The First Sunday after the Epiphany E. Bevan Stanley
January 10, 2021
From the Gospel: “And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him.” In the Name of the one, holy, and undivided Trinity. Amen.
Today is the first Sunday after the Epiphany and the day that we celebrate the Baptism of our Lord by John the Baptist in the Jordan River. So one would think that the readings would focus on water and the rite of Baptism. And they do. And everyone of them emphasizes the Holy Spirit. In the reading from the Torah, we hear how the Holy Spirit moved over the face of the deep. In Acts there is a distinction made between the baptism of John with water only and the Baptism of Jesus, which comes with the Holy Spirit. The Gospel makes the same distinction between the two baptisms and also records the coming of the Holy Spirit upon Jesus in the form of a dove.
That is, we hear that the gift of the Holy Spirit is inextricably connected with the creation at the beginning of time and with the new creation at baptism. Let us look a little more closely at these texts we have just read.
The story in the first chapter of Genesis is not exactly about creation from nothing. It is about bringing order out of chaos. The Deep was already there, and the spirit of God, or the breath of God or the wind of God—the Hebrew can mean any or all of these—swept over the face of the deep. This “deep” is the primordial chaos. It is the maelstrom of atomic particles in first nanoseconds after the big bang. Then was uttered the Word: “Let there be light. God, Spirit, and Word. The entire Trinity acts to fashion the universe.
In the reading from Acts, Paul finds some disciples who had been baptized into John’s baptism of repentance. Paul baptizes them in the name of Jesus, and they receive the Holy Spirit. This is evidenced by the fact that they spoke in tongues and prophesied just as the first disciples had at Pentecost. This story also tells us that repentance is only part one,
When we are baptized into Jesus we are baptized into his death and resurrect. If you want a new life you need to go through death to find it. This new life will be one that is empowered by the Holy Spirit.
Then we have the Gospel reading. There are two parts to it. First, John says that although he baptizes with water as a rite of repentance to prepare for the coming of the Messiah, when the Messiah does come, he will baptize with the Holy Spirit. Then Jesus does come and is baptized with the water, and the Holy Spirit comes upon him.
When we baptize people in the Church, not only do we pour water on the candidates, we also anoint them oil. With the anointing the priest says, “You are sealed by the Holy Spirit in baptism and marked as Christ’s own for ever.”
What a powerful combination of archetypal images: water, wind, breath. Melville in the first chapter of Moby Dick, comments on the way we are all drawn to the edge of the ocean to gaze at its vast, untamed power. We think of the power of gale force winds. We think of the gentleness of a mother’s breath. We reflect on the chaos that sometimes wells up in our hearts and the power of God’s breath to bring peace. We are startled at times at the power of the Holy Spirit to come upon us and give us courage to do the right thing in the face of opposition.
Christmas teaches us about the Incarnation. God takes on human flesh so that we can become divine. The Baptism of our Lord and our baptisms give us God to live out the divine in our human lives. We are all incarnations of God. We are called to express God’s love to the world. We are meant to be the love virus that will spread all through the world. We infect people with God’s love through close contact. In time this love of God will bring the vision of the Kingdom of God to be a reality. We are the means by which God intervenes in history.
We are at the beginning of a new calendar year. This year we are particularly hopeful that 2021 will be better than 2020. Hope is important, even necessary. Yet the new year is also the time to make resolutions that we will be better in 2021 than we were in 2020. We face the new year with a determination to love better, more strongly, and more consistently. We will listen more attentively and deeply to those we meet, to those we work with, and to those of our own households. We will be hospitable to all those who differ from us. We will consider different points of view seriously and allow them to converse freely with our own ideas and commitments. We will proclaim good news to the poor by being good news in our actions, our giving, and our voting.
Here is Richard Rohr on God’s love works: The love in you—which is the Spirit in you—always somehow says yes. (See 2 Corinthians 1:20.) Love is not something you do; love is something you are. It is your True Self. Love is where you came from and love is where you’re going. It’s not something you can buy. It’s not something you can attain. It’s the presence of God within you, called the Holy Spirit or what some theologians name uncreated grace.
You can’t manufacture this by any right conduct, dear reader. You can’t make God love you one ounce more than God already loves you right now. You can go to church every day for the rest of your life. God isn’t going to love you any more than God loves you right now.
You cannot make God love you any less, either—not an ounce less. Do the most terrible thing and God wouldn’t love you less. You cannot change the Divine mind about you! The flow is constant, total, and 100 percent toward your life. God is for you.
We can’t diminish God’s love for us. What we can do, however, is learn how to believe it, receive it, trust it, allow it, and celebrate it, accepting Trinity’s whirling invitation to join in the cosmic dance.
In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters. Let us be created anew by the Spirit of God. Let us create a new world through love.
 Richard Rohr, Meditation for Wednesday, May 22, 2019