St. Augustine of Hippo


Episcopal Church

 


Epiphany: God Meets Us Where We Are


by

The Rev. Dr. Nathanael Saint-Pierre


(Luke 3:15-17, 21-22)


January 9, 2022


I have studied, but I need your strength. I have prepared, but I need your power. 

I am willing, and I want to, but only you can make me able. 

Make the word of my mouth and the meditation of all our hearts be acceptable to you,

O Lord, our God, and our Redeemer! Amen!


Beloved people of God, who told you that your baptism was not valid because you were not immersed in water? Or valid because you were baptized by Bishop So-and-So? Who told you that, in order to be fully baptized, you needed to have some Jordan River water added and mixed in the pool or the baptismal font used at your baptism? Do you really think that being baptized in the same font as your great-grandmother will grant you a grace other or better than if you were baptized from a big plastic bowl? Is baptism necessary for your salvation?


People went to John to receive a baptism of repentance but soon started thinking that if John was able to baptize them, and, by doing so, offer them a path toward reconciliation with God, he was special. They wanted to know if John was the Messiah, the one God promised to send to salvage God’s people. In the text we read today, John told them “I baptize you with water; but one who is more powerful than I is coming; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”


Why do you think people were looking for the Messiah? Are we still looking for the Messiah? Is John’s baptism the place the people found God? Is God lost? Can God be found?


There were times the Israelites found themselves in despair as if God walked away and left them alone with no help. The time the Gospel of Luke is talking about was an episode of such times. The people of Israel were under the control of Rome, and they were oppressed. Their territory was military occupied. They were forbidden to worship their God. They had to abide by the power of Caesar, the Roman emperor. Their culture was suppressed as well as their religion. For a people that believed that God elected them to be above all nations, they felt abandoned by God. People were seeking for God and desired to see God’s promise fulfilled. John the Baptist offered them a path to restore their relationship with God and stop looking for God in all the wrong places.


They were looking for a Messiah because they were looking for deliverance. They were seeking for a Savior who would chase away their invaders. Someone promised by God who would restore the dignity of their nation. Someone who would bring back prosperity. They thought that person to be John the Baptist. They rushed to him to be baptized, hoping that this baptism would restore their connection to God.


Our contemporary world is also looking for a Messiah and deliverance from different forces of darkness. We are living in uncomfortable times, pandemic times, times of hunger, times of homelessness and hopelessness, times of racial inequality, times of gender inequity. It's time for justice because the justice system is rigged by the powerful able to buy their way out of all kinds of situations. It is a time of great divide; one must recall last year’s attack against parliament. It is time we look up to leadership for direction but how can a blind one lead us to the right place? We are living in times when we try to reconnect to God and one another. Many of us believe that just by bringing our children to church and having them baptized, will allow us to achieve that necessary unity. We would instantly be made clean by the water of baptism and need nothing further. Others see in the form of baptism, who performs it, and its location, a criterion to validate or invalidate it. 


Despite many people going to church and being baptized, we are looking for God in all the wrong places. God is not in the form in which we are baptized. So why are we arguing about the validity of Baptism? Is it really that important to be immersed in water or not? Can baptism occur privately, or should it be public? Must churches build different facilities to conform to standards set by whom? In whose name is baptism valid? Did Jesus institute baptism?


As the church celebrates the baptism of our Lord today, the fact is that the magi did not find God. God revealed Godself in a star and guided them from the Orient to the place Jesus was laid in a manger. They were not Jews. They did not believe in God and were not obedient to the Torah. God found the Wise Men where they were (in the study of the stars, astrology that we may consider a superstition). They believed in those natural elements, and it is there that God, without making them feel guilty, captured their attention and called them. God did not require them to be prequalified to enter the presence of Jesus. God did not check the validity of their sacrament to elect them as chosen to bring the “perfect gifts” to God’s son. The omnipresence of God is God’s ability to fill whatever void, take whatever form and reveal Godself.


God still finds God’s chosen wherever they are. God does not exclude anyone. God is the one, walking alongside us, consistently and continually, who is calling us to reconnect with him and one another. Baptism is just a tradition received from the apostles that the church perpetuates. The Bible does not record anyone being baptized by Jesus. There are a couple of verses that seem to indicate that Jesus baptized people, but when we compare Scripture with Scripture, we conclude that Jesus did not personally baptize anyone. This is not to down play the importance of baptism. However, we can argue that for Jesus himself, Baptism for repentance was not necessary. He shared every human condition but sin. He did it to be totally a person of his time as ordinary as any person seeking salvation.


When we accept to be an instrument for others to meet God, no matter our spiritual or physical location, God can reveal Godself through us. Through the Holy Spirit, God can use languages and symbols, moral complications, complicated situations, to manifest Godself and generate an epiphany. We experience Epiphany when we realize that we are found by God. God can never be lost. God is a constant that never ends.


To those who believe that Baptism is an end, I am saying that in my humble opinion, it is just a beginning. It is after Jesus’ baptism that he is acknowledged by a voice coming from heaven, the voice of God but, he was then led to the wilderness, that spiritual location that demands us to be well-rooted, or else, we dry and die. Luke invites us to be like the Wise Men, to focus on the light no matter the darkness around us. They were not wise because of the immense knowledge they held. They were wise because they were stupid enough to follow a star in the sky and experience an Epiphany! May it be the same for us and May God reveal Godself to and through us. Amen!