Genesis 1:1-5 Psalm 29 Acts 19: 1-7 Mark 1:4-11
This church year is unusual, to say the least. Not only did Christmas Eve fall on the 4th Sunday of Advent, Ash Wednesday will be on Valentine’s Day and we will celebrate Easter Sunday on April Fools’ Day. Cathy saw a post on Facebook noting these upcoming dates, then saying it is just proof that God has a sense of humor. The picture on the post was one of Jesus with a mischievous smile on his face.
A sense of humor indeed! After celebrating four services on Christmas Eve, I have found myself looking at the calendar for dates I might take off and get away for a few days before I smear ashes on my wife’s forehead for Valentine’s day!
The timing of Christmas also means we only had one Sunday during our season of Christmas. So, you are each invited to take a poinsettia home with you after today’s service! Technically, I suppose, they should have been removed before today’s service since our Christmas Season ended Friday, but I decided we could leave the poinsettias out and a few wreathes up for the arrival of the wise men today – yesterday actually, but we weren’t here to greet them.
Epiphany, which was yesterday, is the day we typically celebrate the arrival of the Magi from the East, and so we are celebrating their arrival on this, the first Sunday after the Epiphany. This being the first Sunday of the Epiphany Season, I think it is appropriate to explain this season to those of you who are new to the Episcopal Church, and to remind those of you who have experience Epiphany many times, what this season is about.
The season does begin on the feast of the Epiphany, which is when we remember the arrival of the Magi – but it is not their arrival so much as it is what it means that we celebrate. When a person has an epiphany, they understand something they did comprehend before. We may sing “We three kings, of orient are,” but I don’t think a single scholar believes they were kings. They were Magi, or wise men, which suggests they were astronomers. The fact that they came from the East means they were not Jewish and highlights that Jesus came to be a light to all nations, people from every tribe and every nation, Jews and Gentiles alike.
This is one of the most important points Mark makes in his gospel. The love of God is for everyone! And, please note as well, that the Magi found Christ by following a star, a star that was brighter than any other. Christ is the light that shines on us, helping us to see the way.
This season of Epiphany, is marked by light and includes lessons from the gospel of Jesus’s teaching – that is after today. On Epiphany Day we read of the Magi visiting the child Jesus, and on the First Sunday after Epiphany, we read of Christ’s baptism which marks the beginning of his ministry. At his baptism, the Holy Spirit descends upon him and a voice from heaven is heard saying, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well please.”
Before Jesus is baptized, John the Baptist is telling people, “One who is more powerful than I is coming after me . . . I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.” Jesus, who is the one who has come to baptize us with the Holy Spirit, receives the Spirit at his baptism. In our baptismal liturgy, after being baptized, the priest anoints the person with oil, saying, “You are sealed by the Holy Spirit in Baptism and marked as Christ’s own forever.” It is a beautiful reminder that we, like Christ, have received the gift of the Holy Spirit and that we, like Christ, are to minister to the needs of others.
In Acts, Paul makes the distinction between the baptism by John, a baptism of repentance, and the baptism in the name of the Lord Jesus. After receiving the Holy Spirit, the people speak in tongues and prophesies. I have yet to be present for a baptism in which that happens – and I don’t know what I would do if it did. Personally, I tend to respond to the presence of Holy Spirit with tears of joy.
Since coming here, I have found myself experiencing that often, as I did Friday when the Okoro’s walked into St. Paul’s to attend Connie’s memorial service. Officiating at her service to a church filled with her family and friends was moving. Her service was filled with both sorrow and joy. Not only are we blessed to have had Connie as part of lives, we are blessed to have each other.
Connie was the one that organized funeral receptions and in her absence, the parish hall was filled with people Thursday night and Friday making sure all who came might experience the hospitality that, quite frankly, is one of the reasons I am here.
On my first Sunday, I told you I experienced the presence of the Holy Spirit here, and I continue to feel God’s presence among you. Finances may be a challenge this year, but like the vestry, I am confident that we will be able to continue to shine the light of Christ in this community. Christ’s light shining forth from you cannot be overcome by darkness.
In Genesis we read, God said, “’Let there be light’; and there was light.” Epiphany is about being filled with the light of Christ, and sharing this gift with others.
Let us pray.
Fill our hearts, O Lord, with the light that reveals your love and presence. Help us, then, to shine your light on those who have been overcome by darkness, that their lives might be filled with the comfort and joy of knowing you are always with us. We offer our prayers in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.