Bishop Ordinary: Rt Rev Brian R Marsh

Sermon

The Second Sunday after the Epiphany, 2011

Good Shepherd, Charlestown; Trinity Anglican Church, West Lebanon

 

Let us pray: O God, whose blessed Son was manifested that he might destroy the works of the devil, and make us the sons of God, and heirs of eternal life; Grant us, we beseech thee, that, having this hope, we may purify ourselves, even as he is pure; that, when he shall appear again with power and great glory, we may be made like unto him in his eternal and glorious kingdom; where with thee, O Father, and thee, O Holy Ghost, he liveth and reigneth ever, one God, world without end.
Amen.

 

   Later this year, according to messages I have been receiving, a certain high school reunion will be taking place. I have received word through Facebook that people identifying themselves as former classmates of mine have begun preparations for some sort of "gala" event. While I look forward to such events out of curiosity and wonder, the people who contacted me bore no relationship to people I knew in high school. Their pictures appeared on Facebook pages once I "friended" them back. I studied these pictures. Names were vaguely familiar, but the faces that stared back at me were the faces of strangers. I dug out the old yearbook. Gradually, I began to notice some similarities. But pictures really are a difficult guide to the reality of a person. You really have to be with people to know them. Each of us is different. We only recognize each other fully by being present with each other, by spending time together and by seeking to know each other. When my former classmates and I do get together later this year, I know we will recognize each other. We will no doubt reminisce about certain events and try to forget other events. But one thing will be certain: we will, once again, recognize each other as the unique people we truly are. Facebook alone can never do that.

 

   The Epiphany season reminds us of the visit of the Magi, those ancient "wise" men or astrologers who calculated the time and place of the birth of Jesus. Whatever calculations they used, they were clearly searching for God. And they found Him. They recognized Him instantly. Without the benefit of Facebook or high school yearbooks; without Google or any modern face recognition technique. They simply knew Him. It was instant recognition. They recognized immediately that they were in the presence of God. They brought gifts. And then, perhaps after casting a long and wistful glance at the Christ child, they left. They disappeared from the story of Jesus' life as certainly as if they had been buried in the desert sands. There is no further mention of them and, if anyone bothered to look for them, we have no record of it. No First Century 911 calls were ever recorded. The wise men were gone. After a long journey, they simply disappeared. They had found God and that was enough. That was all they needed. They recognized God because they knew where to look for Him. And they knew that, only by being in the presence of God, would their lives have meaning.

 

   Finding God during this season is an important lesson. But there is another lesson that is as powerful. And it has to do with God becoming one with us. We know that God became perfect man on Christmas Day. The Incarnation of Our Lord is a necessary theological concept. We must grasp this, as Christians. But it does not end there. Jesus also has a life. Like us, he goes through the normal stages of "growing up."

 

    But there is one thing that he does that seems very surprising indeed. Certainly, he matures, learns a trade, becomes fluent in Aramaic (the language of His people), practices the customs of His tribe and learns the fine points of Jewish Law. But on one particular day on the banks of the Jordan River something out of the ordinary happens; He is baptized by John the Baptist.

 

   John was the original "wild and crazy guy." Prophets are sometimes like that. It's one of the reasons they have such bad press among their contemporaries. Nobody seems to understand them while they are alive and talking. And what things they say: "repent ye" and "I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness". Prophets also do not dress fashionably and their hygiene leaves something to be desired. It is hardly a career choice that would produce shouts of joy from a person's family. Two thousand years ago, if a young person came home and announced that he – or she – was going to be the next John the Baptist, parents would send the misguided young person to the nearest First Century therapist.

 

   But John the Baptist did not choose his calling; he was commissioned by God. And he followed God's command. He stood on the banks of the River Jordan and sought to cleanse people of their sins. He sought repentance for a troubled world. He sought to heal and to renew. And then, on this particular day, a man called Jesus appeared. John and Jesus knew each other. They were related on a human level; they were, in fact, cousins. Clearly, John recognized his cousin. But there was an even deeper recognition. John recognized that Jesus was God. Standing in front of him, the man Jesus was indeed God's son. Although he was at first very reluctant, John eventually baptized Jesus. This is a startling moment. God asks to receive the holy spirit from the hands of a simple human being. This man, John the Baptist, reaches out to touch God, initiating Him into a fellowship of faith. In this way, they both submit to the power of God and in recognition that it in the union of both the human and divine that the world will be truly saved.

 

   At the ending of today's gospel, we hear of a voice from heaven, saying: "Thou art my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased." Jesus does not claim His godly roll by lording it over others, but by joining with them, just as He joins with us in our lives. He is not remote from us. He seeks to be with us at every moment, sharing our lives.

 

   We may sometime find ourselves in the role of John the Baptist. If Jesus approaches us, greet Him as you would a dear friend. And help Him to fulfill his purposes on earth, just as we will, by our faithfulness, help to fulfill His purposes in heaven.

 

Let us pray: O Lord, we beseech thee to keep thy Church and household continually in thy true religion; that they who do lean only upon the hope of thy heavenly grace may evermore be defended by thy mighty power; through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Amen.