Alex Zuber, Harrisonburg, VA

Warm-up Question

What is the most urgent or pressing thing in your life right now?  (It could be a good thing or a challenge)

Tear It Open!

For all the build-up, Christmas just flies by too fast!  Some of us (me included) may have been singing along with Mariah Carey’s “All I Want for Christmas is You” since November 1, but Christmas is still over too soon.

I know I could slow down and savor the moment more, but I’m always far too delighted by the frenzied rush of Christmas morning.  It doesn’t seem to matter what age I am, when I get a package wrapped in bright, shiny, joyful paper, I just want to tear it open as fast as I can!  Whether you’re in a family that has everyone open their presents all at once, or one where. you patiently wait to open one present at a time, while everyone watches, there’s a magical thrill to tearing open the wrapping paper.

As joyful as this practice is each year, I always feel a bit of sadness as I carry huge garbage bags loaded with Christmas wrapping paper out to the street for the trash collection.  Not just because Christmas is over, but because this joyful tradition is inherently wasteful.  The site Brightly says, “The U.S. is estimated to produce 4.6 million pounds of wrapping paper every year, and half of that—approximately 2.3 million pounds—winds up in landfills.”

And it’s not just the paper in those trash bags! “Ribbons and bows are a problem, too: If every family reused two feet of ribbon, it would save enough to tie a bow around the planet.”  It pulls at my heart to balance  this joyful tradition of tearing open presents with the deep call I feel to better steward creation.  Perhaps we can have both.  We can all take simple steps to find eco-friendly paper, reuse some paper and bags, wrap more creatively with repurposed paper, and look into reusable cloth alternatives.

Discussion Questions

  • What is your practice of present opening on Christmas morning? Do you tear into presents with urgency or not?
  • Before reading this post have you ever considered the waste that is created by the holidays?
  • What can you and your family do to take a more sustainable approach to the holidays next year?

Baptism of our Lord

Genesis 1:1-5

Acts 19:1-7

Mark 1:4-11

(Text links are to Oremus Bible Browser. Oremus Bible Browser is not affiliated with or supported by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. You can find the calendar of readings for Year B at Lectionary Readings.

For lectionary humor and insight, check the weekly comic Agnus Day.

Gospel Reflection

Particularly as we read the Gospel of Mark, I can’t help but think of the urgency of tearing open gifts on Christmas, because Mark is a gospel that gets down to business quickly!  Christmas? Nope.  Magi and a star? No. Jesus as a child in the temple? Nah.  Mark doesn’t have time for such things!  Our gospel writer launches into the gospel with urgency, saying simply “The beginning of the Good News of Jesus Christ,” and then doesn’t let up for 16 chapters.  (Even the Easter story includes  no original post-resurrection appearances by Jesus!  It just ends.)

In Mark, Jesus is on the move, and Jesus is in action.  He’s teaching, healing, casting out demons, and proclaiming that the Kingdom of God is near!  Before this happens, John the Baptizer appears, offering a baptism of repentance  and proclaiming the coming of one who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.  Jesus comes to John and receives this baptism for himself in solidarity with the people, and just as he emerges from the water, the heavens are “torn apart and the Spirit descends like a dove upon him.” Did you hear that?  The heavens are “torn apart”, not merely “opened” as they are in Matthew and Luke.  This is a dramatic and urgent scene!

Jesus is always getting into the action, and Mark is particular about showing that God—just like a kid of any age on Christmas morning—is tearing open the heavens like wrapping paper to declare the belovedness of Jesus.  And you too, are beloved!

As John offered a baptism of repentance, we receive the forgiveness of sins through our baptisms.  We are washed in the Holy Spirit through the love of Jesus.  God proclaims over the waters of our baptism that we are beloved as well.  God is indeed pleased to call us God’s children.  And this baptized life calls us to walk with both a spirit of repentance,  which transforms our hearts, and  a spirit of  joy and hope for all creation.  Just as we can rethink the joyful practice of Christmas paper to better care for our world, so our baptism calls us to live into our belovedness by tearing apart the ways of sin which divide us from one another, and obscure the presence of God.

God is urgently, joyfully tearing open the heavens to be among us, to proclaim belovedness over creation through the joy and hope we share in loving one another.  Dear one, YOU are God’s beloved, and with YOU God is well pleased!

Discussion Questions

  • Baptismal candidates declare “I renounce them!” to the powers of evil. What evil(s) do you renounce? (Mark 1:9-11)
  • Jesus’ baptism was the beginning of his ministry; how was your baptism the beginning of yours? (Mark 1:10-11)

Activity Suggestions

  • Make a to-do list this week, and then sort it by what is most urgent.  Then read the five points of the Baptismal Covenant, below.  Discuss with a friend how these things can be done through each of the urgent tasks you’ve identified.  If it’s hard to imagine these things reflecting your baptismal covenant, how can you reprioritize, or reimagine these activities as an extension of your baptismal calling?  (Covenant: to live among Gods faithful people, to hear the word of God and share in the Lords supper, to proclaim the good news of God in Christ through word and deed, to serve all people, following the example of Jesus, and to strive for justice and peace in all the earth)
  • Baptism is our adoption into God’s family as God’s child, and God is “very pleased (Mark 1:11) that this is so.  As a way of testing how your life would be affected if you always had a reminder of that gracious truth, take an index card and write the words of verse 11, starting with your own first name, “_____, You are my beloved child;  with you I am well pleased.”  Fold this index card and carry it around with you all week, in a pocket or purse where you will come across it often.  Then pay attention to how hearing this word from God – a reminder of your adoption – changes the way you think about yourself and the world around you. (Credit: Dave Delaney, VA Synod, ELCA)

Closing Prayer 

We give you thanks, O God, that through water and the Holy Spirit you give us new birth, cleanse us from sin, and raise us to eternal life. Stir up in us the gift of your Holy Spirit: the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord, the spirit of joy in your presence, both now and forever. Amen. (From the “Affirmation of Baptism” liturgy in Evangelical Lutheran Worship)