Whilst in the west the visit of the Magi is our main Epiphany story, for the Orthodox churches it is "The Baptism of Christ" that is the main story of Epiphany.
Both unveil different aspects of the Christ event. The visit of the Magi and the symbolic gifts offer an unveiling of the titles priest and king, the sacrificial death and also that the scope of Christ is universal, rather than confined to the Jewish people.
But the Baptism of Christ reveals something even more fundamental because its prime focus is “relationship”. I have said before that Christianity is fundamentally a relationship with God through Jesus Christ, and the Baptism of Christ reveals the fundamental relationship between God and Jesus as that between a Father and Son and by extension our own relationship with God as children of God so as Jesus told us we too can be bold to pray “Our Father who art in heaven”
The precursor to this most important and fundamental of relationships has been modelled and documented as the relationship between God and the children of Israel through the pages of the Old Testament, and in the Christ event this relationship has been universalised to the “New Israel” the church.
And in Isaiah 43: 1-7 this morning, the prophet asserts how unshakable is that bond that exists between God and his people. He says that He will be with them, come what may. They are precious, called by name, and nothing will ever be able to separate them from God. God is constant and his Love and loyalty is unbreakable. In this respect, this is echoed very strongly by Paul writing in Romans 8:38-39.
“For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
How is that relationship sealed and sustained? Now both Acts 8: 14-17 and Luke 3:15-17, 21-22 major emphasis is on the role of the Holy Spirit in our relationship with God. After all in the gospel story of Jesus’ baptism that relationship is sealed by the Holy Spirit.
Now we cannot by reading the New Testament come up with a systematic analysis of the work of the Holy Spirit and his relationship with the act of baptism. It defies systematizing. In some places the Spirit comes on people after they are baptised, sometimes the gifts of the Spirit come before baptism and provides the justification for baptism. We have codified things in the church, because that what organisations do, but the work of the Spirit is much wider and unpredictable than that.
As Jesus said in John 3:8, "The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit".
I think it is enough to note that wherever the Holy Spirit is, God is there working.
So In Luke 3 today we have this pivotal personal revelation of God to Jesus "You are my Son, the beloved, with you I am well pleased". In Matthew this personal revelation becomes a public one (3:16,17) which others can presumably hear "This is my son, the beloved, with him I am well pleased" but the essence of both is exactly the same. Jesus had a profound religious experience of the presence and power of God which propelled Him into ministry. The Holy Spirit of God alighted on Jesus and stayed with him, energising and guiding his ministry.
That is not to say that this is always a comfortable experience. The first thing that the Spirit led Jesus to do was to lead him into the wilderness for forty days to pray contemplate and be challenged by what this personal epiphany would mean. We are children of God and Jesus was equally convinced that we too cannot experience this primal relationship until we too have been touched by the Holy Spirit.
Going back to Jesus talking to Nicodemus in John 3, Jesus also says "I tell you the truth, no-one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again"
Now what can that mean in practice? At the very least I think it means this; Only by knowing in your heart of hearts that you are a child of God and can acknowledge Him as "Father" can we truly be children of the kingdom. And we can only do this by the Holy Spirit so anyone who prays "Our Father" and means it in their heart has crossed over from death to life. Paul, as ever, puts it so well...........
Galatians 3:26-29; 4:6,7
for in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith. As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus. And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to the promise. And because you are children, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, ‘Abba! Father!’ So you are no longer a slave but a child, and if a child then also an heir, through God.
We are children and heirs of the Kingdom of God our Father. Now if you have never thought of yourself as a child and heir of God then that personal epiphany is yours to have and experience.
I invite you to close your eyes and pray with me now.
Almighty God, I pray that you will now fill me with your Holy Spirit
That I will know and experience you as my Father in heaven.
Come Holy Spirit and assure me that you know me by name
Assure me of your Presence, Love and forgiveness.
Come Holy Spirit and soften my heart
May I believe your promise that you will never leave me
And that I will live in the house of the Lord forever.