January 15, 2023
Just last week we were celebrating the coming of the Magi to see the child who had been born the King of the Jews. Remember these guys? And now just one week later we flash forward 30 years to this young man who now comes to his cousin John to be baptized.
Remember Elizabeth and Zechariah? This is their son John. The child who leapt for joy in his mother’s womb when Mary touched him. You can think of this day, Baptism of the Lord Sunday as almost Epiphany the sequel. Epiphany part II The Promise Revealed.
But let’s flashback to those 30 years from our scripture today. We are once again in the house as the Magi presented their gifts and bowed down and worshipped him. The Greek word presented indicates an offering made to God.
We don’t know if the Wise men knew what their gifts meant. But as we talked about last week they have meaning for us still. And understanding what those gifts stood for will awaken us and help us to rise and shine as we come today to a different Epiphany, an aha moment, a revealing moment in which we receive or renew the gift of baptism.
In case you missed last week here is what we said about the gifts.
First. THEY GAVE GOLD TO HONOR Jesus AS KING.
Gold also symbolizes the Gift of Loyalty and Obedience Have you allowed Jesus to be Lord in all areas of your life? What gold can I bring to Jesus today? What do I hold onto as precious that I can give to the Lord?
What that gift says to us also is that we are to give God our first and our best not our last and leftovers whether that is our prayers, or presence or financial gifts or service or witness or anything else.
Second THE WISE MEN GAVE FRANKINCENSE TO HONOR JESUS AS GOD. Frankincense was an aromatic incense used in the worship of God in the Temple.
Frankincense also symbolizes the gift of Trust and Worship We said our response to Jesus’ being our high priest is faith. Our gift to Jesus is our trust that he makes this possible. Our gift to Jesus here is our prayer — for prayer is the ultimate act of trust, of turning over our situation to God. Our gift to Jesus here is our worship, to honor him as God, the one through whom we have life and existence, as well as hope and salvation. One of Jesus’ greatest desires is that we offer up our lives as a sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God That we live for God and cultivate a deep relationship with Him. Create a daily time of quiet that we should spend with Jesus – in prayer and Bible Study. This is often the hardest time to find. As we live busy lives, this is the first thing that gets pushed to the bottom of the pile. Is this the gift you can bring to Jesus today? Your gift of time?
The magi were overjoyed The message said they could hardly contain themselves. When we bow down, there should be so much joy that we can hardly contain ourselves. Many people come to church but they never worship. Worship is all about giving and not just the offering.
Third THE WISE MEN GAVE MYRRH TO HONOR JESUS AS SAVIOR.
And Myrrh for his humanity. Myrrh was an ointment used to embalm bodies to retard decay.
Myrrh also symbolizes the Gift of Service and Sacrifice
We are called to bring Jesus the gifts of service and sacrifice. We are called to serve. We serve Christ through our gifts of time and energy and resources. We serve Christ when we serve one another. We serve Christ when we give sacrificially of ourselves, when our service costs us. That’s what sacrifice is — costly service. Ultimately, we are being asked to sacrifice ourselves — to give the gift of ourselves to those around.
It means sacrifice on our parts as servants. Maybe ministry won’t look the way we think it should or maybe it means we have to go out of our way or our comfort zone. It means to us as a congregation that everybody is better than somebody. And that the church exists for service to the body and the world and not to serve us.
We have to remember that one day this child’s chubby hands would be torn open by the nails of a cross. We have a need to offer the Christ our lives because he was willing to die for us. When we die to ourselves and lose our life for him we show he is the King of our lives.
We are coming close to our 1-year anniversary together at the beginning of February. We are about to have our leadership retreat and work on our vision for the future. And each year I spend time in a practice of choosing a word for this new year. The title of a chapter in a book if you like. We are about to begin closing one chapter of our church In which the word for me was RESTORE.
When I arrived in February we were still scattered and struggling to return. We spent that spring and summer restoring our ministry and programs along with restoring relationships.
And begin looking to the next. What is God calling us to do together next? The next word I think is…RENEW
Renew our relationship with God and renew living into our vision and mission. Isaiah 61
What if each of us covenanted to put as much effort into our church life as we do our work, sports, or social life. It would mean in our personal life that we don’t stop thirsting for the word of God, the heart of God, the promise God wants for our lives and our church.
Do you really thirst for that? Are you thirsty for living water? Come to the water.
Isaiah 60: 1 says Arise, shine; for your light has come,
and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you.
2 For darkness shall cover the earth,
and thick darkness the peoples;
but the Lord will arise upon you,
and his glory will appear over you.
Rise and Shine.
Now we are two weeks into the new year. How is your prayer life? How is your bible reading plan going? Your worship presence? How is your financial giving becoming more extravagant generous? Come to the water. Rise and Shine. How will you serve in deeper ways this year? And what does your witness look like? Still being salty and shiny? What about being in a small group?Come to the water. Rise and Shine.
Now flash forward 30 years and Jesus stands in the Jordan River about to be baptized. Maybe he is thinking about the day the Wise Men brought their gifts as his true gift is about to be revealed. The real reason Wise Men would come from so far away to see a helpless baby is about to be fulfilled. Revealed in his baptism. An Epiphany of a whole new kind.
Mark 1 tell us 4 John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. 5 And people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him, and were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.
9 In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. 10 And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. 11 And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”
As we do every year we gather together today to remember and reaffirm renew our baptism. Once a year most United Methodists and others have a Service of Baptismal Renewal like this one. Sometimes we forget how important that moment was in our lives especially if it was long ago. Do you remember what it felt like, the anticipation? the life change, the hope of a new beginning? When you promised to give your whole life to Christ, not just the parts on the side? When you confessed Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior?
The time when you said it is time to change. It is time to go a different direction. My life has to change…I can remember that moment in my life even though it took several years to get fully there…As some of you read my Facebook post on New Years’s Eve Every year you know that I spent it when I was sixteen fighting for my life in Vanderbilt hospital.
It was at a retreat called Resurrection, ironic enough, that I would consider an ending instead. An obvious cry for help from a teenager who didn’t know what else to do anymore.
And after a phone call to my parents from the girl I liked I was on my way to the hospital and then by ambulance to Vanderbilt for experimental medicine back then.
Flash forward 5 years and I was getting ready for my baptism. It was a long time in coming from being in Vanderbilt to standing at the MTSU Wesley Foundation receiving Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior. It is a moment I have always kept very close in my heart.
I wonder did the Magi keep the Christ Child in their heart when they returned to their part of the world. Or did the experience fade away with time until it was just a distant memory. The coming of the Wise Men revealed to the world a Messiah for all. The coming of Jesus to the Jordan to be baptized revealed to the world that he was the Son of God. And our baptism reveals to us that God wanted to claim us as one of his very own and cleanse us so we could begin a new life. "Baptism points back to the work of God, and forward to the life of faith."
MLK said Faith is taking the first step even when you don’t see the whole staircase.
Did you know that Chinese bamboo produces little outward growth for the first four years of its life? In its first year you see no visible signs of growth in spite of providing water, fertilizer and sunshine.
In the second year (again), there is no growth above the soil. The third, fourth year…still show no signs of anything happening.
Your patience is tested, and you begin to wonder if our efforts caring for and watering the tree will ever be rewarded. They start to doubt ourselves and question the value of our efforts.
But then finally in the fifth year – something amazing happens… And even though it's puny and pitiful on top, there is something powerful happening underground. In the fifth year, the tree grows eighty feet in six weeks!
But did it really grow 80 feet in six weeks? Or was the little tree growing underground developing a root system strong enough to support it is outward growth in the 5th year and beyond?
Growth takes time. It doesn’t happen all at once. But we have to actually cultivate our soul. It won’t just happen on its own. If you want to grow you are going to have to put some effort into it. But we have to understand that the root comes before the fruit. And that if the bamboo had not developed a strong foundation it could not have sustained its life as it grew.
It is going to requires us to rise and shine. It's not about achieving, it's about receiving. Because God's world works in a different way. Jesus received the gift of baptism from John and God was revealed in that moment. We receive the gift of the Holy Spirit and then we are able to do things we are resolved to do. And in this still New Year what kind of fruit is going to be revealed in us? Are we going to hear a voice from heaven speaking to us saying this is my son, my daughter with whom I am well pleased?
What are you going to do to live out the covenant you made with God on the day you gave your life to him? What direction are you resolved your life is going to head this year? Is it going to lead towards Christ or are you going to be led away from him?
On this weekend honoring MLK Jr he said a lot of thought-provoking things but this one stands out the most as we arise and shine…
Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that.
Are you going to continue to snooze or wake up from your alarm? Are you going to rise and shine? And give God the glory?