(In this 90th installment of the United Press International series of sermons, the Rev. Johannes Richter, former regional bishop of Leipzig in Germany, reflects on the meaning of Epiphany in the 21st century).
This sermon is based on Matthew 3:13-17.
We are still in the season of Epiphany, so let's ponder the meaning of this event. Does it have any relevance for us living in the 21st century?
In explaining the second article of the Creed, Martin Luther wrote in his Small Catechism: "I believe that Jesus Christ is truly God, born of the Father in eternity and also truly man, born of the Virgin Mary."
"Truly man" -- these are the words we must bear in mind as we read in today's lesson the words from above: "This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased." (Matthew 3:17).
This is not superfluous ballast we can throw overboard in this day and age. If we did we would harm ourselves. We would deprive our Christian faith, our actions and our hope of its foundation.
Christian faith is grounded in the fact that in Jesus of Nazareth we have a companion, who is truly man. This distinguishes Christianity from other religions, whose deities sometimes take on human form or appear as animals.
It also differs from religions that believe that an elect human being became a deity to whom his or her past humanity is an episode worthy of neglect.
Our companion is the son of Mary and Joseph, whose public ministry began when John baptized him. He was a man who preached and healed, was persecuted, captured, tried and was crucified.
But this crucified son of Mary and Joseph is also the Resurrected One, who has taken away the power of death and brought us eternal life. For he is truly the Son of God.
The events at Jesus' baptism at the river Jordan make it clear that this insight was not just the product of pious reflections by human beings but rather a proclamation by the eternal God.
The older and more experienced we humans grow, the more aware we become of our own limitations. We experience our lives in the irreversibility of our time. We experience daily constraints we cannot avoid.
We realize not only that we are changing the world but also that we are exposed to the results of the changes we have caused -- and often suffer from them. During the course of our lives we come to understand that sadness and suffering, fear and despair are not just words in a dictionary but facts that touch our lives.
And precisely because of these life experiences we are liberated by the knowledge that we have a Lord to whom we can entrust ourselves because he is "truly man born of the Virgin Mary and truly God born of the Father in eternity."
This is so because God's closeness to us is inherent in the closeness of Jesus, the man, to us fellow human beings.
This may seem contradictory and full of tension. But to us Christians it has been the message of liberation and hope with which we manage our lives.
To many, this kind of thinking may appear alien, indeed illogical and scientifically unverifiable. Perhaps so.
But let me give you an analogy. As children we learned at school that any given circle and any given straight line can meet at one point. At that point -- and only at that one -- do the different definitions of the circle and the straight line become identical.
Don't misunderstand me -- this image of the circle and the line is no proof that Jesus is true man and at the same time true God. But it may serve us as a tool of comprehension as we continue to live our lives in the certainty of faith that Jesus Christ is our brother and our Lord.