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Sermon for Epiphany

A new dawn

By Reader Mr Paul Fricker

Sunrises can be dramatic. Perhaps my most memorable experience was when I was in the foothills of the Himalayas. We had sheltered overnight and two hours before light, we climbed a thousand feet until we got to a vantage point. We gazed across the valley but it was still in utter darkness. But imperceptibly the sky above us turned a shade of orange and yellow as the sun rose in the distance. Then ten minutes later, coming into view through the mist was Mt Annapurna 25000ft high, towering in the sky with more snow than I had ever seen before on a mountain. As you can imagine, I watched with bated breathe as the scene unfurled. Then the sun shone brightly. It was the breaking of a new dawn unlike any that I had ever experienced before.

And a ‘new dawn’ would be an appropriate title for our three readings this morning. Let’s take the reading from Genesis where we have the beginnings of creation. This is literally a ‘new dawn’ as God is bringing the world into being out of total chaos. Then He separates light from darkness. And the climax of His creation is of course man, as men and women are an expression of God’s immense love.

And that links with our reading from Mark’s Gospel. John the Baptist announces that a new era, a new dawn is about to begin with the coming of Jesus. The people must prepare for it; they must repent and be baptised because they have fallen away from the standards God expected of them. Repentance means ‘turning around’ – turning back on what is past and starting afresh. And that was at the heart of our Covenant Service last week. John emphasises that people can only start afresh if they turn to Jesus and the reason for this is made clear by what happens at Jesus’ baptism.

Most significant are the words from heaven ‘This is my Son whom I love; with you I am well pleased.’ These words are closely linked with two passages from the Old Testament – Psalm 2 and Isaiah 42. As they are very important passages for the New Testament, I would like to spend a moment or two discussing them.

Psalm 2 was an enthronement psalm and the priest said the words ‘This is my son whom I love’ when he was anointing an Israelite king at his coronation. And it was believed that at this point the king became the adopted son of God and God’s representative to the people. When God utters these words to Jesus, He is confirming what has already been known from his birth that Jesus is His Son and Jesus has now a role to fulfil as the long awaited Messiah.

The words are also closely linked with Isaiah 42 which is the first of four Servants Songs and the Gospel writers closely associate the role of Jesus with the Servant as portrayed by Isaiah. There are two ideas that are significant in the chapter and they both tie in with our service last week. Isaiah speaking on behalf of God says ‘I will make you to be a covenant for the people’. As you know, a covenant is an agreement and the new covenant or agreement will come through Jesus’ death on the cross and His resurrection that those who faith will be forgiven and have eternal life. The second idea is that He will be a ‘light to the Gentiles’ – in other words, Jesus’ mission will be universal. And that ties in with Epiphany when we think of Jesus being manifested to the nations.

But there is another important element to the story. The Holy Spirit comes down on Jesus in the form of a dove. Earlier on, John says ‘I baptise you with water but the One who is to come will baptise you with the Holy Spirit and fire.’ This is anticipating the experience at Pentecost but in the meantime, Jesus will undertake His ministry in the power of the Holy Spirit.

So if you put all these ideas together, you see that Jesus is bringing in a new area. For Jesus is God’s Son, and the long awaited Messiah. He is the means of a new covenant between God and man. His mission is universal. He is the means whereby people can receive the Holy Spirit.

And this links us to our reading from Acts where the lives of about twelve disciples undergo a remarkable experience when they receive the Holy Spirit. Paul is at Ephesus and meets some disciples who have only had John’s baptism which is for repentance. Paul shows how things have moved on with the coming of Jesus. He baptises the twelve in the name and power of the Lord Jesus. The Holy Spirit comes upon them in such a dramatic way that they speak in tongues and prophesy. It is a new chapter in their lives.

This morning is in many ways a new chapter in the life of Charlie. He may not entirely realise it though I think he is aware that something special has happened today! I like the two symbols associated with baptism those of water and light.

Water is used for washing and cleansing. That’s why it is an appropriate symbol for repentance and for the washing away of sins. But water also sustains. We need water for crops else they will not grow and there will be no food. Our prayer is that Charlie will be sustained and through God’s love and by His Holy Spirit. And you as parents and Godparents have a special role to play in encouraging and nurturing this.

The other symbol is light. We need light to guide us in the dark. No more was I conscious of this than when I taught in the Far East. Part of the boarding school was a conservation area and at night it was not uncommon to come across a bamboo snake or a cobra. So the bright light from a torch was essential to guide one safely along and away from danger. And we hope and pray that Charlie will be guided by the Light of Christ and will (as we said in the baptismal service) ‘shine as a light in the world to the glory of God’.

I started my sermon by mentioning my experience of a sunrise over My Annapurna. That was very symbolic for me. It reminded me of the light that Christ brought to mankind through His Incarnation and also through His death on the cross and His resurrection. Holman Hunt in his famous picture ‘Jesus the Light of the World’ pictured Jesus holding a lamp outside a house, waiting to be invited in. As we start a new year, may we all open the door to Christ’s light and love and, in a world where there is darkness, may we as God’s people bring that light and love to other people. Amen.