Reflection for the first Sunday after the Epiphany

Reading: Mark 1: 4-11

John the baptiser appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. And people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him, and were baptised by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.

Now John was clothed with camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. He proclaimed, ‘The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals. I have baptised you with water; but he will baptise you with the Holy Spirit.’

In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptised by John in the Jordan. 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.’

Reflection for the first Sunday after the Epiphany

The start of a new year for me is a time to begin a new diary. I still like the paper version rather than using my phone because I like to be able to glance at it and see the week ahead and to easily flip backwards and forwards through the pages. There is something about a fresh new diary with its blank pages, full of possibilities. Normally when I open my new diary, the first thing I do is to enter any pre-planned appointments and other significant dates, but of course this year is different – there is so much uncertainty. Even the things that are already planned may not happen.

Both of our scripture readings today deal with dramatic new beginnings. In the creation story from Genesis chapter one, we heard the voice of God: ‘Let there be light’, and the earth was transformed from a place of darkness and nothingness by God’s light. That first act of creation made it possible for all forms of life to exist on earth.

The gospel reading from St. Mark is also about a new beginning, part of God’s New Creation brought about through his Son. The arrival of Jesus at the river Jordan is his first appearance recorded in Mark’s gospel. All that we are told by the narrator is that he came from Nazareth in Galilee to be baptised by John. Apart from the birth and infancy narratives provided by Matthew and Luke, we know almost nothing about the intervening years. Having lived for thirty years in his home village, Jesus made a conscious decision to emerge from obscurity to fulfil his divine calling. A hymn we will hear later in the service tells us: ‘The hidden years had ended, the age of grace began’.

What must Jesus have felt as he arrived among the large crowds who went to see and hear John the Baptist? Having lived in anonymity for three decades, he was about to launch into a public life that would be life-changing and world-transforming. As we face the uncertain future of this New Year, it is helpful to consider the baptism of Our Lord, because there is great encouragement to be found for all baptised people.

Jesus went to the Jordan with a definite purpose. A great movement towards God had begun with John the Baptist’s mission. John’s teaching and call to repentance had a profound effect on many people – they were hungry for meaning and purpose, and responded to that call in vast numbers.

Obviously, Jesus did not need to undergo baptism as a cleansing from sin in the way others did, but he went there to identify with people in their search for God. At this first public act of his ministry, Our Lord began as he would continue – he went to where the people were. He would devote the rest of ministry to serving people, bringing them healing and hope. Jesus was the man for others.

It is easy to become self-absorbed in the current circumstances. We listen to disturbing and distressing news as the pandemic rages and we can become anxious and worried about ourselves, and are perhaps mourning the loss of the things we are missing. While that is understandable, it is not really helpful. We need an outward focus and our Christian calling is to care for others and to love our neighbour. If we are unable to do a lot now with the current restrictions, we can at least pick up the telephone and check in with people and see how they are – a few kind words could make a lot of difference to someone who is maybe lonely or isolated.

The Baptism of Our Lord was an intensely personal experience of assurance for Jesus. Having taken that first step of submitting to his Father’s will in baptism, he heard those words addressed to him by the voice from heaven: ‘You are my Son, the Beloved, with you I am well pleased’. We all need assurance and affirmation to encourage us. Through our baptism, we were made God’s children by adoption and we address him as Father. We have a God who loves us and cares for us as a parent watches over their child. When we are feeling unsure and facing uncertainty, it is good to know that we are loved and valued.

The path ahead for Jesus following his baptism was a daunting one. He would face conflict with civil and religious authorities. Not everyone would accept his message and some would resent his claims and oppose his teaching. He was enabled to live up to his calling and face into the future knowing that he was not alone, God’s Holy Spirit descended on him at the Jordan to guide and empower him on the journey ahead.

As we stand at the threshold of this New Year, we are not alone. God has promised to be present with us through his Holy Spirit. The same Spirit who was active and present in Our Lord through his ministry is with us. May that knowledge empower and encourage us as we face the future. Amen.

Collect for the first Sunday after Epiphany

Eternal Father,
who at the baptism of Jesus
revealed him to be your Son,
anointing him with the Holy Spirit:
Grant to us, who are born of water and the Spirit,
that we may be faithful to our calling
as your adopted children;
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Prayers of intercession

God our Father,
We worship and praise you as the creator of the world;
Lord Jesus, you came among us and were baptised by John
identifying with our human weakness;
Holy and life-giving Spirit, you descend as a dove and fill us with life,
Blessed are you Father, Son and Holy Spirit;
In you we live and move and have our being:

Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer.

Holy God, holy and strong, holy and mighty one,
We give you thanks for all who are baptised;
We praise you for our own baptism and pray that we may know
that we are always immersed in you presence.
Empower and strengthen your church to show
that we are members of Christ, children of God
and inheritors of the kingdom of heaven.
Bless this diocese, our parish and Pat, our Bishop.
We pray for all who will be prepared for baptism or confirmation,
for parents and godparents who will guide and care for them
and for all who have been baptised in this place.

Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer.

We pray for peace and justice among the nations of the world.
Guide and lead the president-elect of America, Joe Biden as he prepares to take office and bring stability, order and unity to that country.
We pray for the European Union, our country and our government.
Guide with your wisdom those who take decisions and implement public health policy as the number of COVID-19 cases continues to rise.
We pray that people will observe the present restrictions
to prevent the spread of the virus and ask that our hospitals may not be overwhelmed.
We pray for wise counsel in the management of resources
and in the effective delivery of the vaccine.

Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer.

We pray for all who are ill, remembering all victims of COVID-19
and those who care for them. Grant them your peace and healing.
Protect all medical staff as they care for patients and give them the strength and resources they need to cope with the demands placed on them.
Be with all who are anxious for their loved ones, and those who are unable to visit family members in hospital or nursing homes.
We pray for all who grieve and mourn the loss of loved ones
That they may be comforted.

Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer.

We remember all who are affected by the present lockdown:
Those whose businesses have closed and
those who have no work. The poor and marginalised and those without a home.
We pray for our schools and teachers as they begin to provide teaching online and for children learning at home.
We remember parents working from home while they care for children. We pray for college students and lecturers conducting courses online.
We pray for all who are struggling to cope and especially
all who are depressed or anxious.
As we face change and uncertainty, help us to know that
you are with us at all times.

Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer.

Lord God,
We give you thanks for all your blessings to us in the past.
Help us to trust in your unfailing love
and to walk in your light throughout this year,
through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen

Our Father, who art in heaven,
hallowed be thy name,
thy kingdom come,
thy will be done,
On earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our trespasses
as we forgive those who trespass against us.
And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil.
For thine is the kingdom, the power, and the glory,
for ever and ever. Amen.

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