A reflection for the 10th January 2021
The Baptism of Christ

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Offered for Sunday 10th January 2021


Stephen

Reflections Script

The Baptism of Christ

January 10th 2021


After lunch
while at Theological College
I sat next to a friend called Anne
who was looking at a book of
religious paintings.

Hardly looking up from the pages
Anne made the comment
'I have real problems with
'Pre-Raphaelite' religious paintings'
to which I simply replied
'I don't' which extracted
a long verbal description
from Anne as to her difficulty;

after a minute or two
she took breath and asked me why
I didn't have difficulty
to which I replied
very much to Anne's indignation
'I simply don't look at it'!

The flippant answer disguises
a love of some and I do say some
Religious Art?
But not from one specific artist,
time, place or culture.

In my study I've pictures
as diverse as Gabriel Max's
'St. Veronica's Handkerchief 1840,
'The Annunciation' by Carlo Cruelli 1486
and 'Christ of
St. John of the Cross'
by Salvador Dali 1951.

A recent addition has been
a copy of the
'Isenheim Altarpiece' painting,
by Matthias Grünewald,
born around 1480.
It's a powerful depiction
of the crucifixion.

But there is an anomaly
in the painting with the figure
of John the Baptist standing,
some what out of place,
to the right of the cross;
chronologically he'd been executed
two years or so before Jesus' death.

The aim of placing
John the Baptist there
was not a correction
to the biblical text,
still less a mistake.

The artist was concerned with
John's attitude to Jesus
and represents him pointing a long,
bony finger at Jesus;
pointing to Jesus,
is the 'Raison d'être'
of not only the theologian
and preacher but
"pointing to Jesus"
should also be the aim of every
living and practicing Christian.


Let us Pray


Lord of the Church;
enable your people to be
the Church a redeemed people;
a holy people;
a united people;
a missionary people;
a people pointing to Jesus,
and, in all things,
a people gladly submissive
to the truth as it
comes to us in Jesus,
in whose name we pray. Amen.


Address


If you've ever seen a
production of John-Michael Tebelak's
'Godspell', you'll remember
how the show opens.

The house lights go down
and in the darkness
a voice is heard,
calling from the back
of the theatre:
"Prepare ye the way of the Lord."

A shiver runs through the audience.
John the Baptist,
dressed in a rough coat
of camel's hair,
makes his way through
the theatre,calling
"Prepare ye the way
of the Lord"
as he mounts the stage.

Then he disappears,
having done his bit.
In the musical,
just as in real life,
John was the forerunner,
an early Town Crier,
the one who got things moving.

He called the people to be ready
for the coming of the Lord
and as in the Isenheim
Altarpiece portrays John
'Points to Jesus'.

For many centuries,
the 'Chosen People of God'
had been expecting the Messiah.

They didn't know how or
when he would come.
They only knew the day on which
he came would be an
extraordinary day.

The mighty would be put down
and the day of the humble
and meek would dawn.

Now they were hearing
the words of John.
It was a call to arms,
and the people of Galilee
rose up to join
John the Baptist at
the River Jordan.

In Mark's Gospel
we have a short version of what
happened when Jesus came to one
of John's baptising sessions.

We need Matthew and Luke
to fill in the details.
They show that the Baptiser
was pretty out spoken
in his message.

When he saw that the
Pharisees and Sadducees
had joined the crowds
at the riverside
he gave them both barrels.

Matthew records Johns words
"You brood of vipers!" he called.
"Who warned you to flee
from the wrath to come?"

According to Luke,
hated tax collectors
were also there.
But when Jesus turned up
John was taken aback.

He asked,
"What are you doing here?
I should be baptised by you."
Jesus reassured him and
stepped into the water.

After the ceremony,
many present heard
God's voice from heaven,
"You are my Son,
the Beloved;
with whom I am well pleased."

What a wonderful moment:
the Father praising his Son.
How many fathers today
praise their sons as they
set out on their life's work?

So the ministry of Jesus
Christ began;
Creator and created,
were brought to this one point.

Father, Son, Holy Spirit,
John the Baptiser,
everyone at the river
brought together to launch
Jesus on his earthly ministry.

A course which would
take him travelling, healing,
preaching, sharing the joys
and the sorrows.

It would take him to his death,
resurrection and ascension.

From this beginning,
we can learn three lessons.
The first is the vision
set by the Father.

To paraphrase his words:
"All the best, lad.
You're going out into the world.
If ever you need my advice
don't be afraid to ask.
I will always be behind you."

The second lesson is
one of commitment.
Now Jesus is committed
to his task.
No turning back.

Whatever will be will be.
And just like any baptism
we might witness today,
there will be hopes and fears
for the newly baptised.

In the North of England
there is an old custom at a baptism.

A small white linen bundle,
called an amice,
is given to the person
about to be baptised.

It contains a piece of bread,
a few coins and a
paper screw of salt
to represent food,
wealth and wisdom,
and the hope of the newly
Baptised will have enough
of all three.

Then, to complete the symbolism,
on leaving the church,
the amice is given away,
to show that generosity
is part of the Christian life.

And there is a third lesson
that we can all take from
the baptism of Christ.
This is personal to each one.

For we each have a journey.
We came from God
and we return to God,
we each have a God given vocation.

Yet vocation is often thought
of as something special
given only to certain people!

People with particular gifts,
like doctors, priests, teachers,
artists, singers, footballers,
entertainers.

Yet God has given a vocation
a gift to everyone for his
service and glory.
We may not be in the
best position to recognise
our own vocational or gifts.

For the call to use the gift
may come in many different ways
from direct intervention by God
or by the prompting of a
friend or colleague,
even a complete stranger!

However, the first question
we must ask is
"can I offer my calling
my gift to God?"

After all,
you wouldn't expect God
to call someone to a life of crime.

As we consider the baptism of Christ,
let us then pick up the vision,
make our commitment
and follow all our
God given vocation,
gifts and talents.
and with pointing others to
Christ as our Raison d'être.


To Summarise

The people had been told
to expect the coming of the Messiah.
John the Baptist proclaimed
the day was about to dawn.

The people rose up and
came to the river for baptism.
The baptism of Jesus marked
the beginning of his ministry.

He was baptised by John
and heard the Father
wishing him well
in his life's work.
We see a vision and a commitment.

In our lives,
God gives us talents to be
used on our journey in life.

Let us pick up the vision,
make our commitment using our
gifts and talents,
following our God given
calling and with pointing
others to Christ
as our Raison d'être our
'Reason for Existence'.


Our Blessing


Sovereign Lord,
you have anointed us
with your spirit
and have sent us to preach
your Good News to the poor,
to bind up the broken hearted,
to announce freedom to the
captives and release for
the prisoners of darkness;
to proclaim God's grace
and his judgement,
to provide for
all those who mourn.

Bless all to whom we go;
bestow on them a crown
of beauty instead of ashes,
the oil of gladness
instead of mourning,
and a garment of praise
instead of despair;

through us, make them
like trees you have planted,
rooted in righteousness,
that they may display your splendour...
And the blessing of God.......


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