1 Epiphany, The Feast of the Baptism of our Lord
We are just a couple of weeks past the darkest day of the year. Each day the sun rises a little earlier and sets a moment later. We feel the stirrings of light and warmth and light. Oh, there is plenty of winter left. So often, Old Man Winter saves his fiercest blasts for us as his reign is coming to and end.
Yet something has turned; it will not be stayed. Under the cold earth the bulbs are awakening. The day will have its way. It will grow. Our earth will become green again. Flowers and fruits and harvests will happen. Light will come. Life will flourish.
Outside it is cold right now. Thank you for braving its intimidation, and coming in here, coming inside into the cozy embrace of this community. Inside, it warm.
I know that some of you mark the progression of the seasons by the light of the east window behind the altar. A few weeks from now, later on in the spring, the sun will shine directly through the bright yellows of that window straight into the faces of a certain portion of our 7:30 congregation. Some of our regulars at that service, who wish to continue to sit in their customary pews, will wear sunglasses in church during those particular weeks. The light can be blindingly bright.
When I was a child, we once had a daytime eclipse of the sun. It was a big deal at Oxford Elementary School. We prepared ahead of time. We were sternly warned. You can’t look directly at the sun. It can damage your eyes. You don’t want to go blind, do you? So we made eclipse viewers out of shoeboxes – with a pinhole opening at one end and a white index card at the other end. On the day of the eclipse, we went out onto the playground, we aimed our shoeboxes at the sun safely behind us, we caught the sun’s rays through the pinholes, and it reflected the shadow of the heavenly eclipse on the white index card. Every child that day saw the reflection of the eclipse of the sun.
Christian Mystic Evelyn Underhill speaks of God as “the absolute Light” which “only dazzles us; in its wholeness it is more than we can bear. It needs breaking-up before our small hearts can deal with it.”[i] She speaks of the incarnation of Jesus as God’s light which is broken up and brought to us so humbly in human form that we can touch and taste, see and hear the infinite mystery translated into our substance.
She offers as a metaphor: stained glass windows. The shapes and colors of stained glass catch the dazzling, blinding absolute light of the sun; the light refracts and breaks into smaller bits so that we can bear it, so that we can see it in our windows, so often represented through images of Christ and various symbols of devotion.
Each week we come into this holy place, surrounded by the suffuse light and colors of these windows, inviting us into the air and atmosphere of the mysterious divine presence.
From the outside of the building, the windows appear mottled, dull, even grubby. You have to come inside to truly see and appreciate them. You have to come out of the cold, into the warmth of the glowing intimacy of this intimate place of welcome, this Temple of God.
Today, we welcome into this intimacy, our new family members, invited inside through the sacrament of baptism. We invite them into the mystery of the divine light. We will baptize them in the name of the Holy Trinity. They will be filled with light and life – “the universal light of the Father, the interior radiance of the Holy Spirit, linked together in this vision of the Son, so far above us and yet so divinely near.” [ii]
Today in these who are baptized, God is creating new windows of divine light. Just as the sun shines through each of these stained glass windows creating beautiful works of art that inform and inspire us, so each of us, a child of God, adopted as God’s own through baptism, becomes a window of God’s revealing light. Each baptized person catches and reflects the light of God in the particular way each person manifests God’s life within their own personality and gifts.
When you were baptized, the heavens opened and the Spirit of God descended upon you to dwell within you forever. And a voice from heaven said, “This is my child, my beloved, with whom I am well pleased.” You were filled with the Holy Spirit. You became one with Christ. You became a light for the world, “enkindled, made radiant by the One Light of the World.” [iii]
If we could but see with the eyes of the Spirit, we could look out among this congregation and see the inner radiance of God’s light shining through every person here like light through stained glass. Every act of kindness or gentleness, every smile of relationship, every sadness and suffering endured is a refraction of the light of Christ reflected in our lives and being.
If we could but see with the eyes of the Spirit, we could look into the mirror and see the inner radiance of God’s light energized at our baptism now radiating through every molecule of our being, radiating us with beauty and intention and hope.
The fundamental truth of the spiritual life is the divine presence in creation and the divine indwelling within us all. We don’t have to do anything or go anywhere to realize that presence. We just have to take off our blinders and open our eyes.
Your essential identity is this: You are the child of God. You are God’s beloved. You belong to Christ, the Light of the World, and Christ’s light shines in you; Christ’s light shines through you. You don’t have to do anything about that except to accept it.
It doesn’t matter what has already happened. It doesn’t matter that you may have defaced that image or done things that are damaging or inconsistent with your true self. We all do. Simply return to the waters of new birth, be washed and cleansed again like a newborn child, breathe the breath of the Holy Spirit, lift up your heart, be fed by the bread of life and the cup of salvation, and be whole and light again. Be who you are.
In your baptism, something turned and it will have its way. Spirit breathed within you. You became the Temple of the Holy Spirit. Go inside, into the warmth and intimacy of God’s indwelling. Let the light of God shine radiantly through the window that is your particular personality and life. Be what you are – the light of the world, “enkindled, made radiant by the One Light of the World.” That is your inheritance. That is your birthright. That is your identity. You are God’s child, the beloved, whom God loves with an infinite, unqualified love, whom God enlightens with eternal light.
[i] Evelyn Underhill, The Light of Christ, Morehouse-Barlow, 1982, p. 10
[iii] Ibid, p. 121Download the Sermon PDF