Origin Stories [Epiphany 1B: Baptism of Our Lord]

The Rev. Jeremiah Williamson
Genesis 1:1-5 & Mark 1:4-11

Origin Stories

There is just something about the beginning of a story.  My son, Oscar, has a book called Marvel Super Heroes Storybook Collection.  The book is comprised of twenty super hero origin stories.  Every story is a beginning.  There is the story of Peter Parker and the Hall of Science and the radioactive spider bite that imbued him with his spidey senses.  There is the story of Bruce Banner becoming the Incredible Hulk after being exposed to gamma rays.  There is the story of how Norrin is transformed into the Silver Surfer by Galactus, devourer of worlds.

The stories, these origin stories, are great stories.  They are stories of outcasts and underdogs entrusted with great power and, therefore, great responsibility.  They are stories of unlikely courage and strength.  They are modern myths that give us creative lenses through which to view ourselves and the world.

And even though the stories are compelling without qualification, they gain their significance because there is more to the story.  The origin story is just the beginning.  The rest of the story is why we care about the origin story.  We care about it because it is not also the final chapter.  For example, if Ant-Man had been stepped on and squished the very first time he shrunk his full-grown human body...  Well, the story would not be a super hero origin story; it would, instead, be a weird story of the wacky death of a mad scientist.  The story is in Oscar's super hero book because there is more to the story – there are battles won, battles lost, lives saved, crimes prevented, heartbreak, and redemption.  It is in retrospect that an event becomes an origin story.

“In the beginning...”  An origin story.  THE origin story.  And why is this story, this creation story at the beginning of Genesis, THE origin story?  Because God did not stop at Day One.  We read and tell the story of creation, this story of a God who ordered a universe from chaos, because there is more to the story.  There is a Day Two.  There are days three through seven.  The story goes on.  There are battles won, battles lost, lives saved, tragedies averted, heartbreak, and redemption.  And the God of Creation was, and is, present for it all – all of the ups and downs of human history.  The story of God did not stop in Genesis one.  It continued.  It is still happening. 

It was this origin story, from Genesis, that for centuries has been a source of strength and inspiration and wonder.  This story was told when life was overwhelming, when exile seemed it would never end, when chaos threatened to swallow the people alive.  They went back to the origin story to remember, to remember that their God was still powerful, to remember that their God could still bring order to the chaos of life.  Because that is what God does.  And that is what God has done since the very beginning. 

The God who created the heavens and the earth did not quit, did not stop, did not leave.  That same God still hears the prayers of the people.  The God who said, “Let there be light” is still making light of the darkness in our world.  The God who was in the beginning will be with us at the end.  But it all started, “In the beginning...”

The beginning: “In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized...”  It is Mark's way of doing an origin story.  Unlike Matthew and Luke, who both begin with Jesus' birth, Mark's Gospel begins Jesus' story in the waters of baptism – in the Gospel story we heard today.  And like all origin stories, this story matters because the Jesus story does not end in the River Jordan. 

The story goes on.  Jesus left the water; he left the water to begin his public ministry.  There are healings, and parables, and miracles.  There are lives changed and lives saved.  There is the devastation of the cross.  There is the hopelessness of the grave.  There is the victory of the Resurrection.  There is the living Christ still present in the hearts and lives of those who love him.

But first there is this origin story.  A story of water.  Spirit.  And a voice.  God's voice, saying to Jesus: “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”  It is everything Jesus needed to carry out the work which God had given him to do.  The baptismal event, this origin story, became Jesus' message, his ministry, his life.  What God told Jesus, Jesus told others: God loves you.

Your origin story is not unlike Jesus' origin story in today's Gospel reading.  Sure, the heavens were not torn apart as you came out of the water.  And probably there were no doves.  But the message is the same.  The message is that you are accepted; you are loved.  And because you are loved by God, you can live the rest of your story.  Baptism is your origin story.  Each of us who have been plunged into the sacred waters, were reborn there, born of that first love, created anew by the Creator.  And in that primary event, we are blessed by God with everything we need to carry out the work God has given us to do.

But your story does not end with your baptism.  That is your origin story.  After baptism, there is work to do.  Your baptism, your origin story, is meant to become your message, your ministry, your life.  What God told you, you are called to tell others: God loves you.  David Lose says, “This is why I think baptism is so incredibly important, because it offers us the acceptance... of the Creator of the Cosmos and thereby empowers us to accept others in turn. Baptism reminds us that wherever we may go and whatever we may do or have done to us, yet God continues to love us, accept us, and hold onto us.”[1]  That is why we remember our origin story, that is why we remember our baptism.  So that we can live the rest of the story. 

God loves you, accepts you, is holding on to you.  That is written into the beginning of your story.  That is your starting point.  That is everything you need.  So, live the rest of the story.  Your origin story is amazing: reborn in the water, sealed by the Holy Spirit, marked as Christ’s own forever.  Live a life that is worthy of that origin story.  Live a life that leads others to the waters of baptism, to that place where they can find what you already found: a new beginning.      

[1]   http://www.davidlose.net/2015/01/baptism-of-our-lord-b/