CAMINANDO WITH JESUS: The Epiphany of Jesus
As the people were filled with expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Messiah, John answered all of them by saying, “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.”
- Luke 3:15-17
We can’t know what Jesus came to the river Jordan expecting from his cousin John the Baptist. We can’t know what he was thinking as he waded out into those chilly, troubled waters. What we are told is that as Jesus came up out of the water, the Holy Spirit hovered over the water, stirring the waters like the wings of a dove. And as Jesus came up and the Spirit come down a voice spoke to him saying “You are my Son, My beloved. With You I am well pleased.”
Have you ever wondered, though, why Jesus needed to be baptized? He is not a sinner, is he? He does not need his sins washed away. He does not need to repent as John is telling the crowds coming down from Jerusalem. Jesus’ baptism is as unique to him as it is inviting to all others. His baptism is singular in history as it initiates a universal welcome into the household of God. At least in the account in Luke’s gospel, this is a private moment between Jesus and his Father in heaven in which all the world is meant to share.
It could be argued that when the Holy Spirit comes upon Jesus and the voice proclaims “This is my Beloved,” this moment of truth is Jesus’ Epiphany. His baptism reveals his divine origin. His purpose is made manifest. Jesus fully embraces the truth of his divine vocation that has lurked below the surface of his awareness: Jesus is the Incarnation of Divine Love – the revelation of God’s redemptive love for the whole world.
An epiphany is a moment when we grasp something true; or maybe something true grasps us in a way that touches us deeply and maybe even changes us. Though each “person” of the Divine Trinity is wholly divine and eternal, we do find evidence that Jesus of Nazareth grows wisdom and awareness of his purpose in mortal life.
It is appropriate that the Baptism of Our Lord follows immediately, in our Lectionary, the revelation of the Incarnation to the Magi, known as the Feast of the Epiphany. At the Feast of the Epiphany, we celebrate the moment the curtain is pulled back, the scope of God’s intervention is broadened and the glory of God in Christ is made manifest. In a similar way, the Baptism of Jesus is an epiphany. The heavens are opened, and the magnitude of God’s presence in the person of Jesus, is revealed.
I can’t remember my baptism; but I do remember the moment I realized I was called to discern a call to ordained ministry. I was snapping green beans on the front porch of Gladys and Vernal Maynard in Martin County, Kentucky. It was the summer of 1982, and I was a community organizer in a very economically poor but culturally rich Appalachian community. I realized that I needed to drive down the twisting roads of that Appalachian hollow and head over to Raleigh, North Carolina, and speak to the Rt. Rev. Robert Estill and share with him that I was afraid that God might be calling me to the priesthood.
For my epiphany there was no voice from the clouds, no tearing apart of the heavens. But there was something in the air, a whisper of invitation that made me feel loved and terrified and summoned all at the same time.
There are these moments, moments where something about God’s truth and eternal beauty breaks through in our lives. It can be the morning or afternoon light as it crosses the skies or the waves.
It can be standing in front of a painting or a sculpture and feeling as if you have almost been literally touched by its power. It can be hearing and answering the invitation to Holy Communion. It might be the blessing of being present with another soul as he moves from life in this world to life in the next. There are these moments when we allow ourselves just enough quiet contemplation to become caught up into the presence of the Divine and find that while the earth may not have changed, we have.
The Rt. Rev. Anne Hodges-Copple is the bishop suffragan of the Diocese of North Carolina.