Dear friends, we are among those who have been called to the Epiphany that Jesus Christ is Lord and Saviour of all, prepared to share our faith. May the grace and peace of our Lord be with you always.
Epiphany is defined as a moment of sudden and great revelation. In our Christian journey, our lives are filled with such moments of sudden and great revelation that God is with us, God loves us, and God has an ultimate plan for us. A plan worked out in the life and salvation of our Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the living God.
The Apostle John records the words of John the Baptiser after his epiphany, “There is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” Let’s join in a word of prayer: Lord God our loving Father, today, we are together to celebrate the epiphany of both the humanity and the divinity of Your Son, ‘the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.’ We worship You and we praise you for the gift of salvation received through His human birth, life, death and resurrection. Guide our time together so that we may hear your call to each of us and follow your plan for our lives. Gracious heavenly Father, hear our prayer for the sake of our risen Lord, Amen.
Over Christmas, we followed the human birth of Jesus. What I hold onto from the Christmas worship is another witness of the Apostle John, “the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.”(Jn 1:14 NRSV)
Scripture reveals that Jesus was born in Bethlehem, and dedicated in the temple at Jerusalem. He was taken to Egypt for protection, raised in Nazareth, and at just the right time, arrived at the Jordan river to begin his mission by being baptised.
Something new happened on the shores of the Jordan River. God sent John the baptiser out to prepare the way for the Messiah to be revealed. To baptise with water in recognition of repentance for the cleansing of the soul. Then along comes the Messiah himself. But at first John didn’t recognise his cousin as the long-awaited Messiah.
How true it is that “God is constantly preparing his heroes; and when the opportunity comes, He can fit them into their places in a moment.”
After the light dawned for John, and before Jesus was baptised, John faced a challenge. Should he follow God’s plan and baptise Jesus, or kneel himself to be baptised by Jesus. We know the answer of that. And, of course, after Jesus was baptised, John saw the Spirit of God descend upon Jesus like a dove, and Matthew tells us that John heard the voice of God, “This is my Son, the beloved, with whom I am well pleased.” As we read today, John proclaimed “I have seen it and I tell you that he is the Son of God.”
Tradition has it that John was an Essene, with traditions that called for daily washing and prayer. But only for members who accepted the Essene way of life and were accepted into their community. John’s baptism was new, in that he invited anyone with a repentant heart to receive baptism. John’s baptism was still Old Testament baptism though, and not the gift of God received in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
Jesus allowed himself to be baptized because He wanted to demonstrate to everyone that He was truly human. God chose to save the human race by becoming human while retaining the exact imprint of God’s divinity. We see His humanity in a very real way as Jesus was baptized.
The main point of today’s celebration for me is not when and how Jesus was baptized. The why of his baptism is important for me. It shows us his humanity. It shows us that Jesus does understand the human predicament of sinner and saint. In Baptism we are made saints, living as children of God. But at the same time, we are living the sinfulness of this world. We are at the same time,’ both saint and sinner’, as Luther says. In baptism, we receive the Holy Spirit, who remains with us throughout our lives in this broken world, just as Jesus promised.
Christ Jesus fulfilled all the righteousness of God, by entering humanity for our salvation, teaching us about God’s love in words and in miracles, and demonstrating God’s love by dying for us on the cross, being raised to life eternal, and returning to his rightful place at the centre of God’s Kingdom.
Something new happened in Capernaum as well. Remember, “God is constantly preparing his heroes; and when the opportunity comes, He can fit them into their places in a moment.”
From the reading in Acts, Peter is called to attend the home of a Gentile, Cornelius, to present the Gospel. Like John the Baptiser in the presence of Jesus the Messiah, Peter was at first reluctant. Peter had not yet witnessed Christ Jesus to Gentiles. But God showed Peter his plan for the salvation of all who would believe.
And so, Peter followed God’s plan and spoke with the passion of John, before he baptised the family of Cornelius. Just as the Lord had revealed to John, Jesus Christ baptised this new family of believers with the Holy Spirit even before water was poured and words were spoken. An act of God, demonstrating the authority of the Son of God, and fulfilling the epiphany of faith for both Jew and Gentile. And Peter’s response is recorded in the reading for today: “I now realize how true it is that God does not show favouritism but accepts people from every nation who fear him and do what is right.”
In our lives, we can trust our baptism. We can trust the authority of Jesus Christ over our lives. We can trust the guidance of the Holy Spirit who speaks to our spirit the very wisdom of God. We can trust that God is preparing us to be heroes too. And when the opportunity comes, He will fit us into our place in his time, whether a moment or a lifetime. So we shouldn’t worry about when or how this will happen. Just trust our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.
Some time ago, I discovered a terrific little metaphor for the event of epiphany that will prepare us to respond to Christ with faith, hope, peace and love.
There was a pastor from a small rural congregation who visited an old farmer from time to time in an attempt to share the gospel with him. Each time the farmer would tell the pastor, “I believe in God. It is impossible not to when you look around at the beauty of this earth and the way in which life is created. It’s just Jesus I don’t understand. Why would a perfect and all-powerful God have to come down as a man, and then die, just to make things right.” The pastor always struggled to come up with an answer that the farmer would find satisfactory. It’s just a matter of faith.
Then one night, as the farmer was sitting in his living room, he heard a thump on his window. He went to see what it was and outside he saw a group of birds floundering in the snow. They were trying to get into the warmth but they couldn’t figure out how, and so they were dying in the snow.
So the farmer went outside, opened his barn doors, turned on the lights, and tried to herd the birds into the warmth of the barn, because he realized it was their only hope for survival. But the more he tried to direct them the more they scattered. At that point the farmer thought, if only I could become one of them then I could lead them into the warmth. At that moment, he had an epiphany, and he began to understand faith that we struggle to put into words. That God did for all of us what he could not do for the birds. Enter our humanity to bring salvation.
In our Baptism, faith begins as God declares we are his. Our faith begins a journey for us as we live in Christ and trust him for our salvation. It is a trust that is played out in all the circumstances of our lives, through every new year of our lives. A constant epiphany of “the glory of the Father’s only Son, full of grace and truth.”
We can be joyful that we are Christians. We are children of God and people of the Saviour who are comforted by the Holy Spirit every day of our journey through the new year ahead. We can trust that God is preparing us to be heroes too.
May the grace and peace of God, which passes all our human understanding, keep our hearts and minds in the calm assurance of eternal salvation in our living Lord, Christ Jesus. Amen.