On January 6 the Church celebrates The Epiphany of Our Lord, the day when the three magi visited the boy-child Jesus bearing gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Symbolically the gifts have great meaning. Gold symbolizes Jesus kingship. Frankincense is a symbol of Jesus’ deity, the Son of God. And myrrh, which was used as embalming oil, symbolizes death, Jesus’ death on the cross. So imagine being Joseph and Mary receiving such gifts after the birth of their first born son from three Zoroastrian star-gazers from the East and pondering their significance. Royalty. Deity. And death? And yet, in such a seemingly insignificant child born first laid in a manger born to an ordinary construction worker and teenage girl who were living far from their backwater home in Nazareth all three gifts signified their son’s identity as king of the Jews, Son of God, and the sacrifice he would make for the sake of the world. Indeed, his death would not be just for the people of Israel, but even for the very Gentiles who knelt before him with their gifts from afar.
The first Sunday following January 6 the Church then celebrates The Baptism of Our Lord, when Jesus began his earthly ministry following his baptism by John in the River Jordan. On that Sunday The Lutheran Church of Our Savior will remember and bless the families and children who were baptized in 2020. In baptism we not only pour water over the head of the baptized but we also anoint them with oil during the “Chrismation” portion of the rite. I say their name, dip my thumb in a golden oil stock, and while tracing a cross on their forehead say, “Child of God you have been sealed with the Holy Spirit and marked with the cross of Christ forever.” What you may not know is that blessed oil contains both frankincense and myrrh, the very gifts presented to Jesus. The fragrance is a reminder that we are God’s children, precious in God’s sight, but we are also mortal. We will one day die. But because we have been joined to Christ’s death and resurrection in those baptismal waters death does not have the last word. The God who raised Jesus, and who will one day raise us in the resurrection, has the last word. Just as God’s grace and power of new life were revealed in a boy-child Jesus, so too, God’s grace and resurrection power can be revealed through us in our everyday ordinary lives. As we enter into the new year of 2021 (FINALLY!) I think we would do well to remember our baptism and the connection we have to the gifts the Magi laid at Jesus’ tiny feet. We are God’s royal priesthood of all believers. We are children of God, our heavenly Father. And we are mortal. Only death doesn’t have the last word in our lives, both not then, and in 2021. This new year will be filled with new beginnings as the Coronavirus vaccine allows us to resume life where social distancing and masks are no longer required. The work of antiracism and partnerships that were created to work toward that end will continue as the months unfold creating a new life for those whose skin color was the only reason for their discrimination and suffering. Our Savior will begin a new ministry with the New Beginnings Childcare (see related article) by the summer and then in the new school year.
And through it all, I pray we remember our baptism and our chrismation in it. That we have been sealed by the Holy Spirit and marked with the cross of Christ, the symbol of both death and resurrection, forever. I pray we remember that death does not have the last word for those who trust in the God who raised Jesus from the dead. Maybe that is what we can remember every time we touch our forehead and make the sign of the cross on it. We are God’s children. We are a royal priesthood. And even though we die, yet shall we live, no matter what. With such a focus it will surely be a Happy New Year.