Saturday, January 29, 2011

God Always Comes Down

We are in one of the longest Epiphany seasons. It's because Easter is the latest that it can possibly be. So, we have a lot of time to think about Jesus being the light of the world and revealing himself to us.

All of the gospel texts for this season show us one way, or another, how Jesus is revealed to us. It begins each Epiphany season, on the Day of Epiphany, when the Magi visit Jesus, symbolizing Jesus being revealed to the world. The Magi represent the world in this story. Then, we acknowledge Jesus' being revealed as the Son of God when he is baptized. Each week we see something new about Jesus as he is revealed in a new way.

What we do recognize is that Jesus is revealed to us. We never are in control of finding out about Jesus. You see, God always come s down. That is what this arrow portrays. The arrow reminds us how God acts and responds. God always comes down. That's another revelation from God through Jesus.

Think about it. God came down to Adam and Eve. God came down to Cain. God came down to Noah. God came down to Abraham. Throughout the Hebrew Testament, God always came down. The Christian Testament is the ultimate indication of God’s movement. God came down as one of us. God came down through Jesus.

Because of God’s coming down as Jesus, we have a model of the Godly life. Because God came down in Jesus, Jesus came down to be one of us and ultimately to die so that we may be one with God. Jesus came down for us and to redeem us.

This helps us to understand a basic theological understanding of our relationship with God: We are justified by faith through grace.

As the season of Epiphany continues, we are constantly reminded of God coming to us. The season ends with the transfiguration of Jesus. One more time Jesus is revealed to us, in his humanness, as he displays the glory of who he is.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

We are Baptized into Christ

When Lutherans have a spiritual discussion, many times the subject of baptism arises. It is not surprising. For Lutherans, our life in Christ begins in and with baptism. It is at that time that we commit our lives to God. It is at the time of our baptism that we recognize, just as Paul said, “It is no longer we who live, but it is Christ who lives within us.” It is at the time of our baptism that we are made members of the body of Christ. It is at the time of our baptism that we are sealed by the Holy Spirit and marked with the cross of Christ forever. It is at the time of baptism that we are buried with Jesus into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life.

However, baptism is not just an event. It is not something that is done, or needs to be done, more than once. As Paul says in Ephesians, chapter 4:4-6, “There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all.” One might say that before we are baptized, we are human beings on a spiritual journey. After we are baptized, we are spiritual beings on a human journey. Our lives now can become channels of God’s grace, mercy, and love. In our baptismal process, we commit ourselves to the following five actions: 1) to live among God’s faithful people, 2) to hear God’s word and share in God’s supper, 3) to proclaim the good news of God in Christ through word and deed, 4) to serve all people, following the example of our Lord Jesus Christ, 5) and to strive for justice and peace in all the earth. Our baptismal life becomes a challenging life, a selfless life, a life of commitment, a life of change, and a life of service.

Lutherans also believe that there is no specific time for the baptism of an individual. A person might be baptized soon after birth, as a young child, when a person reaches the age of reason, or as a mature adult. Baptism is an act of God, not an act of humans. Yes, humans perform the rite with water and, sometimes, oil, which is used to symbolize being sealed by the Holy Spirit. Baptism occurs on God’s time, not on our time.

Infant baptism is encouraged by Lutherans for two basic reasons. First, we are justified by faith through grace. It is God’s grace, and God’s grace is totally in God’s power. There is nothing we need to do nor is there anything we need to be as recipients of God’s grace. Furthermore, in the scripture, whole households were baptized, such as cited in the Acts of the Apostles, chapter 16, verse 33, when Paul remained in prison after an earthquake, and he baptized the jailer’s whole family. The author says, “At the same hour of the night he took them and washed their wounds; then he and his entire family were baptized without delay.” Entire families would include small children and babies.

There is a question that is asked quite often. “If a person is not baptized, will that person go to hell?” First of all, it is not baptism that saves. It is God’s grace, mercy, and love that save, through Jesus Christ, who died on the cross and was raised from death. Remember the thief on the cross, as reported in the Gospel of Luke? Jesus said, “Today you will be with me in paradise.” Certainly the thief on the cross was not baptized. In scripture there is no citation that indicates a person will not be saved if the person is not baptized. However, Jesus does say that we are to make disciples of all nations, baptizing in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Thus, the answer to the question is one of the mysteries of our life in Christ.

We are to live a baptismal life as children who have been adopted by God and who are inheritors of God’s kingdom.

Saturday, January 1, 2011


Okay, everybody, he’s here. Jesus is here. We commemorated his arrival on Christmas Eve. According to the Gospel of Luke, he arrived in his mother’s arms, wrapped in bands of cloth, and was laid in a feeding trough, in a stable, where his parents were. We also believe that God came to shepherds in the field, through God’s angels, and announced his birth.

We celebrate his birth on December 25. We began our journey to the manger on November 28, the First Sunday in Advent, when the new church year began. We listened to Jesus’ comments about the last days. We spent two Sundays thinking about the meaning of John the Baptist who prepared the way for Jesus. Then we heard the birth story of Jesus, according to the Gospel of Matthew. Joseph heard an angel in a dream tell Joseph to take Mary as his wife, even though she was pregnant. He did so and named the child Jesus.

Since December 25, we have been celebrating the birth of Jesus during the twelve days of Christmas. Jesus is here!

We begin to think about the meaning of his being here on January 6. It is the Day of Epiphany and begins the season of Epiphany. This season of the church year ends with Ash Wednesday, when we begin the season of Lent. And we have a long Epiphany season this year since Easter is the latest that it can be, April 24. Ash Wednesday is March 9. There are nine Sundays in the season of Epiphany, the most we can have. The first Sunday is always the time we celebrate the baptism of Jesus. The last Sunday of Epiphany we celebrate the Transfiguration of Our Lord.

Why is the season of Epiphany so important? We can begin our understanding of this season by remembering that on the Day of Epiphany, the “Wise Men” came from the East to bring gifts to Jesus as Lord and king. They were the first Gentiles to acknowledge the kingship of Jesus. By this action, Jesus was “revealed” to the world. The word epiphany means “to show,” “to make known,” or “to reveal.”

Scripture reports that the Magi brought three gifts to Jesus: gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Because there were three gifts, it is traditional to recognize that there were three Magi. However, scripture does not mention the number that came. Traditionally, the names given to the Magi are: Balthasar, Caspar, and Melchior.

Besides our celebration of Jesus being revealed to the world, we consider that during the season of Epiphany, the “Light” has burst forth to all nations and the prophecy is fulfilled: "The Gentiles shall walk in Thy light, and kings in the brightness of Thy rising." The mysterious star of Epiphany, "flashing like a flame," is a facet of the light-motif, a symbol capable of being interpreted in a dozen different ways.

We began this church year in Advent, recognizing that the world has lived in darkness. With the Christmas season, we acknowledge the coming of the Son of God to the world, even though his presence is dimly seen by shepherds, and his parents have to flee to Egypt to save his life.

On the Day of Epiphany, January 6, we recognize that Jesus has burst forth as God’s son, our Lord, the Messiah. The season of Epiphany continues through February until March 8. We celebrate that the light truly has come into the world, as the Gospel of John says, “full of grace and truth.”