tragedies wrought from our ignorance and evil—forever. What we do, or do not do, or allow to be done in our name, has real consequences. Our identity as baptized believers in Christ is our call to work together to fashion communities of hospitality and grace.
Jesus baptism marked the beginning of his public ministry. Likewise, our baptism has a public dimension for us to become peacemakers. Jesus, the lamb of God, became a scapegoat. He took the blame for upsetting the social order and was sacrificed for us on a cross in order to end all scapegoating, violence born of vengeance, jealousy, fear, and disloyalty. Jesus appears to the disciples and said, peace be with you. My peace be upon you. I refuse to be part of your sin accounting game anymore. At his baptism, Jesus ripped apart the ability of any religious or secular authority to separate people whether by gender, race, color, ethnicity, morality, religion or zip code. Community in Christ is not based on fear of our enemies or anger at outsiders, but rather the unity we share as children of God.
Baptism makes explicit what already is. You are a child of God among a diverse family of God with many brothers and sisters. Baptism is God’ invitation to work together to make our lives and our communities ever more closely reveal the likeness of God in whose image we are created and whose mark we indelibly bear. Behold, the manger of the infant Christ is prepared within you.
The Catholic Italian author Carlo Carreto (1910-1988) wrote, “Love is God in me.
Yes, love is God in me, and if I am in love I am in God, that is, in life, in grace: a sharer in God’s being…If charity is God in me, why look for God any further than myself? And if God is in me as love, why do I change or disfigure God’s face with acts or values which are not love? (“Love Is for Living”, quoted from Carlo Carretto: Essential Writings, Robert Ellsberg)
In Christ Jesus, God tore apart what we had come to believe was how the world is organized and how it works. “So [by baptism] if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! (2 Corinthians 5:17)