Do you hear what I hear?

Mark 1:4-11
John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. 5And people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him, and were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. 6Now John was clothed with camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. 7He proclaimed, “The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals. 8I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.” 9In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. 10And 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. 11And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”

The Baptism of Christ Sunday / John Stiles / Holy Cross Lutheran Church / 1-8-12

Intro: Dear friends in Christ: grace to you and peace: from the One who is and who was and who is to come: our living Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.

Today we celebrate with a service of the bells. Bells call us to order. They remind us of something. It’s time to get out of bed! Time for school to begin. Dinner time! In 1624, John Donne, reminded us “for whom the bell tolls… it tolls for thee.” This was a reference to bells being rung at funerals or on All Saints Day to commemorate the death of loved ones.

The emergency alert system is a series of bells and buzzers in the event of a natural disaster or emergency. And they go to great lengths to say, “This is only a test. Repeat, this is only a test. If this had been an actual emergency you would be informed on where to turn in your community for help.” But if you ever heard that bell-like buzzer over the air, you’d know it. 

So what do we hear in our gospel lesson today? Certainly no bells a-ringing. But there is water. The current of the Jordan River, as it wraps around Jesus’ ankles and flows downstream. He’s standing there with John at the beginning of his ministry – and already he’s all washed up!

Here is no ordinary baptism. Many had come already to be baptized – to confess their sins and be washed clean. This is what water does for us.

Water reminds us of thirst being quenched. Of plants being nourished. Of dirt being washed away. Water helps move freight up and down stream. No other element is as central to basic survival than water. We all need it – from the tiniest of sea creatures to the animals and plants on land. And, we all recognize the sound of it, whether it be a babbling brook, raindrops on an umbrella or a raging sea.

And yet, through the eyes of faith, water is a sign of cleansing and re-birth. Throughout the Bible, water has been a symbol of God’s love and care for people. God saved Noah and his family from the great flood. God brought the people of Israel through the Red Sea, out of slavery, into the freedom of the Promised Land. Jesus was baptized by John the Baptist in the River Jordan, making water a sign of our identity in Christ: “You have been sealed by the Holy Spirit and marked with the cross of Christ forever.”

So there’s the sound of water. What else do we hear? The voice from heaven: “You are my Son, the Beloved, with you I am well pleased.”

I find it interesting that Jesus hadn’t even done anything yet! His career was just beginning. And yet, God was pleased with him already. There’s praise here at the onset of Jesus’ ministry. So, too, there’s praise for us, as God’s children – named and claimed in baptism: “You are my son – my daughter – with you I am well-pleased!”

And to drive his point home, God tears open the heavens, descending like a dove on him. The Greek word for “tear” is skizo. And that word only shows up one other time in the gospel of Mark. At the very end, when Jesus breathes his last.

In Mark 15:38, as Jesus dies, the curtain on the temple is torn in two, from top to bottom. Skizo. And, while there is no voice from heaven, the Roman centurion declares, “Truly this man was the son of God!”

In other words, Jesus’ ministry is bookended with heavenly terrors and voices declaring just who he is. Mark makes no mistake in pointing us in that direction.

So, what bells toll for you in life? What goes off, ringing in your ears – calling you to attention? A cell phone? An alarm clock? The bleep of an email alert? The chirp of a hearing aid, calling for a new battery?

Let’s commit ourselves to listen to the Lord this day – to listen to the water and the word. Every time you wash your hands or take a bath or shower – let those waves remind you of your new life in Christ. Every time you hear of the terrors of hurricanes, floods or tsunamis, let your heart turn to Christ, that refuge and strength we have in the storms of life. Every time you feel a snow flake melt on your cheek or jacket after coming in from shoveling – let the thought ring out – and remind you of the life-giving waters that nourish and sustain us, through the Holy Spirit.

Let us pray: O God, you created us and all that exist. We look to you for our every need. Wash us clean each day in the waters of baptism – let your clarion call come to us, getting our attention once again, that we may ring out clear the hope we have in you. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.

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