+ In nomine Patris et Filii et Spiritus Sancti + Amen.
Text: Luke 3:22
Theme: Double Vision: The Son and the Spirit
Dear friends in Christ Jesus,
Christmas doesn’t fade it grows. It steadily uncovers its glory like a rose opening its petals. The Child of Bethlehem has a destiny. He will be the King of Calvary. The journey in between is what will occupy our attention during the next two seasons of the Church Year. Today is the First Sunday after Epiphany. Epiphany is a transitional season. As the wonder and mystery of the nativity sinks deeper into our hearts the identity of the Messiah becomes more clearly revealed in the Epiphany season. Epiphany means ‘revelation’ or ‘showing forth’. In the Epiphany season we focus on a number of events that demonstrate Jesus was no ordinary man, but the divine Son of God. The events include the visit of the Magi, Jesus’ baptism, His turning the water into wine at the wedding in Cana, His preaching in Nazareth, and the transfiguration on the mountain.
The initial event of our transition is the visit of the Magi. The Magi did not come to the manger. They came to the house. It was their visit that triggered Herod’s ruthless decree to kill the baby boys in Bethlehem less than two years of age. It was an indication of the inevitable conflict that would come with Jesus’ presence in the world. Jesus is the Prince of Peace, but the peace that He brings can only be achieved through confrontation with sin.
We should not be surprised, then, that in today’s gospel reading about Jesus’ baptism there is a clear warning about judgment. Luke says, “His winnowing fork is in His hand to clear His threshing floor.”1 Christ threshes the great harvest for the kingdom of His Father. The Father has given Him the authority to judge. It’s an image common to an agricultural society; it is, nevertheless, a stunning one. It runs in parallel with other harvest images of judgment such as in Revelation 14, “‘Take your sharp sickle and gather the clusters of grapes from the earth’s vine, because its grapes are ripe.’ The angel swung his sickle on the earth, gathered its grapes and threw them into the great winepress of God’s wrath.”2
There is no question about the intent of the message. The great sorting out of good and evil, the separation of sin and righteousness, the dividing of unbelief and faith, the parting of light from darkness transpires through agency of Christ. The scope is universal. There are no spectators. All must pass through the sieve of divine discernment. Christ threshes thoroughly and precisely. He makes no mistakes. He caters to no favourites. He yields to no biases. All lives lie open before Him. All motives are transparent to His sight. He separates the sheep from the goats never erring. He divides the wheat from the chaff leaving no contamination.
Dear friends, if the divine judgment against sin were not a divine certainty there would be no need for the gospel. There would be no need for the sacrificial intercession of Jesus on behalf of the human race. If sin did not make all believers deserving of hell there would be no need for a Saviour. The Child, whose birth we have just celebrated, is the Redeemer who was crucified. He rose again on the third day bringing forgiveness, life, and salvation to all who believe. This Saviour is present for us in our every need. And yet, the ranks of those who are uninterested continue to grow. Perhaps we are too well acquainted with the gospel?
There is a spiritual parallel to the common wisdom that familiarity breeds contempt. Familiarity can also dull the spiritual senses and lead to apathy. We see it all around us. We know it in our families. We see it in the rapid decline of Christianity in western culture. Materialism presses on us. Secularism tugs at us. Self-promotion and dishonesty are encouraged as means of making progress in society. Even Christians are drawn into the mindset that our lives are ends in them themselves. Spirituality is brokered as a commodity. Even God is used as a means to validate individual opinions. There is no end to the expressions of sinfulness.
Only the Holy Spirit can overcome this infirmity. Undoubtedly that’s why Jesus instructed His disciples to pray for the Holy Spirit. We find Him featuring prominently today at Jesus’ baptism. The appearance of the Holy Spirit in bodily form is significant. This action is unique. The Spirit appears in this way to give clear witness to Christ and bring glory to His name. The voice of the Father is heard audibly. The baptism of Jesus is an epiphany for the Holy Trinity. Those who long to look on the face of God see His perfect image in the person of His Son. When the disciples wanted reassurance, Philip said to Jesus, “‘Lord, show us the Father and that will be enough for us’ Jesus answered: ‘Whoever has seen Me has seen the Father.”3
So what was important about Jesus’ baptism? Jesus’ baptism was not for His own benefit, but for ours. He had no need to be cleansed from sin. It was necessary, however, that He stand in solidarity with humanity. All of Jesus’ redemptive work involved surrogacy. He did not come to save His own skin, but ours. He had no need to be reconciled to the Father, but we do. He had no need to endure suffering and death, but it was essential for our salvation.
In baptism we become the beneficiaries of Jesus’ death and resurrection. We are reconciled to the heavenly Father. And we are empowered to love our neighbour from a new, freed, perspective.
The love of our neighbour is not theoretical or optional. In life under the cross it is where the rubber meets the road. Relationships are not reconciled through avoidance or the harboring of resentment. Honesty, humility, and the willingness to forgive is the only way forward. Love goes the distance. But human love needs the strength of divine empowerment. Often we can hardly hold up under our own frailty let alone carry the burdens of others. Everyone has limited capacity. But we can do all things through Christ who strengthens us. In the hour of need He supplies us. When we realize everything depends Him everything changes. Darkness is turned to light. Crippling loads become light as a feather. What seemed to be drudgery can even become purposeful and gratifying.
Christ is the divine Lover and He always supplies what we lack. Remember what the Scripture says when He was on the threshold of His death. “When Jesus knew that His hour had come to depart out of this world to the Father, having loved His own who were in the world, He loved them to the end.”4 What does it mean that He loved them to the end except that He went to the cross! There can be no deeper love than complete sacrifice. At the cross any sentimentality of Christmas is turned to pure reverence. On Easter morning it transitions to pure joy. May the Holy Spirit increase your confidence and joy throughout this season of Epiphany! Amen.
+ In nomine Jesu +
First Sunday After Epiphany
10 January, 2016
Reverend Darrin L. Kohrt
1 Luke 3:17
2 Revelation 14:18-19
3 John 14:8-9
4 John 13:1