The Gospel: Matthew 3:13-17
Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan, to be baptized by him. John would have prevented him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” But Jesus answered him, “Let it be so now; for it is proper for us in this way to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he consented. And when Jesus had been baptized, just as he came up from the water, suddenly the heavens were opened to him and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”
Prayer: Lord, you have promised that when two or three gather in your name you will be present with them. We depend on that promise tonight and pray that you will move among us. Lord, we pray that you have inspired Mike's preparation, that you will enliven his presentation and that you will empower our application. Amen
The Message: Welcome everyone to the Season of Epiphany. Epiphany actually took place on Friday according to the church liturgical calendar. That was the date set for us to celebrate the arrival of the Kings / Magi from the east at the home of Mary and Joseph.
So, today is one of those combined celebration opportunities that happens for us on particular Sundays because of the confluence of various moments in time set up on the calendar which coincides. Today we could celebrate Epiphany, itself, or we could celebrate The First Sunday of Epiphany or we could celebrate The Baptism of Our Lord.
Well, just so you know, I am crazy enough to try to do it all today. We are drawing elements from all three celebrations into this one service.
I have to say that I am going to be asking you to be prepared to challenge some of your long-cherished images as we go through this message this morning. Sometimes we need to question what we understand so that we can be open to experiencing something new.
That is the essence of an Epiphany. To be able to see and understand something in a new and fresh way. To challenge our existing perceptions and to comprehend things in a new way.
One of the most familiar Christmas images is of the stable, with the shepherds and their sheep looking adoringly at Mary and Joseph, with the Wisemen and their camels hovering in the background. We have seen any number of these depictions around town over the past few weeks.
Well, let's start there. According to the accounts in Scripture, the shepherds did come, but most likely without their sheep. They only stayed a short time that night before they returned home.
Then the Scriptures also say that the wise men or magi came sometime later. Matthew's Gospel talks about them coming to the family in a home. Seeming to indicate the family had found accommodation in another place after the birth of Jesus.
So with that in mind let us look at Epiphany. Of course, then we have to understand that we often use the word epiphany with several different meanings.
So when we talk about The Epiphany (with a capital E) we are referring to the designated celebration which takes place on January 6 and is observed as a church festival in commemoration of the coming of the Magi as the first manifestation of Christ to the Gentiles.
Then we have several definitions of an epiphany (with a lowercase e) which we associate with a personal experience. We suddenly grasp or understand something in a new way.
1) an appearance or manifestation, especially of a divine being (like an angel in the Old Testament)
2) a usually sudden manifestation or perception of the essential nature or meaning of something (we might call that a revelation. If someone has an experience of the Holy Spirit in healing or answered prayer)
3) an intuitive grasp of reality through something (such as an event) usually simple and striking (we might interpret what happened to the disciples at Pentecost this way. All the things that Jesus told them and they thought they understood suddenly have a new sense of reality. Jesus Christ is who he claimed to be.)
4) an illuminating discovery, realization, or disclosure (Some might say this is what happens when we discover that we have fallen in love.)
5) a revealing scene or moment (this could be what happens in a doctor's office when a couple is told they are pregnant)
So, I would like to ask you: "Have you ever had or experienced an epiphany?"
It could have been in any of the ways that I just described. It could have meant a change in your comprehension of your world or your life, or perhaps even your perception of yourself.
Whatever the experience, you, your world, and your understanding of all of those things changed. At the same time, there was a change in expectations or demands on your time, your resources, your capacities, and your willingness.
Ask anyone, who has discovered that they are in love if their world changed because of that discovery. Or talk to someone who has had an experience of the Holy Spirit in Healing, or in answered prayer. Or if you meet someone who identifies with the disciples on Pentecost. Those who have had that experience of a sudden new perception of the reality of the teachings of Jesus Christ. All that you thought you understood, suddenly is new and fresh and real!
There is a corresponding desire to respond to the new understanding of the demands of faith. Suddenly we want to engage, to give, and, to talk about our faith in a new and dynamic way.
There is a great resource which you can either get in book form, or you can go online and find it, that I would like to recommend to you all. An Episcopal Dictionary of the Church has all kinds of very interesting information. It is a place to seek out information when you are not sure how to define something. Or you want to know the history of something. Or if you are looking to check your understanding of something.
The Dictionary describes the period of the life of church we are in right now this way: Epiphany Season: A season of four to nine weeks, from the Feast of the Epiphany (Jan. 6) through the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday. The length of the season varies according to the date of Easter.
The gospel stories of this season describe various events that manifest the divinity of Jesus. The coming of the Magi is celebrated on the Epiphany.
The Baptism of our Lord is observed on the Sunday after Epiphany.
The gospels for the other Sundays of the Epiphany season describe the wedding at Cana, the calling of the disciples, and various miracles and teachings of Jesus.
The Last Sunday after the Epiphany is always devoted to the Transfiguration. Jesus' identity as the Son of God is dramatically revealed in the Transfiguration gospel, as well as the gospel of the baptism of Christ.
We are called to respond to Christ in faith through the showings of his divinity recorded in the gospels of the Epiphany season.
I love the beginning of that last paragraph: "We are called to respond to Christ in faith..."
The green slide summarises what "responding to Christ in faith might mean" it says so well doesn't it: "Repent, Look for signs of the Kingdom, and follow Jesus."
So, what might stop us from doing just that? Well, unfortunately, I think our being comfortable might do that. I think the John F. Kennedy quote gets to the heart of the matter: "If you look throughout human history...the central epiphany of every religious tradition always occurs in the wilderness."
Jesus went out into the wilderness to be Baptized by John, and to be tempted by the devil. Both times he experienced epiphanies that changed his relationships. After his Baptism and his temptation in the wilderness - after those epiphany moments - his ministry became public and he openly began to proclaim that the Kingdom of God was at hand.
You will notice in the Communion service that I have restored a piece of our liturgy that got lost somehow through the process of our Covid bulletins.
After we have shared the peace and before the offertory hymn, just before I move back behind the altar to prepare the table I will say: "Walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself for us, an offering and sacrifice to God." Ephesians 5:2
I really feel that it is very appropriate that we are restoring that particular piece of our liturgy on this Epiphany, First Sunday of Epiphany, The Baptism of Our Lord. As it calls and challenges us to our own epiphany, or epiphanies on this day.
Bishops & Father Mike