There is an awful lot going on in this week’s Lectionary reading from the Gospel of Mark Chapter 1 verses 4 to 11.
For a start, there’s a guy on the edge of society (John the Baptist), living out in the wild, proclaiming a message about forgiveness and life change.
He has, we are told, many followers, who throng to him, to turn back from their ways and to be baptised as a sign of new life.
But John doesn’t stop there. His core message is that one day, someone else will turn up who will offer people eternal life and a baptism in the Holy Spirit that will change those who believe “…from the inside out”. (Mark 1v 8).
And, at the right time, travelling from Nazareth to Galilee to be baptised by human hand comes Jesus. It is at this point that the majesty, mystery, complexity, communion, belonging and familial relationships of the Trinity explode visibly into human history (as St. Mark chooses to outline).
As Jesus steps out of the water, the Spirit as a dove hovers above Him and the Father speaks about Him…
“You are my Son, chosen and marked by my love, pride of my life”. (Mark 1 v 11, The Message).
Imagine if you will being present at Christ’s baptism. Maybe the sight and sound of John the Baptist might have been initially enough challenge for one day but what would you have made of Jesus, a dove and a heavenly voice? A theophany if ever there was one.
I’m wondering myself if I would have been shaken to my core by the sheer “weirdness” of the happening? What on earth have I just seen and heard? Who is this Jesus character anyway? What’s His story? What might His life mean for me?
I do hope that such an encounter, personally speaking, would have given much food for thought, called for serious soul searching and a re-working of life’s priorities. After all, from the Jordan riverbank I have just witnessed the God of history step into my very earthly reality.
Or. Would I have dismissed the baptism? Found ways to explain away what I can’t quite understand? Quite possibly.
It’s telling, that the Gospel of Mark does not have a nativity story rather an explosion of sound and sight and proclamation about who Christ is and His place amidst the majesty and mystery of the Trinity. This is Holy ground, with echoes of Genesis Chapter 1 all around, and God the Father, speaking His Living Word into human reality.
Having grown up in an Evangelical church, it was common place to be told that if I believed in Christ He would be my best friend. Yes, I get this personal relationship as one way of expressing the Christian faith. But He is according to Mark’s account of His baptism, so, so, so much more than my “buddy”.
And if I had stood on the banks of the Jordan witnessing Christ’s baptism I pray I would have known that…
I was on “holy ground”, on “mysterious” ground, maybe even “troubling” ground.
And that He (Christ) required a whole life response to His call and witness.