Across the Pastor’s Desk: Lights shining in the darkness

Published 8:30 pm Friday, January 8, 2021

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Across the Pastor’s Desk by Kenneth Jensen

On Wednesday, Jan. 6, Christians celebrated the “Epiphany of Our Lord,” marking the end of the “Twelve Days of Christmas.” It commemorated the visit of wise men from the East who came to worship a new born king.

Kenneth Jensen

In the last church I served, in remembrance of this high holy day, we initiated a tradition inviting parishioners to bring their Christmas trees to the parking lot where (after notifying the fire department) we built a huge bonfire, sang epiphany carols, shared a devotion and then went into the fellowship hall to enjoy “mulligan stew” (a mix of non-cream cans of soup brought by those present). 

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The magi were not Jews but probably astrologers from Persia (Iran). Their appearance in Matthew’s story of Jesus’ birth sets the stage for the fulfilment of God’s plan to redeem a broken world and its fallen humanity. 

Sunday we will fast-forward 30 years. The baby Jesus is now in the prime of life. Crowds have gathered on the banks of the River Jordan to hear his cousin, John the Baptizer, proclaim a message of repentance and to receive a baptism for the forgiveness of sin.

The Jordan holds a special place in the history of God’s people. It is where Moses passed his leadership role on to Joshua before Israel entered the promised land. 

It is where Elijah bestowed the mantel of his prophetic ministry upon Elisha and with it, his God-given ability to perform the miraculous.

And from the banks of the Jordan we hear the Baptizer proclaiming that one more powerful than he is coming after him. When Jesus appeared seeking baptism, another momentous event happened.   

A voice from heaven said, “You are my Son, whom I love, with you I am well pleased.” (Mark 1:11). The new-born king the wise men sought was about to embark upon his pre-ordained mission and ministry.

“Epiphany” means “to make manifest, to reveal, to shed light upon.”  [We did light up the neighborhood burning our Christmas trees!] It’s the “Aha” moment when the proverbial light bulb switches on and we see things previously hidden.    

The Disciple John, in his gospel, describes Jesus as “the true light” (John 1:9) who came into this world to bring light to everyone. Those who came to the light and believed in him received the right to become children of God (John 1:12).

In our baptisms we were, metaphorically speaking, immersed, dipped or splashed upon with the waters of the Jordan. The voice of God declared, “You are my son.”  “You are my daughter.” We were anointed to be God’s bearers of light in the darkness of a fractured world. We serve as torchbearers of truth in a world where truth is in short supply. 

The magi followed the light of a star seeking a new-born king. What were their expectations? As children of “the light,” where do we expect Christ will lead us in the New Year? 

Kenneth Jensen is a retired ELCA pastor living in Albert Lea.