In order to expedite posting the worship services here on our website, we are reducing the transcript to just the scriptures used and the message. Holy Communion is offered every Sunday. If you are worshipping with us online whether during the live-cast or through on-demand viewing, you are encouraged to have bread and juice or wine available as you watch the service and to participate in communion just as if you are present with us.



God, open us to hear and receive your scriptures today as you would have us hear them, understand them as you would have us understand them, and to act upon them as you would have us act upon them.

In Jesus’ name, Amen.

*Scriptures this morning are from the NRSV.

Matthew 2:1-12

In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, asking, “Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising and have come to pay him homage.”

When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him; and calling together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born.

They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it has been written by the prophet: ‘And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for from you shall come a ruler who is to shepherd my people Israel.'”

Then Herod secretly called for the wise men and learned from them the exact time when the star had appeared.

Then he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search diligently for the child; and when you have found him, bring me word so that I may also go and pay him homage.”

When they had heard the king, they set out; and there, ahead of them, went the star that they had seen at its rising, until it stopped over the place where the child was.

When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy.

On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.

And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road.

Mark 1:4-11

John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.

 And people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him, and were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.

Now John was clothed with camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey.

He proclaimed, “The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals.

I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”

In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan.

And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him.

And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”

L:  The scriptures of God for the people of God.

A: Thanks be to God.       

Message – No Doubt*

Rev. Val

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be pleasing to you, O Lord, my rock, and my redeemer, and may you see fit to use me as a vessel from which you pour out your Divine Word.

In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Today we celebrate two events thirty years apart: Epiphany—the “showing forth” or “the revelation” of Christ in the world, and the Baptism of the Lord that introduces Jesus as an adult and the beginning of his three years of ministry. There is a commonality between the two events that may go unnoticed by most. Let me lay out the stories for you.

Now, there are two different nativity stories in the Bible and our contemporary nativity sets combine the two, but they are slightly different. The one we tend to read on Christmas Eve is Luke’s story that focuses on the birth and the shepherds. Our passage today is from Matthew’s story of the Epiphany, an event that actually takes place a year or so after Luke’s story of Christ’s birth.

Fr. Richard Rohr says, “A good journey begins with knowing where you are and being willing to go somewhere else.” Epiphany takes its theme from the journey of a group of Gentile astrologers who left familiar territory to find the Christ child and explore his authenticity for themselves. Keep in mind that these were not today’s version of astrologers who figure out everyone’s horoscope for the weekly paper. They were as much astronomers as they were astrologers, watching for and working to understand signs in the sky. Something they saw – the appearance of a star … a very different star that rose in the east – gave them a revelation.

This revelation did not come to them while they passively waited; indeed, they had to strike out on a lengthy and possibly treacherous journey … a journey to places they’d never been among people they’d never met … in order to find what they were looking for.

I wonder what the Magi left behind in order to take such a strange journey. Their families? Positions in the kingdoms they were leaving? What kings and councils were clamoring for their services, claiming that they were indispensable in crafting plans and strategies? What kind of pressing issues did they set aside when the star they had been watching rose in the Eastern sky, indicating it was time to follow?

I wonder, too, if they ever doubted their decision to follow that star, if they were sure that star in the East really meant something special. Did they ever consider turning back? Did they question if their journey was worth the effort and the risks, especially risks to their reputations and relationships back home if they were wrong?

If they had any of those doubts, it apparently didn’t matter. The Magi set off anyway, responding to something calling from deep within them, something they were certain enough was true that they were willing to take the risk of making the journey. Their journey was physical, yes, but it was also a spiritual journey that involved learning to follow guidance from strange sources, letting go of familiar settings, and recognizing the presence of Divine Mystery in places smaller and more humble, more human, and more intimate than the places the ego journey takes us.  And there was a whole new set of questions to ponder.

The Magi’s journey eventually led them to a strange country, a strange setting, a meeting with Herod, the king of that strange country, and then to common ordinary people.  And, in this strange place so far outside their comfort zone, they found what they were looking for.  They saw the child with Mary his mother, and they knelt down and paid him homage.

Listen to that again. They saw the child with Mary his mother, and they knelt down and paid him homage. They saw the child. They knelt down. They paid him homage. Notice in the scripture there is no exchange of dialogue here. They saw the child. Period. And they recognized him for who and what he was.

One of the ways these “wise ones” recognized the showing forth of God’s presence is that it resonated differently than what they were accustomed to. Being in Christ’s presence stirred their emotions (they were overwhelmed with joy), moved their bodies (to kneel down and worship), overflowed in generosity of spirit (they gave him extravagant, heart-felt gifts), and opened them to spiritual guidance for their next steps (which came to them in a dream.)

These were wise ones, intellectuals of their time. They were probably more comfortable living and leading from their heads, so to be overwhelmed by joy? To have a visceral experience of worship? To receive God’s guidance through a dream of all things! This was a new kind of journey. And to know … just automatically know … that this child was not only different … this child was not only special … this child was a king … the king … the king of the Jews. They knew. No tests, no questions, no examination, they just knew. They had … no doubt.

Eventually they would return home (by a different way as they’d been warned in a dream) but they would not be the same. They would never be the same.

It was shortly after the Magi had visited that another angel would appear to Joseph in a dream, telling him pack up his new family and flee to Egypt to protect Jesus from Herod’s order in verses 16-18: “Then Herod, when he saw that he was deceived by the wise men, was exceedingly angry; and he sent forth and put to death all the male children who were in Bethlehem and in all its districts, from two years old and under, according to the time which he had determined from the wise men. Then was fulfilled what was spoken by Jeremiah the prophet, saying: ‘A voice was heard in Ramah, lamentation, weeping, and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children, refusing to be comforted, because they are no more’” (2:16-18, NKJV).

Epiphany which was yesterday is also known as Theophany, Three Kings Day, Little Christmas, and Old Christmas here in Appalachia, and celebrates the Christ’s physical manifestation to the Gentiles.

Think about that for a minute. He was born to a teenage girl who was engaged to a working-class man. When he was still in the womb, Mary visited her cousin Elizabeth who was also pregnant, a few months further along than Mary, and Elizabeth knew who Mary was carrying.

His first visitors on the night he was born were lowly shepherds who, like the Magi, had no doubt that tiny infant was the long-awaited Messiah. His only visit to the temple at that young age was for his circumcision where two elderly people, Simeon and Anna, also took one look at him and knew without a doubt who he was. And then, when he was about two, a group of wise men from well outside the Holy Lands who weren’t even Jewish … they were Gentiles … show up at his parent’s house in Bethlehem, see him and have no doubt two-year-old Jesus was the long awaited for king.

We don’t know much about Jesus’ childhood except for one story about him and his family traveling to the Temple in Jerusalem when he was around twelve. That was the trip where Mary and Joseph lost track of him for three days only to find out he’d been in the Temple teaching the rabbis.

In the passage from Mark, we leap forward some thirty years to the baptism of Jesus. The main characters of the story are Jesus and John the Baptist. And I doubt that you could find a couple of guys more certain about faith and their roles in the world than those two. They seemed to radiate faith and confidence. That was part of John’s appeal, I believe. Folks flocked to this wild man from the desert with his questionable sartorial choices and fad diet from an entomologist’s nightmare. There was more than the curiosity factor at work here. There was a longing for certainty.

Mark’s version of the story pares down the conversation and the sermon, but the other gospels reflect a man who railed against doubters and the powers of this world that would confuse us. He hands out advice like a man writing a “Dear Abby” column. He knows what’s what and who is who.

Certainty … Certainty is the opposite of doubt. Certainty is trusting and having faith, two things we often doubt we do very well, sometimes questioning our faith and sometimes doubting that God even cares. We’re supposed to manifest Christ within ourselves and to see Christ in everyone we meet and these days but  that can be a real challenge.

And yet … there’s something inside keeps pulling us back to trying our hardest to walk in The Way Christ taught. Something we can’t name, but it’s there.

U2 has a song that explains it:

I believe in the Kingdom Come
Then all the colours will bleed into one
But yes I’m still running
You broke the bonds
You loosed the chains
You carried the cross
And my shame
And my shame
You know I believe it
But I still haven’t found
What I’m looking for

The song has a sort of an “I believe, help my unbelief” kind of theme—where many of us live our lives, somewhere between doubt and certainty.

John’s certainty would waiver later on in Matthew and in Luke. Jesus says to the people concerning their fascination with John, “What did you go out to see?” (Matt 11:7-15 & Lk 7:25-30) In both accounts, these remarks are occasioned by the questions that came from John when he had been imprisoned and faced certain death. Suddenly, even John’s certainty seemed elusive.

What did they go out to see? Someone who knew. Someone who had found what he (and they) were looking for. So, John gave it to them with water and with words. They glimpsed it in the gathering of the multitudes. (I love the preacher’s estimate of the size of the crowd in our text: “the whole countryside … all the people of the city.”) That was why they splashed into the river to be baptized by this crazy man. He had something they wanted. He saw what they were looking for.

And he pointed it out. It’s not me, he declared over and over, though they thought it was him. That’s why they kept coming and kneeling and letting the water of his certainty wash over them. But it wasn’t him; it was another; it was that guy. That guy was Jesus, who came to be baptized by John. Not, I believe, because Jesus needed the repentance and the certainty that was on offer but because he wanted to be present. He wanted to align himself with a move back toward God, a movement toward certainty. And because he wanted to be a memory that would come back to them when the doubts came creeping back in.

Glimpses, that’s what we get. We want certainty; we want to be sure. But we get hints. We get whispers. And yet Epiphany and the baptism of Jesus remind us that those hints are all around us. Just open your eyes and see and be reminded. See the presence in the drops of water that bead up on our glass on a humid day. Baptism tells us that if this water is a carrier of the Holy Spirit, then any water can be. The water you showered with this morning, the water you drank when you were thirsty after a long hard day, the water you gaze out upon in your favorite rest and renewal place; these all vibrate with the Spirit. It is all a reminder that you were claimed and that you are a beloved child with whom God is well pleased.

Of course, we need reminders of our baptism. It is too much of an event to keep in our hearts all the time. We forget what a transformative moment baptism is. We forget that everything old is torn away, like the heavens were rent apart, as Mark says. We forget that our orientation is from that moment; our new life is claimed in that moment. We forget that what we are looking for, longing for, is already ours in that moment. We lose our grip; we forget it even happened. We are still running; we are still looking for what we already have.

The next time you start to doubt, start to feel uncertain … remember your baptism. It isn’t just an empty ritual for Sunday mornings. It is a way of living that keeps our eyes open for the descending doves of the Spirit. It is a choice that we can claim to embrace the possibilities in front of us instead of the doubts within us. It is an opportunity to know that we are loved and claimed and that whatever darkness is hiding away in our past or our hearts need not define us anymore. It is a family we’ve entered, who will run with us as we search for what we are looking for, and who will avoid saying “told you so” when we realize what we are looking for has been with us all the time. And there’s no doubt about that … you all are living proof.

Let’s pray:

We take time from our busy schedules to reflect on the holiness of baptism. We stand amazed at the wondrous works of God. God’s goodness radiates through us as we experience the joy of coming into fellowship. We come with humble and willing hearts. We remember our baptism and pray for all who will be baptized. We pray that God will bring us and them into sweet fellowship found through baptism and remind us of the truth that lies in its holiness.



  • Unless listed below, all works cited within the text above.
  • *Adapted in part or full from Preaching Notes, Discipleship Ministries Worship Planning Series, January 7, 2024.

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