January 13, 2013
“Light bulb moments”
Luke 3, 15-17, 21-22
Last week was Epiphany Sunday, and in KidsTown I asked the kids a question to help them sort of understand what Epiphany is about. Let me see if you guys are as clever as they are. When you are watching a cartoon, what happens when a character gets a really good idea? Yep—a light bulb goes on over their head. That’s my favorite way of explaining what the season of Epiphany is about. During this season we get stories from the Gospels where Jesus interacts with people in a way that the light bulb goes on and they realize that this man is not just a man, he’s the Son of God. And maybe, more importantly, as Jesus interacts with people, the light bulb goes on over his own head and he realizes that he is more than just a man…he is the Son of God.
Today’s Gospel reading is a classic ‘light bulb moment’ story…the story of Jesus being baptized. This is a story we’re familiar with. The story begins with John the Baptist teaching out in the desert, and ends with a voice from heaven declaring Jesus as God’s Son. So if we read this story from the perspective of Epiphany, we ask the question, “where does the light bulb show up?” Who discovers something about Jesus that they didn’t know before? And then as we think about how this story connects with our lives, we ask “how does this story cause a light bulb to go on in our own hearts and minds?” So those are the questions we’re going to keep in mind as we think through this text today…where are the light bulbs in the story, and how does the story ‘turn on the light,’ so-to-speak, in our own lives?
We hear this story today from the perspective of the Gospel of Luke. This is one of the few stories that shows up in all 4 gospels, but each gospel writer tells the story slightly differently. And the WAY the gospel-writer tells the story is as much a part of the message as the events of the story itself. So in your own Bible reading, when you come across a story that is repeated in other gospels, it’s pretty interesting to put those stories next to each other and dig into how the differences lift up unique messages the gospel writer wants readers to ponder.
So there are a couple things in HOW Luke tells this story that point to some of the light bulbs he wants the readers to see.
First of all, in Luke’s version of the story, Jesus is just one of many people who are baptized by John. This is unique compared to this same story in other Gospels. And this makes sense for Luke, because the whole gospel is focused on testifying to Jesus’ humanity and solidarity with humans. For Luke, those moments where Jesus’ divinity comes out are right in the midst of everyday life experiences. So a few weeks ago we heard about the boy Jesus being found in the temple during a routine trip to Jerusalem. At the end of Luke we have the story of the 2 men walking to Emmaus discussing the current events of their day, and Jesus showing up and walking with them, revealing himself to them in the regular activity of eating and drinking. So the first light bulb that Luke wants us to see is that Jesus is not separated from the crowd of people trying to make sense of life, but he’s right in the middle of them.
I would guess that if you went through your own life story, you would be able to draw light bulbs over moments where God showed up in the middle of everyday life. These may be moments where you were just going about your business—walking up to Communion like you do every week, walking along the beach like you do all the time, sitting around the table with your family or friends…whatever it is—but somehow realizing that in the midst of that regular activity, Jesus is there. That’s what we see here in this story—Jesus is out there with the crowd, getting baptized along with everyone else.
But, remember—Epiphany is about people realizing that Jesus is not just another guy, but is instead the Son of God. As Lutherans we believe that baptism is always one of those light bulb moments. When we are baptized, we—like Jesus—understand that something shifts in our core understanding of ourselves, and we are set apart, sealed by the Holy Spirit. Jesus’ baptism is a light bulb moment, because God did something new in Jesus’ baptism that hadn’t been done before. Baptism itself was not a novel act…people had been baptized by John before Jesus came on the scene. But John identifies that the Messiah would do something new in baptism—whereas John was baptizing with water, the Messiah would baptize with the Holy Spirit. In Luke it’s unclear whether or not Jesus understood himself to be the Messiah before his baptism. He seems to realize he’s set apart for something, but it’s in his baptism that he fully lives into his identity as the Son of God. The heavens are opened, the Holy Spirit descends upon him in bodily form like a dove, and a voice says, “you are my Son, the Beloved…with you I am well-pleased.” Hard to avoid that light bulb moment, isn’t it…if Jesus was unclear about who he was before, in this moment he gets an idea that he is something different than just a typical guy. So the light bulb goes on over Jesus, not just over the crowds that are witnessing this event.
While most of us haven’t seen the heavens open and a voice come down from heaven telling us who we really are—if you have, I want to talk to you—I think we go through experiences…usually more than one…where we have to wrestle with who we really are. And in those moments of identity crisis, this story invites us to go back to our baptism to claim our identity as children of God. I love the Old Testament reading from Isaiah that we heard today, because it is like God telling us what it means that we are baptized children of God. In case you forgot, let me read to you again what God says:
“You are precious in my sight, and honored, and I love you…Do not fear, for I am with you…everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory, whom I formed and made.” Isn’t that powerful imagery of what we say happens at baptism?
In this day, when jobs can be shifting and changing, and any other ‘identity’ we build for ourselves—mother, daughter, friend, spouse—can change at the drop of a hat, it is a light bulb moment to realize that we have an identity that does not ever change—beloved child of God, who is pleased with us. And for Jesus, too, who, as a 30-yr old is trying to figure out who he is and what his life is about, this moment is life-defining. The heavens open, the voice from heaven declares—surely in the voice of James Earl Jones—“this is my son, with whom I am well pleased.” If Jesus was unsure about his identity, it is now clear. And this empowers him for the experience of mission and ministry that is to come—including the temptation in the desert that comes right after this. In our lives too, when we have a light bulb moment, when for even a short amount of time we really hear and internalize the message of our baptism—that we are chosen children of God, sealed by the Holy Spirit and marked with the cross of Christ FOREVER—we are strengthened and empowered for whatever we may be facing. That’s why we begin each worship service with a reminder of our baptism. That’s why the baptismal font is at the entrance and exit of our worship space. That’s why Martin Luther recommended that every day we remember our baptism…because it is that baptismal identity that strengthens us and empowers us for mission and ministry in the world. The crowds witnessed Jesus’ baptism and knew he was set apart for something special. Jesus’ heard the voice from heaven and accepted that he was set apart for something special. We hear those words that God says to Jesus and claim them for ourselves in our own baptism, and understand that we are set apart for something special. The light bulb goes on as the crowds say, “aha! THAT’S who he is!” and for us when we say, “aha! THAT’S who I am!”
So in this season of Epiphany, this story gives us a few light bulb moments to inform our faith: First of all, God shows up in the midst of everyday life, right there alongside the crowds of people who are trying to figure out how to make sense of the teaching they’ve heard. This is good news for us. We don’t have to go on spiritual pilgrimages, exotic adventures, or intense internal journeys to find God…God shows up right in the midst of everyday life. Secondly, the identity we are given at baptism, as children of God, set apart and loved by God, strengthens and empowers us for the lives we are called to live, desert temptations and all. My prayer is that this week, you will sense the presence of Jesus right alongside of you in whatever you are doing, and that you will hear the voice of God reminding you who you really are—dearly loved. My prayer is that this week you will have your own light bulb moments.