The Wise Men & The Baptism of Our Lord

Sermon from Sunday, January 7, 2024

The Christmas Season has ended, the packages have been delivered, the decorations put away for another year and now we are left in the quiet reality of this baby named Jesus. Who was He; Who is He still and why does it matter to us today?

Yesterday, January 6th, the church celebrated the Feast of the Epiphany which is the day that commemorates the visit of the three wise men to the Holy Family; it was a visit that further revealed to the world that the child Jesus was a king and not just any king but a long-awaited savior kind of king – a once in a lifetime kind of king.

The term “epiphany” means “a moment of sudden revelation or insight; or, the manifestation of a divine being such as the Son of God in Jesus Christ.

The three kings were not of Jewish descent nor familiar with Jewish beliefs or customs. They were gentiles from foreign countries; they were astrologers who had learned that the presence of a particular star in the sky in a particular hemisphere would indicate the arrival of an extraordinary king. So, the only way they would have known that the child Jesus was a king was by the presence of this particular phenomenon in nature – a revelation in nature that they knew was very rare, to occur only once in the course of history.

The magi traveled approximately 900 miles from what is now modern-day Bagdad, Iraq to Jerusalem; a journey that took about 4 to 5 months to complete. When they arrived at the house where the child Jesus was with His parents, Mary and Joseph, they did not find a luxurious palace or royal garments but a small child born into humble surroundings, born to parents of poverty. Yet, they still knelt down and paid Him homage and give the gifts suitable for a king just the same. The magi did not let expectation of what they thought they should see altar what they needed to do; they followed through with what they had come there to do – to pay homage to a great king.

Perhaps the three men were considered “wise” because they knew the stars well-enough to know something extraordinary had happened. Or, perhaps they were said to be “wise” because despite whatever expectations they might have had in mind about what they would find upon their arrival, they followed-through with their mission anyway – believing that the human mind can never know all there is to know – they were open to possibilities beyond their expectations.

As we reflect on the story of the three wise men and now turn our attention to today’s Feast of the Baptism of Our Lord, how can we come to know more about who Jesus is and who He is to us?

In today’s Gospel reading, we read about the baptism of Jesus which is an event that not only further reveals His identity as divine but also how this particular event reveals how Jesus Christ is knitted to us.

In the Gospel reading, Mark tells us that John the Baptist was proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. He was baptizing the whole countryside of Judah and all the people of Jerusalem with water in the river Jordan. John’s baptism was a baptism of repentance, a way of preparing ones’ self for the coming of the One greater than John – this infant child whom the foreign kings traveled 900 miles to see.

Repentance means to turn and go another way, to turn away from sin and back to God through the help of our Lord Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit of God. John prepared the way – the way of repentance so that the people could enter into a baptism of the Holy Spirit – a baptism that comes only from the One Whose sandals we too are unworthy to untie.

Then Jesus comes to be baptized by John, not that Jesus needed to repent of any sins for Jesus was like us in every way but sin. Jesus’ baptism was to establish His righteousness, to walk more closely alongside us, to knit Himself more closely to us. It was in this event that God wanted all people to know Jesus’ identity – that there would be no mistake about Him – so much so that the heavens were torn apart and the Spirit of God descended upon Him like a dove; and, the voice of God spoke to all who could hear that day, “Yes, this is My Son, My Beloved, with Whom I am well pleased.”

In our own baptism – in no matter which denomination we were baptized – we followed this same sequence of initiation as that which we read in the Gospel today: the sequence of repentance, forgiveness of sins then baptism in water and the Holy Spirit. When we were baptized with water – either poured over our heads or full emersion – we were also baptized in Holy Spirit – the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.

It helps from time to time, to return to the service of the Sacrament of Holy Baptism to remind ourselves what really happened to us on the day we were brought into Christ’s church. Many of us may have been baptized as infants or children and therefore, would not have been able to understand fully what was being said, so re-reading the service can be a great way to reorient ourselves and notice the common threads between Jesus’ baptism and our own.

In the Book of Common Prayer, the service of Holy Baptism begins on page 298, it states that Holy Baptism is full initiation by water and the Holy Spirit into Chris’s Body the Church. It is the baptism of the Holy Spirit that opens the way for us to confess our sins going forward without the need to be baptized over and over. When we are brought into Christ’s church, we become children of God, heirs to His kingdom. We are changed, forever changed.

Reviewing our baptism not only reminds us of who we are as Christians but also reinforces the undeniable truth that nothing can separate us from the Love of God. The second line on page 298 of the BCP states, “The bond which God establishes in Baptism is indissoluble” – it cannot be destroyed, it is everlasting. Nothing, no sin is too great that God cannot forgive when we return to Him in sincerity of heart, truly desiring to be forgiven, truly longing to live more closely knitted to Christ.

Jesus Christ is a God who loves us beyond our sins, beyond our faults, and beyond our deserving. This is not what we would expect – but can it be something we believe? Can we journey beyond our own expectations and follow-through with what God sent us here to do? Can we become all God created us to be?

As we close the books on another Christmas season and we journey away from the “manger scene” ourselves into a new year, how might we – like the three wise men – open our minds beyond our perceptions or expectations and allow ourselves to encounter the divine in new ways? How might we be more open to allowing the limits of our knowledge to be the beginning of our growth, our becoming. Can we leave the manger scene a little bit wiser, a bit more humble, and perhaps a bit more willing to believe that possibilities exist beyond our expectations.

When we allow our minds and hearts to be open to hearing God’s voice and believing in His presence among us and within us – ever so intricately knitted to us -we can then begin to hear with the ears of our hearts and believe in the voice of God speak to us saying, “You are my beloved and with You I am well pleased!”

Amen

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    St. Philip's Episcopal Church

    6457 Quantico Road
    Quantico, MD 21856

    Mailing Address
    PO Box 92
    Quantico, MD 21856

    St. Philip's is a proud member of the Episcopal Diocese of Easton