This year, Christmas Day and New Year’s Day both fell on a Sunday. Many people stayed home from church, busy with opening presents or sleeping in.  If you weren’t here on the Sundays following Christmas or joining us over facebook, you may have missed a crucial part of the story – the visit of the Wise Men. Their visit to meet the newborn king caused a great deal of chaos for Jesus’ little family – King Herod was threatened by the possibility a new king who would usurp him, so he sent out his guards and police to track down the baby. Mary and Joseph were warned to flee and Jesus ended up spending his formative childhood years as a refugee in Egypt. Once Herold died, and his son Archelaus replaced him, the coast was clear and Mary, Joseph and Jesus (and perhaps sisters and brothers of Jesus) returned to Israel and tried to blend into the scenery in the little village of Nazareth. I am sure the trauma of fleeing for their lives made a profound impression on Mary and Joseph. They probably tried to keep Jesus’ special nature very quiet. They didn’t want any more negative attention.

            So, many years passed before Jesus announced himself as the Messiah.  In the meantime, his slightly older second cousin John started his work. John drew crowds to the banks of the Jordan River and told people to “Change their lives because God’s kingdom was here.” It was time for them to repent for their sins and start living faithful lives. John baptized them to show they were washing away their sins and reorienting their lives towards God – they were being reborn in the baptismal waters. John was a character – he wore camel-hair clothing and ate locusts and wild honey. He lived in the wilderness. He was devout in a very serious way. And, he fulfilled the prophesy that someone with the prophet Elijah’s spirit and power would come and prepare the way for the Messiah.

            Finally, when the time was right, Jesus went himself to be baptized by John. Hear how the event unfolded as we read from Matthew, chapter 3, verses thirteen through seventeen:

The Scripture         Matthew 3:13-17

Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to be baptized by John. 

But John tried to deter him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?”

Jesus replied, “Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness.” Then John consented.

As soon as Jesus was baptized, he went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, 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, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.”

Here ends this reading of the world of God for the people of God. Thanks be to God. Amen.

Let us pray: May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all of our hearts be acceptable in thy sight, O Lord, Our Rock and our redeemer. Amen.

The Message                                  Possibilities Unfolding

            There is a really churchy word, a word we don’t use in our regular day-to-day lives, that is part of the story this morning.  The word is “The-oph-a-ny.” Say it with me: “the-oph-a-ny.” Four syllables. I know the people who were at lunch bunch this week know this word because we talked about it, but have you ever used it before? The-oph-a-ny.

            A theophany is when God visibly manifests in-person.  A theophany is when a person, a human being, has a personal encounter with a deity. It is when God breaks into our present reality in a temporal and spatial form – God appears in this time and place.

            In the Old Testament, we have several examples of God appearing to men and women – God was present in the burning bush and talked to Moses. God later met Moses on Mount Sinai and handed him the tablets with the 10 commandments. God led the Hebrew people through the wilderness as a pillar of cloud and a pillar of fire. God came and was with Elijah as a gentle whisper.  A theophany is when God comes into the world in a visible and present form.

            A theophany occurred when Jesus was baptized. Jesus and John the Baptist and everyone who was lingering on the shares of the River Jordan saw God – they glimpsed God looking like a dove swooping down upon Jesus. And, they heard God say: “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.”

            This was the event that introduced Jesus to the world – This was the event that kicked off Jesus’ ministry to the world as the messiah.  With God’s blessing and announcement of who Jesus was, with the appearance of God in the form of a dove, the ministry commenced.

            Of course, it took a little while for word to spread. Jesus walked away from his baptism and walked into the wilderness. He needed 40 days to pray and to prepare for the work ahead.  He needed 40 days to ponder what was to come. He was tempted to escape his destiny, to escape his destiny, but Jesus accepted his role as the Messiah.

            When Theopanies occurred, the witnesses were unprepared. There was no warning. There was no plan. Moses was tending sheep in the wildness and just happened upon the burning bush. The Hebrew people were in the wilderness already when God started leading them around as a pillar of cloud and a pillar of fire. John the Baptists and his followers were doing their thing on the banks of the Jordan River when the Spirit of God alighted on Jesus. The people were doing routine, regular things and then God interrupted their lives.

            We probably won’t be prepared when God interrupts our lives. God has a habit of showing up when we least expect God to appear. But, when God does interrupt our lives, when God sends us messages in our  dreams or sends undercover angels to our doors, it is important for us to be ready to say Yes to God—to listen to God’s command to us, to listen to God’s direction for our lives, and to say Yes. Moses didn’t run away from the burning bush and keep tending sheep. Jonah tried to run away from God, ended up in the belly of a fish, and then had to do what God wanted anyway.  Jesus didn’t tell John “thank you very much for the baptism, I feel great, now I am going to return to Nazareth and pick up my hammer.”  When God appears, when theopanies interrupt our lives, our faith compels us to say yes to God….to listen and obey.

            By listening to God, we will fulfill the greatest opportunities in our lives. Like Jesus, we want God to be well-pleased with us. We want to honor God and serve God when we are put to the challenge.

            May we do so with love! Amen. 

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