Jennifer DeBisschop
Congregational Church of Brookfield

Manger to Man

In preparing for worship today I struggled with two things…one that really leads from the other. First, I realized that "Three Kings' Day" or Epiphany was occurring this past week. And it doesn't really seem like the whole Christmas story is told to me unless we recognize together the story of the magi traveling to pay homage to Jesus. But the scripture texts for today pointed to the story of Jesus' Baptism, which is another very important event to pay attention to of course as it points to the beginning of Jesus' public ministry. So the first question was how do we look at both of these very important events together on the same day?

The second struggle that I had is one that comes up for me every year at this time…it seems like we go from manger to man in almost the blink of an eye. One minute we are worshiping the young Jesus in Bethlehem and the next minute we see the adult Jesus going to the River Jordan to be baptized by John. It all seems so sudden.

As I researched the scriptures and the traditions of Epiphany, I learned that the original purpose for Epiphany was to commemorate Jesus' baptism and only later came to signify the visit of the Magi. And if we look at the word Epiphany as something that means a revelation then we find that these two events really do have more in common perhaps than we even realize. They in fact were both full of questions and curiosities, imagery, and aspects of God and faith revealed.

Enter the three magi, the Wise Men, who traveled from the East to find the young Jesus in Bethlehem. These wise men heard a rumor that a very important baby had been born, and it peaked their curiosity. Who is this baby? Where exactly was he to be born? So they go to see Herod in Jerusalem, they go to find directions to the child. They did not know exactly where Jesus was to be born because they were not Jewish, they did not know the prophecies about the child king born of a virgin in the City of David. We learn that the chief priests and scribes in the palace gave the wise men some direction based on the scriptures, and then they follow the star. And we learn that King Herod is less than happy and more than willing to manipulate the wise men in order to learn about this child king, Jesus. Following their new directions and led by a star to the place where Jesus was found with Mary and Joseph, the Wise Men sought answers to their questions. And sure enough what they found was a young child, and they worshiped him in the ways they knew how. They offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. They knelt down by him and paid him homage…these three wise men from afar, three gentiles who knew nothing of the prophecy "God born among us." And after they had paid him homage, they left by another road. Yes, they went a different way in order to save the young king from the jealousy and wrath of Herod, but they were also changed. They left a different way because they had seen God revealed to them in the face of a small child. By spending time with the child and his family they knew the immensity of love, promise, and hope of God among humanity.

Enter the adult Jesus. He walks down to the River Jordan to see John the Baptist, to be baptized with water. This scene has traditionally been thought of as relatively embarrassing to the church. After all, why would Jesus, perfecter of faith and free from sin, need to be baptized…a baptism of repentance? And John asked the same question. "Why would you need to be baptized by me, Jesus? Should it not be the other way around?" And Jesus answers him, "Let it be so now; for it is proper for us in this way to fulfill all righteousness." Jesus understood that through this event, through his baptism in water and to repentance, more than even he knew would be revealed. People who were there, who had been baptized that day as well, saw Jesus, the king, take upon himself the same promise they had…a promise to turn from the temptations of their lives toward God. To those people, and to all of us through the reading and hearing of this story, is revealed God with us, a God who is in solidarity with all humankind. Then something amazing happens. The sky opens up, the spirit descends upon Jesus, and a voice from heaven says, "This is my son, the beloved, with whom I am well pleased." This is the first time that we get a true glimpse of the Trinity, of God…the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The idea that Jesus does not just provide spiritual experiences for others but is willing to open himself up to God, to his own spiritual experiences is revealed to us as well in this story.

Two different stories, two significantly different points in Jesus' life…and yet in both curiosities are erased by the questions answered. In both the true revelation of who Jesus' was occurs to the people who were there to experience these events. Our humanness and curiosity want to know, just like the wise men and just like John, what this is all about. We don't understand in the beginning and yet then it becomes clear to us. Jesus' life events speak of God's presence, of the presence of God to all humanity, to all of us. Although we will always have questions about God, about our own faith, we have the reassurance that through Jesus' life and ministry God took on human form in order to experience life, in order to be among people, in order to bring about repentance, a turning toward God…and salvation.

But the question still remains…what do we do about the fact that Jesus in a matter of twelve days in the Christian calendar grows from Manger to Man? Inevitably in order to really worship with the fullness of Jesus' ministry in the forefront before we celebrate Easter we need to go from Manger to Man pretty quickly. That means that the baby we looked forward to visiting in the manger throughout Advent, who was born of Mary in the stable on Christmas night, must grow up, whether we want him to or not. When we think about Jesus' life, outside of the one story where he is a teenager in the Temple, we don't see the growing up part of it. The true fact of the matter is that much of Jesus' life story, the part between the manger and the man, leaves much to the imagination…along with some help from the historical conditions of the time. We can imagine a young boy who lived with his parents, who played with other children, who learned the trade of carpentry like Joseph, who was educated about the Hebrew scriptures, and who helped to take care of his family. Then what we know of his story is that when he was about thirty-years-old he went to the River. So, the struggle of not knowing about the in between time should pale in comparison to what we do know, I suppose. We know that the birth story is crucial, after all without that we would only know of a mysterious man named Jesus who appeared at a river one day to be baptized. We understand that the story of the Magi is crucial…it brings into play the idea that this child was special, someone to be honored, and that people from all over the world would learn of his importance. We come to learn a bit about how important Jesus' own ties to his traditional faith, his Jewish faith were, by the story of him sitting with the elders and teachers in the temple. "Did you not know that I would be in my father's house?" he asks Mary and Joseph, two frantic parents who returned to the city to search for their lost teenage son. Then we come to the River…the beginning of his public ministry…the moment when he became a representative of all humanity.

I wrote the following in the "View From the Earth" that goes out to the shut in members of our congregation each week, "Then Jesus begins to share his special knowledge and love of God, his special gifts with the people around him. The rest of the story we know, and we are continually thankful for. After all, Jesus continues to teach us today about God, about being in relationship with others, about who we are to be [and how we are to serve] as Christian people. Perhaps we don't know so much about Jesus between the manger part and the man part, but he did set an example for us all. We learn from Jesus that to profess what we believe and to share the love of God with others is an amazing gift that we can give. We learn from Jesus that we are called to share our gifts with others in our lives and our communities." Perhaps the gifts that we have to offer to God today are not gifts of old: gold, frankincense, and myrrh. However, we do have gifts that we can offer others today, gifts of our time, talent, and treasures.

Even though my curiosity still remains, and I still want to know who Jesus was as a child, what kinds of things he faced as a teenager, the way that he acted as a twenty-something, I still realize that the gift that we have been given is even greater than that…greater than curing our curiosity. The gift that we have been given as Jesus suddenly goes from manger to man is the true gift of Epiphany…the gift of the knowledge of God with us. May we always remember the magi and the River, and how they show us who Jesus truly was…a person who came to bring the knowledge of God's presence to our own lives. May we always remember the gift that we have been given, the gift of God among us, and may listen to the ways that we are called to share that gift through our own lives. Amen.

May we leave this place today with our minds and souls turned toward God, and may we be constantly aware of God's presence in our lives. Amen.