Readings for the day (Baptism of Our Lord – Sunday, January 13, 2019):
Dear friends in Christ, grace to you and peace from God our Father, and our Lord and Savior Jesus the Christ. Amen.
The season of Epiphany is about revealing. Revealing what is unknown. Because if it is already known, it doesn’t need to be revealed. That’s why there are press conferences – to reveal or make known the things that are unknown.
On Friday I watched and listened to the two press conferences revealing that Jayme Closs was found alive and safe. What wonderful news! Most of the time, press conferences and information revealed by the news media is anything but GOOD news. Usually it is negative information that the news media is wanting to reveal to us. But on Friday, it was all positive news that the authorities wanted to share with the public and make known to us.
Imagine if Jesus wasn’t born 2,000 years ago, but instead was born this year. And what is the likelihood of the news media sharing a story about a baby boy born during the winter and having three foreign leaders bringing gifts to Him? The national media seems a lot more interested in Trump and his wall that I highly doubt they would pay much attention to a promised Messiah being born.
Last week, the church celebrated the day of Epiphany, the traditional day when we celebrate the coming of the magi to visit the newborn King and present Him with gifts. The wise men who are Gentiles, foreigners from a different land, present the Christ child with three gifts that reveal Jesus’ identity. Gold revealing that He is an earthly king. Frankincense revealing that He is God, a heavenly king. And myrrh revealing that He will die for the sins of the world. As a child, His true identity has already been revealed.
Then today as we focus on the baptism of Jesus, God the Father reveals Jesus’ identity as His Son by saying, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” The rest of the weeks in the season of Epiphany lead us to Lent by continuing to reveal Jesus’ identity as the Son of God and reveal His purpose for being born. Specifically, Jesus was born to us and more importantly, for us. For you.
So in a way, Epiphany is not only for revealing unknown things about Jesus, but Epiphany is also about revealing things about ourselves. When John the Baptist gets on the scene, he is giving a message, a call to repent, to turn away from our bad habits and begin anew. In a way, if you make a New Year’s resolution, you are taking the first step. I’m going to eat health, exercise more, doing more things that I enjoy, care for others, make better choices, pray more, read the Bible more. All of these resolutions are goals that we set for ourselves to repent or turn away from bad or unhealthy practices or choices in life and make better ones. For John, he calls the people to turn from their wickedness, their ungodly ways. And to turn back to God. To care for others. To be humble. To put God first in their lives. John’s call of repentance is a call to turn away from those things that draw us away from God. To turn away from that which is not helpful in our walk with God.
And then John says that the people would be wise to do this, to repent and change their ways because he is not the Messiah, but the Messiah is coming. And the Messiah is so much more powerful than he is, that John is not even worthy to bend over and untie the Messiah’s shoes. That’s the job of a servant and John is saying that he is not even worthy enough to be considered a servant of the Messiah. That’s how important the Messiah is, and how unimportant, unworthy John considers himself. And then when the Messiah does come, John says that He will come to baptize us with the Holy Spirit and with fire. That through the Holy Spirit Jesus will claim us, and with fire He will purify us.
On our own, we too, are like John – unimportant and unworthy to even be considered a servant of the Messiah because of our sin. All of those things that we do that draw us and our attention away from Jesus makes us unworthy. And John says that when Jesus comes to baptize us with the Holy Spirit and with fire, Jesus will already have His winnowing fork in His hand. The fork that will be used to separate the wheat from the chaff will already be in the hands of Jesus. There will be no mingling or social hour when Jesus comes. There will be no opportunity to have a drink or two with Jesus. When He comes, He will not be wasting any time.
Now when I think about the winnowing fork and the separating the wheat from the chaff, I often think that I want to make sure that by the end I’m on the right side. That I want to make sure that I’m wheat and not chaff. But I read something this week that got me thinking. What if the winnowing fork is not necessarily about separating the good people from the bad people, but rather about separating the good parts from the bad parts in our lives? Martin Luther says that daily we must be drowning our sins and evil desires and coming forth to rise and live before God in righteousness and purity. If Luther says that this is a daily exercise that happens within our lives, then couldn’t the separating that Jesus does with the winnowing fork also be something that happens daily?
There will be without a doubt the judgement of nations, as we read about in Matthew 25. The whole separating the sheep from the goats and we want to be sheep and not goats. But every day when we awake, we have a choice. You have to choose to love your spouse today. You have to choose to love your children today. You have to choose to love God today. And each day, with His winnowing fork in hand, Jesus is working with you and through you to separate the good parts of your life from the bad parts of your life. And our prayer is that Jesus would reveal to us what in our lives is chaff that should be burned, so that we can keep the wheat and grow closer to Him.
Now separating is not always easy to do, especially when we really like the chaff. But no matter how hard it may be, God promises to be with us. In the reading from Isaiah, the people of Israel are in exile, but God is promising to bring them back home and restore their nation. He says, “Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine.” So God says, wait a minute, YOU belong to me. I know you. I have claimed you. You are mine. And since you belong to me, I will watch over you. I will be with you wherever you go.
And in this same text we get the one place in the entire Bible where God says, “I love you.” He says that because you are precious in His sight, because He honors you, because He loves you, God promises to be with you and do whatever it takes to help you. Even if that means having to be born as a child into this world and die hanging on a tree. He will do it, all for you, because He loves you! Amen.
© 2019 Anthony Christoffels. All rights reserved.
 Luke 3:22, NRSV
 Isaiah 43:1, NRSV