A Tale of Two Mountains

Epiphany “a usually sudden manifestation or perception of the essential nature or meaning of something” or “an appearance or manifestation especially of a divine being.” The Transfiguration reveals, yet again the fullness of who Jesus really is, and it points the way towards what he came to do. The readings this morning show us two very different but connected encounters with God on mountain tops and they show us what these two things mean for our lives.

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Participating in the Mission of God

God is a missionary God. All mission is first and foremost God’s mission (or Missio Dei in Latin). We see this in Matthew 9:35 where Jesus, God himself, goes on mission. God invites us to participate in his mission reconcile the world to himself through prayer, sending, and going.

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Why do Good?

In the fifth chapter of Matthew, Jesus explains to his followers how he wants them (and now us) to behave in the world by using two metaphors: salt and light. He is indicating that we should be people who do good in the world. Many of us have taken this to heart and try to do good things as we are able to, but have you ever considered why we do good things? The whys (motives) behind our good deeds are just as important as the whats (our actual good actions). I can think of four basic motives, some good, some not.

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Exposed

It can be widely assumed that most everything we do online can be tracked. You will know this if you have ever searched for something in a search engine and then you begin to see advertisements for the same kinds of products. Companies can track your purchases, location, and your digital history if you let them. Some think that they will track you even if you don’t let them! If that feels creepy to you, you can take comfort in the fact that there are some things that cannot be tracked: like your thoughts. On the other hand, there is someone who can even track your thoughts: God.

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Jesus Baptized for Us

When Jesus comes to be baptized by John, John is confused (Matthew 3:14). Perhaps this passage confuses you as well. John’s job was to prepare the way for Jesus, the Messiah, and now Jesus was standing right there in front of him. Shouldn’t Jesus have baptized John? Also, John’s baptism was a baptism of repentance (Matthew 3:11-12). Jesus was without sin, so why would Jesus need to be Baptized? Listen to hear more about what Jesus’ Baptism was all about.

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A Special Star for a Special Birth

It is possible that the Magi may have heard of a Jewish prophesy about a king whose birth was to be marked by a star (see Numbers 24:17). But how would a normal sign in the sky come to rest over the place where the child was. Jerusalem is only about 5 miles from Bethlehem. They could have walked there in about an hour and 45 minutes. It would be hard to tell the difference from an astronomer’s POV. I like to think that this sign was something that God specifically created to celebrate the birth of his Son! Kind of like the “it’s a boy” signs you sometimes see in a front yard! A special sign for a special birth.

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Dressed for Salvation

For those of you who are married, can you remember what you wore on your wedding day? If you are not married, think about another significant event in your life. We tend to wear special clothes for special occasions. In Isaiah 61:10, the speaker seems to be the servant of the Lord, the Messiah (see 61:1). Earlier in the chapter, God’s people were given “garments of praise” (61:3). Now the Servant himself is given special garments for a special purpose, Salvation and Righteousness. He is getting prepared to save his people. He is getting ready to visit us!

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Hope, Peace, and Joy

“Hope,” “Peace,” and “Joy:” this time of year we see these words written everywhere: yard decorations, television commercials, wrapping paper, and Christmas cards. These words make us feel good, like a warm blanket and a steaming peppermint latte, but what do they really mean? Imagine for a moment receiving a gift in beautiful packaging, but when you open it there is nothing inside. The words “Hope, Peace, and Joy” can be like that. We hear them, and they make us smile, but a few moments later it is as if they meant nothing. These words can also be some of the best gifts you have ever received, which fill the deepest needs and desires of your heart. Ultimately, it is your choice.

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Expectations

In business, it is important to underpromise and overdeliver. Sometimes this is referred to as “managing expectations.” It is important to be mindful of expectations in all of our relationships, whether business or personal. Especially in marriage. Unspoken expectations lead to lots of conflict and resentment.

In the Gospel passage today, John the Baptist is in prison for speaking truth to power. John’s role was to prepare the way for the Lord. The Messiah was coming, the time was imminent. John was sure that Jesus was the Messiah, he knew it even while he was still in his mother’s womb, and this truth was confirmed at Jesus’ Baptism. But now John was not so sure. His expectations were not lining up with what he was seeing. Why?

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