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Certainties and Possibilities

For many people the empty tomb of Jesus provides a certainty to our faith.  The undeniable and unquestionable truth of Jesus’ resurrection for many believers gives their faith credibility and authority.  There are those who find great comfort in the proofs of the resurrection that are intended to erase all doubts so that we can rest assured that our faith is based on rock solid facts.  But are you certain?  Have you always been certain?  Be honest:  are there times when you are not so sure? Do you ever find that things you once felt very sure about feel less certain now?

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When the sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices, so that they might go and anoint him. And very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen, they went to the tomb.  As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man, dressed in a white robe, sitting on the right side; and they were alarmed. But he said to them, “Do not be alarmed; you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised.”

No. I’m not getting ahead of myself!  No, I did not accidently grab my Easter sermon this morning.  Yes, I realize it’s Palm Sunday and that we just read the entire Passion reading which stops before we get to the empty tomb.  And that the passage I just read for you IS from next Sunday’s Easter Gospel.  But the stories are related.  There is a connection between today’s Passion Reading and next Sunday’s Gospel. And the connection is not just about what happens to Jesus from Palm Sunday to Easter.  It’s about what happens to us.

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The time has come.

With these words, the Gospel-writer Mark gives us Jesus’ first recorded words in the Bible:

“The time has been fulfilled, the kingdom of God is at hand, repent and believe the good news.”

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Lots of looking and finding and seeing in today’s Gospel reading.  In the weeks after Christmas during this season of Epiphany we see how Jesus’ love was revealed – a love ultimately displayed on the cross but revealed along the way in his ministry.  All the looking and finding and seeing is part of Jesus being made known to others as Rabbi or Teacher – the Messiah – the Son of God.  There is lots of this epiphany discovery going on in this reading from the Gospel of John.  “We have found him!” some said to each other after they met Jesus and heard his call.

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Our Gospel reading today tells the story of the Baptism of Jesus. It’s an important event in the life of Christ. There are not many stories about Jesus that are told by all four Gospel writers, but this one is.  So it must be important!  But the importance of this story, the message of this story, the good news of this story really has nothing to do with Jesus being baptized.

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The angel said to the shepherds, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” 

And the shepherds said, “Let’s go see.”

On the night Jesus was born, angels sent some Bethlehem shepherds on a Christmas hunt! They are searching for one thing.  A Savior.  The Christ.  Whatever that might mean for them.  And when they find the baby lying in a manger, they will have found what they are looking for.

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Our Gospel for today begins in the beginning.  Literally.  Those are the first words of our Gospel.  “In the beginning.”   A good text for the first Sunday in a new year, don’t you think?  We are at the beginning!

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There is someone I love very dearly who has asked me . . . repeatedly . . . to stop by for an important meeting.  It’s to plan her funeral.  Oh I know she has it all planned and I know most of the details. But she wants to talk it through and to be honest, I’ve been avoiding the conversation. She is a bit more ready than I am.

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I had trouble sleeping the other night. It was in the early hours of the morning and it was too early to get up for the day so I decided to see if relocating downstairs would help me fall asleep for a couple more hours.  As I lay there on the couch I could see the beautiful night sky framed by the family room window.  A dark midnight blue.  The soft glow of a waning moon. The silhouette of winter trees.  And stars scattered across that heavenly canvas.

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“Greetings, favored ones! The Lord is with you.”

This is how the angel Gabriel greeted Mary with good news. He came to announce to Mary that she was going to have a baby and that she should name the baby Jesus and that this child was conceived by the Holy Spirit. Mary ultimately surrendered her will to God’s will and she consented to this gift and accepted it with grace.

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