Sermon; Epiphany 1C ; Luke 3:15-17, 21-22
Last Sunday we celebrated the Feast of the Epiphany, or, the Manifestation of Christ to the Gentiles. Epiphany is just that – a manifestation, a revealing, a sudden understanding. On that day what was manifested, what was revealed, what we may suddenly understand, is that God has come among us. The eternal, omnipotent, omniscient, God, creator of all that is, seen and unseen, has become incarnate in the person of Jesus Christ.
This is a big deal. That God became man is a huge deal. We celebrate and recognize that this event was recognized by non-Jewish foreigners, a group of people we call the wise men. They knew it was a big deal when they saw the star. Herod knew it was a big deal when they showed up at the palace. And we know it's a big deal because with the incarnation we have a focal point, an intersection, where God and man meet. We have a point where the infinite becomes finite, and where the finite learns about infinity. This is a big deal.
So here I'm going to interject a question or two: Last summer/fall our gospel passages were primarily taken from Mark. As we made our way through that gospel I said that what we heard almost always focused on one thing. Do you remember what that one thing was? It was the cross. And as we worked our way through Ephesians, I said that letter had a particular shape. Do you remember what that was? It was the shape of a funnel.
I bring up Mark and Ephesians because it proves that, while you may not remember specific sermons, you do remember the overall themes of those sermons. When you hear or read from Mark, you know he's focused on the cross, and you look for how the cross manifests itself in the passage. When you hear or read from Ephesians you will be able to envision that funnel coming down from God, or you you might invert that funnel and broadcast God's message, love, and mission, to the world around you.
Epiphany also has a theme, and that is the manifestation of Christ to the world. It begins on the actual feast day with the wise men following the star to Bethlehem and their recognition that Jesus was the foretold king of the Jews. Their God moment, or Epiphany, came both when they arrived at 204 East Main St. in Bethlehem to present their gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. There was another God moment when they were warned in a dream not to return to Herod.
The gospel readings through the Epiphany season are full of God moments, of manifestations, of epiphanies, that reveal Jesus to be God incarnate. So for the next seven Sundays we're going to be looking for those God moments.
Today is the first Sunday after the Epiphany, otherwise known as the Feast of the Baptism of Our Lord. Obviously there's a big God moment when, after Jesus had been baptized, the heaven opened, the Holy Spirit descended upon him, and a voice came from heaven saying, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well-pleased.” It almost doesn't get any more momentous than that.
But besides that, where might there be a God moment in this passage?
As I said, today is the Feast of the Baptism of Our Lord. As you know by now, this is one of the days properly appointed for baptism. Since we have none, we renew our vows. Will you continue in the apostles' teaching and fellowship? When you fall into sin, will you repent and return to the Lord? Will you proclaim the Good New of God in Christ? Will you love your neighbor as yourself? Will you respect the dignity of every human being?
This covenant, and all that is in it, is basically the outline of us trying to live in holy communion with God and others. This covenant is setting the stage for a transformation of our pre-baptismal life into our post-baptismal life. In trying to live into this covenant we are trying to remove the shell of our fallen humanity in an effort to let our godly image out. This is the God moment in today's gospel passage.
John is down at the river baptizing and proclaiming one greater than he is to follow. This person will gather the wheat into his granary and burn the chaff with unquenchable fire. Unfortunately this passage has been used to condemn people to hell, or to try and scare the hell out of people. Both are wrong.
John was baptizing people in an effort to get them to change their manner of life. Remember back in Advent when tax collectors and soldiers came to him asking, “What should we do?” His answer, in essence, was to love your neighbor, strive for justice, and respect the dignity of every human being. He was attempting to get people to make a change. He was attempting to get people to remove the shell of their fallen humanity so that the image of God as found in them could come out. He was looking to begin removing the chaff.
Chaff, for those who don't know, is the outer, protective husk of the seed. It has no nutritional value to humans, and is often burned after being separated from the seed. Once freed from the chaff, the seed can be planted, where it will grow, or be used for food, where it can nourish our bodies.
The God moment here isn't a hellfire and brimstone sermon threatening some with the eternal fires of hell. The God moment here is that, through our baptism, God is working to separate our hard, useless, outer shell to free that which will be helpful, productive, and beautiful for the kingdom.
Today we renew our baptismal vows in an effort to release our God-given nature from the protective shell of our fallen humanity. Today we take one more step in drawing nearer to God. And today we begin looking for those God moments, those epiphanies, in our everyday lives.
The incarnation is a big deal. Where will you find God moments manifested in the world around you? Keep your eyes open, because you never know where they'll show up.