No media available


Genesis 1:1-5; Psalm 29; Acts 19:1-7; Mark 1:4-11

Historically, both the story of the Magi seeking to find and honour Jesus and the baptism of Jesus by John were connected to Epiphany celebrations. Today we hold up both as manifestations – the meaning of the word Epiphany, or revelations of Jesus as the sovereign-child for all the world, and as the beloved God-child, anointed with the Spirit in baptism.

And it is important to recognize that both these Epiphany stories have political and personal dimensions for us to hear that are connected, including in the Affirmation of Baptism that we join in today, that guide our worship and our mission together.

Magi from afar diligently searching for the child-king revealed to them by a star, seek out Herod who then schemes to find the child and deal with this threat to his power. Herod and all Jerusalem are afraid, we read, at the news brought by these astrologers from a foreign land of a child born to be royalty that they are seeking. In contrast to Herod’s fear, the Magi sincerely and persistently search for the child, guided by a star and by God. And their search and the gifts they bring, even as outsiders, or maybe particularly because they are outsiders, from the perspective of the story, are the fulfillment of ancient scripture. And their actions in finding the child Jesus, express a right and faithful response, to be overwhelmed with joy, and to honour the child with gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh, gifts fit for a king. And in departing, to return to their country by another way, being warned in a dream not to return to Herod and ruining Herod’s evil plan to deal with this rival child king. The Magi worship the sovereign child, and they act to resist evil, the faithful way then and now for seekers of Jesus. 

And in the second Epiphany story, Jesus, appearing from nowhere, joins those coming to the wilderness from Jerusalem and Judea to receive from a wild prophet a baptism of repentance and forgiveness of sins from outside the ruling religious authority. And the heavens are torn apart, and Jesus is anointed with the Spirit and proclaimed God’s beloved well-pleasing son. As author Ched Myers in his influential commentary on Mark, Binding the Strong Man, says, “It is precisely upon this figure, of these doubtful social origins, in this remote location, that the divine favour falls. … Could this unknown Nazarene villager be the fulfillment of (the prophet) Isaiah’s ancient longing? …A new creation begins with the renunciation of the old order. …(and Jesus’) mission will be to challenge the oppressive structures of law and order around him.” (pages 128-130) And that calling begins immediately in the next scene of the gospel, with Jesus driven by the same Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by and contend with Satan, the symbolic ruler of evil and oppressive powers.

Jesus’ baptism and rising out of the waters of the Jordan is the epiphany or revelation of his identity from obscurity to God’s beloved well-pleasing child, anointed with God’s Spirit. And begins Jesus’ God-given vocation and purpose as proclaimed by the prophets, to bring justice to the nations. And joined to Jesus in baptism, this same epiphany and identity is proclaimed for each of us. Arising out of the waters of baptism, you are, we all are, God’s beloved, well-pleasing children, and anointed with the Spirit, chosen, and called to contend with and resist the oppressive and evil powers of this world that oppose God and harm our neighbours and all creation.

These ancient Epiphany stories revealing Jesus as God’s chosen for the world and Jesus’ mission for the freeing of the world, hold both personal and political claims on us, affirming who and whose we are, and our calling to renounce and resist evil for the wellbeing of our neighbour and this world. In the Affirmation of Baptism that we will share and the invitation to touch the waters of Baptism, we begin with a renunciation of evil, “the devil and all the forces that defy God, the powers of this world that rebel against God, the ways of sin that draw you from God.” We renounce them. And confessing what we believe together in the Trinity of Creator, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit, we renew the promises of Baptism, calling and committing us “to live among God’s faithful people, to hear the word of God and share in Jesus’ supper, to proclaim the good news of God in Christ through word and deed, to serve all people, following the example of Jesus, and to strive for justice and peace in all the earth.” We do, and we ask God to help and guide us.

Joined in the waters of baptism to Jesus we affirm a personal and political or vocational claim on us, to seek God, and worship together with joy, and to resist evil and oppression, sharing God’s love and seeking God’s justice and peace for all creation.

           And we are affirmed as God’s beloved, that through water and the Holy Spirit we are given “a new birth, cleansed from sin, and raised to eternal life.” And that God would stir up in us the gifts of the Spirit, “wisdom and understanding, counsel and strength, knowledge and honouring of God, and joy in God’s presence,” for the fulfilling of our baptismal calling as beloved children of God to resist evil in love for this God’s world. An epiphany, a revelation of God in Jesus and the Spirit of love within each one of us, from birth to death, from death to new life, this is who we are, whose you are, by God’s grace.       

I was called on short notice to preside at a funeral last week following sudden and tragic circumstances for a family. With only limited time to speak with one family member and learn what I could about their loved one who had died, and complicated relationships and grief, I chose a reading from Luke of the woman suffering from hemorrhaging for twelve years who reached out to touch just the fringe of Jesus’ clothes. Believing if she could, she would be healed, and was. And kneeling before Jesus, trembling and fearful, Jesus says to her “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace.”  And I read these words to them from Nadia Boltz Weber from the book we have been studying, Accidental Saints. I introduced her as another Lutheran Pastor, but a more unconventional one whom I admire, 50 something, heavily tattooed, a cross-fit trainer, a recovering addict who swears a lot, and understands pain and suffering and forgiveness and salvation not in abstract ways as many of us who haven’t suffered as much have the luxury, if not a real benefit, of doing, and who speaks with a clarity about God and Jesus and the Spirit’s life-changing and life-saving grace that God offers to us all. She writes: As sacred as love is, human love is never pure or perfect…. (page 108-110)

And I said: “I hope and pray these words speak to you as we remember and honour (your loved one) today with a whole range of feelings and thoughts that are part of a complicated grief and often messy human lives and love that we share.

To trust this for (your loved one) in the tragedy of sudden and too soon death, commending them to this grace, this limitless love of God in Jesus’ Spirit, from the moment they entered this world to the moment they left it, loving them back into the arms of Creator, for eternity.

And I hope and pray these words speak to you, for you in this time of grief and loss, with this same gracious promise and invitation to you, that we need only touch the fringe of Jesus, and our messy, blessed, and broken lives can also experience healing and wholeness as God desires for us now, and forever.”

What I was affirming for this person and their family in their grief, is the Baptismal promise and vocation revealed to us in today’s Epiphany stories of Jesus to which we are all joined and filled with the Spirit by God’s grace. And it is why we affirm this baptismal promise of belovedness and calling often in worship together, why we invite others and celebrate their sharing in this sacramental gift, and by Luther’s encouragement, why daily, every time we touch water, we remember the gifts of baptism and our being God’s beloved children, and our calling to live in the Spirit, resisting and renouncing evil with love, every messy, wonderful, blessed, broken day of our lives, filled with God’s epiphanies of this truth.

I have decided this year as part of my personal devotion and prayer, to read a poem by Mary Oliver each day from a collection of her poems titled, Devotion. If there is one theme, it is that epiphanies of God are all around us, every day, especially in the natural word and God’s creatures, but in everything and everyone. Belovedness and calling, promised by God in Jesus by the Spirit, for us and all to sense and live by God’ s grace. Let it be so, in all our relations. Amen.