January 7, 2007 Speaker: Pastor Braun Campbell
Verse: Matthew 2:1–2:12
Epiphany / The Baptism of Our Lord
Matthew 2:1-12; Luke 3:15-22
Sometimes, seeing is believing. How many of you are familiar with ESPN and its SportsCenter program? I don't really keep up with most sports, but SportsCenter has got to be one of the greatest time-saving resources known to mankind. They have legions of producers and interns watching hours and hours of sports footage, seeking the most spectacular highlights - you don't have to sit around and watch everything for yourself. Things you have to see to believe. Even if you're not a sports fan, perhaps you've heard of YouTube, a website that allows pretty much anyone to post pretty much any video - staged productions, real-life footage - some of which you have to see to believe. If you don't surf the Web all that much, maybe you've seen some things in your daily life here in the DC area that just have to be seen to be believed. If you're on the Beltway, for example, and someone decides that they need to head onto a left-hand exit to I-66 west - from the right-hand lane! In our lives, there can be many things that cause us to fall back on the cliché that "seeing is believing."
Today (Saturday) remembered as the Epiphany of Our Lord on the church's calendar. This day marks the revelation of Jesus to the Gentiles, as we heard in Matthew's Gospel. "Epiphany" literally translates out to "coming up of light" - dawning. Light is coming into the world.
But we should probably get some of our facts straight. Even though we have three kings at our manger scene, does that mean there were three? No - the Bible never tells us the exact number of magi. But tradition has come to remember three kings because of the three gifts that they brought to Jesus. Gold, denoting royalty. Frankincense, another very valuable commodity, pleasing to the sense of smell and recalling God's holiness. And myrrh, which was often used in embalming bodies in preparation for burial. Three gifts that start to reveal the life that Jesus would live. But were the magi kings? Probably not. They were more likely astrologers or astronomers who watched the sky for signs and portents. And did they show up on Christmas, meeting up with the shepherds around the manger? Although it makes for a pretty picture, the text takes us to a different conclusion. The Greek word used for Jesus is "child," rather than "infant," so the visit of the magi came some time after Christmas.
Even though these magi were not from Israel, the light was revealed to them. They saw the star at its rising and set out. They may have heard of a great king that would be born from the people who had once been in exile in their eastern lands, but could they have known what they would find? They go first to Jerusalem, the capital - makes sense if you're looking for a king! But when they check at Jerusalem, they are redirected to Bethlehem, where the star led them to Jesus.
The light has dawned. Tomorrow, here at St. John's, we'll be taking down all the Christmas decorations, including the many lights that we've had hanging around the sanctuary for several weeks. All the lights go away. But the Light which has been revealed to the world, to the magi so long ago, is not going away. Even though we won't have the Christmas tree with its crowning star, even though we won't have our brightly-lit garlands decking our halls, the light stays: this is the light that we have been given.
The Baptism of Our Lord
Today (Sunday) on the church calendar marks the Baptism of Our Lord. As Luke reports in his Gospel account, Jesus, having been baptized in the Jordan River, is praying. You might note that John the Baptizer isn't even mentioned in this part of the text, because his role was to prepare the way for Jesus, who now takes "center stage" in the story. Heaven is opened, and the Holy Spirit descends in bodily form like a dove, and the Father speaks, proclaiming Jesus as His beloved Son.
Why, though, does Jesus, the sinless Son of God, need to be baptized, especially since John's baptism was one of repentance, for the forgiveness of sins? Why is the Father pleased? Jesus is fulfilling his mission. He who is without sin is taking our place in his baptism. He is standing in for us in his baptism, just as he would later take our place on the cross. In his baptism, Jesus unites himself with us. God's Son, stepping in for mankind? You'd have to see it to believe it!
And so comes the revelation. God the Father speaks, revealing to the people there and then, and to the people here and now, that Jesus is His Son.
He has given us a baptism - His Word joined with water - that delivers the forgiveness of sins and pours out His Spirit on us.
Jesus, the Son of God, became man - not just for a small group of people in Israel 2,000 years ago, but for all the world. For us, here and now. Jesus, the light of the world, has been revealed. In our baptism, the light was given to us.
We haven't responded to this revelation in the way we ought. More often than not, we hide the light under the "bushel basket," as the song goes. We have been called to live lives that show the light that now lives in us in out actions and in our worlds. We have been called to God's mission.
What is mission, though? Recently, I heard people talking about how much time we should spend focusing on "missions:" twenty-five percent, fifty percent?
But that's not the right way to think about it. Everything that we do as the church needs to be for God's mission of reconciliation: one-hundred percent.
Reconciliation. It's a fancy word, but it's an important one. It speaks of healing, of a restored relationship, of bridging a gap. The mission of God is the reconciliation of the world - us - to Himself, through Jesus, God as He has revealed Himself. Jesus, whose birth was revealed to the shepherds at Bethlehem, whose dawning was shown to the magi from the east, who was baptized for us in the Jordan, who died on the cross for us, and who rose from the dead for us.
In baptism, we are reborn as light-bearers. We are called to shine the light into the entire world, carrying it out from inside the walls to those who dwell in the darkness - especially those in our own back yard! But the light must shine within our walls, too: we are equally in need of hearing the message of reconciliation that God has revealed. And we need to be equipped to better take the light out into the world in our lives. In the coming months, we'll be exploring spiritual disciplines in our worship services and in a retreat during the time of Lent. The newly reformed Evangelism Team will be working to help equip us as we, the people of God, go about the mission of the church. Most importantly, we are equipped by God as we are touched by His gifts in the hearing of His Word and in the reception of His sacraments of Baptism and Holy Communion.
The Light that was revealed to the magi so long ago that was again made known at the Jordan River is here with us now. He brings sight to our eyes and guides us on our way.
In Christ, believing is seeing. Amen.