Christmas doesn’t last long, does it? We get the big build up in the long wait of Advent and then in just twelve days we come to Epiphany, where we remember the visit of the Magi some significant time after the birth of Jesus. But we remain in the season of Epiphany for several weeks.

Epiphany means ‘A moment of sudden and great revelation or realisation’ so, that’s our lens for this and the coming weeks. What will we realise? What will be revealed?

Today we are catapulted back into a story we have already heard at the start of Mark’s Gospel.

John, this charismatic prophet, is out on the edge of the wilderness, heralding the coming of one who was much greater than him.

The Messiah was here.
And they didn’t even know.

Jesus comes to John and asks for baptism. calling on people to confess… to tell the truth about who they are and what they have done so that they can begin the hard work of forgiveness and reconciliation. That’s an important task and it seems like there is a real appetite for it as people come from all over.

But there is a reason John is calling on the people to sort themselves out beyond it being a good thing to do, which it is.

Something is about to happen that will change everything…
Or should that be ‘someone’ is about to happen?

We started reading at the beginning of Mark’s Gospel again today, just to remind ourselves how quickly Mark moves to the arrival of Jesus on the scene but before we get to what Mark tells us, I want to say something about how he tells us.

Mark is the oldest of the four Gospels, these stories about Jesus we find at the start of the New Testament in our Bible. And that’s something we take completely for granted… that we have bibles, ebook, apps or websites where we can just go and read this story. Until the invention of the printing press in around 1440 almost no-one had a book. Just for some context, the index of books in Cambridge University Library in 1557 lists fewer than 200 books. It now has over 8 million.

When Mark started to write down the story of Jesus it was at a time when nobody did that. It was hugely expensive. The materials were hard to come by and so things that were written down were precious. Instead, people memorised stories. We call it an oral culture. Stories are told and retold in a format that is easy to remember. So writing down the story of Jesus is in itself a revolutionary act, something fitting for a Gospel that is probably the most revolutionary of all.

So, this written account means that new believers will have a written text to make sure they get the stories right and that people don’t start making stuff up or getting confused or all the things that we know happen in the passing on of information. Send up reinforcements becomes sent up 2 and four pence…

So, these words are all important. Mark doesn’t waste a single one. His writing can seem brief, almost too short sometimes, but he manages to pack in much more than we often see at first glance. I’ve spoken before about how the first sentence, The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God is one of the most politically loaded sentences ever written and Mark just keeps on going.

We’ve spoken about John the Baptist, so let’s spend our time today looking at what happens when Jesus enters the story, and what sudden and great revelation or realisation we might discover.

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.’

Perhaps we should start with what’s missing. John doesn’t say anything. In Mark’s telling John the Baptist says the stuff about not being worthy to untie Jesus’ sandals before Jesus even appears. There is no conversation. No identifying of Jesus as the one. Nothing. We are told where Jesus came from and that John baptised him in the Jordan.

There’s an unspoken question that hangs around this story. What was Jesus doing before this? I mention this question, not to be flippant, but because this is the first time we have met Jesus. Mark has no story of the birth and at first look there is none of the preamble of John’s Gospel about all that in the beginning stuff. Fully grown Jesus just wanders up from Nazareth and gets baptised.


Why would the Son of God need or want to be baptised?

We speak of Jesus as being without sin, so what is he doing taking part in a ritual that is about confessing your wrongdoings?

But that’s not primarily what is happening, is it? Confession if you remember back to when we spoke about it at the start of Advent, is actually about truth-telling. Confession is one of those words that we use in different ways. We confess what we have done wrong, but we also confess what we believe. And both of those are about naming the truth. Naming the truth is the start of something, the first step.

So, when Jesus comes for baptism, it’s not because he has a long list of stuff he needs to get off his chest. For him this is a moment of truth-telling… God telling the truth about who Jesus is.

But look at who does that. It’s not John and it’s not Jesus either.

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.’

Right. Ok then. That was unexpected!

There’s a lot going on in those two sentences.

Let’s start with ‘The heavens are torn apart’. I’ve already said that Mark’s gospel is revolutionary, and not just because Mark has written this stuff down. Mark’s gospel is a highly charged political statement advocating a complete overturning of how the world works. So, we have to ask, how does that happen? How do things change?

It starts with truth-telling.
Someone tells their truth, their experience of the world and the way that something impacts on them. So, for example, in any civil rights movement, people speak out about an injustice or the application of prejudicial rules and how that affects them.

But telling that truth isn’t the only thing that happens. Just like where confession is the first step, it needs to lead to change or what’s the point? Change comes when the people hearing that truth realise their part in that and decide to work to get rid of the unfairness or prejudice.

These great movements for change start small. They start on the edges. The boundaries, because boundaries are the line where on one side people are in and on the other side they are out. Change is about boundary-breaking.

So, there, on the edge of the wilderness, at the Jordan, the boundary between the wild and the tame, the rough and the smooth, the place of wandering and the place of settlement, as Jesus comes up out of the water…
breaking the boundary between wet and dry, water and air…
The heavens torn apart…
The very boundary between us and God is ripped in two.
The Spirit, like a dove, breaks through
and a voice from heaven speaks…
‘You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.’

The truth has been spoken.
The confession has been made.

But what now?

Just as with any other confession we now have a decision to make. What will we do with this truth that has been told?

Will we deny it? Will we decide that it didn’t really happen? Will we pretend that it somehow doesn’t mean what it says? Or perhaps we will think that it isn’t a truth for us, here… now?

Will we try to disprove it?
Deny it?
Undo it? Trying our best to reseal the heavens and restore the boundary because to be honest, that would be better, wouldn’t it?
I mean who wants God wandering around among us?
That’s way too much responsibility.
That demands far too much from us.

Because the telling of that truth means we have to take seriously the fact that God has come to us in Jesus and that God is interested in reconciliation with us to transform the world.

But here’s the difference. Usually when someone who has been excluded or treated unfairly speaks their truth we can decide not to listen, or that their truth isn’t our problem, or that they aren’t even really telling the truth because their experience is so far from ours that we can’t even imagine what it must be like. So we ignore them and hope it will all go away. Or we punish them for exposing something that we all knew but went along with because it benefits us. We can decide not to move the boundary. We can decide to continue to exclude.

But that’s not quite the truth of this event.

God has decided to rip open the boundary. There is nothing we can do about it. We can’t put it back, no matter how hard we might try… and we have tried pretty hard throughout history!

The boundary is forever broken…
God is on the loose.
And that’s the truth…
And if that revelation or realisation doesn’t change everything, then I don’t know what could.

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