For Jan. 11, 2015: 1 Epiphany, Year B

The Reading                                                                      Genesis 1:1-5

As Genesis tells it, the very first act of God in creation was to call light into existence; the second, to recognize that light (and all of creation) is good.

The Response                                                                    Psalm 29

Psalm 29 expands on the theme of the reading from Genesis. The voice of the Lord has the power to call creation into being, to break and bend mighty trees, to make the very mountains skip and buck. How remarkable that this enthroned Lord offers mere humans strength and blessing.

The Second Reading                                                         Acts 19:1-7

In the verses that precede Acts 19:1-7, Paul has arrived in Corinth and instructed Apollos, an Alexandrian Jew, in the faith. Now Paul travels northward to Ephesus where he finds a group of people baptized by John, but they do not know of the Holy Spirit. Paul baptizes them in the name of Jesus: this is a superior baptism.

The Gospel                                                                          Mark 1:4-11

The Year B lectionary introduces John the baptizer in Advent through the gospels of Mark and John, then repeats part of the reading from Mark in recounting the baptism of Jesus. It is Jesus who sees heaven torn open and the dove’s descent and who hears God’s “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”

 

 

Further thoughts

The scriptures for the first Sunday after the Epiphany, also known as the Baptism of Jesus, all involve displays of power in speaking, though they play out differently. In Genesis 1:1-5, it is the power of God speaking that brings light out of darkness and launches the universe as we know it. Psalm 29 shows us God’s voice as powerful enough to make the created order behave anomalously—mountains scamper, sturdy oaks go limp, whole forests are denuded, the wilderness shakes (not so anomalous in California, perhaps). Everyone notices and is awed.

The New Testament readings are less spectacular. To be sure, in Mark’s otherwise spare account of Jesus’ baptism, heaven is not merely parted but ripped open so that the voice of God can proclaim his Son. Mark’s only other use of the root schizein ‘rend, tear’ is the moment of Jesus’ death when the temple curtain is torn from top to bottom (Mark 15:38), so this earlier moment is surely also significant. But Mark’s language suggests that the visions and voice were chiefly for Jesus’ eye and ear and heart, not to impress bystanders.

Acts 19:1-7 is even less showy: no writhing oaks, no heavenly host, just a wandering preacher who listens and teaches and a dozen people who hear with their hearts, till Paul lays hands on them. Then the power of God appears—not around or above them but in and through them, and through the love poured from a human hand.

As I write, the world still reeks of the blood of Charlie Hebdo. It is tempting to close and lock the doors, to pull into cliques, to reject that which is “other” while imagining that vengeance against those who don’t see things just my way is divine. A younger Paul succumbed to that temptation in his day. But what if being God’s child means opening doors? What if loving God really does require radically and unreservedly loving all God’s world?

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