This Sunday we come to an important crossroads. Signs along our journey through Epiphany have given us fair warning – “Choose life, not death!” we heard just a week ago. Life seen through godly eyes is life lived in Christ Jesus, that is, within God’s abiding, sustaining, life-giving relationship. In Holy Baptism, we have formally “put on Christ” [Romans 13:14] so that we might live in Christ. Philippians 1:27-28 lays it before us in two sentences:
Only, live your life in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that, whether I come and see you or am absent and hear about you, I will know that you are standing firm in one spirit, striving side by side with one mind for the faith of the gospel, and are in no way intimidated by your opponents. For them this is evidence of their destruction, but of your salvation. And this is God’s doing.
Life worthy of the gospel of Christ is what Epiphany introduced to us. A visit from the Kings is Jesus’ first public recognition – people near and far are drawn to his powerful presence. At Jesus’ baptism, God announces that he is God’s own well pleasing son who fulfills God’s word. In turn, we are grafted into his life through our own saving death in baptism. Mary and Joseph present him to Simeon in the temple who sees in Jesus the fulfillment of all of Israel’s longing. God’s saving work in Christ will come at a great price, however. Mary accepts this as if a sword had pierced her heart. This baby will gather up all our grief, brokenness, anger, pain, and sin in his own suffering and death. On the Mount of Transfiguration at the end of the Epiphany season, we hear again God’s pleasure in Jesus.
Transfiguration is not some Disney Studios stunt, but carefully considered signs for God’s people. These signs are not lost on the disciples gathered; neither should they be lost on us. Jesus is flanked by Moses, the Law Bringer of God, and on the other side by Elijah, the Prophet who returns when the Messiah appears. Bathed in brilliant light so that it cannot be overlooked, Jesus is affirmed as the fulfiller of God’s law brought by Moses because he is the Messiah, God’s anointed Savior whom Elijah welcomes. By God’s grace, we receive this in faith – that is, we discover that God has welcomed us into this holy, abiding relationship. Living in relationship means that we have some serious work and responsibilities to attend to.
And so we come to Ash Wednesday and the Lenten Journey. Ash Wednesday is the sobering reminder that we must choose life, because the alternative is dust and ashes. Lent gives us the time and opportunities to practice holy living. It takes time to lose oneself – that is, to get over our killing obsession and fascination with our own selves while ignoring the very ones we should love, including God. Justice and peace do not happen easily, but at a very necessary cost. Philippians continues:
For [God] has graciously granted you the privilege not only of believing in Christ, but of suffering for him as well— since you are having the same struggle that you saw I had and now hear that I still have. [Phil 1:29-30]