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Saturday, January 17, 2015

Behold, Emmanuel!

The Rev’d. Stephen E. Stults
Second Sunday after the Epiphany
St. Paul’s Anglican Church
January 18, 2015

Mark 1:1-3 “The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.  2 As it is written in Isaiah the prophet, "Behold, I send My messenger before Your face, Who will prepare Your way;  3 The voice of one crying in the wilderness, 'Make ready the way of the Lord, Make His paths straight.” (taken from the New American Standard Edition.)

It is fitting that we should read this particular Gospel selection for this Second Sunday after Epiphany.  This is, after all, the first season in the Church year and the one that proclaims that the newly-born Messiah is here among us. Recall that we read in last week’s Gospel selection Jesus was actually manifested forth to mankind twice, once in Bethlehem as the Magi worshipped Him, and once again in Jerusalem, as he sat among the doctors and scribes, hearing them and asking them questions.

St. Mark, in his inimitable, brisk style, launches right into Jesus’ ministry.  He tells us briefly about John the Baptizer and how he baptized Jesus in the river Jordan.  Recall that wonderful scene where Christ comes up out of the water: Mark 1:10-11: “And immediately coming up out of the water, He saw the heavens opening, and the Spirit like a dove descending upon Him;  11 and a voice came out of the heavens: "Thou art My beloved Son, in Thee I am well-pleased."

For additional emphasis, recall the same passage from St. Matthew, which occurred when Christ came to John for baptism:” And John tried to prevent Him, saying, "I need to be baptized by You, and are You coming to me?"  15 But Jesus answered and said to him, "Permit it to be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness." Then he allowed Him.” Matthew then relates the same appearance of the Holy Spirit in bodily form alighting on Jesus. This is, of course, the first evidence that Christ came not to destroy the Law, but rather to fulfill it.  It also highlights how utterly false the Jews’ accusations were against him, as they wanted, desperately, to see him as an enemy to Judaism.

What are we to make of this? Is it “just” another amazing theophany that we witness through the testimony of the Word Written?  It is “just” another affirmation of our faith, as we read about God the Father speaking audibly to us, as he affirms his love for the Son?  Is it a proclamation of the Holy Trinity, as we see, in one scene, all three Members of the Holy Trinity highlighted in stark relief? First, we have the Son, being baptized, the Holy Spirit alighting upon him in bodily form, while God the Father speaks about His Son. Perhaps a clearer example of, and witness to the Trinity would be difficult to find.

We should make note of all these things. This passage contains all of these important items, yet with one, all-important, encompassing theme: they all point to the Christ. First, Mark uses the prophecy of Isaiah to introduce John the Baptizer: As it is written in the prophets, Behold, I send my messenger before thy face, which shall prepare thy way before thee  The voice of one crying in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.”[i]   Then, with single-minded focus, Christ is the emphasis and center of this passage, just as He is the emphasis and focus of Epiphany. He is shown forth, He is manifested to us in this Epiphanytide. With that fact presented to us, we ask again, what are we to make of this? In short, how are we to regard Epiphany and, what difference can it make it our lives?

To answer that question, perhaps we should turn and consider the very nature of God Himself and our relationship to Him. Of course, we all are familiar with the attributes of God: Omniscience, Omnipotence, and Omnipresence. We know that He is all-knowing (Omniscient, all-powerful (Omnipotent) and always present (Omnipresent).
Perhaps we could add another great “O” to the list by saying that He is Overwhelming Love as well.  After all, St John tells us in 1 John 4:16: “God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God, and God in him.”  While this is obvious to all of us, perhaps its ramifications are not as obvious in regards to Epiphany and our attitude towards it.

When we consider the love of God, my own mind always flies back to the concept of forgiveness and its attendant virtue, restoration.  True love always forgives a fault, when it is sought with sincerity and true repentance. It also provides for restoration, or the putting of one back in the place where one was before the fault. This is the most genuine and the most absolute love possible. We all know how difficult it is to have a normal relationship with someone who has wronged us in the past.  Yet, this is exactly what God the Holy Trinity does, every time we sin, repent, and seek amendment of life. In a blessed community of forgiveness, The Holy Spirit facilitates our prayers, the Blessed Son intercedes for us, and the Holy Father hears our pleas. Through the blessed mercy and overwhelming love of God, we are forgiven and we are restored.

Can we not see the Epiphany Season in the same light?  That is, what is the point of Epiphany if not to point to Jesus, which in turn points to our eternal blessedness in God? In this light, Epiphany becomes something not trivial, as a mere passage of time, but something more meaningful, even momentous for our lives.

We say this because Epiphany offers us something new and something fresh. That something is simply this: a new beginning in Christ. It is simply too easy, when we are burdened with the various troubles and vicissitudes of this life, as well as its very real trials and tribulations, to remember what we ultimately are: new creatures in Christ and the Children of God. 

Forgive me if this sounds too pat, too well-worn, and perhaps just said too many times. Yet, let me proclaim it again unto you. We Christians are blessed to be the Children of God in every sense of the word. We are not the slaves of God, nor are we merely the lowly and subservient subjects of a great King.  No, we are something different.  We are children, members of the royal household and thus, inheritors of our Father’s Kingdom.   You parents think of how much you love your own children and then multiply that by infinity, if you can.  That is how much Our Father loves those who love Him.  It is how much He loves us, his blessed children in Christ.

Putting this in context with Epiphany, it is God’s Love that we celebrate this Epiphany Season. It is God’s Love that sent us our Emmanuel, our Intercessor, and our eternal Friend.  It is God’s Love, through Christ, that makes possible our repeated forgiveness and restoration. It is God’s Love that makes possible our status as Children of God.

Finally, putting this in practical terms, what can we do to make a new start, to put a fresh face on our faith this year? 

We will submit that it comes down to renewing and refreshing our relationship to God.  We do this by seeking God’s Face in prayer and meditation, both communally and individually.  First, we do this by engaging in daily morning and evening prayer in our respective homes.  Let us bathe our homes in prayer and in reading of the Holy Scriptures day and night. Next, we come  together as a family and pray together, while being fed with the Blessed Sacrament of the altar. Finally, let us also ask for the recognition of God’s continual Presence in our lives, every moment of every day. Let us, as much as possible, pray without ceasing, in the words of St. Paul.  Better said, let our lives be a continual prayer unto God as we seek Him through all our activities, every day. In so doing, we will indeed be” a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service.”[ii]

[i] Mark1:1-3
[ii] Romans 12