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Epiphany / Baptism of Jesus, Year B
South Sydney Uniting Church
January 10, 2021

Genesis 1:1-5, Mark 1:4-11

‘God's creative, revelatory words’

At Epiphany the church celebrates that Jesus is God embodied in human form. Epiphany is a moment when we see something which has been previously hidden. A surprising moment, when something concealed in darkness comes to light. A moment when God names his child Beloved.

Today we encounter words spoken by God which create order and form, organisation and identity.

In the creation account in Genesis, God’s speech brings the light out of darkness, names it as good, and separates unformed, empty, watery chaos into night and day, morning and evening. It is God’s words which fashion and organise the creation. The OT scholar Walter Brueggemann suggests two possible readings of the beginning of Genesis: the first is reflected in the common translation “In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth…..”. An alternative reading renders the first Hebrew word as a temporal dependent: “When God began to create, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep…..”. In other words, “God began the work of creation by operating on the already existing ominous material of chaos”. 1 God’s Word/words create order out of formless matter. God’s spirit moves over and interacts with the watery darkness. God speaks light into being and separates it from that dark void.

In Mark, God names Jesus as he emerges from the waters of his baptism: “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased” (1:11). This account paints a striking picture of the truth of Jesus’ humanity and divinity. As Jesus comes up from the watery depths of the Jordan, the Spirit of God breaks through from heaven and descends upon him. God speaks, and in that moment Jesus’ identity is revealed - an identity which is based on relationship with God.

I find myself drawn to reflecting on God’s words of creation and revelation for a particular reason at this time. There have been many times in my life when I have been lost for words. It’s an understandable response to sudden, surprising, shocking news. The chaotic, destructive voices and actions in the USA which we witnessed on the feast of Epiphany in the USA have left me, and I suspect others, struggling to find words. It is a disabling, disorienting state to be in.

But into that space of chaos and disorientation, God speaks God’s word. God orders, names, makes sense of what we cannot. And we can respond by first listening attentively and faithfully. In listening for God’s word, we participate in a continual process of creation and revelation. The theologian and writer Rowan Williams puts it like this:

God made all things by an act of self-communication, and when we respond to his speaking, we are searching for some way of reflecting, echoing that self-communication. But the same is true in all our relationships, not just in worship. If God has made all things by the Word then each person and thing exists because God is speaking to it and in it. If we are to respond adequately, truthfully, we must listen for the word God speaks to and through each element of the creation - (this is) the importance of listening in expectant silence. 2

We do this work of listening personally - and also collectively, when we gather. In the liturgy - literally “work of / for the people” - we hear God’s words to us, and we respond to that word. Then we prepare to go out bearing witness to what we have heard. When we pray and participate in the liturgy, we hear and respond to God’s creative, revelatory speech.

This is not the only way we hear God’s voice but it seems that right now, liturgy is a particularly important and necessary work of ours. It is our work, for ourselves and for the world. The work of listening for, and responding to, God’s creative, ordering, revelatory, light-bearing Word.

May God’s words bring sense to confusion, and light to chaos, this day. Amen.

Allison Forrest


1 Walter Brueggemann (2014) Texts for Preaching: a lectionary commentary based on the NRSV Westminister/John Knox (97).

2 Rowan Williams (2005) Where God happens: discovering Christ in one another Boston: New Seeds (82).

Homily by Allison Forrest