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Three years ago, I had the opportunity to travel to Israel with a group from Christ Church Fredericka in Saint Simons. The trip was led by a priest, a Rabi, and a Presbyterian minister. I know this sounds like an opening to a joke. No, we did not walk into a bar. We did, however, walk together through the most sacred places on Earth, and the most conflicted. Within a confined area in the Old City of Jerusalem are the three most sacred sites for the three main religions in the western world: The Temple Mount, The Dome of the Rock, the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, where three faiths residing together: Judaism, Muslims, and Christians. The city is a cacophony of sounds and smells and languages. Muslim chants rang out at various times of the day marking a time of prayer; incense floated in the air of the sacred buildings we visited; Jewish men and women roamed the streets properly attired reflecting their faith tradition. And each is determined to claim his own territory with ferocity and pride and sometimes with anger.

I remember on our third day into our trip meeting an Imam. We met with him in an abandoned stall in a marketplace. It was obvious that we were not welcomed: Our guide exchanged emotionally charged words that I could not understand with men at the market and with the Imam’s handlers until finally the Imam appeared and we were allowed to speak with him. As our guide translated for us his words, the Imam made it clear that our country should keep out of the affairs of Israel. I knew after this trip that there will never be peace in the Middle East.

One of the day trips we took was to the Jordan River. The River flows roughly north to south through the Sea of Galilee and on to the Dead Sea. We stood on the banks of the river looking over to the country of Jordan. It was a surreal moment: Behind us was a large fenced deserted area that sported signs warning us of buried land mines. Across from us was an Arab nation and between was the river where John baptized so many people including Jesus. A small band of love between such conflict. This baptism was Jesus’ turning point to begin his ministry.

I bring this up because today we celebrate the baptism of our Lord. Our gospel tells the story of those present when John baptizes Jesus and hears God’s voice proclaiming, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.” (Matthew 3:17) “And the Spirit of God descending like a dove alights on him.” (Matthew 3:16) God is telling the world that Jesus is the fulfillment of scripture and prophecy.

To best completely appreciate today’s readings, I must begin with the readings from Friday: The Epiphany of our Lord. An epiphany is about something hidden that is made manifest coming into the forefront. And while the Israelites were waiting for the coming of the Christ, only a few knew of the recent birth. But good news travels quickly, especially something as powerful as this.

On Friday we read Matthew’s account of the Magi traveling from the east to Jerusalem. Traveling following a bright star. The Magi were not sure what awaited them at the end of their journey. They were seeking to understand the star and what it meant that a king had been born. Their faith in following that star brought them deeper into the mystery to understand.

This is the nature of not only their journey but ours too. They were following the star faithfully. They followed the star until it stopped. They stopped when it did. Not when they saw Jesus. When the star stopped., and they knew then that the truth would be revealed. They still do not understand everything, and yet, they followed the light of that star and led by their faith to the mystery until it was revealed. This is a perfect example of faith seeking understanding. This is an important theme, not only during the season of Epiphany but in our daily lives.

And this brings us back to today’s reading from Matthew on the baptism of Christ in the river Jordan. Just as the Magi were on a journey of faith, Jesus too is on a journey of faith. He may not have known exactly the future. He too is walking in faith. He asked John to baptize him, to fulfill what has been prophesied. He knew that this was his destiny, his calling. And afterwards, he will know more. John and the rest of those standing near, the whole world, learned of Jesus’ destiny. THIS IS MY SON. He is the one. The truth is revealed in those few words.

For Christians, Baptism is our initiation. It and the Eucharist are the two main Sacraments of our faith. We are baptized and marked as Christ’s own forever. Thus, begin our faith journey. And in our journey, things are revealed. Just because we have been baptized does not mean that we understand it all, any more than the people standing at the river Jordan did either. Both baptism and the eucharist represent a mystery of God’s love. Knowing that we are saved but trying to live into what we individually are saved for in our own faith journey.

Christ’s baptism made manifest of who Jesus is to those who were there and to those who are followers of the way. It is a revelation of who WE are as we live into our own baptismal vows. We are a people of Christ. We are a people of the light. To follow the Christ who came as a light to all nations, a gift from God to his people. Through this gift we are saved. This is a season of light and a time to recognize that we are all continuing our own journey of faith, trusting to follow the light just as the Magi did, maybe not always understanding but always trusting.

In a few minutes, we will baptize Corey Benjamin Cooper into the body of Christ. Using water that Fr. Kurt will bless. With a bit of water from the Jordan River that I brought home from my trip.

We have no idea where Corey’s faith journey will take him. However, as people of the light, we are committed to helping Corey live into his faith just as we help each other live into ours. The paschal candle is lit in the back of the church behind the baptismal font. Representing the light of Christ in the world. After Fr. Kurt pour the baptismal waters onto Corey’s head in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, he will anoint him with chrism oil, making the sign of the cross, marking him as Christ’s own forever. We will then light a small candle from that Christ candle and hand it to Rebba and Jason as a symbol of Christ’s light now shining on Corey, around Corey and through Corey. We will all be gathered around him in that light as a church and a people of that light.

This is the beginning of Corey’s journey and it marks a time in ours. A people of faith seeking understanding. We, like the Magi, are called to step out on faith to follow the star, to lead even when we are not sure where we are going, for we are in a liminal space that is leading us to the glory of God and the answers to the mystery.

And I say to Corey, this is just the beginning of your journey! Thanks be to God!

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