Things Change: A Sermon on Epiphany

Today is January 2nd, and we are nearing the end of Christmastide or the Twelve Days of Christmas.  Western Christians (i.e. Roman Catholics and most Protestant faiths) celebrate Epiphany on January 6th.  Let’s continue to celebrate the birth of Jesus by recognizing that when Jesus arrives, thing change.

Colossians 1:15-20 is a short passage that describes who and what Jesus is.  While the following sermon does not provide exegesis of these verses, they describe not only the incarnation but also the purpose of it.  The birth of Jesus is the meeting of heaven and earth; it changes everything.  Let’s start simple and work our way up.

1) Things change immediately for Mary and Joseph. The angel Gabriel has already appeared to each of them separately at the beginning of Mary’s pregnancy.  After the birth of Jesus they are visited first by shepherds, with incredible stories of an angelic host, then later by wise men bearing valuable gifts.  These were curious events that Mary “treasured up in her heart.”  This was obviously not a typical birth nor an average family.

2) History changes. Today is January 2 In the Year of our Lord 2011.  Abbreviated A.D.  Anno domini is Latin for in the year of our Lord, although it is commonly misconceived to stand for after death since B.C. refers to the years before Christ.  Today it is increasingly common to use C.E. and B.C.E. in order to avoid reference to Christ, but let’s be honest; the dividing point in history is at exactly the same place (the birth of Christ) but without acknowledging his existence then the division appears completely arbitrary.  The arrival of Jesus into the world changing the way we understand history and count years on the calendar whether you wish to think about it or not.

Our Bible divides between the Old and New Testaments at the birth of Jesus.  Don’t say the Jews only read the Old Testament; what we call the Old Testament is more accurately in their faith the Hebrew Bible.  For the Christian believer the New Testament, describing the new covenant relationship, is a whole new thing made possible by Jesus Christ.  Jesus brings division.  He explains himself that he divides brother against brother.  The Pharisees were divided, the Jews were divided, even the Apostles were divided over what to do about their “Jesus problem.”

3) The relationship between God and man changes. That’s what the New Testament is really about.  The prophets had been messengers bringing God’s word; Jesus was the Word.  Jesus is God.  Like in the parable he used, Jesus was the Son himself and not just an agent of the Father.  He was the manifestation of all of the symbols and analogies given in the Old Testament.  Everything about the temple system is a picture of the work done by Jesus Christ.  He is our High Priest entering continually into God’s presence; He presents a greater sacrifice than the blood of bulls or turtle doves; He is the veil between the common and the Holy of Holies.  Jesus is at once the priest and the sacrifice and the temple.  He is the Passover Lamb; He is Moses leading us through this wilderness to the Promise Land.  Jesus is the physical embodiment of everything the Old Testament is teaching in symbols, images and allegory.  Through adoption the New Covenant believer is more than a child of Israel or descendant of Abraham; we are the sons of daughters of our heavenly Father.  Jesus becomes the first born of a large family, made possible only by his own redemptive work on the cross.

4) Jesus brings lasting salvation. No religion, Judaism included, can fix what is wrong with us.  Sinful people are cut off from Holy God.  The commandments and sacrificial system were all about showing God’s people they could not do it alone.  What we need is a savior; Jesus came to seek and to save.  Jesus is the straight and narrow path that leads to everlasting life.  He is the Way, the Truth and the Life.  He is living water.  When we could not come into God’s presence God with us came into ours.  The world changed when the incarnate deity entered into it.  And people today still change when Jesus arrives.  That is good news we all need to hear.  Just as the shepherds went through the streets of Bethlehem proclaiming the message of the angels, we must never cease to share the Gospel.  God is in the manger – and that changes everything.

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