Sunday, January 8, 2012

Baptism of Jesus
Genesis 1:1-5
Psalm 29
Acts 19:1-7
Mark 1:4-11

And God saw the light, that it was good: and God divided the light from the darkness.

Christmas is over and the new year has begun. This is often a time of new beginnings, of housecleaning, budgeting and changing old habits into new ones. Many will see a raise in their paycheck, albeit they will probably be small, and are faced with after-Christmas debts. Bed and bath stores will be holding white sales for those who wish to begin the new year with fresh, clean linens. It is a good time to clean and reorganize as we take down our Christmas decorations. The news is filled with articles about how to make good changes to our lives especially with diet and exercise. Stores are filled with office supplies for those who are organizing their financial lives and getting ready to prepare taxes. It can be a chaotic time.

Where is the chaos in your life? I have a box where I put all my important papers through the year. This is my filing system. At the end of the year, I go through the box and pick out the things I need and I get rid of the things I no longer need. This filing system works for me, although I have to admit that it is a bit difficult when I have to search through the pile to find an old bill or bank statement. It might be easier if I just filed everything along the way. Iíve tried, but in the end everything ends up in the box and I organize it in January.

My garage will become chaotic in a couple days when I finally take down all my Christmas decorations. I usually just carry everything to the garage, set it on a table and then organize it into the proper containers. As I am putting things away, I weed out the items we no longer want to use, the broken items and the light sets that do not work. I usually have a few new items to squeeze in those boxes. For a moment my garage is chaotic, but with a little work we get it all together and get back to normal again.

Our chaos is usually pretty minor and short-lived. I canít imagine what it must be like to be a hoarder like we see on those television shows. Hoarding is seen from a positive perspective on shows with Ďpickers,í people who buy old things to resell as collectables and antiques. The big difference between them is collectors generally live in clean and healthy space while hoarders let their homes not only get full of things but also unsafe. The people who help the hoarders often find pests, germs and rot under the piles of stuff.

However, when pickers go into the space where collectors keep their things, I wonder how it could possibly get so overwhelming and chaotic. How do you buy so many things that you just dump it in a barn? Why buy so many things that you do not even know what you have? Why keep so many things that it is dangerous to even enter the space? The collectors and hoarders often leave behind an overwhelming legacy that children and grandchildren have to clean up.

Whether our chaos is small like a box of records are large like buildings full of rusty junk, our chaos is nothing compared to what God faced in the beginning. We often think of the world before creation as being nothing, and yet the formless void which the scriptures talk about was not empty but filled with dark, deep waters. The wind, or Spirit, of God blew over the face of those waters. This was chaos, a world without light or order. The box filled with papers is not empty, but it has no order. My garage will not be empty, but it will not have order. The world was not empty, but it was overwhelmed by darkness, out of control and hopeless.

The image of that chaos is frightening as a churning, dark and stormy sea might be, because there is no order and no light. But God had a vision for the formless void that was earth. The text from Genesis says, ďAnd God said, Let there be light: and there was light.Ē It took only a word and everything changed. The chaotic formless void now had light. Even with nothing else, there is a peace in knowing that something, or someone, has dominion over the chaos.

Once God spoke light into the world, He separated the light from the darkness. He called the light Day and the darkness Night. ďAnd there was evening and there was morning, one day.Ē We have to realize that this Day and Night were not the day and night we experience with the rising of the sun and the setting of the moon. God had not yet created the heavenly bodies that control light and dark, day and night. The sun, moon and stars were not created until the fourth day. Yet, even in the beginning, while the earth was still formless, there was light. It only took a word from God and everything was different. Though perhaps still chaotic, at least now there is hope. A voice spoke and there was light.

What does it mean that there was light and there was darkness? What does it mean that there was Day and Night? This story makes us consider the darkness, particularly in our confused and difficult world. Why is there darkness? Even more difficult is the question, ďWhy is there evil?Ē This is a question everyone ponders, some wrangle with it so long that they are left with nothing but doubt. They can't believe in a God that would create darkness. Yet, the story does not say that God created darkness. ďGod divided the light from the darkness.Ē The darkness is a lack of light.

Evil exists; we know this to be true. Besides our experience with evil, the Bible tells us that evil is in the world. We have suffered from the sins of others and we have suffered the consequences of our own sin. We die because of sin, even though that was not Godís intent. So, we are left once again with that question. ďWhy?Ē Why is there sin? Why is there evil? And the worst question of all is, ďWhy would God create evil?Ē

As with darkness, the reality is that evil is not part of Godís creation, but rather exists because some of Godís creation rejected the light. Evil exists outside the Light; it is the lack of God. Some of Godís creation rejected God, and thus we are left with evil. It did not take very long for the evil to draw others away from the light. Even in the Garden of Eden, Paradise, Adam and Eve were swayed to turn from God and to leave the Light. Since that moment, sin has been a part of our world. We canít fix it. We canít defeat it. We canít even overcome sin by our own power because it has overpowered us.

With a word, God made the chaos orderly, the darkness light. With just a Word, He changed a formless void into the beginning of His vision for the world. Though it seems like darkness and evil still rule and that the world is still chaotic and void, todayís scriptures remind us in a very real, tangible way that God did not stop speaking. God had a plan to bring order to this world that was filled with sin. The voice of God ripped through the fabric of creation and God incarnate was born.

The Word He spoke on Christmas Day was His Son, Jesus Christ. In todayís Gospel lesson, we meet that Son as He enters fully into the lives of His people through the ministry of John the Baptist. John is the voice crying out in the wilderness, calling Godís people to repentance, making the way for the Lord. The people flock to John no matter who they are: young and old, rich and poor. Those who believed Johnís message were baptized in the river Jordan, but even as he did this baptism he told them that another would come. The one to come would be greater than John, so great that John would not even be worthy to be His slave.

Then Jesus came to the River Jordan and was baptized by John. At that moment, God spoke again; with His voice He divided light and dark. He spoke hope into the world. Mark writes, ďAnd straightway coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens rent asunder, and the Spirit as a dove descending upon him: And a voice came out of the heavens, Thou art my beloved Son, in thee I am well pleased.Ē When He named His Son the Beloved, He ensured that light and peace would enter the world that had become overcome by darkness.

The voice of God is powerful, when He speaks things happen. In todayís Psalm, Godís voice breaks the great cedars and shakes the desert. The voice of God is also majestic, an oasis in times of suffering and pain. He comforts us with hope and peace. We like to be in control of things, but the voice of God can do things that we could never do. God is the One whose voice can bring order out of chaos. When He speaks, the Light and Darkness are separated; the Day and Night are set apart. The psalmist calls us to attribute to God glory and strength, to worship the One whose voice can bring peace to His people.

And yet, sometimes it is hard to hear His voice, after all we are only human and the noise of this world can be confusing to our ears. I wonder how many people actually heard Godís voice the day Jesus was baptized. How many heard God say that Jesus was the Beloved, the one for whom they had been waiting? How many knew that God had broken through the darkness and given them Light? Some believed John and were baptized. Some believed Jesus and went on to follow Him. But many did not believe. Many ignored the reality that was before them in the desert and continued to live in the chaos and darkness of the world.

It takes time to get past the chaos. I dread the work that is ahead of me because I know it will be hard work. I know that Iím going to have to make decisions about which papers to keep and which Christmas decorations to give away. I know that it will take time and that for awhile it will seem hopeless. And yet, I can look forward to the day when the Christmas boxes will be put away and the tax forms will be in the mail.

The same is true of our life of faith in this world. We hear Godís voice, but we donít always hear everything He has said. In the story from Acts, Paul found some disciples who believed in Jesus. They had been baptized, but they had not yet received the Holy Spirit. They knew about the coming of Jesus from John the Baptist, but they didnít have everything to truly be a follower of Christ. Johnís ministry reached far and wide; whether they had traveled to the Jordan to hear John, or if Johnís disciples traveled to Corinth does not matter. The voice of God was heard in the far reaches of the known world. But the full message of the Gospel took some time to reach those places; the people only heard part of the story. There were men like the disciple named Apollos who were preaching accurately about Jesus Christ, but they did not know about the Holy Spirit.

Apollos was not doing wrong, but he did not complete the job. Paul laid his hands on the men and they received the Holy Spirit. The work of Godís Voice was complete for them. It is interesting that in this story the men heard about Jesus and were baptized, but it was not until Paul touched them that they believed completely. The work was not complete until that moment. And yet, this is not the only model for faith we are given in the scriptures. Sometimes people receive the Holy Spirit and are then baptized. God works according to His ways. So, we are reminded that we donít all come to this place of peace in the same manner. It takes more work for some than for others.

The voice of God continues to be heard today and when He speaks, things still happen. The Holy Spirit still hovers over that which is formless and void and brings life, light and peace. We hear Godís voice and believe through the beloved Son who came into the world to be just like you and me. Though He is different, though He is the incarnate Word of God, He came to be one of us, to live as we live, and to die as we die, so that we might become like Him. His voice gives us light and peace. His voice gives us life.

In the beginning there was a formless void and darkness covering the deep. Sometimes we feel like that chaos still rules our world. We all have aspects of our life that need light and order. God is working on us, daily speaking His grace into our life. Like my pile of papers and the Christmas decorations, we need to be organized, changed, and picked through. Some things need to be thrown out while other things added. As God continues to speak in our lives and the world, the darkness will still exist. Through the Word who is Jesus Christ, we will be set apart in the light and will live in this chaotic world with peace and hope.

We might never hear the audible voice of God speaking to us, and perhaps we have never experienced a spectacular or miraculous vision of His presence, but when God speaks to us, we are given more than just intellectual knowledge. Thatís what was happening with Apollos and the men from Corinth had. They knew the story and told it adequately. They knew Jesus, but they did not have the Holy Spirit. When we hear Godís voice, when we are baptized in the name of Jesus Christ, we receive the Holy Spirit and we become children of the Most High.

Though we are not Jesus the Beloved, we are beloved children of God. The Light shines in, with and through our lives when God speaks our name. On this day as we remember the baptism of Jesus, we are called to remember our own baptisms. And yet, we should not simply recall the experience of getting wet in church one day. When Martin Luther said the simple statement, ďRemember your baptism,Ē he was telling us to daily remember Godís voice and the Word that came to us at the font. At our baptism, God said, ďYou are my beloved child.Ē He named you His own and sealed our life with His Holy Spirit. He spoke and your world was changed forever.

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