Scripture Reading: Jonah 3:1–10 | Psalm 62:5–12 | 1 Corinthians 7:29–31 | Mark 1:14–20
Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.”
How many of us actually like disruptions?
I don’t just mean surprises… something new or unexpected. I mean those moments of interruption… when our plans are suddenly derailed. When we’re faced with having to make immediate changes, and do things differently.
For many of us, the fact that we’ve started having Church online is a prime example of this kind of disruption. For close to two hundred years people have gathered in person at St. Luke’s Church to worship God together, and to grow as disciples of Jesus. And now here we are, worshipping in our own homes, while some of us are using the internet to join together for Morning Prayer. What a strange disruption to the ways we are used to being a Church family… though I’m grateful that there are still some ways for us all to stay connected.
Of course, this year has been full of far more difficult disruptions. The changes and complications that the COVID-19 pandemic has brought about for people all over the world has been simply staggering. In basically every facet of life, things keep on getting disrupted… and we keep on having to adjust, and re-adjust our plans. Small wonder most of us are getting sick of disruptions, and are longing for a time when everything finally settles down.
But what happens when disruptions turn out better than we could have imagined? What happens when they turn out to be a gift; a channel of God’s grace?
Our Scripture readings today, from the book of Jonah, and the Gospel of Mark, introduce us to some major but blesséd disruptions in the story of God.
First, we heard an excerpt from the story of Jonah: The Israelite prophet entrusted with a message from the Living God. “Go at once to Nineveh, that great city,” the LORD commissions Jonah, “and cry out against it; for their wickedness has come up before me.” (Jonah 1:2) Now it’s no surprise that God would call a prophet to bring this kind of message. After all, the Old Testament is full of divine warnings against human wickedness. What’s strange is that, rather than send the prophet to warn his own people, God’s sending him to warn his enemies. To go to Nineveh, the great city of the Assyrian Empire… near the modern city of Mosul in Iraq. This was an ancient superpower, and in the time of Jonah, the people of Nineveh were a terrible threat to the kingdoms of Judah and Israel.
As the story goes, this strange mission was too ‘out there’ for Jonah. Instead of obeying the call, the prophet simply runs away. He boards a boat to take him as far from Nineveh as possible. Though he was called to be a prophet, speaking on behalf of the Living God, this mission contradicted Jonah’s idea of what should really be done. To follow this call would completely disrupt Jonah’s life: it would mean completely re-arranging his purpose and priorities. And so he runs… right into a bigger disruption: a terrible storm.
Eventually, Jonah ends up being tossed into the sea, but instead of drowning, he gets swallowed by a giant fish. While in that watery prison, Jonah cries to the LORD for mercy. He has no other hope. He’s caught by this fish, with no way to free himself. But the LORD hears his desperate prayer, and spares him… causing the fish to spit him up on to dry land. Jonah, this disobedient messenger of God, has his life completely disrupted, and totally turned around… and is given another chance to deliver the message to Nineveh.
All that’s the backstory to our reading this morning, when we heard about how Jonah proclaimed Nineveh’s coming doom. Did you notice the tone of his message? “Forty days more,” he said to them, “and Nineveh shall be overthrown!” He offers them no hope. No way out from the coming judgment. As far as Jonah was concerned, he had come to bring bad news.
But the people of Nineveh believe the message he brought to them. They took his words to heart, and this city, renown for its cruelty and its wickedness… does the unthinkable: it actually repents. The Ninevites drastically disrupt their lives and respond to the divine judgment… with the hope that God just might be merciful, and forgive their evil ways. And as it turns out, much to Jonah’s utter dismay, the LORD had mercy on them too, and spared the entire city.
God sent his servant Jonah to disrupt the wickedness of Israel’s dreaded enemies. To turn their lives around and bring them all into His mercy. Jonah fought against this mission every step of the way, and even got furious with God after Nineveh repented. But God’s mission of mercy was greater than Jonah could imagine. Reaching out to the hopeless to rescue even his enemies.
Switching gears again, let’s jump forward to the Gospel of Mark, where Jesus, the Son of God, has just come up from the waters of Baptism, but instead of fleeing God’s call on his life, Jesus heads out into the desert, facing temptations in the wilderness for forty days… the same timeline that Jonah gave Nineveh before its coming doom. Just like Jonah, Jesus also came proclaiming a disruptive message: God’s kingdom has come. Turn around repent, and believe in the Good News.
This message sums up, for Mark’s Gospel, Christ’s entire ministry. Everything He’s up to… everything Jesus will say and do… is about the coming of God’s reign, God’s good Kingdom at last. The Kingdom of His mercy… of His deliverance. Unlike Jonah, Jesus had come with truly Good News to share. But it also meant the time of reckoning had come for all other kingdoms… that all other claims of allegiances are now being called into question. Once again, the LORD has sent a disruptive messenger: One whose word and life requires that we offer our response.
The theologian, William Abraham, describes the disruptive message of Jesus like this: “It is not the announcement of some generic theism, or a call to moral renovation, or an offer of celestial fire insurance for the life to come, or a network of pious platitudes about how to become more religious. The gospel is the arrival of God’s new order in the world. Long prepared for and eagerly awaited in Israel, it is the good news that God’s rule has arrived. To be sure, this will be bad news for those who want to be in charge of the universe, and they will not stand by and abandon their role of running the world. Yet the truth is simply this: God’s sovereign reign has drawn near in human history, and in the end nothing will prevent its being established. This remains the heart of the gospel for all time.” So how does Mark tell us God’s Kingdom starts to take shape here at last? By the Son of God calling to Himself a handful of fishermen.
Two sets of brothers, Simon and Andrew, and the sons of Zebedee, James and John, are found by Jesus at the sea of Galilee. If the world of prophets and kings feels pretty foreign and remote to us, the lives of these four men might be a whole lot more familiar. Here are ordinary folk: hard-working laborers, focused on keeping food on the table, and their families provided for.
And yet, when Jesus calls each of them to come and follow Him, these ordinary people become caught up in the Kingdom of God. Their old lives were disrupted in an instant by the call of Christ. Against custom and convention, against the obligations of family, and business, they heard the voice of the King of Kings, and they obeyed His summons… leaving behind everything that would keep them from His side.
We know they faced all sorts of challenges as they followed Him… for the way of God’s Kingdom would one day lead to the cross. Because unlike Jonah, Jesus embodied God’s merciful love for this lost and wicked world, freely laying down His life to disrupt and destroy the power of sin and death; to turn our lives around and bring us back to the LORD, so that we all might share in His Kingdom of mercy and hope forever. Through His death and resurrection, Jesus Christ has changed everything… and He’s calling us to follow Him into God’s brand New Life.
How is the message of God’s kingdom disrupting our lives today? What ways are we being called to respond to God’s reign?
Perhaps we are being called to set aside some form of wickedness… some sin that keeps a hold of our hearts, but leads us away from God’s light?
Perhaps we are being called into a whole new vocation… a new way to embody the Good News of Jesus Christ with our life? This could be a call to Church ministry, as a layperson or ordained. This could be a call to a different form of serving God’s Kingdom in the world: in the workplace, in our neighbourhoods, in our homes.
Perhaps we are being called into deeper fellowship with God? Called to set aside the distractions that tie up all our energies, and intentionally share more of our day to day lives with Jesus. In prayer, in reading His word, in moments of worship, and acts of mercy, we are all being called to follow our Saviour and share in His Good Kingdom… not simply on Sunday mornings, but as long as we draw breath. Until His Kingdom fully comes on earth, just as in heaven.
So may the Holy Spirit help us to hear and respond to God’s call in our lives. May we place our trust in the Good News of Christ, and all He’s done. May we continue to turn to Him with our whole heart and life, opening us up to share His hope and mercy with those all around us. And may we follow Him however disruptive it may be, confident that He’s always leading us into God’s good Kingdom. Amen.
 William J. Abraham, “Third Sunday after the Epiphany, Year B,” in The Lectionary Commentary: Theological Exegesis for Sunday’s Texts, Volume Three, ed. Roger E. Van Harn (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2001), 174.
Our service of Morning Prayer, Bulletin, and Sermon this week can be found here:
Our All-Ages Song for Epiphany can be found here:
And our other Songs can be found here:
Scripture Readings: 1 Samuel 3:1–20 | Psalm 139:1–18 | 1 Corinthians 6:12–20 | John 1:43–51
“You will see greater things than these.”
Today we celebrate the second Sunday of Epiphany: a season of revealing… of finding & being found. Reminding us that the story of God often involves surprises, inviting us to listen and look for where He’s at work even now.
Our first reading begins with a pretty bleak assessment: “The word of the Lord was rare in those days; visions were not widespread.” (1 Sam 3:1) Hundreds of years after Israel had been freed from slavery in Egypt, and had been brought by God to the Promised Land, Canaan, the people were again in a state of spiritual unease. There’s a sense in these words of a growing separation between humanity and God, even between the LORD and His chosen, covenant people.
But in this time when God’s voice seemed distant and remote, we are introduced to Samuel, who would one day become one of Israel’s greatest prophets, but who was now simply a boy serving the High Priest, Eli, at the Tabernacle, the sacred Tent which was, before the construction of the Temple in Jerusalem, the place signifying the Living God’s presence among His people… the place where heaven and earth were to intersect, so to speak. The High Priest alone, as the representative of all of God’s people, was only occasionally to go in and out of the Most Holy Place, the heart of this sacred Tent, to meet with God on Israel’s behalf… to ritually uphold their sacred connection, their covenant relationship. It was a place where the goodness and holiness of the Living God was to be encountered, and spread out through His people into the world.
But in those days, the Tabernacle had become a place where selfishness and sin had taken root, and had all but taken over. Eli’s sons, who served as priests, had grown wicked and corrupt; they were stealing from God and His people by seizing much more than the share from the sacrifices set aside for them, as well as sleeping with the women who came to serve at the Tabernacle. These sons of Eli, set aside to be holy priests of God, had let their greed and lust distort the core practices of Israel’s covenant relationship with the LORD. They had ceased to be agents of God’s holy love and mercy, and instead served only their sinful desires, causing all kinds of grief. Especially for their father.
Although he was disturbed by the conduct of his children, Eli failed to do anything to stop their outright wickedness. He let them carry on corrupting the sacred role they had been entrusted with, and harming the people under their spiritual care. The ones who were supposed to be faithfully leading God’s people had lost themselves in sin, threatening to lead all the people astray as well.
But at this time when it seemed God’s voice was absent, He finds Samuel. The LORD calls out to this small, confused young boy, and entrusts to him the true but challenging message for Eli: That his family’s unfaithfulness would no longer be ignored. The time had come for them to face the consequences of their corruption. God would find another way to make His purposes and presence known. “I will raise up for myself a faithful priest,” the LORD made known to Eli, “who shall do according to what is in my heart and in my mind. I will build him a sure house, and he shall go in and out before my anointed one forever.” (1 Sam. 2:35). Through a surprising, small messenger, God makes His purpose and presence known: Even if those entrusted with caring for the Tabernacle, the place where heaven and earth came together, failed miserably, the LORD Himself will find a way to be among His people… to reveal Himself to them, that they may live with Him always.
Who this ‘faithful one’ will be, of course, is yet to be revealed. But that question points forward, through the centuries, to our Gospel passage this morning.
Our reading from John’s Gospel depicts a scene full of discoveries: It starts off by telling us Jesus, just beginning His ministry, finds a man named Philip from Bethsaida, calling to him: “Follow me.” The next thing that we know, Philip is running to find his friend Nathaniel, excitedly exclaiming that they had found the Messiah: “We have found him about whom Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus son of Joseph from Nazareth.”
Nathaniel responds to his friend’s message about the news of Jesus: “Can anything good come from Nazareth?” Before we toss Nathaniel’s words aside as overly cynical, how often do we, or those we love and respect, respond likewise? Sickened by the dishonesty they have seen in politics, church, or other aspects of community life, how many have given up on expecting ‘anything good’ to come from them? We too live in a time when it seems there’s a strong sense of separation between our day to day existence and the presence and purposes of God… and so many of us give up looking or listening. For his part though, Philip doesn’t start to argue with his friend. He simply says: “Come and see.” He invites his Nathaniel to take a step, to ‘Come and find out for yourself.’ And as he does, Nathaniel finds much more than he expected.
It’s worth noting that Jesus doesn’t condemn Nathaniel for his initial hesitation… in fact, He commends him! “Here is truly an Israelite [He says,] in whom there is no deceit!” Unlike the sons of Eli, Nathaniel was not playing games with God. Confused as to how this man from Nazareth knew so much about him, Jesus tells him plainly: “I saw you under the fig tree before Philip called you.” Note: Before Philip went to find his skeptical friend and invite him to come and see the Messiah, Jesus already saw Nathaniel clearly… He knew him inside and out. Though he may have felt alone underneath that fig tree, he was not unseen or forgotten. He was not lost to the eyes of God.
And that’s enough for Nathaniel. At these words alone, he goes from cynic to convinced in the blink of an eye. But Jesus has more in store for him… far more to reveal, not only to Nathaniel, but to us as well. When Nathaniel exclaims: “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” 50 Jesus answered, “Do you believe because I told you that I saw you under the fig tree? You will see greater things than these.” 51 And he said to him, “Very truly, I tell you, you will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.” Now what in the world is he talking about? Clearly Jesus (and the author of John) thinks this is an important revelation, something of significance we’re meant to understand.
Here’s another place where a healthy knowledge of the whole Scriptural story comes in handy. The Bible is full of interconnecting images and themes, all meant to weave together as God’s way of revealing Himself to us. In the case of Christ’s cryptic words about the angels of God ascending and descending on the son of man, the theologian Leonard Klein can help shed some light on things:
“When Jesus promises Philip and Nathanael a fuller vision, “greater things than these,” he alludes to Jacob/Israel’s dream of the angels ascending and descending the stairway to heaven [See Genesis 28:10-22]. The original event guarantees the unworthy Jacob’s place in the life of Israel and in the ancestry of Jesus. And as that place became holy, Bethel (which means “house of God”), so Jesus himself is now the dwelling place of God. The angels will ascend and descend upon him as they did upon Bethel. The reference is subtle but not obscure; for Christianity Jesus is the holy place. As God dwelt at Bethel and ultimately in the temple at Jerusalem, so he dwells in the Word made flesh and wherever the Spirit makes Christ present in the church.” Or as N.T. Wright puts it: “When you’re with Jesus, it is as though you’re in the house of God, the Temple itself, with God’s angels coming and going, and God’s own presence there beside you.”
The surprising revelation here is that Jesus is not merely someone with deep insight, or supernatural knowledge, He is Himself the holy meeting place of heaven and earth. He is that ultimate faithful priest the LORD promised Eli would one day come, who would completely embody the heart and mind of God in the world, standing faithfully on behalf of His often-faithless people… and laying down His life on the cross as the perfect sacrifice, dying in order to open up the way of life for the world.
Despite how far-off God may feel, in Jesus Christ He is truly with us, and we can be with Him. Through His holy word and sacraments, in times of prayer and service, when faced with strong temptations, doubts, or even failures, the Living God has opened up the way through His beloved Son for us to hear and heed His voice, finding new life in Him, who first loved and found us. And like Samuel and Philip, when we answer the call of the LORD, and draw near in faith, may He speak through us, through our words and lives, to draw others to Him too. Epiphany reminds us that God’s story is full of surprises; and that He works in surprising ways, through surprising circumstances, and simple people like us. May the Holy Spirit open our hearts and eyes to see the “greater things” of Christ at work today, and help us to faithfully make His presence known in our world. Amen.
 Leonard R. Klein, “Second Sunday after the Epiphany, Year B,” in The Lectionary Commentary: Theological Exegesis for Sunday’s Texts, Volume Three, ed. Roger E. Van Harn (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2001), 487.
 Tom Wright, John for Everyone, Part 1: Chapters 1-10 (London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 2004), 19.
Our service of Morning Prayer, Bulletin, and Sermon this week can be found here:
Our All-Ages Song for Epiphany can be found here:
And our other Songs can be found here:
Scripture Readings: Genesis 1:1–5 | Psalm 29 | Acts 19:1–7 | Mark 1:4–11
And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” (Mark 4:10-11).
A lot has happened in one week, hasn’t it? This past Wednesday, as the whole world is aware by now, an angry, violent mass of people, goaded on by the President, stormed the US Capitol building to try and disrupt the process of finalizing the recent US election results, in what many are calling an outright act of insurrection. Much can, and has been, said about this tragic and fatal event, though its long-term implications are not yet all that clear. But there is one image from Wednesday in particular that caught and held my attention: in the midst of all the violent tumult, some rioters were waving flags that read “Jesus Saves.” Seeing this, I felt sick. Of course, these words are true. Absolutely true. But to see them being identified so blatantly with the cause of violent political outrage, where lives were being threatened and lost in a chaotic struggle to simply seize power… it made me wonder (not for the first time) what kind of witness this kind of behaviour offers to a watching world. Is this how Christ’s salvation is to take concrete shape on earth? Anger and rage let loose upon those seen as enemies? Demanding that our will be done, or that their blood be shed? Last week was certainly not the first time we have seen our Lord’s precious name drawn into deeply disturbing actions… but it is one that should still give us pause, and perhaps lead us to ask ourselves what it really means to be a Christian. What does being a faithful disciple of Jesus Christ look like today? And what is it that drives this unique way of life forward?
Our Scripture reading today from the Gospel of Mark tells of the baptism of our Lord, Jesus Christ. As we reflect on this part of our Saviour Jesus’ sacred story, we may be able to find our bearings again when it comes to the Christian life; both what it truly looks like, and what keeps it going.
Our passage takes place right at the start of the Gospel of Mark: After announcing that his book is about “the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God” (Mark 1:1), Mark introduces John the Baptist as a prophetic messenger preparing the way for the LORD’s coming salvation, and tells us that John was calling God’s people to be baptized as an act of faithful repentance… of turning away from their sin, and turning their lives to the LORD. And we hear his message was resonating with a lot of folks: people were coming from all over Judaea, and from Jerusalem, confessing their sins, and seeking a new start on God’s path. But as we know, John knew there was more of the story of God’s salvation on it’s way. He knew there was one who was coming after him, who would baptize God’s people, not with water, but with the Holy Spirit of God, flooding them with God’s life-giving, and life-changing presence. And here, just 9 verses in to Mark’s Gospel, we meet Jesus of Nazareth, as He comes to John in order to be baptized as well. Up until now, Mark has only told us two things about Jesus: He is the Son of God, and yet He has come to be baptized alongside offenders seeking to repent. He comes from the Almighty Holy One, and yet comes to stand with sinners.
This might seem like a contradiction at first. How can these two go together? Aren't the good and the bad to be kept apart? Isn't it "us against them"? And yet as Mark’s Gospel unfolds, and the whole story of Scripture brings to light, we see that this surprising movement is at the heart of the Good News all the way through. Jesus’ baptism is the continuation of His astounding descent, His mission of incredible mercy, coming not to condemn, but to reach out and save sinners. Though He was eternally at-one with God the Father and the Holy Spirit, in His baptism Jesus identifies Himself with those alienated from God… with those exposed as unrighteous… as lawbreakers… as enemies. He places Himself alongside those who stand in desperate need of forgiveness… taking up the cause of those who need their lives completely turned around. The Christian life begins with Jesus drawing near to us in our sin, taking up our cause, and taking our place... to save us. In humbly stepping into the water, we see that Jesus doesn’t save from a safe distance… He steps right into our mess. Right into the flood, in order to bring us out again on the other side.
Because that, of course, is the whole point: Not simply drawing near to be with sinners, but drawing them out of the waters again! Drawing them out of the darkness and into the light of life. So often we forget that the salvation of God is meant to bring about some real changes in us, not simply to offer us comfort, or confirming our old habits. Yes, the Son of God came to draw near, but as the cliché goes, he doesn’t leave us there. He comes to rescue us, and realign us to share in God’s life. N.T. Wright has a good way of expressing this point: “The meaning of a royal pardon is not simply that the prisoner enjoys a good feeling of innocence restored, but that he gets out of jail.” Or as St. Paul puts it, in his second letter to the Corinthians (5:21), “For our sake he made him [Jesus] to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” Salvation entails our lives being filled with God’s own righteousness… undoing all the darkness within us, and setting us free to share in His light. But we know for this to happen, for God’s righteousness to truly take hold of our hearts, it was going to cost the Son of God all that He could give.
In His baptism, Jesus prefigures and points towards His ultimate act of redemption: His suffering and death upon the cross. Immersed in death’s shadow for our sake and for the sake of the world, Jesus endured the worst of what we sinners had coming our way. Ending our indebtedness through His great sacrifice. And in rising again from the grave, Jesus has opened up the way for God’s New Creation, New Life, to flood into our lives… to fill us up with the righteousness, with the goodness of God, transforming us more and more each day to be more and more like Him.
In His baptism, first in the waters of Jordan, and finally in His death on the cross, we find Jesus has come to truly rescue us from our sin. Jesus saves us by gaining our forgiveness, and by sharing God’s holy life with us… freeing us to be God’s true children today.
Upholding all of this talk of salvation is one more vital point to consider, one which sheds light on what it is that drives the Christian life: that is, God’s holy love. Love is what led Jesus to step into the waters in order to rescue even His enemies. Love is what led Him to give His life to bring God’s New Life to us. And love is what Jesus offers us now: the love of the Triune God… Father, Son, and Holy Spirit… drawing us deeper into His divine fellowship, and reaching out with that same love through us into the world. Jesus was not motivated by fear, or hungry for power, or seeking glory for Himself, or chasing after revenge. No, what led Him into the waters, and ultimately onto the cross was the love of God He shared in, and shared for God’s lost creation. Coming out of the water, we’re told the veil between heaven and earth was opened up for an instant. The Holy Spirit descended in peace on Jesus, like a dove, and the Father’s voice proclaimed: “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” From beginning to end, Jesus was filled with and led by the holy love of God, and this is what is to fill and lead His disciples today.
Christ’s baptism reveals the Living God’s heart of saving love: drawing near to us, drawing us near to Him, and flooding us with His holy love. This is the beginning of discipleship, of devoting our lives to following Jesus: trusting in His saving and life-changing love, that it may flood our lives, and lead us forward, every step of the way.
All we who claim to be Christians are called to walk “just as He walked” (1 John 2:6), to follow our Lord into the New Life God is bringing about. We are not free to give in to the darkness anymore… to the hatred, fear, prejudice, self-righteous indignation, or apathy we see at work all around us… but we're called instead to strive to stay always in the light of Jesus, our one and only Saviour, who loves us and gave Himself for us, and for this world, which still stands in such need of His saving love.
So in this turbulent time, may we resist the strong temptations on the one hand, to go along with the darkness, and on the other, to sit back and condemn as though we did not need forgiveness and mercy ourselves. May we remember our Saviour, Jesus, who draws near even to save sinners, and pray for the healing of hearts, and for His reconciliation to reign. May we place our faith in Him, who saves us through His own shed blood, and seeks to draw us all into the New Life of God. And may the Holy Spirit fill us with the holy love of God, so that all that we say and do faithfully proclaims the Good News of Jesus our Lord. Amen.
 N. T. Wright, Twelve Months of Sundays: Reflections on Bible Readings, Year B (London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 2002), 19.
God came to us
Born a child like me
God came to us
To save us
To set the whole world free
We were once in darkness
So God sent us a Light
God came to us in Jesus
To make the whole world bright!
Because God loved us so much
He gave to us His Son
God came to us in Jesus
To rescue everyone!
Now everyone together
Can be God's family
God came to us in Jesus
To set His children free!
Today we celebrate the Baptism of Jesus Christ our Lord; as the Son of God began His mission of mercy by standing in the place of sinners, in order to bring us God's salvation in all it's fullness.
Our service of Morning Prayer and Sermon this week can be found here:
Our All-Ages Song for the Season of Epiphany can be found here:
And our other Songs for this week can be found here:
Scripture Readings: Isaiah 60:1–6 | Psalm 72:1–7, 10–14 | Ephesians 3:1–12 | Matthew 2:1–12
What does the coming of Jesus Christ reveal to us? What is the coming of Jesus Christ meant to reveal through us?
This coming Wednesday, January the 6th, is the Feast of Epiphany: the manifestation of Jesus Christ as much more than He appears to be. Epiphany reminds us that the small, Jewish boy whose birth we just celebrated at Christmas, is in reality the Son of God, the Saviour King… not only of Israel, but of the entire world. Epiphany opens our eyes to just how big the Good News really is.
And yet, so much of Epiphany’s shocking story has largely lost it’s impact. Today, we heard from Matthew’s Gospel an old familiar story: some wise men, magi, from the east, following a star, bring gifts of myrrh, frankincense, and gold to the child, Jesus. It’s a scene many of us have seen in countless pageants, or Christmas cards… and so it can be pretty easy to lose out on the sense of surprise, or even shock, that this story actually has to offer… how easy it is to take for granted the wonderful things the Living God is revealing, to, and through, His people today.
So what does Epiphany, the appearing of Jesus Christ, reveal to us? For starters, it reveals the amazing humility of God.
In stark contrast to King Herod… and beyond him to the Emperor in Rome, the arrival of God’s Son did not conform to normal notions of power. He was born, not in the predictable centre of political influence, the holy capitol city of Jerusalem, where the wise men assumed the King of the Jews would be found, but rather in Bethlehem, in the ‘city’ of David’s birth… a name which reminds Matthew’s readers that centuries before, the LORD chose a poor, overlooked shepherd-boy to become the greatest King of His covenant people, Israel, and promised that one of David’s offspring would one day become the King of all Kings. And so now, in David’s city, God’s Son came to a young peasant couple, living on the distant edge of the Roman Empire, about as far from fame or prestige as imaginable. Epiphany shows us that the Living God is not playing by the rules of the world… the rules of self-serving pride and power. No, God is actively overturning our common expectations of how things are done. God’s Son will be a King unlike any other.
Another surprising revelation that Epiphany has in store for us is the radically welcoming grace of the Living God. This grace is most clearly seen in the coming of the wise men, from the East, which is meant to stir up our imaginations about where the rest of Christ’s story is headed. N.T. Wright makes this helpful point: “The arrival of the ‘Magi’ (that’s the word Matthew uses for them; it can refer to ‘magicians’, or ‘astrologers’, or experts in interpreting dreams, portents and other strange happenings) introduces us to something which Matthew wants us to be clear about from the start. If Jesus is in some sense king of the Jews, that doesn’t mean that his rule is limited to the Jewish people.”  After all, these magi were Gentiles… that is, non-Israelites, yet they were drawn to honour and worship the newborn ‘King of the Jews’. While King Herod and his scribes, who were supposed to be leading God’s people, were missing the moment of the coming of the LORD’s long-awaited Messiah, those from far off, both literally and spiritually, were being drawn near… foreshadowing the end of Matthew’s Gospel, when the resurrected Jesus would send out His apostles to “go and make disciples of all nations.” Epiphany reveals to us that what God is doing in Christ, God is doing for all people, not just a few. The LORD is drawing all people to Himself through Jesus Christ His Son. He is the King of the Jews, but His Kingdom is open to all.
Which leads to one more revelation Epiphany has for us: The joy of God. We might think something as sacred as the start of God’s rescue mission must be solemn and serious, especially considering all of the obstacles that need to be overcome. So often when it comes to matters of faith, or the Church, it’s easier to think in terms of duty than delight. But we are told today that the wise men were filled… were overwhelmed with joy when the star stopped, leading them to Jesus at last. And along with all the sacred seriousness of Christ’s arrival, and in the midst of all the difficulties and dangers, the coming of God’s Son is still the source of profound joy… of a deep sense that in Jesus, the world is being put back on track… that beyond our wildest dreams, God’s New Day is dawning. Epiphany reveals to us the joyfulness of God’s New Life, the joy which he shares with the world through His Son.
There’s so much more Epiphany has to show us, I’m sure… but for today, perhaps these three are enough: The coming of Christ reveals to us the humility of God, the welcoming grace of God, and the gift of joy God is offering in Jesus Christ.
But the question remains: what is the coming of Christ meant to reveal through us? In the light of Epiphany, was is our role to play? As members of the Church, after all, we are being drawn into Christ’s story: sharing in His Kingdom, His mission, and His New Life.
Again, there are many ways we could answer this question, but I think these same three things are a good place to start: Epiphany shows us that God desires to make His humility, His welcoming grace, and His joy manifest in the world through us, through the Church, the body of Jesus Christ, His Son.
How does our life display God’s humility? Are there places where we let ourselves be guided (or blinded) by pride? Are we stuck playing by the rules of the world around us, or are we willing to set our egos aside and let God have His way, even if that means letting Him turn our lives upside down? So often we can think that God won’t want to use ordinary people like us… but Epiphany reminds us God loves to lift up the humble… to work within the lives of those the world thinks nothing of, in order to share His Kingdom in the most surprising ways. So let us pray: LORD, let Your humble Spirit shine through us, and keep us from the snares of self-doubt, and selfish pride.
How does our life make evident the LORD’s welcoming grace? Are we consciously or unconsciously setting up barriers between us and the people God is longing to draw to Himself? Are we eager to open our doors and ourselves to whomever God brings our way? Are we willing to bring the Good News of Jesus out of our church and into our neighbourhood? Our relationships? Our everyday lives? It’s easy to keep the message of the Gospel to ourselves, but Epiphany reminds us this message is really meant for all. So let us pray: LORD, let Your welcoming grace shine through us, and keep our hearts from growing cold from fear, and prejudice.
How does our life bring the Living God’s joy to birth? Not through a forced smile, but a true sense of delight in what God is up to. Are we able to let the exciting, world-changing significance of the Good News of Jesus soak into our hearts, and shape the way we see and live out our own stories? So often we can get so distracted or discouraged, and lose sight of the wonderful ways God is still at work in our world… and the hope we have been given through Jesus Christ, our King. So let us pray: LORD, let Your joy abide in us always, and keep us close to You the source of all true delight, as we follow Your Son Jesus to Your everlasting Kingdom.
And may the light of Epiphany, that is, the light of Jesus Christ, shine on us, and shine through us, forever. Amen
 Tom Wright, Matthew for Everyone, Part 1: Chapters 1-15 (London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 2004), 11.
Today we celebrate the Feast of Epiphany, the revealing of Jesus Christ as the Son of God, sent as the Saviour King, not only for Israel, but for all the world.
Our service of Morning Prayer, Bulletin, and Sermon for this week can be found here:
And our Songs for this week can be found here:
Scripture Reading: Isaiah 61:10–62:3 | Psalm 148 | Galatians 4:4–7 | Luke 2:22–40
…for my eyes have seen your salvation,
which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples,
a light for revelation to the Gentiles
and for glory to your people Israel.
It’s hard to believe the new year, 2021, is almost here. Though none of us know what it will be bringing our way, I know a lot of us are hoping that it’ll be a lot better than this past year. That the worst parts of 2020 will be learned from and left behind, and that the way forward for our world will be a whole lot brighter.
Of course, this idea of starting fresh… of beginning a new year with positive change and progress is nothing new. Our culture has long promoted the idea of making New Year’s resolutions… making plans for how we’ll better ourselves… usually by doing things like eating better, getting more exercise… or some other practice meant to make us ‘better people.’ Like many others I’ve talked to, though, I’ve given up on making New Year’s resolutions. The purpose behind them might be praiseworthy, but the problem seems to be that so many of us struggle to faithfully put our plans into practice. In seems we need more than the desire to make healthier changes… we need the will to devote ourselves to a whole new way of life, not just for a few weeks, but for the long-haul, whether we feel like it or not. If the start of a New Year can help you find some motivation to change, that’s great. But what I think we need, more than a change of date, is a renewed sense of devotion. Of deliberately committing ourselves to follow the way of life.
Our Scripture passage today from the Gospel of Luke highlights the theme of devotion through each of the people it introduces to us. Each in their own way embody deep, life-giving commitments, inspiring us to reflect on our own commitments in life.
Again this week, we begin with the examples of Mary & Joseph, as they bring their infant Son, Jesus, to the Temple in Jerusalem, in order to perform the ritual of presenting Him to the LORD. In this action, it is revealed that they were devout observers of God’s Law; putting into practice Israel’s commitment to the LORD’s covenant. Their journey to Jerusalem was certainly not a vacation, it was a pilgrimage, a concrete act of putting their trust in God into practice… embodying their faith by making this sacred but costly trip. We were told they purchased the proper sacrifice, designated for those who were poor: In Leviticus 12, regarding the laws for ritual purity after childbirth, it says: “When the days of her purification are completed, whether for a son or for a daughter, she shall bring to the priest at the entrance of the tent of meeting a lamb in its first year for a burnt offering, and a pigeon or a turtledove for a sin offering… If she cannot afford a sheep, she shall take two turtledoves or two pigeons, one for a burnt offering and the other for a sin offering; and the priest shall make atonement on her behalf, and she shall be clean.” (Lev.12:6,8). Though they were not well off, this young Jewish family, did their best to live out their faith. To rearrange their lives around their commitment to God.
After Mary and Joseph, we’re introduced to a man named Simeon, a man that St. Luke refers to as “righteous & devout.” But Simeon was not simply a rule follower, he was someone on whom the Holy Spirit of God rested… someone eager to respond to the LORD’s leading. Simeon embodied his faith by listening for the voice of God, and letting the Spirit guide his steps, not simply going about his own business.
And along with Simeon, we are introduced to Anna: A prophet of God, living as a widow in God’s Temple, worshiping, fasting, and praying as her daily routine. At 84, she lived a life of sincere ministry, utterly devoted to the LORD and His people. Anna embodied her faith by setting aside her own path in life, and putting the LORD and His word to His people above all other concerns.
All of these are great examples of enduring devotion. They all embody their commitment to God in various ways, able to inspire us to re-examine our own devotion to the LORD… to reflect on how we are embodying our faith, and putting it into practice. Not like a New Year’s resolution… a self-driven attempt to better ourselves… but as a response to the faithful love of God, a gift that shapes and rearranges us… and how we live out our days. For as great as these other examples of devotion may be, the faithfulness and loving-kindness of the LORD is what upholds them all.
It is God’s own devotion that drives this story forward.
The Law which Mary and Joseph traveled to Jerusalem to fulfill echoes back to the days when the Living God rescued Israel from slavery in Egypt. Since the time of Passover, when the firstborn of Egypt were slain, and the firstborn of Israel spared, God’s people were to offer a sacrifice to acknowledge that their children belonged to God… to remember that without His loving faithfulness, they would have never left Egypt. They would have had no future, no hope of rescue without Him. In Exodus chapter 13, we are told that, Every firstborn male among your children you shall redeem [with a sacrifice]. When in the future your child asks you, ‘What does this mean?’ you shall answer, ‘By strength of hand the Lord brought us out of Egypt, from the house of slavery. When Pharaoh stubbornly refused to let us go, the Lord killed all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, from human firstborn to the firstborn of animals. Therefore I sacrifice to the Lord every male that first opens the womb, but every firstborn of my sons I redeem.’” (Ex. 13:12-15). This Law kept alive the memory of God’s saving faithfulness, which the whole story of Israel highlights again and again.
And the hope that kept Simeon attentive to the voice of God was the promise that the LORD would not leave His people to struggle and suffer forever. Even in the darkest times of Israel’s history, when their cities were destroyed, and their people carried off into exile, God’s Spirit spoke to the prophets of old and promised them there would be a day when God’s salvation would come again and rescue His people, once and for all. That God would finally deliver them from all of their oppressors, and draw, not only Israel, but all nations back to God… to recreate the whole world in righteousness and truth.
And the ministry of Anna as a prophet in the Temple, with her life set aside in unending service to the LORD, reflected the Living God’s unending devotion to His people. Anna was able to see in the boy Mary & Joseph brought that day the hope for all those seeking the redemption of Jerusalem. For this ordinary looking Child would grow up and spend His whole life enacting the devotion… the faithful love, of God.
Jesus was, after all, the Son of God incarnate: Very God of Very God, taking on human life in all it’s fractured fullness, in order to rescue, and redeem, and reconcile us to God once more.
In this child, the Living God Himself was embodying His devotion to save his sinful creatures, and bring them His New Life: To enlighten the Gentiles, that is, all the communities of the earth, and to share His glory with His covenant partners, Israel… binding them all into one worldwide family of God, through the life, and death of Jesus.
God’s devotion would cost Him dearly. From the very first breath, Christ’s ministry would lead Him to the cross. But in facing it for us, through being faithful even unto death, Christ offered Himself as the ultimate sacrifice to save us all. And through His resurrection, never to die again, Jesus opened up the way for the world to share in His New Life forever… beginning God’s re-creating work in the world, right now in our hearts, which He will finally bring to completion when Christ comes again in glory.
It is because of God’s devotion, His faithful loving-kindness we have come to know most clearly in His Son, Jesus Christ, that we can confidently face the days and years that lie before us. It is because of the holy Child born to be our Saviour, that we have come to know that the LORD’s faithful love is stronger than death. That in love the Living God gave to His Son to set us free, so that we might be spared, and share in His blessed New Life.
So as we think about the kind of people we want to be moving forward, and what kinds of practices we will need to put into place for that to happen, may the faithful loving-kindness of the LORD be our strength and guide, not only in shaping our desires, but in shaping our wills, our devotion as well. May our top priority always be following Christ faithfully, even if it means re-arranging our own plans. May we listen closely to the LORD, in the Scriptures and in prayer, eager to respond to His Spirit’s leading voice. May our devotion take deep roots in the rhythm of our lives: not coming in fits and spurts, but growing in faithfulness. And most of all, may we remember that even when we stumble and fall, our devoted Saviour Jesus Christ has come to raise us up. Amen.
Today we celebrate the first Sunday of the season of Christmas, and also the final Sunday of the year 2020 A.D.
Let us remember the hope, peace, joy, and love of God that the story of Christmas shares with us, and let us seek to share them with those around us as we look forward to the coming year.
Merry Christmas, Happy New Year, and many blessings in Christ!
Our service of Morning Prayer, Bulletin, and Sermon for this Sunday can be found here:
And our Songs for this Sunday can be found here:
Scripture Readings: Isaiah 9:2–7 | Psalm 96 | Titus 2:11–14 | Luke 2:1–20
The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light;
those who lived in a land of deep darkness— on them light has shined.
It’s almost become a cliché to speak of 2020 as a year of bad news. Of running through a growing list of reasons we might have to complain. True, it has been a crazy year… one chalk full of uncertainty, and disruptions, anxiety, disappointments, and startling surprises. Looking back, it’s easy to long for days past that seemed far simpler, and calmer... to turn to our cherished memories, in search of some much needed comfort. I think those are some of the gifts that this time of year often has to offer: the gifts of happy memories, and treasured traditions.
But this year, as we know, Christmas will look quite different for most people, as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to play out. Social gatherings, travel plans, family meals, even singing, have all been discouraged in order to keep the risks of infection down. Here in New Brunswick, we have at least a shaky sense of safety and freedom, but beyond the Maritimes, many of our fellow Canadians are facing serious shut-downs. And sadly, many nations around the world face even more dire days ahead. Now is not the time to be dismissive of the fearful situation so many people are having to deal with this Christmas and beyond. We do well to remember to pray for those struggling and suffering today, and also to offer them whatever help we can.
Surrounded, it seems, by this gloomy cloud of darkness and ‘bad news’, it can be tempting to focus on all that has changed over this last, crazy year. To dwell on all that now feels so uncertain and broken… all that we have lost… and all that we fear. Without being able to practice many of our treasured traditions, it may feel quite hard to truly celebrate the holidays this year.
But as we listen again to the familiar story of Christmas, the story of the birth of Jesus, the Christ, we may find ourselves encountering the Good News of God. Not just a nice distraction from all of the darkness, but a light which drives it’s power away, and shines to set us free.
We hear of Mary and Joseph: two first century Jews whose lives were upended by the distant decree of Caesar Augustus. We can imagine just how powerless this couple must have felt, forced to travel to Bethlehem while Mary was due any day… feeling forsaken as they found no room for them in the inn. And yet somehow they were still drawn into the surprising story the LORD was weaving with their lives, as the child Mary bore was the Son of the Living God, born among us in total vulnerability… and humility. To Mary and Joseph, to those with no earthly security, Jesus had come. In their midst is where Almighty God chose to take on flesh and dwell on earth. Sharing in their life of uncertainty, the Prince of Peace took his first breath, and began His mission of mercy.
We hear that the shepherds too were being drawn into this story, with their own part to play. Rough, uncultured, uneducated, overlooked by most of society, shepherds were easy to ignore… easy for those with power and status to completely disregard. Working as they did in a difficult, harsh, and often looked down on profession, shepherds would not have been on anybody’s guest list. And yet the angel choir does not descend to a palace with heavenly songs, but instead a handful of startled shepherds are chosen to hear their anthem. It is to them the angel of the LORD says “Do not be afraid…” It is to them the “good news of great joy for all people” was first entrusted. Those who were neglected and dismissed, God singled out to share in heaven’s joyous celebration… to bear witness to the birth of Jesus the Christ.
And though these words were written down many centuries ago, we too today are drawn again into this familiar story. Our lives are also being weaved into its joyous narrative.
In the midst of our uncertainty, vulnerability, confusion, our feelings of forsakenness, and unworthiness, God’s Son was born, long before all of our treasured traditions and plans, to share in and bear our burdens as well… to draw near to us all in the heart of our deepest distress. But more than simply sharing in the sufferings of the world, Jesus was born to bring to light the salvation, the rescue, of God. He came, not only to weep with us, but to wipe away our sorrow. Not only to keep us company, but to shatter the chains that keep us bound. Not only to bring us to heaven one day, but to bring God’s grace to us even now. Not only to warm our hearts once a year, but to fill us with His love forever.
Despite how different and difficult our Christmases may be this year, at the heart of it all we have been offered something that can never be taken away. We have the Good News of God’s great gift of self-giving love: that in Jesus, God has given Himself… to you… to me… to us all.
Nothing, no plague or pandemic… no distance or loneliness or loss… nothing in all of creation can ever undo this wonderous gift of love.
So whether or not our holidays feel familiar or special this year, may we remember and cherish the Good News that the story of Christmas shares: the message that God has given Himself to us in Jesus, His Son… to set us free from darkness, fear, sin, and despair, that we might dwell with Him, in the light of His hope, peace, joy, and love, now and forever. Do not be afraid. Hear and believe the Good News for all people: Jesus was born to be our Saviour, and that’s worth celebrating.
I’ll end now with a Christmas poem by the author Madeleine L’Engle, entitled “First Coming”:
First Coming by Madeleine L’Engle
He did not wait till the world was ready,
till men and nations were at peace.
He came when the Heavens were unsteady,
and prisoners cried out for release.
He did not wait for the perfect time.
He came when the need was deep and great.
He dined with sinners in all their grime,
turned water into wine. He did not wait
till hearts were pure. In joy he came
to a tarnished world of sin and doubt.
To a world like ours, of anguished shame
he came, and his Light would not go out.
He came to a world which did not mesh,
to heal its tangles, shield its scorn.
In the mystery of the Word made Flesh
the Maker of the stars was born.
We cannot wait till the world is sane
to raise our songs with joyful voice,
for to share our grief, to touch our pain,
He came with Love: Rejoice! Rejoice!
Merry Christmas everyone. Amen.
Merry Christmas, and may we celebrate with joy the story of our Saviour's birth: Jesus Christ the Lord!
If you missed out on our Lessons & Carols service last Sunday, which tells the story of Christ's birth through a series of Scripture Readings and Songs, you can find it here:
You can find our service of Morning Prayer and Sermon for Christmas here:
Our final Advent Candle Lighting Video, and Hope is a Star Video are both here:
And here are our Songs (Audio Only) for our Christmas service, performed by our St. Luke's Choir.
Many blessings this Christmas, and may God's hope, peace, joy, and love remain with you wherever you are.
Many thanks to our St. Luke's GP Choir (and friends) for leading our service of Lessons & Carols this year.
May we all be blessed and our spirit's stirred by the Good News of our Saviour's birth as we listen to the Scriptures and Songs they share with us.
Our Christmas Eve services this year will be held at 5PM and 7:30PM at St. Luke's Church, and our Christmas Day service will be held at 11AM.
Please register ahead of time for these services (before December 24) by contacting Rev. Rob
(firstname.lastname@example.org), and be sure to review our COVID-19 Operational Plan.
On December 27, we will have our regular Sunday service at 10AM, as well as our Blue Christmas service at 7PM in the evening.
Many blessings this week as we celebrate the hope, peace, joy, and love that comes to us in Christ.
Today marks the fourth Sunday of Advent, a holy season where we reflect and prepare for the coming of Christ Jesus our Lord.
On this, the fourth week, the Church often reflects upon the theme of love. Here is another great video from the Bible Project exploring the how the Holy Scriptures speak about love.
At St. Luke's we take time each week in Advent to light the candles in our Advent Wreath. Even though all of us are not gathering together in our Parish Church at this time, we can still carry on this tradition from our homes.
The Candle Lighting liturgy can be found in our Service of Morning Prayer. If you have candles at home you can light them during your practice of these home prayers, or you can follow along with our Advent Lighting Video.
This Sunday, we are also holding our Service of Lessons & Carols, where we tell the story of Christmas with alternating Scripture Readings and Songs.
There will be no sermon this week, but stay tuned today for a special gift from our St. Luke's Choir.
Our Service of Morning Prayer and Songs for this week can be found here:
Many blessings to you this fourth week of Advent, and may the Holy Spirit fill us with the Love of Jesus Christ.