Epiphany 1 Luke 3:21-22
New Year is the chance to start again, to wipe the slate, take on a new personality, a new hair dye, new clothes, a new attitude, a new course, to move house, to get married, to have a baby, to make a difference.
It is the chance to draw a line and turn away from the past and what is unhelpful and to move onto to better times.
I will swear less, eat my greens, become an opera singer this year! Beginnings are important in our lives and we often celebrate them.
A birth with a blessing or christening, maturity with a partnership, getting older with down sizing. People like Rudolf Steiner realised that even cutting a new tooth was a very important event for a child.
And so it is in our spiritual journey. At the beginning of any major faith beginning there is a ritual of renunciation, a turning away and of purification and commitment to a new way of being. For the Jews this involved a purification in water, one of the lakes or rivers. Hindus do the same in the Ganges.
We can reckon to date the commencement of the ministry of Jesus, to AD 27-29. God came to Zechariah's son John in the desert - a place of reflection, retreat and revelation. Probably the wilderness is the area north west of the Dead Sea, leading into the Jordan valley. John's ministry covered the whole of Jordan, preaching - communicating, proclaiming. It was authoritative-a baptism by immersion-dunking, but also an overwhelmed in/by/with the Spirit. This represents a turning away from doing wrong, the ouward representing the inward change.
Repentance in Hebrew involves a turning back / returning to God, rather than an expression of sorrow. Good deeds are not a necessary component of the inward act of repentance. Forgiveness does not rest on the deeds (fruit), but on a turning towards God.
John was baptizing Jews with water, but one more powerful was coming who would baptize with the Holy Spirit. The passage speaks of judgment, a cleaning out, gathering up and burning- alluding to the rubbish dump outside Jerusalem that was constantly burning and often used to image the horror of judgment.
Serious spiritual action is taking place on the margins of the story, in the desert. Unlike the good news of the State. We are looking for and telling a different good news.
Jesus goes forward from the crowd to be baptized, an anointed leader who proclaims a kingdom. A challenge to the Imperial gospel. And a voice from off stage, and says ,”This is my Beloved son”, quoting Psalms, the Suffering Servant of Isaiah, this Jesus of Nazareth! From Galillee a poor, marginal place comes God’s Son. Jesus' baptism was followed by the temptation and a call to the wilderness.
The Spirit usually comes upon us to set us hem apart to lead different lives from the crowd. It is often symbolised by a dove, for us of peace and so a sign of the Spirit is peacemaking. The Spirit comes on Jesus, sets him apart, to proclaim good news to the lost, to heal the broken hearted and announce freedom to the captives, Isa.61:1.
So this year go out of your way to make peace, to speak to those who do not speak to you, to greet those who do not greet you and to begin to be changemakers, peacemakers.
As we start this New Year we commit ourselves to Gods path and Gods resolutions even though its an uphill slog because we are on a soul journey that takes a lifetime.