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Revd. M. J. Elliot, Director of the Church of Ireland Theological Insititute

January 10, 2010  Posted in: Sermons

In the annual cycle of life at the Theological Institute we are about to hit the curacy interviews and I was reminded of the story of a young deacon who was asked by his rector to go and do some visits in a local nursing home. When he got there he soon realised that one rather elderly lady had not fully recognised the fact that he had come from the local parish church. He addressed her as follows ‘Excuse me do you not know who I am?’ She looked at him rather quizzically and said ‘Son I have that problem too. Don’t worry about it, go and see the matron and she will tell you who you are’.

Identity and self understanding are part and parcel of who we all are. One of the difficulties of  advancing years is that some people tragically loose that awareness of self. However, the greater point this morning must be that in order for other people to get to know us in the first place they cannot  simply resort to hear say, Facebook or any other media, ultimately each one of us must choose to disclose who we are, and on the basis of that self disclosure bonds of affection, friendship and  community can be established.

All of which brings us to the heart of this new season in the church calendar, the season of Epiphany.  After the waiting and anticipation of Advent, and following the wonder and joy of Christmas, Epiphany  confirms for us the fullness of who Jesus really is, and nowhere is that more clearly seen than in the account of His baptism. The context of the verses read earlier from Luke chapter 3 is that John the Baptist has been sent as a forerunner to prepare the way for the Messiah and it is fascinating how even from John’s own message there is no doubt but that the One coming after him would be the
Lord himself ‘I baptise with water, He will baptise you with the Holy Spirit and fire’ – who else could do  that but Yahweh? ‘ His winnowing fork is in His hand, He will gather the wheat into His granary but the chaff He will burn with unquenchable fire’ – who else might that point to but the one who rightful judge
of all the earth?

The scene is set. And so as Jesus arrives to take His place He then chooses to undergo John’s  baptism, not in order for Him to express repentance-for what sins did the sinless one need to  repent?-no the baptism happens as an opportunity for this great moment of testimony to who Jesus really is. The heavens are opened, the Holy Spirit descends in bodily form like a dove and the voice from heaven declares in unmistakable terms ‘Youare my Son, the beloved and with you I am well pleased’. In contrast to the misguided children of Abraham with whom John has been dealing,
here we have the true Son and that analogy towards the old covenant is reinforced by the very fact of Jesus passing through the waters of the river Jordan, just as Israel had done in entering the promised land.

I would imagine we all have our own views as to the identity of Jesus Christ-a good man,a great teacher, one of the most significant figures in human history. Can any of those do justice to that with which we are confronted here? He is the Lord, He is the hoped for redeemer, this is God amongst his people.

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