GRACE BE UNTO YOU AND PEACE FROM GOD THE FATHER AND FROM OUR LORD AND SAVIOUR … JESUS THE CHRIST.
January 6th is one of the most important and most overlooked dates on the church year calendar. Coming at the end of the church’s Christmas Season, it is recognized as a more important day than Christmas itself in the Eastern Orthodox Churches. In the Western Churches – rarely coming on a Sunday – January 6th - The Epiphany of our Lord – is rarely even recognized unless it replaces the equally important Baptism of our Lord on the Sunday following the 6th. This year is that rare exception when we get to celebrate both.
An epiphany is “a showing forth” or “a revealing” and there has been no greater or more important epiphany in all of human history than The Epiphany of our Lord - God as the vulnerable flesh and blood Christ being revealed to Gentiles like us.
At the time of Jesus' birth in Bethlehem, as Israel walked about in a time of spiritual darkness, an even greater spiritual darkness permeated the pagan world of our ancestors where each nation or group of nations had its own god or gods and feared leaving their own territory without their own god. In Old Testament times, the rulers of Assyria and later Babylon and most pagan countries were seeking to create a one world order paradise produced by people without help from any god.
The historian Rousas J. Rushdoony writes that “When Christ was born in Bethlehem, the world had reached a dead end. …. The ‘wise’ men of Babylon had failed; so, had the ‘wise’ men of Persia, Macedonia, and now Rome. All sense of meaning was departing from life. In the Roman Empire, life was increasingly reduced to one dimension alone, and the life of that day had a familiar ring: the people saw no meaning in life except pleasure.” (WISE MEN STILL ADORE HIM by Rousas j. Rushdoony. NEW WINE MAGAZINE. December, 1981) Sounds familiar, doesn’t it?
210 years after the prophet Daniel was a member of an original brain trust known as the magi, God, speaking through Isaiah the prophet, warned that the world’s darkness would get worse - "...behold, darkness shall cover the earth, and thick darkness the peoples” but God promised that “The Lord will arise upon you, and His Glory will be seen upon you. And nations shall come to your Light, and kings to the brightness of your rising.”
750 years later, those nations God promised would flock to the Light God shined on Israel would be Gentile magi– traveling miles to see Baby Jesus.
GRACE BE UNTO YOU AND PEACE FROM GOD THE FATHER AND FROM OUR CRUCIFIED AND RISEN LORD AND SAVIOUR … JESUS THE CHRIST.
Where do we go from Christmas?
I still remember the first time I preached on this text. It was back on February 26, 1961 when, as a junior in seminary, I was invited to preach at a Youth Sunday service. I’m not sure what happened to that sermon, but oddly enough, I still have these pictures of the bulletin. The reason I remember that Sunday so vividly is because of the impact the bulletin had on me.
The front cover shows a young man and woman in front of a church.
The caption reads “YOUTH in the nurture and admonition of the Lord”.
A father wrote the back cover of the bulletin as a memorial to his son and provides an answer to that question: Where do we go from Christmas? It began: “He Was Only Twenty-Four. He had been center on the football team, steersman on the crew. Childhood, high school, Christian college, Oxford — the years had mounted upward in a spiraling crescendo. In George MacDonald’s words, he was a ‘gleam-faced, pure-eyed, high-hearted boy’ and the rising plateaus were before him. Suddenly his youth — his life — was ended. The roar of a motor, a body broken on a city street!”¹
Many bemoaned the fact that so promising a youth died before he could establish his life but his father wrote: “Youth is not preparation for life; youth is life itself. There is no time for rehearsal. The great play is on. Every day is another little block of time in which to live — to live, to love, to serve, to weep and to laugh. You cannot employ today only to set the stage for tomorrow.
There may be no tomorrow.” ¹
That father was right. Whenever we view youth or any other stage of life as primarily a training ground, we are selling God short and selling ourselves short. The writer goes on to remind us that “Long years ago, a youth of thirty-three writhed to His death on a cross.
Across the centuries this Young Man summons other young men and women to join Him, and to give Him the vibrant, aspiring years of their youth.”¹
GRACE BE UNTO YOU AND PEACE FROM GOD THE FATHER AND FROM JESUS CHRIST – EMMANUEL – GOD WITH US.
Last Sunday we looked at the Judean Wilderness - a vast wasteland with absolutely no natural or human resources. We saw it as a powerful metaphor of life lived without relationship with God – hopelessly now and through all eternity.
This morning we return to that wilderness and focus on a man who lived his entire adult life there and we ask “WHO IS THIS JOHN THE BAPTIST?
John The Baptist is one of the most narrow minded and politically incorrect people in all of human history.
FUNK & WAGNALLS STANDARD DESK DICTIONARY defines "narrow minded" as "Having or characterized by narrow views or sentiments; or bigoted".
Well, in John certainly was not "bigoted". In John’s narrow-mindedness, one of the things that got him into trouble was his refusal to make distinctions between people - or even between other people and himself. John proclaimed that every human being who has ever lived - including John himself - is a sinner in need of The Holy Savior. Making no distinction between people, John classified people as a "Brood of vipers!" Many of the modern paraphrases of Scripture have John calling everyone a viper. Such paraphrases miss the point of what John is saying. Classifying human beings as a "Brood of vipers!" is John's reminder to us that the most venomous of vipers is that tempter who approached Adam and Eve in Eden and who slithers into all our lives to tempt us away from God and His Word. Everyone has yielded to some of those temptations and become part of the tempter’s brood. God proclaimed through narrow-minded John - as God would later proclaim through the apostle Paul and others, "... all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God". (ROMANS 3:23) We have all been tempted and yielded to some of the temptations.
GRACE BE UNTO YOU AND PEACE FROM GOD THE FATHER AND FROM OUR LORD AND SAVIOUR —- JESUS THE CHRIST—EMMANUEL — GOD WITH US.
The words of our text this morning came from Mary’s lips to become our first Christian hymn and they contain her powerful confession of faith – a confession so important that we prayed her words as our own in this morning’s Psalmody and then heard them read in the Gospel reading for the day.
I remember a visit to Ain Karem where Zacharias and his wife lived, where John The Baptist grew up and where the pregnant Mary visited her cousin Elizabeth. There is a large wall there filled with plaques – each one inscribed with Mary’s confession of faith is each of the world’s languages.
Mary begins with the confession that “My soul magnifies The Lord ...”
“Soul” is the Greek word, ψυχή, which is that “breath of life” which God breathed into us to animate us and to put us into a radically different relationship with God than the one all the other creatures were given. ψυχή is that part of us which is so in communion with God that it lives on after this mortal body is surrendered in death.
When our soul is in communion with God as Mary’s was, our soul magnifies the Lord. “Magnifies" is a translation of the Greek word, μεγηλύνει, which means “to declare great or to laud and celebrate the glory of ....”. Unlike a magnifying glass which makes something appear larger than it really is, Mary focuses on Someone large beyond measure.
In our culture, we can and often do magnify celebrities beyond what is appropriate — popular culture often calls things great which really aren’t. But when it comes to glorifying God, we always fall far short. We never really know enough to do God justice when we praise Him. We do the best we can. Mary’s soul celebrated the glory, the power, the wonder, and the perfect benevolent Nature of God — to the best of her human ability.
Mary continues "And my spirit has rejoiced in God my Saviour"
GRACE BE UNTO YOU AND PEACE FROM GOD THE FATHER AND FROM OUR CRUCIFIED AND RISEN – EVER PRESENT LORD AND SAVIOR – JESUS CHRIST.
The season of Advent when we again celebrate God’s three-fold coming to us and when we hear the season’s powerful Divine Call to “Prepare The Way of The LORD, make His paths straight. Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be brought low; and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough ways shall be made smooth; And all flesh shall see the salvation of God.” Prepare The Way of The LORD in the depths of your soul for His future Second Visible Coming to judge us and to take His Own Home to His eternal Kingdom as we focused our attention last Sunday. Prepare The Way of The LORD in the depths of your soul for His present Constant though invisible Presence in every moment of our temporal lives. Prepare The Way of The LORD in the depths of your soul to cherish and celebrate His past coming in the human flesh and vulnerability of The Christ as we focus our attention his morning. Prepare The Way of The LORD!
In the 40 years since I studied in the Holy Land, I know I have shared this picture with you many times. In the wilderness, there is actually nothing for your physical eyes to see but a vast expanse of lifeless sand. There are absolutely no natural resources in the desert wilderness - no way for edible plants to grow or for human beings or animals to survive even on the most primitive levels of existence. Both mentally and spiritually the experience is unforgettable.
I can imagine what Biblical people and even Mary and Joseph experienced crossing the Judean wilderness on their way to Jerusalem.
Though the wilderness through which God’s people wandered for forty years is many miles to the south and the Exodus events happened nearly 15 centuries before Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem – you cannot cross the Judean wilderness without thinking of that other wilderness where that lost and grumbling group of former slaves truly learned to live by faith in God alone.
It is no surprise that when God as the vulnerable flesh and blood Christ responded to humanity’s greatest need and began His ministry – it was here in the wilderness.
Indeed humanity has prepared the way for His coming - but not in the way our text implies. No, it was humanity’s sins and alienation from God that brought God to earth as the vulnerable flesh and blood Christ.