Can You Hear Me Now?
+ Grace to you, and peace, from God our heavenly Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. + Amen.
The text for our meditation this day is from our Gospel lesson, specifically where Mark records, In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And when He came up out of the water, immediately He saw the heavens being torn open and the Spirit descending on Him like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, “You are My beloved Son; with You I am well pleased.” Here ends our text; dear Christian friends.
“Can you hear me now? … Good!” You probably remember those Verizon Wireless commercials from the 2000s, with the “Test Man” wandering around on his cell phone, asking if the person on the other end of the line could hear him. Personally, I found those commercials a bit annoying - and Paul Marcarelli, the actor portraying the Verizon Guy, would seem to agree; when his contract with Verizon ended in 2011, he was reportedly relieved to be moving on. However, at the time, the message of those commercials was exceedingly clear: if you want crystal-clear communication, to hear the person on the other end and have them hear you, regardless of where you are, use our services.
At the risk of sounding reductionistic or silly, I’d like to propose that we can hear some echoes of the Verizon Guy’s tagline in today’s readings, especially our Gospel text. So far this Church year, we’ve been hearing quite a bit about John the Baptist and the role that he played in Jesus’ life and earthly ministry. Here, we see the first instance, according to Mark’s Gospel account, of interaction between these two. Now, Mark’s Gospel is noticeably shorter than the others; the way in which it was written begs that it be read as more of a drama, almost like a play. Mark has a message, and he wants to get it out, clear and quick, to those who are reading and listening. That’s why you see words like immediately scattered throughout his gospel account - he is keeping the action and narrative going.
This explains why this first interaction between Jesus and John the Baptist is so brief, even a bit terse. We get our introduction to who John was, what his purpose was, and what may have almost been a catchphrase for the camelhair-clad prophet: After me comes he who is mightier than I, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. I have baptized you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit. Immediately following this introduction, we have Jesus coming to John to be baptized. Mark records no interaction between the prophet and the God he was proclaiming. Here in Mark, we see no apprehension of the Baptist, saying that he should be baptized by Jesus rather than the other way around. Instead, Mark cuts to the chase: [W]hen He came up out of the water, immediately He saw the heavens being torn open and the Spirit descending on Him like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, “You are My beloved Son; with You I am well pleased.”
Mark is practically screaming to his readers what seems obvious to us now: this Jesus, the One from Nazareth of Galilee? He’s GOD’S SON. In spite of what the Pharisees and Sadducees would undoubtedly be screaming to the contrary, in spite of the oblivious nature of the disciples at the time, God is spelling it out so clearly to us. He is declaring to His people, THIS is the One Whom you all have been waiting for; can you hear Me now?
Of course, if this is the case, that has some pretty incredible consequences for all of those who come after. If this Jesus is God’s Son - rather, since this Jesus is God’s Son, what does that say about all the things that He did and said among us, His people? You know, the Sermon on the Mount, and all that language of, But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother … everyone [who lusts] … everyone who divorces? All that language of If your eye causes you to sin, tear it out? When He says, For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person. If all these words of Jesus are true - sorry, again, since they are true, coming from the mouth of the Son of God, what hope do any of us have in any of our own works, so thoroughly and completely tainted by sin as they are? Can you hear Me now??
What about when Jesus says, I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me? What about, when speaking of His own body, Jesus said, Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up? For that matter, what about when He said, Take, eat; this is my body … and, Drink of [this cup], all of you, for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. How about Jesus’ words, Son, your sins are forgiven? We trust these words are true, in spite of our absolute wretchedness, because they are coming from the lips of Jesus, the One Whom the Father proclaimed to be His Son. Can you hear Me now??
Since Jesus is the Son of God, it’s an understatement to say that this lends much more weight to all that He said and did. His Word actually means something. His Baptism means something, especially for those of us who have been baptized into His Name. We have inherited that baptism - it’s not just a washing away of dirt and grime, but it is the holistic cleansing of your very person - body and soul. In our epistle lesson, Paul wrote to the Romans, Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. Part of the reason Jesus was baptized by John was to, as our own baptismal liturgy declares, sanctify and bless “all waters to be a blessed flood and a lavish washing away of sin.” When God’s Word is combined with water - regardless of the source or quantity, what you see is God making a claim on one of His creatures. It is YHWH Himself cleansing you from all sin, wiping away the filth and the muck that proceeds out of our vile human hearts and declaring, “This one? This one is MINE, and NO ONE is going to snatch this one out of My hands!” Can you hear me now?
When Jesus was baptized in the Jordan by John, He didn’t do so because He needed the lavish washing away of sin like we do. No, there’s a reason why we celebrate this day right after the official start of the season of Epiphany, when we celebrate Jesus being revealed to the nations. His baptism was an official act of revealing Jesus for Who He really is to all those present. God the Father was declaring that this One standing before them was His Son. For that matter, He says the same thing about you and me by virtue of our own baptisms. You needn’t fear, wondering whose you are. The Holy Spirit decided that for you in that blessed and holy flood. Baptized into Jesus’s death and resurrection, we now belong to the Father; we are His. Can you hear me now? … Very good!
+ In the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. + Amen.