Christmas and Epiphany have come and gone, but we are not finished with the revelations, epiphanies and manifestations of Jesus. We can point to three mysteries that celebrate the Lord's Epiphany: the arrival of the Magi at the birth of Jesus; the story of the changing of water into wine at Cana in John's Gospel and the stories of Jesus' baptism by John in the Jordan. These early Gospel stories begin the revelation to us of who Jesus is and what his mission will be.
Mark does two things in his account of Jesus' baptism. He is quickly eliminating the very popular, crowd-drawer John from the scene. The separation begins when John testifies, "one mightier than I is coming." In all of the Gospels, you really can't go to Jesus unless you go through John. But John's role was to prepare the way for Jesus and then to step aside... he can only get us so far.
Mark gives a shorthand and bare-bones description of Jesus' baptism - just five lines of an entire Gospel and not very much detail. We know that John went about the entire region of the Jordan proclaiming a baptism of metanoia, a change of heart which leads to the forgiveness of sins. Mark assumes that we understand what John the Baptist was all about - that we have understood his message about "letting go" of the things that are not truly what we are all about. He assumes that we can see John for what he is: someone who can take us into the wilderness and strip us clean.
But only the Word of God can call forth from within what has been buried by sin and alienation. Mark tell us that if we understand this then we will be awake and ready for something else that will come.
So in reality, Mark needs no details; he simply wants to move onto something he considers more important: the descent of the Holy Spirit upon Jesus and the voice of designation that comes from heaven, "You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased."
There is a very beautiful image in the Isaiah reading today. God says to the chosen servant, "I have grasped you by the hand." God does not just send us out on our own as we face the obstacles the world throws at us. Instead, like a loving parent with a little child, God takes us chosen ones by the hand. Isaiah's image seems to be what Mark tells us throughout his Gospel: we are anointed by the same Spirit as Jesus was. We are beloved daughters and sons. God takes us by the hand and leads us as we work to establish God's justice and peace in the world.
The Feast of the Baptism of the Lord brings about the end of the Christmas season and the beginning of "Ordinary Time" in the Liturgical cycle. The Scriptures and Liturgies of Ordinary Time will remind us of the ongoing implications of our Baptism: that moment when God seized each one of us, made us His own in a special way, anointed us with His Spirit, and commissioned us to continue the mission of Jesus. This will be a time when we are again seized by God, anointed by the Spirit, declared to be His beloved - to be light - to bring justice - to heal the bruised - to help keep flickering lights from going out...
There are some hard facts about Christian spirituality: You have to "let go of" something in order to gain something else. You have to turn away from things that are destructive, you have to out into the desert and purge yourself, you have to go under the water and come up - and leave the sins in the water; you have to remove the obstacles on the path...
If we can "let go" then Christ will be born, the beloved Child will emerge within us. All of us are bruised reeds and smoldering wicks. We are far from perfect, and rather consistently plagued by failure and selfishness. We are much too easily hurt, too easily discouraged. We fall short of expectations; we display our frailty like open wounds. Yet despite this, the Lord has confidently chosen us to complete His work. We need to realize that we are living in a sacred space, populated by a multitude of folks who - like us - desperately want to be faith-filled: who sometimes get defeated, who sometimes get battered by life and bested by trials, and yet somehow, throughout it all, still cling to their faith.
At Christmas time, we are reminded again that God has entered our lives. Now it is time for us to decide, to choose, to realize, to act, to change our hearts. We are the ones to rearrange the manger scene in our personal lives, to allow the Spirit to lead us, and to accept the challenging commitment to live the difficult and demanding message of the Gospel.