Thursday, 14 January 2016
Sermon January 10, 2016 Epiphany & the Baptism of Jesus
It is always a bit of a surprize to me when we celebrate the Baptism of Jesus following so closely on Epiphany—the visit of the Wise Men. How did Jesus get to be a mature man/God about to begin his public ministry so soon after we celebrate his birth? Of course we have very little information in scripture about his early life, other than his visit to the Temple in Jerusalem when he was twelve years old. So perhaps the people that put together the church calendar were on the right track.
The day of the Epiphany was only last Wednesday so we are celebrating both the visit of the Wise Men and Jesus Baptism this morning. At first glance there doesn’t seem to be much of a connection between the two events other than both being events in Jesus life that are recorded in Holy Scripture. However, if we explore both events I believe there is a connection between them that should be explored. Both events deal with Jesus’ identity.
The Epiphany in which the three wise men or Magi come to pay homage to the infant Jesus reveals to the world who Jesus is. The Magi are astrologers—the scientists of their day. They have seen the evidence that a king of the Jews has been born and have come to worship him. They are Gentiles; representatives from the non-Jewish world who have come to acknowledge him as king. They bring him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Now these are not the gifts you would usually bring to a child but they know this is not a usual baby. These gifts are portentous; there reveal the path that Jesus will follow.
The gift of gold is appropriate for honouring a king. It was valuable in Jesus’ time as it is in our time. Gold is used in the crown of a king and signifies him as the king of the Jews. The frankincense or incense was traditionally used in worship dating back to the Tabernacle in the exodus. It is given by the Wise Men who acknowledge Jesus’ holy/priestly nature. Finally we have Myrrh. This is an essential ingredient in Holy anointing oil which is used in the anointing of both kings and priests. It was also used to anoint and embalm the dead and so it foretells that he will be a willing sacrifice for us and for the world. Here we have the Gentile world coming to acknowledge Jesus and proclaim that he is and will be king, prophet, priest and the Pascal Lamb. The Magi—the representatives of the Gentile world have identified who he is for the world.
The baptism is another time when there is identification. In the account of the baptism we hear of the voice from heaven saying, “You are my Son, the beloved; with you I am well pleased.” Jesus is identified as the Beloved son of God the Father. Therefore in the baptism and the Epiphany we have Jesus identified by earth and heaven. He is the Beloved son of the most high God; the king of the Jews and the high priest who will be the willing sacrifice who will redeem the world.
Baptism can be understood as that entrance into the body of Christ. It identifies us as Christians, members of the body of Christ when we are baptised in the name of the Triune God—Father, Son and Holy Spirit. That identifies us as people who are in relationship with other members of Christ’s Church. But is also identifies us as people who are in relationship with God.
David J. Lose, the president of Lutheran Theological Seminary in Philadelphia addresses the idea of baptism as identification for each of us:
Baptism teaches us who we are – God’s beloved children – and confers upon us the promise of God’s unconditional regard. In an era when so many of the traditional elements of identity-construction have been diminished – we change jobs and careers with frequency, most of us have multiple residences rather than grown up and live in a single community, fewer families remain intact – there is a craving to figure out just who we are. In response to this craving and need, baptism reminds us that we discover who we are in relation to whose we are, God’s beloved children. We belong to God’s family, and baptism is a tangible sign of that.
Baptism, then, is wholly God’s work that we may have confidence that no matter how often we fall short or fail, nothing that we do, or fail to do, can remove the identity that God conveys as a gift. Our relationship with God, that is, is the one relationship in life we can’t screw up precisely because we did not establish it. We can neglect this relationship, we can deny it, run away from it, ignore it, but we cannot destroy it, for God loves us too deeply and completely to ever let us go. Again, in an age when so many relationships are fragile or tattered, it may come as good news that this primary relationship remains solid and intact no matter what. In fact, trusting that this relationship is in God’s hands, we are freed to give ourselves wholly and completely to the other important relationships in our lives.
All that is reassuring as well as challenging. It is reassuring because we know that God is always there for us whether we realize or acknowledge it. It is challenging because of the responsibility that each of us has to respond to God and maintain our part of that relationship with God just as it is a responsibility to maintain any relationship we have. We have to hold up our part of the relationship and not neglect it. We do that by doing just what you are doing today; gathering as the body of Christ in Christ’s name to worship God. But that alone is not enough. We need to do our part daily to strengthen and deepen that relationship through prayer and reading of scripture. We also are called to be the people God and the body of Christ in the world—to let them know that we are Christians by our love. To give back to God a part of what is God’s in our care for all of God’s creation. We are called to love the world; to love our neighbours as God has loved us and continues to love us. Amen