First Sunday in Epiphany: Luke 3:13-18, 21-22: Exploring our Worship II
Opening Prayer: Almighty and everlasting God, you who have revealed yourself to the world as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, we rejoice in the beauty of your holiness, your order, your mystery, and your goodness. We confess that we have believed the lie that believes spontaneity is more spiritual, more holy, and more lovely. Teach us to glory in the dance, to rejoice in the play, and to offer it all up to you in the vigor and ferocity of the Spirit. We pray in the power of that Spirit and in the name of our King Jesus, Amen!
Epiphany or Theophany is the celebration of God’s revelation to us in Christ. Historically the church has remembered the wise men from the east during this season, the baptism of Christ in the Jordan, and his first miracles beginning with the wedding feast of Cana. All of these are manifestations of Christ as God. It was prophesied that the nations would bring gifts and worship God; so in the wise men, the nations worship God as a little child. In the baptism of Jesus, not only does God the Father glorify Christ as his “beloved son” but the Trinity is revealed as the Holy Spirit descends upon Jesus in the form of a dove. Finally, the miracles of Jesus beginning in Cana, are spoken of by John as “signs” that manifest the glory of Jesus (Jn. 2:11). Our gospel lesson today is concerned with the ministry of John and the baptism of Jesus as recorded by Luke which focuses on the manifestation of the kingdom of God in the disciples, the manifestation of the work of Christ, and the manifestation of the Trinity. As we continue to explore our worship, these are three significant aspects that are not only present in all of life, but uniquely present in the corporate worship of God’s people.
Worship is discipleship. You are being trained for battle and you are taking part in battle. No military training, no martial execution can be carried out without attention paid to details. The Old Covenant shows us God’s concern for the details: Eden, tabernacle, Leviticus, and the temple. But these were all pictures to be fulfilled in the church. This is why Paul rejoices to see the “order” of the Colossians (Col. 2:5). The word for “order” is “taxis” which means “military formation, array, tactics, and constitution.” Paul is rejoicing in the military formation of the Colossians, not their informality, casualness, or spontaneity. This is because we worship in the Spirit. The Spirit is the presence in Creation, in the Exodus (Ex. 13:18ff), in the tabernacle (pillars), and in Solomon’s temple. This is the Spirit of discipleship that unites us to God and all his people, and the Spirit cannot be tamed (e.g. Samson) but the Spirit is orderly. God rejoices to see our order because we are his armies, his hosts (e.g. Revelation).
Christ as Baptizer
John says that the Christ will baptize with fire and the Holy Spirit. This is the same Spirit who comes upon men and empowers them with extraordinary skills, often martial (Ex. 31:3, Jdg. 3:10, 14:19, 1 Sam. 11:6). The Spirit-glory presence also filled places of worship and fire was often the physical manifestation of this presence (Ex. 4:34, 1 Kgs. 11:8). When Psalm 72:19 prays for God to fill the world with His glory, part of this prayer is for God to make the world like the Temple, to fill the earth with the beauty and order of God’s house. In Ezekiel 10-11 where the glory presence of God is departing, God leaves the temple in order to be “a little sanctuary for them in the countries where they have gone” (Ez. 11:16). The reason the sanctuaries of the Old Covenant were ordered and constructed as they were is because they reflected the very person of God. This means that spontaneous, informal worship (however well-intentioned) is seeking to fill the world with a foreign glory. It is not the fullness of the glory of God.
In the baptism of Christ, we see the Trinity revealed: the Father glorifying the Son, the Spirit descending upon the Son, and we know from John’s words that the Spirit is descending upon Jesus so that he may pour it out upon His people, to conform them to the image of the Trinity, to make them his sanctuary, reflecting his order and beauty. When we say that God is love, we mean that God eternally loves. When God is good, we mean that God eternally shows his goodness. This can be the case because the persons of the Trinity eternally relate to one another in this dance of love and goodness. He is the original army, the original battle formation, and he rejoices to see us reflecting that same joyful, fearsome order. Orderly worship should reflect this dance, like the moves of a martial artist, like well executed warfare. This is glorious; this is the beauty of holiness.
Conclusions and Applications
1. Worship is the work of God’s people. The construction of the tabernacle, Solomon’s temple, and the restored temple under Nehemiah and the worship they offered were not easy. And the New Testament clearly teaches that if there has been any shift, worship has not become more casual, it has become more glorious (Heb. 12:18ff). And glory is heavy, weighty, and it takes work. And just because something is hard doesn’t make it good.
2. Our liturgy is very regimented and planed. This should not feel oppressive; it is actually meant to be freedom. You are given much to say and sing and do, and like dance steps, martial arts moves, they should become natural over time. Our worship is also very corporate. Since our worship is in Christ, all of Christ worships. You are in Him, and He is our head. We plan and write everything out because you are part of all of it.
3. Our worship is full of Psalms and Psalm-like hymns because these are the war songs of our King. We’re here for battle not to get “hooked up” with Jesus. Jesus is not your boyfriend; he is not your buddy. He doesn’t invite you here to “hang out” with him. When God appeared to Moses in the burning bush, he did not break out into “This Little Light of Mine” or “Shine Jesus Shine.” We are here for battle. Christmas is the birth of our king, our hero, our captain, and our champion. He has led us into battle and has conquered the foe. And he has sent his Spirit of glorious, fearsome order into us that we might carry on this battle through worship.
In the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, Amen!
Final Prayer: High and Majestic Lord of the Universe, you have called us into your glorious presence in the power of your fearsome Spirit. We confess that so often in our worship of you we have insisted upon using rubber bands and sticks for battle when you have offered us swords and battle axes. We glorify your beauty and majesty now, and we give you praise and thanks that you have invited us into your hosts; for you have made us your knights and soldiers here. We know that the praises of Israel brought the walls of Jericho down, and it will be the joyful praise of your people that will subdue the nations of this world to your Christ. Therefore we ask you to grow us up, and give us courage.