Well, here we are, only three weeks after our celebration of Our Lord’s Nativity, and we are at the beginning.
Jesus was baptized by John in the
But today, we’re at the beginning – just as we are at the beginning of a new year. Which reminds me…how are your New Years Resolutions holding up? Are you trying to read the Bible every day and see if you finish it by the end of the year? Are you trying to do more, perhaps help out more here in the parish, and offer greater support for God’s holy temple?
Did you quit smoking? Give up coffee? Or maybe chocolate? Wait a minute – let’s not get crazy now! After all, its good for you, or at least dark chocolate is, if you listen to some doctors. And doesn’t the good book say, “Taste and see the goodness of the Lord?”
If you have faithfully kept your new years resolutions – terrific. Good for you. Nice work. Keep it up. If you have not, don’t despair. After all, getting into the game late is still better than not getting into the game at all.
As we gather this morning, we celebrate the Sunday after Theophany; because of how the calendar falls this year, today also happens to be the final day of the Post Festive Period of Theophany. In other words, after today, according to the church calendar, the entire season of our Lord’s Nativity is now over. After today’s Divine Liturgy, the poinsettias will be removed, the Jesse tree will be taken down, the wreaths, ornaments, and lights…all of it will be packed up. Our blessed Orthodox church tells us its time to move on.
That same theme is present in today’s Gospel reading. We pick up our reading after Jesus’ baptism and after His 40 day fast when He was tempted by the devil. Jesus has just entered the
“The people who sat in darkness have seen a great light, and for those who sat in the region of the shadow of death light has dawned.” (Isaiah 9: 1-2)
Here we are at the very beginning of Jesus’ ministry, in fact, the very first sermon Jesus would preach, and He boldly begins with the fulfillment of these words from Isaiah. From the very beginning Jesus shows Himself as the Light of the World. And Jesus couples this with the very words uttered by John the Baptist, “Repent, for the Kingdom of heaven is at hand.” Jesus picks up the very same theme that John the Baptist had been preaching for some time already, a continued message that the time has come to reform your lives and get right with God.
My brothers and sisters in Christ, that same message applies to us, just as surely as it did to His Disciples over 2000 years ago, for we choose to follow Christ as His Disciples this very day. Indeed, the message rings true, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” Repent means to “turn around”, to change one's mind, to go in a different direction, to dare to see in a different way. To follow Jesus we must first recognize that there is something wrong not only with the way we live, but even more importantly, with the way we think. When we change our thinking, and reform our lives, then we can get right with God. The simplest way to reform your lives is to ask the simple question, popular with kids today, “What would Jesus do?” The answer to that question is just as simple: Be a servant of God. That is what Jesus did. Jesus associated with the poor and ignorant. He recruited lowly blue-collar workers. He preached. He taught. He helped and healed. Jesus wants us to be like He was. Jesus wants us to be servants. He calls us to serve the weak and the lowly. In other words, Jesus came to drive out the darkness from ordinary service. He came to show us that common, simple tasks that help other people are not beneath us. No, lowly and ordinary tasks are what Christians joyfully do for each
During the American Revolutionary War there was an example of this kind of service. One day a corporal was ordering his men to lift a large log. They were almost succeeding but the log was a bit too heavy. As these soldiers were struggling with all their might, a stranger came by. He joined them and pushed the log into place. The stranger then asked the corporal, “Why didn’t you help your men move the log? They just needed one more man.” The corporal boastfully pointed to his insignia and said, “Can’t you see that I am a corporal?” The stranger then opened up his overcoat and pointed to his insignia. Then General George Washington said, “I see that you are a corporal. I want you to see that I am a General.”
My brothers and sisters, that’s what Jesus wants us to see. He doesn’t want us to be like the proud corporal. He does not want us to say, “Oh, teaching Sunday school is beneath me”, or “I don’t have time to help in the kitchen,” or “I don’t need to help clean the church or take care of the grounds.”
No, instead, he wants us to be like himself. He wants us to be like General George Washington helping those foot soldiers move that heavy log. He wants us to say, “There is no task beneath me. I will do whatever I can to obey God’s Word and help others. I will change diapers. I will clean bathrooms. I will visit the sick. I will forgive my enemy. I will work faithfully for a difficult boss. And I will serve those less important and those less deserving than me for one reason and one reason alone. Jesus served me. Jesus loved me. Jesus sacrificed His life for me.”
That’s what Jesus has done. With his love that took him to the cross he drove the darkness of sin, unbelief and fear out of our hearts. With his gentle voice He calls us to drive the darkness of pride out of common, ordinary acts of service.
Even though the season of Our Lord’s Nativity is over, the joy of the season can remain with us throughout the whole year, just by remembering the three letters that make up the word; in fact, it’s the perfect formula to truly reform your lives and be a servant of God. J stands for serving Jesus First. O stands for serving others. Y stands for yourself last. And so, my brothers and sisters in Christ, as we continue on our journey as Disciples of Christ, that is my prayer for all of us…that we can be servants, full of joy, in the same way as Jesus, the light of the world was for all of us. As I said before, it’s not too late to get into the game, and the stakes are incredible – eternal salvation with Jesus. I would say it’s worth praying over. Amen.