Isaiah 42:1-4, 6-7 or Is 40:1-5, 9-11
Psalm 29:1-4, 3, 9-10 or Psalm 104:1b-2, 3-4, 24-25, 27-28, 29-30
Acts 10: 34-38 or Titus 2:11-14; 3:4-7
Luke 3:15-16, 21-22
Merry Christmas! Today is the last day of Christmas, and the last day of the octave of the Epiphany. Last Sunday, we celebrated the epiphanies of Christ, and today we look closer at one of those epiphanies: the Baptism of our Lord. An epiphany is the sudden revelation of truth. Something we did not see before becomes as clear as day to us. An epiphany can be something simple, like realizing for the first time, after trying it many times, that coffee can really be delicious. Or an epiphany can be something more profound, like looking at a person whom you have known for years and realizing that you love them, or going to prayer like you have many times before but this time realizing how much God loves you. Often, when we have an epiphany, as soon we notice it, the reasons are already disappearing, falling out of our grasp. We never know what was so different about the thing we had looked at 1000 times before, but when we looked this time, we saw it as if with new eyes.
In today’s Gospel, the reason for the epiphany is clear: the Holy Spirit descends like a dove, and the voice of the Father speaks to his Son, saying, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.” These signs are so incredible that they can inspire a multitude of epiphanies. The first epiphany is realizing who Jesus Christ actually is. All the people who knew Jesus, or thought that they knew him, when they heard that voice and saw that dove, realized that there was more to him than they had previously supposed. Jesus was a man like any of us. If he walked down the street, we would not recognize him. If he were sitting here right next to us, we would not notice. The people of his time did not recognize anything unusual, but then, whether it was here at the baptism or because of some other sign, they saw him, as if for the first time. “This man must be a prophet”, they realized. Or even, “This man must be God himself.” He was not baptized to be purified by the waters: he baptized the water. He made it become the fire with which we are baptized.
As St. Paul writes in our second reading, Jesus Christ is the epiphany of the grace of God. Throughout the Old Testament there are references to the appearance of the glory of the Lord. Usually there is darkness and fire and lightning and voice booming from heaven like thunder. When Ezekiel saw the appearance of the glory of the Lord, he spent pages describing the wheels and the wings and the one who seemed to be made of white gold and fire. Now, God has appeared among us, but, without an epiphany, no one would notice. But when the Father spoke those words, “You are my beloved Son. With you I am well pleased.” people finally notice that there is something different about him.
I wonder what it was like for Jesus to hear these words, “You are my beloved Son. With you I am well pleased.” Usually we think of him only as God, but he is also a human with feelings and desires. It must have filled him with such joy to be so affirmed. But God does not only say this to Jesus. He says to all of us, “You are my beloved son. You are my beloved daughter. With you I am well pleased.” When we see a baptism, what would we think if the sky opened up and the Holy Spirit came down like a dove and a voice spoke saying, ““You are my beloved son. With you I am well pleased.”? We would suddenly be very interested in the child. Who is this child? What is so special about him? But the answer of course is nothing, or rather the same thing that is special about every person. Whether we see it or not, the Holy Spirit does come down and the Father does say, “You are my beloved son. With you I am well pleased.”
This is an epiphany, to realize that God says this to us. When we hear the first part, “You are my beloved son, my beloved daughter”, we realize that this is who we are. We are not our jobs or our last names or how much money we have or even what degrees or certifications we hold. We are beloved children of God. And when we have that epiphany, we will have many others. We will look at money and wonder what we ever found so valuable about it. We will look at the awards and accomplishments of this world that we desired so greatly before and realize that they are nothing in comparison to this.
And God says to us the second part too, “With you I am well pleased.” He said it to Jesus, and we understand why. Jesus always did his Father’s will. Perhaps we are afraid that because of our sins God will not say this to us, but when he looks at us he does not see the sins. When he looks at us, he sees the person whom he made. He sees the work of his own hands. And is pleased, in spite of our sins. He sees what we are capable of, and he is pleased.
And then we must have another epiphany: if all of us are beloved sons and daughters, then they are too. All of them. The people we love. The people whom we ignore. The people whom we hate. God looks at them and says to them too, ““You are my beloved son, my beloved daughter. With you I am well pleased.” When we have that epiphany we will look at them and see them the way that God sees them. It is impossible to hate someone, no matter what they have done, when we see them as a beloved child of God. It is impossible to ignore someone when we see them in this way. When we look at someone and, even for a second, see them the way that God sees them, the only thing we can do is love them.
These are the epiphanies we have today: Jesus is God; we are beloved sons and daughters of God; and everyone else is a beloved child of God too.