We stood in a long line just to get into the toy store in downtown NYC. It was after Christmas and just before New Years’. The weather was cold, and the crowds swarming around Rockefeller Center were busy taking pictures of the lighted Christmas tree. Everything had a festive mood, except for the long line waiting to get into the store. People could be seen inside the store, while the rest of us in the crowds stood, freezing, outside. We were anxious to get out of the cold and into a warm building.
How disappointing it would have been to have waited for so long in freezing weather to get to the door and be told the store had closed. “Sorry, come back some other time.” In Genesis, the story of Adam and Eve, mankind’s first parents, started out very good, only to end in bitter disappointment. When they sinned against God’s command not to eat the forbidden fruit, Paradise was closed. Their fellowship with the Almighty was over. The rich stores of God’s Garden were now off limits. There could be no coming back, just living off the land that would not yield its fruit without hard labor and sweat-equity.
Yet the promise remained. God said the woman’s offspring would one day crush the serpent-Satan underfoot (Genesis 3:15). Mankind waited in line for God’s heaven to once again be opened. Particularly when John began preaching a baptism of repentance for forgiveness in the wilderness (Mark 1:4) did people sit up and take notice. Perhaps the deliverer was soon to appear, many thought. John prepared the way for the Messiah, calling the people to acknowledge their hopelessness and cling to the promise of God to send a Savior from sin and death. He summoned all to baptism, confessing their sins and receiving the assurance of God’s grace and promise of salvation.
Thirty years earlier, Wise man had followed a star to the infant Christ, born in Bethlehem, as the prophet had foretold (Micah 5:2). Now the Christ strides forth from Nazareth, drawn to the Baptist’s exhortations to the crowds, to be baptized in the Jordan River. He needs no baptism for forgiveness of sins, for He is the sinless Son of Almighty God. Yet He has been born in human flesh and blood, to share humanities plight. He has come to restore us to God the Father by His atoning sacrifice. To begin His ministry, He now will be baptized into His death which will pardon the sins of all mankind. Hebecomes our companion in His baptism, and we being baptized in the Triune God’s name, are incorporated into His death, burial, and resurrection (Romans 6:1-11).
Being baptized and as He prays, heaven is opened. God the Holy Spirit descends upon Him from heaven, externally visibleas a dove. And a voice speaks from the opened heaven, declaring God’s favor upon Him, the beloved Son. This is truly an Epiphany, a manifestation of God’s presence among us, His coming to save us, His identification with us as a fellow sojourner and friend. Heaven, which was closed because of sin and which brought a Flood to destroy a disobedient world, save Noah and his family so long ago, now by baptism of Christ and all who believe on Him, showers the world with forgiveness, being won by God’s Son, our Savior. Heaven is now open, forthe beloved Son of God goes to death on a cross, to pay the penalty for our sins. His resurrection assures us of the validity of His sacrifice. There is no need to wait, freezing, in a long line or to knock, knock, knock at heaven’s door. Jesus has opened it and welcomes all to come in, be baptized, and enjoy the Paradise He has restored to us.