Sermon; Epiphany 1B; Mark 1:4-11
Today is the first Sunday after the Epiphany.
You will recall that Epiphany occurs on January 6, thirteen days after Christmas (ie, after the 12 Days of Christmas). It is the day we celebrate the wise men arriving at the home of the Holy Family in Bethlehem. According to the story, they saw the star at the birth of Christ and, following the time line, traveled for something like two years, finally arriving in Jerusalem where they met Herod and asked where they might find the newborn king. They traveled to Bethlehem, met Mary and the toddler Jesus, and presented them with gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. And, having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they departed for their own country by another road.
Today, the first Sunday after the Epiphany, we celebrate the baptism of Jesus in the river Jordan by John the Baptist. Normally on this day we renew our baptismal vows as we bless the water, recite the baptismal covenant, and I sprinkle the congregation with holy water. But as you know, we are not in normal times. We will renew our vows shortly by reciting the baptismal covenant, but I will not bless the water and I will not sprinkle the congregation. For starters, I don't want to ruin the camera; and it would look kind of hokey for me to stand in front of the camera trying to asperge you virtually. So we do what we can do.
But either way, we are now in the Season of Epiphany, that season of fluctuating length between Christmas and Lent.
One definition of Epiphany is: a sudden intuitive perception of, or insight into, the reality or essential meaning of something.
In Christianity we use Epiphany to recognize the insight of the wise men into the person of Christ. Through their readings of the stars and ancient texts, the gained insight into the birth of Christ, and acted accordingly by traveling to Bethlehem. This first Sunday after Epiphany gives us further insight into the person of Christ. At his baptism the heavens were torn apart, the Spirit descended from heaven, and a voice proclaimed, “You are my Son with whom I am well pleased.”
On this day we also recognize this event and essential meaning of Christ and our understanding of Christianity by renewing our baptismal vows which we will do here in a few minutes.
As I said earlier, the Feast of the Epiphany falls on January 6. And on that day, January 6, 2021, there was another epiphany of sorts.
On January 6, 2021, a riotous group of seditionists stormed the US capitol building hell-bent on carnage. People in that mob wore Camp Auschwitz shirts. They wore shirts bearing the logo 6MWE, which, if you don't know, stands for 6 Million Wasn't Enough. They wore shirts emblazoned with MAGA Civil War – January 6. There were cries of, “Hang Pence,” and a gallows with noose was erected for that possibility. People brought zip ties with which to capture and bind those whom they wanted to eliminate. The US flag was tossed aside and the Confederate battle flag flew freely.
In the aftermath of all of this, I've heard many comments. But the one that caught my attention was this: This isn't us – this isn't America.
The epiphany associated with this, if you haven't been paying attention over the years is, “Yes, it is.” This is EXACTLY who and what the US is.
We are a country that was built on the backs of enslaved humans. We are a country that worked toward the genocide of native peoples. We are a country that still has not recovered from the Civil War. We are a country that is still steeped in systemic racism, both overt and covert.
This is the epiphany of January 6, 2021.
But we are called to do better.
As followers of Christ, as people who celebrate the Epiphany as revealed to the wise men, as people who submit to the baptism of Christ and claim it cleanses us from sin – we can and MUST do better.
Do you believe in God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit?
Will you continue in the apostles' teaching, fellowship, breaking of bread, and prayers?
Will you persevere in resisting evil?
Will you proclaim the Good News of God in Christ?
Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons?
Will you strive for justice and peace among all people?
Will you respect the dignity of Every Human Being?
Claiming allegiance to God above all means not elevating one man above all. It means not elevating Trump above Christ. It means not elevating Biden above Christ.
Persevering in resisting evil means to stand up against it and speak out whenever er and wherever it occurs – regardless of whether or not it's a comfortable position.
Proclaim the Good News of Christ over and above what any man or party has to say.
Striving for justice and peace means to speak up for the marginalized, the other, and the powerless. It means being able to say, “Black Lives Matter.” It means being able to say, “Jewish Lives Matter.” It means working for understanding and good relations. It also means holding accountable and bringing to justice those who strive to do harm and incite violence.
The epiphany we saw on January 6, 2021, at the capitol should have been an insight to who we really are as a nations.
The Epiphany we celebrated on January 6 in the church, and that we celebrate today on the Feast of the Baptism of Our Lord, should give us an insight and understanding to who we as Christians are called to be.
The question we must ask ourselves and with which we must wrestle is this: Which side will we choose?