GRACE BE UNTO YOU AND PEACE FROM GOD THE FATHER AND FROM OUR CRUCIFIED AND RISEN LORD AND SAVIOR – JESUS THE CHRIST – TRUE GOD FROM ETERNITY AND TRUE MAN BORN OF THE VIRGIN MARY.
In most of the gravestones in the Holy Land carved into the stone of Christian, Jewish and Moslem graves is a dew catcher to retain that universal symbol of life.
It is a truly appropriate symbol for life as water is absolutely necessary for all forms of living things and covers 71% of the Earth’s surface. The human body requires from 55% to 78% of that
water to avoid fatal dehydration depending on body size. In some
developing countries a full 90% of the fresh water is required for agricultural irrigation. (We need 30% in the United States.) In a word, without water there would be no life on earth.
Most interesting about the use of those dew catchers as a symbol for life is what happens to that symbolic water. In the morning – at the dawning of the day – there is the dew – but as the day goes on it evaporates and disappears. God created all life and only God can resurrect it when it ends.
And that brings us to the second universal symbol water has become. Water is the major component in washing processes – most prominently in personal body hygiene
It is sin and guilt that tarnishes us and brings about our alienation from God and our death – it is our sin and guilt that must be washed away – a cleansing only God can accomplish. As God warns us through St. Paul in his Epistle to the Romans “there is no distinction. For all have sinned – become unclean and therefore unworthy to live eternally with God.
I remember visiting the ruins of a synagogue that existed in the Holy Land before the birth of Christ. There in the midst of that Old Testament synagogue was a baptismal font – but it was not there for the Judeans who considered themselves worthy of relationship with God because they were descendants of Abraham. There were Gentiles in the land who wanted the relationship the Israelites had with God. The Israelites considered the Gentiles to be unworthy of that relationship and so before they entered the community of faith through circumcision, marriage or adoption, the Gentiles had to symbolically show how unworthy they were. They did this through an ancient Rite of Proselyte Baptism.
Then there came that voice crying in the wilderness between Bethany of Judea by Jerusalem and Bethany of Perea across the Jordan - “Prepare The Way of The Lord. John said God was coming as the vulnerable flesh and blood Christ to answer the Gentiles’ cry for divine help in their proselyte Baptism. And John said it was not only the Gentiles who needed such help. Being a descendant of Abraham or a member of any denomination was not enough. The gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus. There is no path into eternal life with God other than the one God provides in Christ Jesus.
How appropriate that God spoke through John in that vast, barren, lifeless wilderness. Σρημοσ on the map offers such a powerful symbol of what temporal life is like when we ignore God. There was one short segment of the Jordan close by – but even it was too polluted to drink or use.
God called everyone – Judean and Gentile alike – to confess that belief and that cry for divine help in the Rite of Baptism of Repentance in that wilderness water where God lead the people – Judean and Gentile alike.
As we might expect, as the people were in expectation, all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he himself might be The Christ”. Was John the one coming in response to their universal cry for that cleansing and eternal life only God can provide.
John answered them all, saying, “I baptize you with water, but He Who is mightier than I is coming, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie.”
During our studies in Israel, one day we were enjoying a rest and some lemonade with a friend of Dr. Schein’s in Beit Jawa. One of our group was sitting with his right ankle on his knee – leaving the bottom of his shoe exposed to our host sitting opposite him. When our host went to get some more lemonade, Dr. Shine admonished Oscar, “My friend graduated from college in the United States so he understands our culture and is not offended – but here in the Middle East the most offensive thing one person can do to another is to sit with your foot exposed – whether barefoot or shod.
Actually, in Biblical times when slavery was practiced, the one thing a master could not have a slave do was anything regarding a human foot.
Before Jesus arrived for Baptism, when John the Baptist was asked if he was The Christ, John said The Christ was so much greater than John that he was not even worthy to serve The Christ by doing a task that everyone considered too offensive to do.
John answered, “I baptize with water.” It was a baptism of repentance every human being needed to enter as a symbolic confession of our sinfulness and unworthiness – our alienation from God.
John promised The Christ will not only baptize with water – but He “will baptize you with The Holy Spirit and with fire.” The Christ - true Son of God -was the only One Who could respond to our need with forgiveness and reconciliation. The Christ – True Man - was The Only One Who could respond as The Perfect High Priest offering Himself as The Perfect Human Sacrifice of Atonement. The Christ’s Baptism is with The Holy Spirit Who enlightens and empowers us with Faith and the ability to accept Jesus as our Lord and Savior and His gift of Holy Baptism. The Christ’s Baptism is with fire – the greatest of all cleansing agents burning away the sin and the guilt.
In Holy Baptism, The Christ offers us the freedom of religion to accept or reject the greatest of Divine Gifts. John said The Christ’s “winnowing fork is in His Hand, to clear His threshing floor and to gather the wheat into His barn, but the chaff He will burn with unquenchable fire.”
When the wheat is harvested in the Holy Land, the stalks are laid on the ground and run over by a threshing sled. The sled is a long board with holes bored in it – the holes are filled with volcanic rock and when the sled is pulled over the stalks, the stalks are crushed – separating the wheat from the chaff.
On a rise, the farmer uses a winnowing fork to throw the piles in the air. The wheat falls to the ground and is carried to the barn – the chaff floats on the breeze where it is picked up with no purpose but to be burned.
The Savior’s “winnowing fork is in His Hand, to clear His threshing floor and to gather the wheat into His barn, but the chaff He will burn with unquenchable fire.” We are all free to continue to be like the chaff – or in Holy Baptism we can all be gathered by Christ into the temporal and eternal safety of His barn.
Now when all the people were baptized, God fulfilled His Promise and entered the waters – entered our struggle for redemption – redemption only God Himself could provide. But to fulfill that redemption there must not only be forgiveness and reconciliation but also sacrifice – and so True God from all eternity entered those waters and our struggles as True Man born of the virgin Mary – on His Father’s Side True God from all eternity – on His Mother’s side True Man born of the virgin Mary.
When Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heavens were opening, and The Holy Spirit descended on Him in bodily form, like a dove; and a Voice came from heaven, “You are My beloved Son; with You I am well pleased.”
THE PEACE OF GOD WHICH PASSES ALL HUMAN UNDERSTANDING KEEP YOUR HEARTS AND YOUR MINDS IN CHRIST JESUS – TRUE GOD FROM ETERNITY – TRUE MAN BORN OF THE VIRGIN MARY – OUR ONLY SAVIOR.
THE BAPTISM OF OUR LORD - First Sunday of The Epiphany Season January 13, 2019
Dr. Kurt Borows
Pastor, Resurrection Lutheran Church, Catawba Island, Port Clinton, Ohio
Wise Men Still Seek Him
"WISE MEN STILL SEEK HIM"
Text -- MATTHEW 2:1--12
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 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 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.