Sr. Constance Joanna, SSJD
Genesis 1:1-5 Psalm 29: 1,2, 8-11 Acts 19:1-7 Mark 1:4-11
I’ve had a hard time this week trying to figure out how to preach on the Baptism of Jesus. At first, all I could think of was the contrast between the message of the gospel – the voice from heaven saying “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased” – and the response of the secular culture around us: “Oh yeah? With COVID cases increasing, lockdown, job loss, death, a tanking economy, the empire just south of our border threatened by a madman, world peace threatened – how can we associate the word Love with God? Where is the good news here?”
No helpful answer came to me. Human beings have been trying for centuries to reconcile the gospel message of love with the presence of evil in the world, and for sure I’m not going to be able to do that in one (hopefully short!) homily. But what did come to me was an invitation in the gospel and in all the readings – an invitation to pay attention, to listen, to hear God’s declaration of love no matter how dissonant it sounds in the midst of the realities around us.
We have to listen Intentionally if we are going to counteract the noise and the bad news in the world around us. We spend so much time focusing our attention on reading and listening to the internet, radio and television and we are so influenced by the frantic pace of life in a big city, that we can’t hear anything else – it’s almost impossible sometimes to shut out that insistent racket so we can listen to the much quieter, more subtle voice of God. Listening to the voice of truth and love is hard and takes attentive concentration because so we can so easily be addicted to listening to those other voices.
Listen again to some of the good news we have just heard:
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. Then God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light. And God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness. God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day.
What was there in the beginning? Some unformed substance (“the void”), darkness, water – and the “wind from God” – a way of saying the “Spirit of God” swept over the waters and God SPOKE light into being – “Let there be light” – or as in one translation I love, God said, “Light – Be!” God saw that the light was GOOD and God separated the light from the darkness.
Can we hear those words now, can we let them speak into the darkness of our world and our lives? God SPEAKS – God’s voice moves the darkness aside so we can see the light, and God says the light is GOOD. The light in our lives, however much of it there is, even if it is only a sliver shining through the darkness – that light is created by God’s voice. The more we attend to THAT voice rather than the voices and words of darkness, the more light we will see.
A similar message of hope comes in the Psalm:
Ascribe to the Lord, you gods, *
ascribe to the Lord glory and strength.
Ascribe to the Lord the glory due God’s Name; *
worship God in the beauty of holiness.
The voice of the Lord is upon the waters;
the God of glory thunders; *
the Lord is upon the mighty waters.
The voice of the Lord is a powerful voice; *
the voice of God is a voice of splendor.
And in the temple of the Lord *
all are crying, “Glory!”
God sits enthroned above the flood; *
the Lord sits enthroned as King for evermore.
God shall give strength to the people; *
the Lord shall give those who listen the blessing of peace.
(v. 1-4, 9-11)
The voice of God is not quiet and subtle here – the voice of God is a powerful voice, a beautiful voice, a splendid voice, a voice that all of nature rejoices in. And it is a voice of strength. Even the other gods of the earth – the gods of bad news, of violence, of hate – even though they may seem so strong, the psalm demands that those gods listen to the voice of the true God – “ascribe to the Lord, you gods glory and strength – worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness.” Not only nature but the gods of this world are commanded to listen to the real God, to bow down and worship, to acknowledge the strength and power of Love – to receive “the blessing of peace.”
In the gospel passage for today we see Jesus – the incarnate Word of God – being baptised. Where is the good news in that? How does that important event in Jesus’ life, when he receives his unique vocation to live, die, and rise for us – how does that speak to our situation, here and now?
In many ways I think. What Jesus was baptised into was a renewal movement in Judaism that had started before his birth. John the Baptist was either the leader of the movement or one of several significant leaders. The people were being encouraged to this symbolic washing away of sin as an initiation into a more pure form of Judaism. All religions, throughout human history, have had prophets of renewal who call people back to the basics of their religion which have been lost because organized religion has a way of accommodating itself to the secular culture around them. That was true at the time of Jesus as well.
In being baptised, Jesus chose to align himself with this renewal movement, to humble himself before his cousin John, and to show himself willing to go through this sacrament of purification. It was a sign and encouragement to others that John was himself speaking the Word of God and could be trusted as a leader of the people.
I wonder if Jesus was surprised by God’s response to his willingness to be baptized by John:
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. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”
God really sounds like a very proud parent here – the way any parent might speak after seeing their child win an award, or graduate from high school or university, or any other accomplishment. “Wow – you are my child, and I am so very proud of you.” Or maybe that a parent might say to someone else – “look, that’s my child! I am so pleased with him or her.”
But there is more here. In saying “this is my beloved child” God is acknowledging Jesus’ special relationship. From this point on, Jesus’ vocation is clear – he will bring the gifts and graces of his heavenly parent to all the people he encounters in his ministry – he will bring them the grace of God’s love, God’s healing power, God’s goodness and purity, God’s voice that speaks of human unity and peace, and peace to the earth itself – as promised by the angels who sang at his birth.
And that is the voice we must train ourselves to listen to – and not only to listen, but then to proclaim to all those around us that the voice of God is a powerful voice, a healing voice, a beautiful voice, a voice of love – unlike the voices of fear and violence and dissolution we hear around us. We can exercise our own baptismal promises to work for justice, peace, healing and wholeness in our earth and the people of the earth by using our own voices.
May we each be a voice of love and grace and may all our voices, together, speak more loudly than the voices of darkness around us. Amen.