Rev. Paul J Cain, Jr.
St. Luke 3:15-17, 21-22
God in Flesh Made Manifest
The Baptism of Our Lord, First Sunday after the Epiphany, 10 January 2010
Immanuel Lutheran Church, Sheridan, Wyoming
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
God in flesh made manifest. These words from one of today’s hymns point us to the theme of this new season called Epiphany and even the meaning of the word. Epiphany means manifestation, a revealing—a revealing of who Christ truly is: God in flesh.
But the Baptism of Our Lord is not the first manifestation we see in the Epiphany season. This season begins with the day of Epiphany, last Wednesday, January 6th, when we observe the arrival of the Magi, the Wise Men. The Star in the East [and the Hebrew Scriptures] revealed to them that a two-year-old child was the King of the Jews. And they presented their gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. And they fell on their knees and worshiped Him, Jesus, God in flesh made manifest.
Much time has passed between the visit of the Magi and the events we observe today. Jesus is now about thirty years old, St. Luke tells us. Let us consider Jesus, God in flesh made manifest, made manifest at His Baptism.
15 The people were waiting expectantly and were all wondering in their hearts if John might possibly be the Christ. 16 John answered them all, “I baptize you with water. But one more powerful than I will come, the thongs of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire. 17 His winnowing fork is in his hand to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his barn, but he will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.”
St. Luke parallels John and Christ in the beginning of his Gospel account. John’s miraculous birth to the barren Elizabeth is announced by an angel. Jesus’ Virgin birth is heralded by an angel. John is born. Jesus is born. Miraculous signs abound.
Now, at the Baptism of Our Lord, John defers to Jesus who is greater. This is just like when Mary greeted Elizabeth at the beginning of her three-month visit. The unborn John leaped for joy in his mother’s womb at the presence of Jesus, who still in Mary’s womb. John again gives way to Jesus who is greater, for John was to prepare the way. Luke even suggests that John has given way to Jesus in the way he wrote the next verse—in passive voice. John isn’t mentioned by name.
21 When all the people were being baptized, Jesus was baptized too.
Jesus was baptized too! John preached repentance. Jesus was sinless. He had nothing to repent of. Yet, Jesus identifies with Sinners!
In The Deputy, a play by Rolf Hochhuth, a young priest in WW2 Germany discovers the truth about the Jewish extermination camps. He makes it his mission to stop the awful orders that began and are keeping in motion the slow extermination of a whole people. He appeals to everyone in authority, finally even to the pope, but all turn a deaf ear to him or plead excuses that remove them from any responsibility. When all avenues of protest have been exhausted, the hero of the play sews the identifying six-pointed star on his sleeve and presents himself at an extermination camp, where he moves to the ovens with the people whose cause he had taken on himself.
So Jesus, being baptized by John, identifies Himself with sinners. Even more amazing than that, He will accept their punishment, their death. Unlike Hochhuth’s hero, who was powerless against the foe, Jesus will go into death so that all sinners could have life and have it more abundantly. At the Fall, Satan set in motion the slow extermination of a whole people—humanity—extermination brought about through sin, which leads to death.
Jesus identifies with us, sinners. He accepted our punishment, our death. His Baptism by John makes our Baptism into His Name possible.
(Second) What benefits does [this] Baptism give [us]? It works forgiveness of sins, rescues from death and the devil, and gives eternal salvation to all who believe this, as the words and promises of God declare.
Which are these words and promises of God? Christ our Lord says in the last chapter of Mark: “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.” [Mark 16:16]
John said, He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire. 17 His winnowing fork is in his hand to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his barn, but he will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.
It is unbelief that condemns, unbelief that would make one chaff to be consumed with unquenchable fire, unbelief that rejects Holy Baptism and its promises and benefits.
But the Christian lives in the waters of Baptism. We remember what Jesus has done for us in baptism. The Old Adam, our sinful nature, should by daily contrition and repentance be drowned and die with all sins and evil desires, and that a new man should daily emerge and arise to live before God in righteousness and purity forever. Our sinfulness is to be daily drowned in the waters of our baptism. We live in the forgiveness Jesus won for us.
21 When all the people were being baptized, Jesus was baptized too. And as he was praying, heaven was opened 22 and the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven: “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.”
In these words of the Father in Heaven we hear again the words of Isaiah (42:1-7). Here is my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen on in whom I delight; I will put my Spirit on Him and He will bring justice to the nations.
And also, I will keep you and will make you to be a covenant for the people and a light for the Gentiles. Jesus was a covenant for us, bringing light, bringing the Gospel, the forgiveness of sins even to us Gentiles.
Getting the Gospel message to the world takes time, energy, and dollars. Our congregation’s mission in this community is to be a beacon of light to those who do not know Christ—even if His name is on their buildings. It is for this reason our budget is set and money is expended, a wonderful commitment to bring the Good News About Jesus to the world and to our neighbor. Those who serve the congregation and witness are beacons of light. As God’s people, we have been handed this great responsibility: to proclaim the truth. How we manage to do that joyfully and responsibly can rightly be called stewardship of the Gospel.
And as [Jesus] (he) was praying, heaven was opened 22 and the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven: “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.”
God in flesh revealed by a Voice from Heaven—the Father. God in flesh revealed in Jesus, the Son. God in flesh revealed by the Holy Spirit descending as a dove. The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Jesus’ mission is the work and the will of the triune God. All three persons of the Holy Trinity are present at Jesus baptism and present with us. We called upon God the Holy Trinity to be present with us at the beginning of the Divine Service and also this sermon. We call to our remembrance that name that was placed on us at Baptism. Where God has placed His name, there He promises to be. He cannot go back on His promise.
Christ, God made flesh, was made manifest to the Wise Men. And now, God in flesh is revealed at His Baptism. We ask our Lord’s blessing as we reveal Him to our family, friends, neighbors, coworkers, classmates.
As St. Peter said in our Second Lesson from Acts (10): You know what has happened throughout Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John preached—how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power, and how He went around doing good and healing all who were under the power of the devil, because God was with him.
Let us share God in flesh made manifest in Jesus Christ. Let us be a beacon of light individually and as a congregation—to all who are in darkness and under the power of the devil. Let us be the beacon on 5th Street for all Sheridan to see.
God in flesh made manifest. That is Epiphany. That is what we look for continuing next week, when the paraments change their color to green. Green will symbolize growth and new life—new life we received in Holy Baptism when we were given the benefits of Jesus’ Baptism, the forgiveness of sins given by Christ, God in flesh made manifest. Amen.
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.