MARK 1:4-11

Today’s gospel ends with high drama.  As the saying goes, “You can’t make this stuff up.”

“In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John [the Baptist] in the Jordan [river].”  So far, so good.  But then, “just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the spirit descending like a dove on him.  And a voice came from heaven, ‘You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.’”

Wow.  In three sentences the gospel writer gives us a lot of action.  Jesus is baptized.  The heavens are torn apart.  The Spirit descends like a dove.  A voice comes from heaven: you are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.

Wow.  A lot can happen in just three sentences.  But all drama aside, the most important thing that happens is this: when God’s voice speaks from heaven, we learn the true identity of Jesus.  Jesus is God’s son, God’s beloved.  And God is well pleased with Jesus.

I hope you had a blessed and merry Christmas.  But the Twelve Days of Christmas are over.  They ended Friday, January 5.  Yesterday, January 6, was The Day of Epiphany.  And today is the first Sunday of Epiphany season.  Every year on this day, the gospel reading is the baptism of Jesus.  This year we heard Mark’s version.

The term “epiphany” means manifestation.  During Epiphany season the gospel readings reveal the identity of Jesus.  In today’s gospel the voice from heaven reveals Jesus’ true identity.  “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”

The Book of Common Prayer lists four days when baptism is especially appropriate. Today is one of those days.  In the absence of baptismal candidates, the Renewal of Baptismal Vows is recommended.  We will renew our own baptismal vows after this sermon.

So it’s a good day to look at baptism: Jesus’ baptism and our own.

For the church, baptism is one of the seven sacraments. Before we look at baptism, we need to remember what a sacrament is.

The catechism teaches about sacraments.  Please look at page 857 in the Book of Common Prayer.

[A discussion of The Sacraments and Holy Baptism followed, based on pages 857-859 in the prayer book catechism.]

The Sacraments

Q. What are the sacraments?

A. The sacraments are outward and visible signs of inward and spiritual grace, given by Christ as sure and certain means by which we receive that grace.

Q. What is grace?

A. Grace is God’s favor towards us, unearned and undeserved; by grace God forgives our sins, enlightens our minds, stirs our hearts, and strengthens our wills.

Q. What are the two great sacraments of the Gospel?

A. The two great sacraments given by Christ to his Church are Holy Baptism and the Holy Eucharist.

Holy Baptism

Q. What is Holy Baptism?

A. Holy Baptism is the sacrament by which God adopts us as his children and makes us members of Christ’s Body, the Church, and inheritors of the kingdom of God.

Q. What is the outward and visible sign in Baptism?

A. The outward and visible sign in Baptism is water, in which the person is baptized in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

Q. What is the inward and spiritual grace in Baptism?

A. The inward and spiritual grace in Baptism is union with Christ in his death and resurrection, birth into God’s family the Church, forgiveness of sins, and new life in the Holy Spirit.

Q. What is required of us at Baptism?

A. It is required that we renounce Satan, repent of our sins, and accept Jesus as our Lord and Savior.

Q. Why then are infants baptized?

A. Infants are baptized so that they can share citizenship in the Covenant, membership in Christ, and redemption by God.

Q. How are the promises for infants made and carried out?

A. Promises are made for them by their parents and sponsors, who guarantee that the infants will be brought up within the Church, to know Christ and be able to follow him.

So baptism is a sacrament, and like all sacraments baptism is about grace.  “Grace is God’s favor towards us, unearned and undeserved.”  If you remember nothing else today, remember that.  Grace is God’s favor towards us, unearned and undeserved.

How many of you can remember your baptism?  If you were an infant or very young child you probably cannot, but some of us can.

I was baptized when I was nine.  My baptism was not exactly the same as Jesus’ baptism.  It was a baptismal pool, not a river.  And it wasn’t that dramatic.  I didn’t see the heavens torn apart.  I didn’t see the Spirit descend like a dove.  I didn’t hear God say “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”

I didn’t see or hear any of those things, but that doesn’t mean they didn’t happen. 

What about your baptism?  I’ll bet it wasn’t as dramatic as Jesus’ baptism either.  But I believe God’s grace flowed over you, just the same.  God’s favor, unearned and undeserved, flowed over you that day, drama or no drama.

And if you didn’t hear God’s voice back then, then hear it today.  Hear God’s voice loud and clear.  God says to you: You are my child, my beloved; with you I am well pleased.

You have an identity.  You are God’s child, God’s Beloved.  And God is well pleased with you.

You don’t deserve grace.  You didn’t earn it.  But it’s yours.  God’s favor is yours already.  Do you believe that?  Do you feel that?  Will you trust that?

Please stand as you are able for the Renewal of Baptismal Vows.

The Renewal of Baptismal Vows                                                BCP 292

Celebrant:  Do you reaffirm your renunciation of evil and renew your commitment to Jesus Christ?

People:       I do.

Celebrant:  Do you believe in God the Father?

People:       I believe in God, the Father almighty,

                   creator of heaven and earth.

Celebrant:  Do you believe in Jesus Christ, the Son of God?

People:       I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord.

                  He was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit

                  and born of the Virgin Mary.

                  He suffered under Pontius Pilate,

                  was crucified, died, and was buried.

                  He descended to the dead.

                  On the third day he rose again.

                  He ascended into heaven,

                  and is seated at the right hand of the Father.

                  He will come again to judge the living and the dead.

Celebrant:  Do you believe in God the Holy Spirit?

People:       I believe in the Holy Spirit,

                  the holy catholic Church,

                  the communion of saints,

                  the forgiveness of sins,

                  the resurrection of the body,

                  and the life everlasting.

Celebrant: Will you continue in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in the prayers?

People:       I will, with God’s help.

Celebrant:  Will you persevere in resisting evil, and, whenever you fall into sin, repent and return to the Lord?

People:       I will, with God’s help.

Celebrant:  Will you proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ?

People:       I will, with God’s help.

Celebrant:  Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself?

People:       I will, with God’s help.

Celebrant:  Will you strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being?

People:       I will, with God’s help.

The Celebrant continues:

May Almighty God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has given us a new birth by water and the Holy Spirit, and bestowed upon us the forgiveness of sins, keep us in eternal life by his grace, in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.

If you would like to respond to this sermon or receive future sermons by email, contact me at

Leave a Comment