Thoughts on the Feast of the Baptism of Jesus, January 12, 2020
by Rev. Jim Ryan, firstname.lastname@example.org
This feast of the Baptism of Jesus marks the end of the Season of Light (Christmas-Epiphany-Baptism of Jesus) and the liturgical transition to that section of Ordinary Time that concludes with Ash Wednesday and the beginning of Lent. As the light increases in the time following Winter Solstice and takes hold, then pagan, earth-based religions merge with Christian spirituality to the point that out of Solstice emerges the Beloved One, as the Gospel passage today states, “On whom my favor rests. (Matthew 3:17)
The stories of Jesus’ baptism vary among the 4 Gospels. Today’s passage from Matthew includes the line where Jesus cover’s John’s reluctance to baptize him by saying he’s undergoing the experience to fulfill the scriptures. Also, when you read all four Gospel instances of the event it’s not totally clear who hears the voice or has a vision of the Spirit. Was it only Jesus, or only Jesus and John, or did everyone hear and see? Hard to say. Yet a further addition is that Luke is the only one who mentions the baptism that includes both the Holy Spirit and fire.
With all this variation it begs the question, “What’s the point?” I would like to suggest that the point is Light. Jesus is Light in a world of darkness. And, just how terrible is that darkness these days?
We live in a time of darkness, a time of contrasts which unsettles so much of the old familiar ways that used to comfort us when we thought we knew the truth. This past week gave us one more contrast concerning light and fire. On the one hand is the light of fire and destruction of drones and missiles in the Middle East which carry out the human capacity for doing evil. And on the other hand is the light and fire of the Holy Spirit whose sacramental gifts inspire our human capacity for doing good.
First, let’s think about this Baptism. When we dismiss the thinking that this is an event for show, as in Jesus referring to scriptures that must be fulfilled, then we must look more deeply at the meaning of the event. If you believe, as I do, that Jesus grew into his awareness of who he was then he would have been as surprised as anyone at the Voice and the Selection – “This is my beloved, on him my favor rests.” Jesus discovers with us the extent, the depth, and yes, the love God shows to us.
Second, let’s look at this relationship of depth and love. This vision requires imagination – the poetry that connects beyond metaphors and is inclusive of a quanturm consciousness. This consciousness acknowledges that at one and the same time we travel in time on a divine wave while residing for a time in the materiality of particles in space.
The Irish philosopher, Richard Kearney, has spent years focusing and wagering on insights that emerge in imagination about the divine-human relationship. On this feast that celebrates the divine-human person’s self-consciousness we join together in our own awareness of and participation in this same divine-human relationship. Kearney’s book Reimagining the Sacred comprises a series of discussions he had with thinkers on religion. His first conversation with Catherine Keller explores the entanglement (Keller’s word) of all things with each other particularly in the imagination’s poetic sense of sacramental hospitality (Kearney’s view).
Keller is a process theologian whose book Cloud of the Imposible holds to a panentheist view that all things are one in God. God who contains all things and who also emerges in and beyond the cosmos. God who takes us along for the ride. Keller quotes Athanasius (296-373) who wrote, “God became human so that the human could become God.” Turns out, rather than being a radical notion of the 21st century the awareness of humans becoming divine goes all the way back to the 3rd century.
So, on this feast of the human-divine relationship we find ourselves on a path that leaves behind contrasts about light – whether of violence and destruction or of insight and progress. Rather, like the newly baptized Jesus, in the words (also ancient) of Augustine, “We become who we are.”
We are a people who live always to build up and not destroy even as the forces of violence and separation seem permanent. Our path is not one to find some institutionally driven legal power of coercion to do as we always have done. Rather, our path is, even in the ever present face of evil, to hear the Word of the Beloved One and act upon our imagination that shows us the good.
After all, we are Light. We act in the Light even as Jesus is and becomes Light for us, Light in us. One reason we need to equip ourselves with such imagination and conviction, such willingness to act, is that science tells us that soon (within 10-15 years) we will be living in a permanently irreversible and degraded environment. Our experience tells us, as Greta Thunberg speaks so truthfully, that so-called leaders of the nations have not mustered and likely will not muster the imagination and the conviction that it’s bold and progressive, dare we say radical?, steps of correction and vision that need to be taken.
Those who are Light, who live this divine-human relationship, are equipped to establish the light that shines even in the dark. We engage the sacramental imagination that gathers us in such a community “on whom God’s favor rests!”
A Prayer (JR)
Arise, Beloved One, from across the void.
Unite us in you to the life that never ends.
Arise, Beloved and Beautiful One.
Let us hear your voice for your voice is sweet and lovely.
Arise, Beloved, Beautiful, and Nurturing One.
Show us the care that enwraps and assures.
What we find in you, we pray that we may give in kind
to those we love. By this love and care we
reach beyond ourselves to overcome fears
and traps that shorten our reach and keep us
Embolden our resolve to emerge as the people who
live up to your Name—
the Beloved, the Beautiful, and the Nurturing One.