An Epiphany about Epiphany

Isaiah 42:1-9          Psalm 29      Acts 10: 24-43                   Matthew 3: 13-17

A few years ago, I had an epiphany about epiphany. Until then, I had thought epiphany was the word to describe the journey of the wise men. A day in the year. A celebration. I hadn’t connected that epiphany was a word we use in other contexts when speaking about sudden realisation or revelation. Recognising that was an epiphany in itself! And here we are in Epiphany season – the wise men came and went last week and epiphany continues. Today we find ourselves at the banks of the River Jordan, where Jesus and John the Baptiser are gathered with a crowd.

Imagine that…

People, filled with expectation: is John the messiah we’ve waited for??

Queues waiting to get into those waters, dying to sin and coming out the other side – dripping on the riverbanks. 

And then along comes the Palestinian carpenter, Joseph’s son, wading into the water.

There’s an exchange – will he, won’t he? He will! And John sinks him under and then something happens.

He’s lifted out of the water and the very heavens burst open; the spirit descends, visibly, like an actual dove and there is a voice…

This is my son, the beloved, with whom I am well pleased.

An epiphany

The epiphany – the surprise realisation – in the baptism of Christ is that Jesus is the Son of God, and because of this, things are about to change.  It is a revelation, an epiphany, of the reality of the Christ.  And maybe this was an epiphany to Jesus too.  This is the Son of God, You are my son, and God is not angry – God is well pleased.  This is who they have been waiting for, the dawning of the age of salvation, grace, mercy and Love.  An epiphany of a seismic change in history.

And when people come for baptism, like baby Kaius and little Gabrielle who I am baptising in the ocean this afternoon, all I really want for them and their family is their own epiphany; an overwhelming realisation that they are a child of God and that God is well pleased with them. That’s what I pray for each time. That’s what I always try to communicate; if you are going to leave here with just one message let it be that you are a beloved member of God’s family; God’s child, utterly loved.

When I was at college, our principal worked hard to hold together a group of ordinands from different traditions, with differing theologies and vastly varying opinions. Time and again he would remind us that our greatest calling is our baptism; that the thing that unites us is our God-given status as baptised and beloved children of the living God; that there is nothing greater than that – not our call to ordination, not if we go on to be bishops or archbishops, not our family wealth or intellect. Our greatest call is our call to walk through those waters of baptism – like Kaius and Gabrielle will today – and know in our hearts that the heavens broke open over us and God’s voice declared you are my child and I love you. With you I am well pleased.

And God tells us that regardless of what we have done and what we will go on to do. God declares that over each one of us regardless of where we have come from and where we are going. And God keeps on telling us that, every last moment of every last day, until God can tell us face to face. And that is the epiphany of baptism – that you are loved, just as dearly as Christ and just as profoundly as you were at that moment of your baptism.

And I pray that this is an epiphany for you today; that today might not just celebrate the epiphany of Jesus being proclaimed as the beloved Son of God, but that it might be an epiphany for each of us too. That today might be overwhelmingly significant for Kaius and Gabrielle and their family and friends, but also it might be significant for you too; that you see and hear and sense and feel the enormity of your greatest calling – a beloved child of God who is proud of you. May that be an epiphany that lives in your heart for this whole season and beyond because it is the truth.

You are my child, God says, my beloved. And with you I am well pleased. Amen.


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