Auspicious beginnings

Published 4:53 pm Tuesday, January 7, 2020

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By Scott Baker

Every year, the Sunday following the Epiphany (Jan. 6), the church observes the feast of the baptism of Jesus Christ. I’m sure it is not coincidental that the compilers of the liturgical calendar placed the observance of this feast so very close to the beginning of the new year. Liturgically and theologically it marks the beginning of Jesus’ earthly ministry. And what a beginning it is! The heavens open, a celestial voice resounds and a dove, seemingly from out of nowhere, alights on Jesus. With such an auspicious start the reader of the gospel knows it’s going to be an action-packed story that follows.

From such a powerful beginning, the church and her members will walk with Jesus over the next several weeks and months. We will hear his teachings, witness his miracles, and be challenged by his words. Because this year in the liturgical cycle is dedicated to Matthew’s gospel, the church will hear Jesus’ sermon on the mount. It is the call to love our enemies, bless those who curse us, and live lives that become conduits of God’s love and God’s kingdom-rule. We will be called to be the salt of the earth and the lights of the world. The church will walk with Jesus as his first disciples did and, like them, scratch our heads and wonder how we are to live into his teachings. (As one of my priest friends put it, “Often times the disciples are portrayed as the duh-ciples. Not quite comprehending what’s going on.” How often do we find ourselves in the same boat?)

As we walk with Jesus, we realize that we are being shaped, molded and strengthened for the goal of this journey: The Passion and the Cross. For that has been the destination since all the way back when Jesus stood in the Jordan River and was baptized. For three months of the year, the church walks with Jesus, all the while, looking to the cross and doing our best to live the life of a disciple. It is Jesus himself who reminds us, “If any want to be my follower, let them deny themselves, take up their cross and follow me.” To follow Jesus is to walk in the way of the cross and find in it none other than life and peace.

For all Christians, the three-month journey to the cross is a microcosm for our lives. We too have auspicious beginnings with our baptisms and the gift of the Holy Spirit. We too have our trials and tribulations, just as Jesus did in his 40-day fast in the wilderness. We too struggle, just as the early disciples, to follow and live according to Jesus’ way of love. Along the way we may falter and stumble, go down false trails, even are tempted to give up. Yet, we realize that Jesus is the pioneer of our faith and because he blazed the trail, we take heart and know that it can be traversed.

If we thought we had an auspicious beginning with our baptism and the grace of the Holy Spirit, it pales in comparison to the glory that awaits. As St. Paul reminds the church in Rome, “I consider the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing to the glory about to be revealed to us.”

So, as we begin this new year and new decade, the church reminds us that the journey that lies ahead has as its goal nothing short of paradise.

THE REV. SCOTT BAKER is the rector of Emmanuel Episcopal Church in Franklin. Contact him at 562-4542.