As you will be aware, new lockdown restrictions come into place 5th January 2021, for a period of at least six weeks. While the restrictions appear to be less stringent than in March the changes do affect the church and our ability to meet together for public worship.
I understand the disappointment and frustration this causes, I feel the same. However, I don’t have access to the same information that those advising the Government do and so have to trust that they are giving wise counsel and these latest restrictions, while annoying, are for the greater good.
In the meantime, in person worship has been suspended at St Columba until at least the 24th January. We can still worship at home, united in the Spirit, in the presence of God who is everywhere. We can use the worship booklet or from the 17th January connect with us online via a zoom link, so please email and ask for a password link.
When we make our service available on Zoom. Remember to let me know if you are interested so I can send you the zoom links ahead of time. You can join using your computer or you can join using your telephone, both work equally well and everyone is welcome.
I will continue to hold you in prayer. If you need help during this time please contact myself or an Elder and we will try our best to support you. My contact details are below. We will keep you informed via the weekly notice sheet.
Take care, stay safe and God bless.
Reading 1: Genesis 1:1 - 5
In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, 2 the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters. 3 Then God said, ‘Let there be light’; and there was light. 4 And God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness. 5 God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day.
Reading 2: Mark 1:4 – 11
John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. 5 And people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him, and were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. 6 Now John was clothed with camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. 7 He proclaimed, ‘The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals. 8 I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.’
9 In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. 10 And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. 11 And a voice came from heaven, ‘You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.’
The opening words of Genesis give a dramatic account of how the world began. Probably written during the Babylonian exile, the people reflected on creation and in this account we see a God who is transcendent, above all that was being created. Away from their homeland God felt distant. With the absence of the temple, and being among people who worshipped other gods, there was something familiar and comforting in the rhythms of each day.
Some scholars would argue that it is more accurate to translate verse 1 as “In the beginning when God began to create the heavens and the earth”. Creation is seen as an ongoing activity and there are certainly other texts and imagery to support this. At the start of this creation story God took something formless and created something formed and substantial. The Spirit of God was present, sweeping over the waters and then God spoke.
In an instant light appeared. Light was different and new, but darkness still existed, it was not destroyed or replaced by light. In this newly created world, there was a place for darkness as well as light and God used both to form the rhythm of time, day and night.
Moving to the gospel reading we have Mark’s introduction to the person of Jesus.
For 400 years the prophetic voice had been silent in Israel then suddenly John appeared, dressed for the dessert with his simple, if not strange diet, looking exactly like the people expected a prophet to look like. John was the talk of the town and people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people from Jerusalem went out to see him. The focus of John’s ministry was to prepare the people for Jesus and what was to come.
John proclaimed one message, “a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins”. This message applied to everyone regardless of status or religious upbringing. It was time for the people to begin to prepare for a new future, it was time to acknowledge that their sin was keeping them separated from God and they needed to change the direction their lives were going. But John’s message was not one filled with gloom, there was also hope. John said “the one more powerful than me is coming after me” and these words reignited the hope of a Messiah.
It is worth taking a minute to think about the location of John’s activities. He was in the wilderness and the importance of this setting not have been lost on the people. The wilderness was a place of beginnings, where God led the people out of slavery and the place from where they entered the promised land. It was also thought to be the staging ground for God’s future victory over the power of evil. The wilderness would have been remembered as a place of disobedience, judgement, and grace and these would also become key themes in Jesus’ ministry.
Repentance is a positive thing, a turning towards God. John called Israel to acknowledge God’s judgement on them. The river Jordon was the border between the promised land and the wilderness. Being baptised, passing through the waters again, a new, forgiven Israel would emerge. When Jesus came to John for baptism, he was consenting to this calling of Israel. He was not seeking salvation for himself but joining the renewal of Israel and God’s unfolding purpose for the world. Baptism for Jesus was an act of humility. Jesus humbled himself by entering the ranks of sinners, and took his stand with them, just as later he would die for them, isolated and alone. His baptism started him on the servant road of obedience which led to his death.
During the actual baptism three things happen that tells us more about Jesus.
The first is that the heavens were torn apart. The idea of the heavens being opened was not new and was often a sign that God was about to speak or act. But here the heavens were not opened but were torn apart and the difference is significant. Something that has been opened can easily be closed. Something that has torn cannot be easily returned it its former state. This could be understood as God coming into our world, the barriers that have separated us from God have been torn away and God is now in our midst and on the loose. Things cannot now go back to the way they were.
The second is the descent of the Spirit. The Messiah was said to possess the Spirit of God and the Spirit came fluttering down on Jesus “like a dove”. The descent of power from heaven that begins God’s reign did not swoop down like an eagle but came quietly and gently like a hovering dove. The same spirit that hovered over the waters at the creation now descended on Jesus bring liberation to a world held captive by the chaos of sin. The hovering of God’s Spirit on Jesus was a sign that a new creation had begun. This time the Spirit hovered over a person rather than a formless void, suggesting that through Jesus, God intended to transform humanity.
Thirdly, the voice of God said “You are my Son, the beloved, with you I am well pleased”. Jesus was the only person who saw the heavens being torn open, and we can assume that only Jesus heard the voice speaking. God spoke in the second person, “you are” as if speaking directly to one person. Compare this to when God spoke at the transfiguration when he said “This is…” the third person, introducing Jesus to the others present.
The voice did not only tell Jesus that he was the object of God’s proud love, but the voice signified God’s delight in Jesus as the agent of a special mission, a mission that would bring salvation to a weary world.
In many ways we have two creation stories in this week’s readings: one that reflects the creation of the world and one that begins the creation of the kingdom of God. There is drama in both, and we can see some connections between the two readings with references to the Holy Spirit and God speaking. But I wonder if there is not a third creation story here too, the new creation in us, made possible because of Jesus. The call to repentance spoken by John the Baptist, echoes down through the years, and we have heard the same call in preaching of all the great revivalists. Today this call to repent is spoken to us, not to simply turn away from what is evil but to actively turn towards God. In turning towards God, we enable God to change us, to shape and mould us into disciples, into the people God needs to help with the continued creation of the kingdom today.
There is much to challenge us in the idea of being renewed by God, being co-creators with God, but as we journey with Mark this year, the stories he shares about Jesus and his ministry will guide us. However, today is a chance to stop, reflect on the drama in our readings and turn ourselves over to God to be recreated by him through our acts of repentance. Amen.
• Think about your relationship with God – what areas need renewal or change?
• Thank God for Jesus who made a new relationship with God possible.
• Pray for a revival in our city and our country
Red, yellow, tan, copper, light green, beige, Different trees, different colours, Some branches bare, some still laden with leaves, Lord, the changes in the trees remind me of the changes in me, I am not the same now as I was this time last year, I am not the same in the morning as I am in the evening, At times I want nothing more than to come into your presence and worship you, At other times I go on my way without a thought for you.
Lord, as the trees become bare and the leaves flutter to the ground I know that this is temporary and new life will follow after a period of rest, Lord, this reminds me that there are parts of my life that need to die so you can become a greater part of me.
Lord, the evergreen trees remind me of your faithfulness Faithfulness through the different seasons of my life Lord, I thank you that you are evergreen.
Lord I thank you for Autumn and the lessons that it teaches. Lord I thank you for the colour change and the promise of new life that it brings But I thank you most of all for the evergreen……