Genesis 1. 1-5; Psalm 29; Acts 19. 1-7; Mark 1. 4 - 11 Oremus Bible Browser

In the name of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.

So the readings begin today with ‘In the beginning ...In the beginning ’. It’s fourteen days, I think, since Christmas - time is already running away, moving away. I just wonder what would be the most common feeling that you’ve experienced since Christmas. For some there will be a feeling of disturbance; for some there may be a feeling that continues, of being delighted; some will be relieved. Then there’ll be those who are sort of wrestling with feelings of health and sickness and being pulled one way or the other; those who are filled with feelings of birth and /or with death; those who are still reeling from busyness; those rejoicing from stillness. There is obviously a whole range, but I wonder which one, which is the most common, the feeling that’s there, or maybe the feeling that’s in the common. One guess is, one of the feelings that many of us will have had or that we’ve heard is that it’s over! It’s now time to put it all away till next year. And we’re almost culturally driven to that. If we don’t, in fact if you’re a bit slow in putting it away, you might have put away a couple of hot cross buns with it, because they're already there.

If we look at the scriptures and the liturgical cycle that we follow, I think it’s really helpful that we begin today with this ‘In the beginning’. Because a lot has happened in the two weeks since we celebrated Christmas. If we follow the liturgical calendar and the daily readings, quite a bit has taken place. We’ve had the Feast of the Holy Family, an opportunity to remind us, not literally of family – mum, dad and the kid - but rather as family, an integrated unit, a loving and caring relationship, one for another. We’ve had the feast of the Holy Innocents, the slaughtering of every child under two years of age, in order to try and retain the power of the day: ‘To keep the status quo, let’s murder the children’. We then had the Feast of the Epiphany, the wise men, the wise ones, the magi - they finally got there. And today we celebrate the baptism of our Lord. That’s a lot to have happened in two weeks.

Alongside that, we’ve had a test match with South Africa, we’ve had a Hopman Cup to contend with, we’ve had the Perth Cup, we’ve had New Year’s Eve and the sales which still continue are there. There’s a lot - that’s all in two weeks, and I wonder, if you look back over that two weeks, I wonder where you were in it. What is that you attended to? What is it that grabbed your awareness? What is that made you look? What direction did those events cause you to move in?

Because there’s so many of them, it’s very tricky to work out, so what most of us do at the point of realising how tricky that is, is we turn the TV on, or we go and have a coffee, or we just do something which will fit loosely in the category of just being distracted, allowing life to distract us. So we’ll actually take something from outside, rather than sit with, ‘now what did happen in that two weeks?’ inside. Break it down, though, into some simple questions. Since Christmas, have you spent more time looking backwards or looking forwards? And it doesn’t matter - don’t value judge it, one isn’t right and one wrong. It just gives us a sense of ‘To what is it that I am attending?’ Is my experience over the last two weeks more of receiving or more of giving? Where do I feel that flow?

One of great things about the liturgical year is we keep finding ourselves somewhere else, constantly an opportunity to look both where we are and where we’re going. And at the moment we’re in that post-Epiphany stage. The action and the transaction of Epiphany have been there, given us an opportunity to engage with it, or in fact, stay there, asking us still to attend, to attend to the Epiphany. What we have in the story of the Magi is recognition of the place of the Divine, so we can ask ourselves, have I recognised the place of the Divine? There is an honouring that takes place, and a homage that takes place; there is a giving - rather than a material giving, there is a giving that required a lot from the giver. They left their land in order to share the gifts that they brought. And then there’s that stunningly interesting bit at the end of the story where they return home but they cannot go by the same way that they came. Having got to the place of the Divine, yes, they can still go home, but they will go by a different route. One of the questions for us, post-Christmas is, are we walking the same way that we walked before? And now we come to this reading ‘In the beginning’, a reminder that there is something there, the gift, the present. The word of the gift is ‘I am making all things new’, ‘I am the bright morning star’.

If we missed some of that over the last two weeks, we have the reading from the Acts of the Apostles. This is the early church. Paul asks the question: ‘Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you became believers?’ Good one for us to touch. Did we receive the Holy Spirit when we became believers? For many of us, that's kicking off another question already - have I become a believer yet? The opportunity today I think, is to speak the ‘No’ that is our truth. In the lead-up to Christmas we have a wonderful focus with Mary and the speaking the ‘Yes’, saying ‘Yes’ to the divine call. The advent carol, ‘Oh come, oh come Emmanuel’, speaks of our yearning. Paul asks ‘Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you became believers?’... If we can answer with our ‘no’, ‘no I didn’t’- I was baptised in a font, but no, I didn’t, I didn’t receive the Holy Spirit. The ‘No’ allows us to recognise somewhere else within. And I think it’s so important - it’s why we’ve got the Genesis reading. ‘In the beginning, when God created the heavens and the earth...’, and the heavens and the earth that’s being spoken about is the whole of the world outside of yourself, and the same time, the whole of the world inside yourself. In the beginning when God created it, the earth was formless, void, and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters. Then God said ‘Let there be light’ and there was light.

And the interesting thing is with this light, God saw that the light was good and so God separated the light from the darkness. He called the light ‘day’ and the darkness he called ‘night’. He named them both. This isn’t the coming of light in such a way that the darkness is now gone, he names them both. There was before only dark, now there is light and dark - I separate them so that you can discern and distinguish, but I leave them together, as if they are still whole in their togetherness. I will name them both, for they both have power. And what we find in the Gospel reading, after only two weeks from celebrating the birth, we’ve got this strange encounter between the two men, John and Jesus. It’s an encounter of discernment and an encounter of differentiation. John is preaching a gospel of repentance and confession: repentance meaning turning again, like the Magi. Take a different path. We must turn away from the same path and choose another, and confession is recognising the Yes and the No within us. What John then says is that he baptises with water but there is another coming, the one who is more powerful than I, is coming after me.

In the beginning, where we are today, we have the opportunity to allow the one to come after us, not rushing down the street chasing us, but rather to come after us to allow the sense of the ‘I am’, who we are, to be changed, by a divine encounter. It’s a wonderful thing, having celebrated Christmas, having got the idea of saying Yes, to then realise that there is a power that gives life, that comes after us, that seeks us, that wishes and will become us, if, if we allow it to happen.

So as we now continue our journey, it will not be long before we come to Easter, which is another opportunity to encounter Christmas. Let us just take with it the story that we’ve encountered so far. Look to the ‘Yes’ that we have and also to the ‘No’, to the light and to the dark, and know that there is one with more power who seeks and who comes after us, the one whose word we are called to make flesh.

The Lord be with you.

Peter Humphris

Textweek Baptism of the Lord