Defining Moments

Luke 2:25-33, 41-52, Mark 1:4-11
Epiphany & Baptism Sundays
Elizabeth M. Deibert

The new year is a time of reflection, though some of us are so busy in the holidays we rush into the new year, with our tongues hanging out. But this is a good time to renew your sacred covenant with God as you did last week in worship with Pastor Tricia, and it is a good time to consider the sacred journey of your own life. Yes, each of has a holy history, which shapes us. What has God done in your life? in your birth and early development, your youthful questioning and your mature believing? How has your baptism, your nurture, and your call to Christ’s service impacted you? What are the defining moments of your existence?

We will read today the defining moments of Jesus’ early life, beginning with his parents’ act of faith on his behalf, followed by his self-defining moment of separation from his parents, and finally, his decisive moment of beginning ministry.

First, we look at his presentation in the temple. This is the story of Jesus’ parents coming to the temple to do what was expected of faithful Jews 40 days after the birth of a baby. They bring an offering and the mother’s purification is declared. We often bring babies for baptism, and Christians from some traditions have baby dedications. Nearly all people, whether actively pursuing faith or not, recognize in the birth or adoption of a baby, that something sacred has happened. This sacred moment needs a marking, a celebration of the goodness and love of God.

And in the case of Jesus, when he was brought to the temple, two faithful people there, Simeon and Anna, immediately recognized that Jesus was no ordinary child. Simeon’s song inspired Joseph and Mary, as you might expect. Simeon confirmed what they had heard now many times – that the child they were raising had a special calling. And because of Jesus’ perfect fulfillment of his calling, every human being born thereafter has a special calling, given by God. What Simeon saw was God’s salvation, coming in the person of Jesus Christ, God-with-us, who unites us all to God, as he is the light of revelation to all people.

We can close our eyes to this revelation, but oh, how much better it is when we open our eyes and see how blessed we are, as children of the living of God.

Luke 2:25-33

25 Now there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon; this man was righteous and devout, looking forward to the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit rested on him. 26 It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord's Messiah. 27 Guided by the Spirit, Simeon came into the temple; and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him what was customary under the law, 28 Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying, 29 "Master, now you are dismissing your servant in peace, according to your word; 30 for my eyes have seen your salvation, 31 which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, 32 a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel." 33 And the child's father and mother were amazed at what was being said about him.

Having read that defining moment of Jesus’ dedication and Simeon’s declaration in the temple, we now turn to the next story the Gospels give us about Jesus, now an adolescent, and acting like one. Jesus is with his parents and then he disappears. Every parent has had a missing adolescent at some point or another. Imagine the concern of a missing kid for three days. Imagine the frustration of the parents upon finding him to hear, “Why were you searching for me? Did you not know I would be in my Father’s house?” Huge defining/separating moment. I belong to my Father in heaven more than I belong to you.

Every kid after Jesus needs to make that claim, and we give them opportunity in adolescence, to be confirmed – to make that separation. I am my own person and I belong to God, more than to my parents. We hope that every teen at Peace will make this step – will ask questions, as Jesus did, and will grow in wisdom, and in favor with God and with humanity.

This is a major step, and whether you were officially confirmed or whether you had some other form of identity resolution, separating yourself from your parents’ identity, it is crucial to realize at some point in life that you belong to God, and as grateful or ungrateful as you might feel toward your parents and their influence, you must take responsibility for yourself and your own faithfulness. Hear the moment when Jesus stepped out from under his parents’ wings and declared himself a resident in God’s house.

Luke 2:41-52

41 Now every year his parents went to Jerusalem for the festival of the Passover. 42 And when he was twelve years old, they went up as usual for the festival. 43 When the festival was ended and they started to return, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem, but his parents did not know it. 44 Assuming that he was in the group of travelers, they went a day's journey. Then they started to look for him among their relatives and friends. 45 When they did not find him, they returned to Jerusalem to search for him. 46 After three days they found him in the temple, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. 47 And all who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers. 48 When his parents saw him they were astonished; and his mother said to him, "Child, why have you treated us like this? Look, your father and I have been searching for you in great anxiety." 49 He said to them, "Why were you searching for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father's house?" 50 But they did not understand what he said to them. 51 Then he went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was obedient to them. His mother treasured all these things in her heart. 52 And Jesus increased in wisdom and in years, and in divine and human favor. (NRSV)

While there must have been many meaningful events in Jesus’ boyhood and early adulthood, we do not know what they were. We just know that he increased in wisdom and in stature or years, and that he became more and more appreciated by God and by humanity.

That’s our aim as followers of Christ – to grow in wisdom, to become more pleasing to God and to all the people around us. And how wonderful if it can be said of us, when we are gone, that we grew in wisdom, that our lives were pleasing to God and a blessing to others. To please God and be a blessing to others, we must work toward greater faithfulness, knowing that we cannot earn God’s grace and love. We have already been declared, as Jesus was, “God’s beloved children.” So as children of God, heirs of Christ, we try to live into our name, our calling, our truest identity.

Hear the moment of Jesus’ baptism when the Holy Spirit descended on him like dove and a voice came from heaven, announcing his unique status and favor as God’s Son. This is the favor and the identity that is imparted to us, through his union with God and with us.

Mark 1:4-11

4 John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. 5 And people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him, and were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. 6 Now John was clothed with camel's hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. 7 He proclaimed, "The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals. 8 I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit." 9 In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. 10 And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. 11 And a voice came from heaven, "You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased." (NRSV)

Those who develop the healthiest sense of personal identity are those who understand their continuity with family and group of origin, who appreciate their own uniqueness as a person, and who maintain a healthy affiliation with the people of their past, present, and future.

We have seen how Jesus’ birth, dedication, temple time of questioning, while separated from his parents, and his culminating blessing and call to ministry in his baptism shaped his self-understanding and direction.

I am wondering how you would write the sacred history of your life…..Think about it. For me, it was an infant baptism, followed by a strong nurturing family and church family in a small town Presbyterian Church. My self-defining/separating moment came in the mid-eighties when I felt called and pursued ordained ministry, despite some of my family’s members questioning whether women had a place as pastors of churches. There has been no one moment when the heavens opened up for me, or the voice of God spoke audibly, or the light of Christ was shining in a presence that I could call visible, but I have known Christ to be near, in difficult and in joyful times in my life. One of those difficult times for me was a season in which I was not serving in a professional ministry role, and felt a sense of loss.

I have deep and clear sense that this particular ministry is my calling, and that in particular, I am called to lead you into your own sense of ministry, to fulfill God’s calling to you, to be in ministry. Every one of us belongs to God. Every one of us is called by God to some form of ministry in serving Christ.

Every one of us has different shaping events. My mother’s faith was profoundly shaped by the loss of her own father at fifteen. My father’s faith was shaped by his year-long experience in a TB hospital in his mid-thirties.

Ponder for a moment what have been your defining moments in the faith – your baptism, your confirmation, your ordination to ministry as pastor or elder, your first decision to return to church as an adult, your decision to give your gift of music for the glory of God, your initial willingness to serve on a ministry team with others, your experience at church camp or conference when you knew you wanted to be a disciple of Christ?

Consider whether people could say of you that you grew in wisdom and in favor with God and humankind. After your death, will people be interested in your defining moments because your life by the power of the Spirit was a blessing to others. We have a sacred history of our own, a history in which we must find continuity with our past, a sense of unique purpose in our own identity and calling in the present, and a meaningful affiliation with the people around us to carry us from present into the future. One day when we are no longer able to do, but only be with God, we will hear God’s message: “You are my beloved.” May we be faithful, such that God can also say, “With you I am well pleased.”