You can officially take down your Christmas decorations now. The 12 days of Christmas ended on Friday, as Saturday the church celebrated Epiphany. Epiphany recalls the wise men coming to see Jesus, and represents the revealing of Christ to the wider world. In many countries, you receive your gifts on Epiphany just as Christ received gifts from the magi. We didn’t do that in my house as a kid, but we did have the wise men from our nativity set travel throughout the living room from Advent to Christmas, finally letting them rest in the stable on Epiphany.
The church celebrates the season of Epiphany from now until Lent. During Epiphany, we hear stories that continue to reveal Christ to us. Epiphany is a time of revealing, a time where we come and see the goodness and mystery of God’s work in Jesus. The season is bookended by two smaller church festivals. At the end of the Epiphany season, we’ll recognize Transfiguration Sunday, that mystical event on a mountaintop, where Jesus begins to prepare his disciples for what is to come. But here, this Sunday, at the beginning of the Epiphany season, we celebrate the Baptism of Christ.
“But Megan,” you’ll protest, “If we celebrate the Baptism of Christ today, why didn’t we read that story?” Oh, I’m so glad you were listening just five minutes ago. You’re right: we didn’t read a baptism story. That’s because we’re reading from the gospel of John this year in the Narrative Lectionary, and John doesn’t have a baptism story. I know you might not believe me, so feel free to crack open a Bible to prove me wrong, but you won’t succeed. You’ll hear about John, who baptizes; you’ll hear John testify that he saw the Spirit descend on Jesus, which you’ll remember from other gospel accounts; but nope, John has no baptism story.
What we have instead is this quick movement from talking about John to talking about Jesus calling his disciples. And really, this story is very appropriate on this Sunday. Baptism is essentially a preparation, a claiming, a calling, a sending, a rite in which we continue to make disciples of Jesus Christ.
People like to make a lot of the calling of the disciples as a spontaneous action bringing untrained, unskilled, unremarkable people into Jesus’ inner circle. And it’s true. Through simple invitation, Jesus welcomes not the religious hierarchy or the top scholars or even anyone with any notable strengths to bring to his team. Jesus just invites them: come and see. You seem curious. You spontaneously and willingly confess faith. You bring your skepticism and incredulity. Come and see. You don’t need to do or be or understand anything in advance. Just come and see.
And this is exactly how we all come to discipleship in Christ. Many of us came to the baptismal font as babies, infants, unable to even hold our heads up much less think our way to a rational, succinct statement of faith. Instead, someone held you in her arms while the pastor and the congregation and the godparents said to you: come and see. God calls you and claims you in these waters, and we promise to keep bringing you back over and over to hear those promises, not because you’ll ever really understand them, but because you’ll always need to be reminded. Come and see. I will walk with you.
Some of us were old enough to remember our baptismal days. You actually got to say the words: yes, I choose Christ; yes, I reject evil. But it’s not like you had it any more figured out than we who came to the waters of baptism in our diapers. You heard the call to come and see, and so you did – and you kept coming, and you will keep coming, because you know that there are still greater things to see when you continue to follow our Lord.
And so we still say to each other: come and see, just as the first disciples did. One of my favorite bits of this story starts in verse 43. Jesus continues to gather his disciples, and he invites Philip to follow. But Philip does one better. He doesn’t know anything, has no clue what he’s getting into, but he’s so excited about it that the minute he receives his invitation, he finds Nathanael. “We have found him” Philip gushes, thrilled to be able to follow and learn more. And how does Nathanael respond? “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” What, are you kidding me? There’s no way that what you’re pitching is anything other than snake oil. I mean, c’mon, do you even realize where this guy is from? And Philip doesn’t care. He simply says to Nathanael, “Come and see”. And so Nathanael does.
This is our continuing call as disciples of our Lord, Jesus Christ. We do not merely answer the invitation to come and see, we also turn to others and invite them. We will never know enough or have a perfect enough faith to be an ideal evangelist. That’s not the point. The point is that we continue to extend the invitation, even to the skeptics, even to the scoffers, even to the sinful – especially to the sinful. Because when Christ said “come and see” to you, in the waters of baptism, he didn’t care what you had or hadn’t done, what you would or wouldn’t do. He only invited you: come and see.
And he continues to invite you, and he continues to invite through you. Today, in holy communion, we will gather together in a meal where Christ has promised to be present. You do not need to do or be or know anything more than that this gift is Christ, and it is for you. Just as the first disciples followed only with the invitation to come and see, so too we continue to come, hands open, ready, willing, so that we might continue to turn to others and say “come and see”.
For the invitation of Christ, which knows no limit; for the gift of baptism, which unites us all; for the joy of sharing the good news of Christ’s radical welcome, thanks be to God. Amen.