My friends, as you can see, the Church Year, with the readings for this week, has taken a major leap forward. We are not at the crib anymore, but are suddenly thrust into the public life of our brother Jesus. The seeming bliss of the crib, even with its ardors, is over, and now; we find Jesus on the brink of all that his Abba has called him to—his reason for becoming Emmanuel-God-with-us.
The overriding theme of the Christmas Season has been hope—a hope that with new life; change, goodness and renewed love and compassion for all, is possible. Whenever new life comes to us; we instinctively feel this hope. Symbols like the star, shedding light in the darkness of our seeming chaos are comfort for our souls so in need of that comfort amid wars raging around our world, amid so much death and suffering in our country—lives unmercifully taken out of fear and mental illness and so much of it due to a proliferation of guns in the hands of our people. Hope springs eternal that as we move from the crib in Bethlehem to the waters of the Jordan, that new life is possible.
In order for us to understand the true significance of Jesus’ baptism, it is good to look at what John’s baptism “of repentance for the forgiveness of sins” was really all about. It was a different experience for Jesus, than for the others who came to John. We believe Jesus to have been without sin, so why would he subject himself to this ritual of cleansing that made sense to the common people who were accustomed to ritual cleansings and the symbolic inner value that it represented?
We perhaps make the event too simple as well as Jesus’ entire human life if we simply label him, “without sin.” If we in fact do this, do we not take his humanity away? To be human means that we are imperfect by nature—we are susceptible to that which isn’t perfect. The true gift of Jesus our brother was that he took on our humanity, our imperfection, to show us the way to live an imperfect existence, perfectly. So, it was necessary to immerse himself in our life completely, to step down, as it were, written about so beautifully by Paul in his letter to the Philippians, chapter 2—“His state was divine, yet he did not cling to it.”
It has been suggested that he also took this opportunity to receive divine affirmation for his messianic mission. We hear—“this is my Beloved, on you my favor rests!” Just as Mary perhaps needed Elizabeth’s affirmation that the Child she carried was indeed who the angel said he would be—“Who am I that the mother of my God should visit me?” The voice from heaven that we hear about in the Scriptures today was an ancient Israelite way of referring to divine communication.
So we see the stage is being set for our brother Jesus, one perfectly “with us” taking on our existence in its entirety, complete with all the joys, sufferings and frustrations and when he comes out of the water, Jesus is fully ready as servant, prophet and priest to bring justice to the nations, to open the eyes of the blind, to bring out prisoners from confinement, as Isaiah has so beautifully described the role of the servant/Messiah for us today.
This description, read today from Isaiah, of what it is to be a servant is a wonderful definition and call to each of us as baptized Christians to move among God’s people doing what we can, what we must, to make sure that Jesus’ justice—God’s justice, is there for all. Bringing justice is what Isaiah’s servant does—nothing less. So how do we do this we might ask? A prime example this next year comes for each of us as we prepare to vote in national elections for new leadership. We have a responsibility to vote for those candidates who will bring the most justice to the least among us. We reach out of our comfort and help where we can, whenever we can. The psalmist prays today, “Our God will bless the people with peace—our gift, my friends, for being servants. The evangelist Luke, in the reading from Acts today, reminds us that “Jesus went about doing good works and healing all who were in the grip of the Devil.” Our brother Jesus calls us likewise to be our best selves—bringing peace, not chaos into peoples’ lives. In addition, welcome should always be on our lips, to invite, to include more—everyone in fact, in God’s love.
With that in mind, I would like to invite once again, as in the past, for each of you to take one of my cards and in your wanderings throughout the next weeks, invite someone who may be without a church family, or frustrated with where they are, to come and be with us. And don’t worry what people do or say—we, each of us merely need to invite, to welcome, and the Spirit will take it from there.
If we look at Jesus’ life, we see too that there was much chaos to deal with, but if he has asked us to continue his work—to be his hands, eyes, ears and heart for the world, then we can be equally sure that we will not be left alone. I take great hope from Jesus’ promise, before he physically left us, that, he would be with us always—we shouldn’t be afraid.
So, my friends, Christmas is over—we can’t continue to look back at the babe in Bethlehem, the innocent, sweet child; but we must move forward now with the adult Jesus who is calling each of us to be the change our world so badly needs. Today calls each of us to consider our own baptisms and what that action ultimately means in our lives. Most of us were baptized as infants, a gift our parents gave us. Now, as adults, as followers of our brother Jesus, we can no longer be complacent as when we were infants. In the words of my friend, Fr. Paul Nelson, “We are called to dignity, to rise above excuses in life, to engage our best selves.” Amen? Amen!