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One of the rituals that marks every new year is the official replacing of the calendar. In our house, we have a wall calendar in the kitchen on which we mark schedules, events, appointments and of course, church activities. The challenge is to get just the right calendar that will provide the appropriate inspiration throughout the year. There's the dog calendar and the cat calendar. The covered bridge calendar and the lighthouse calendar. The quilt calendar and the Appalachian Trail and the fly-fishing calendar. For the particularly pious and righteous house, the calendar of choice will be one with bible verses for each month or the Concordia Theological Seminary calendar with pictures of the campus where God is truly present. Needless to say, in our house, its either a cat or lighthouse calendar.
Regardless of the type of calendar you choose, we can't help but notice that it is organized into 12 different months, 52 different weeks and 365 different days. This is the way that we keep track of time and organize our life according to the secular calendar.
But the church keeps track of time and organizes our life much differently. For example, the secular calendar tells us that this is the 2nd Sunday in January. But the Church calendar tells us that this is the 2nd Sunday after the Epiphany.
That's because the secular calendar is organized according to the earth's rotation around the sun, s-u-n. Every year tracks one complete rotation around the sun as we move from winter to spring to summer to fall.
The Church's calendar however is organized according to the Church's rotation around the Son, S-o-n. Every year tracks one complete rotation around the life of Christ from Advent to Christmas to Epiphany to Lent to Easter to Pentecost.
The reason why it's important for us to use a Church year calendar for our worship is the same as the reason for why it's important for us to use a secular calendar at home. Just as it would be hard to keep track of our schedules and activities if we didn't have a calendar, it's hard to imagine that we would ever stay so focused and centered on the life of Christ our savior, if we didn't use this kind of structure for our worship and life of faith.
Another benefit of following a Church calendar is that we get a more comprehensive picture of the life of Christ than if just jumped from topic to topic depending on whatever the pastor happened to be interested in preaching on.
For instance, one thing that becomes clear as we move from Christmas to Epiphany is the dramatic in contrast in Jesus' visibility. During the Christmas season it became obvious that Jesus was kept hidden from the world that He came to save. He's not only born out-of-town, but He's hidden in an undisclosed stable. The foreigners who came to worship Him were surprised that no one seemed to know where He was. Once His location was made known, He was smuggled out of the country to a secret location in Egypt so that no one could find Him. The only episode we're given of His adolescent years was the time when His own mother didn't even know where He was. The very fact that only two of the four gospels reports on the birth of Christ tells you that this is a very private time in His life.
So, when we move from the season of Christmas and into the season of Epiphany, the first thing that stands out here is that Jesus is moving from the private to the public. The Baptism of Jesus at the Jordan River marks the beginning of His PUBLIC ministry. In the verses just before our gospel reading we're told that when Jesus came to the John at the Jordan River, "Jerusalem and all Judea and all the region about the Jordan were there." (Mat.3:5). It's as though everyone's turned out for the introduction of Jesus.
And what an introduction it was. "The heavens were opened and the Spirit of God descended on Him like a dove," and "a voice from heaven said, 'This is my beloved Son with whom I am well pleased.'"
John however didn't think that this was a very appropriate way for Jesus to go public. After all, what was "Jerusalem and all of Judea and all the region about the Jordan" doing at the Jordan River? Matthew says, "they were confessing their sins and being baptized by John."
John was operating a waste-recycling station on the Jordan River. People came to turn in their old, sinful lives for new ones. It just didn't seem right to John that Jesus should also come to be baptized. He didn't need it. He was perfect and had no need of repentance. Matthew writes, "John would have prevented him, saying, 'I need to be baptized by you and do you come to me?'"
John had refused to baptize the Scribes and the Pharisees who came out to the Jordan because they refused to repent and confess their sins and live by faith in God. Now, he wanted to refuse baptism to Jesus because He has no sin to confess and nothing to repent of.
John's calling was to be the front man for Jesus. He was to "prepare the way for the Lord." And he had been doing just that. The reason that "Jerusalem and all of Judea and all the region about the Jordan," was because of John. He warned everyone that the Messiah was coming into the world and everyone needed to get ready to meet Him. And the way you get ready to meet Him was to repent and be baptized.
John had told everyone that the Messiah would be "greater than me." "He who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry." (Mat.3:11).
But when He appears on the scene, the greater one submits Himself to the lesser one. The one 'mightier than John,' wanted the same treatment as the weak ones who were being baptized. There was just something about this picture that wasn't right.
"Jesus answer him, 'Let it be so for now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.'" Jesus says, 'John, my dear cousin, I know that this is confusing for you because you expected me to come with power and great glory and carry out my work with fire and a sword. But I intend to accomplish the work I came to do by taking their place in the judgment for their sins – and yours too John. Divine justice will be carried out alright John. But not like you think. In fact, its just the opposite of what you think. The sinless one will be called the sinner and the sinner will be called the saint. The innocent One will be punished and the guilty ones will be pardoned. By being baptized with them, I will enter into their sin and their death so that I may bear it for them. And when they are baptized, they will enter into all that I have done for them."
"So, 'let it be so FOR NOW' John. NOW is the time for my power and glory to remain hidden so that only those who believe in me may see it. Don't worry, the time will come when everyone will see the full extent of my power and glory – the power and glory that was mine before the world began. Then, every knee will bow and every tongue confess and every eye see what only my believers saw and confessed. The time for my exaltation will come, sure enough John. But now is the time for my humiliation. "Let it be so for now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness."
And then we read, "and John consented." As strange as it may sound, there is no greater or truer faith than to do what John does here and consent and let Jesus be the sinner. This is what He has come to be and this is the way that He will accomplish the work that He has come to do.
If John ever needed confirmation that he did the right thing, he certainly got it. As soon as he baptized Jesus, the sky broke open, the Holy Spirit descended upon Jesus and the voice of the Father declared His approval.
It had to have been reassuring for the prophet Isaiah too. 600 years before Jesus was baptized by John, Isaiah had seen the day coming when God would announce the beginning of the end times by this grand introduction of His Son. "Behold, my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen in whom my soul delights." This servant / son would accomplish all that God promised to do for His people. I have put my Spirit upon him; He will bring forth justice to the nations."
Isaiah foretold how this divine justice would be carried out with divine mercy. "He will not cry aloud or lift up his voice, or make it heard in the street." That is, don't expect any shouting or screaming from Him like we do with one another. No verbal abuse from Jesus, only verbal grace and kind words that lift us up and revive our spirit. He is the embodiment of the wisdom spoken of in Proverbs: "Gracious words are like a honeycomb, sweetness to the soul and health to the body. (Proverbs 16:24)
"A bruised reed he will not break." What a wonderful metaphor. A reed is a long, slender type of grass. If it gets bent too far, it snaps, and once it does, there's no fixing it. It's destined to be bent over forever.
Isn't that just the picture of the life of so many, maybe even some of us? The burdens that we carry around in us and weight that we bear on our hearts and minds can bend us over to the breaking point.
And, "A faintly burning wick He will not quench." Sometimes, the candles on our altar run low on the liquid that fills them and the flame gets smaller and smaller as the service goes on. Sometimes we wonder if they'll remain lit until the acolyte comes by to put finally extinguish them.
It's the picture of a person who's soul is running desperately low on hope and who feels as though their life is surely about enter into total darkness.
We are the bruised reeds and the faintly burning wicks that Isaiah is talking about here. And the "servant of the Lord" is Jesus. He will not to break us off or snuff us out. Rather, He will support bruised reeds with His strong arm and tender loving care. And He will revive smoldering wicks by filling us with His Spirit.
And this He will do by uniting Himself to us. This is the essence of what the Baptism of Christ is all about. It is where He unites Himself to sinners who are bruised and faintly burning because of sin – both their own and the sin of others. He will not break us nor quench our spirit. And neither will He be broken or His Spirit crushed, because the Holy Spirit is upon Him.
By His baptism, Jesus Christ has united Himself to you to give you all of His gifts forgiveness and love and all of His power to raise your broken and smoldering life from the dead.
And likewise, in your baptism, you have been united to Christ. Essentially, that's what Baptism is all about, both Christ's baptism and ours. It unites Christ to us and us to Christ.
Why would anyone ever try to prevent such a thing?
"For if we have been united with him in a death like His, we shall certainly be united with him in resurrection like His." (Rom.6:5)