I can remember coming home from 3+ years of mission in Kenya, friends were driving me home, and as we wound through trees, I could see the porch light on at my home in the foothills of the Blue Ridge. Even from afar, it shone like a welcoming beacon. It was the sign I am home in a place I have always belonged. It was known, calm, and safe. It was far from the wildness and messiness of life of the slums of Kibera. It is the same moment we have seen on the evening news, in newspapers, on-line in the experience of our men and women serving overseas in foreign lands. Coming home writ large is the heavy bags dropped on the tarmac, the faces of unbridled joy, parents sweeping up children in their arms, a loved one embraced, and the moment they know: I am home.
And it is not just in the dramatic moments – if we are paying attention – it is in the everyday. Home, a place where, at the end of a long day at work or school, you can find solace, put your feet on the furniture, curl up on the couch, pet the dog, pause amidst the chaos of family and know you belong. The place you are accepted, loved, nourished, embraced. Home – where people wait for you, to hold you, praise you, challenge you, serve you, annoy you, delight you, and all the other facets of an intimate life joined together for a higher purpose. Sure, it is a little harder now that home has been enveloped in the wildness and messiness of remote working and learning – and the walls of home seem a little closer. But that just means we need to be mindful, intentional about the everyday, even if it is not the everyday we want. But it is the place we belong.
This sense of belonging is what it means to be church. We are at our best when church is like family. Messy, noisy, chaotic, beautiful, hopeful, alive, and graced. Joined for a higher purpose. Belonging to a vibrant community of faith is to know the draw and gravity of the porch light, to realize you can open the door without knocking, step inside and see that you belong. It is to know the familiar, to reach over to the holy water font, to feel the familiar cool touch of the water, to renew your baptism in the sign of the cross – and hopefully you remember the words of family, hearing again God’s words to Jesus his son – personal, poignant, and powerful. “You are my beloved son. With you I am well pleased.” These words are the blessings of belonging.
It is as though Advent is the porch light burning with anticipation in our hearts. Christmas is that recognition that the living Son of God has plunged into our world as a helpless child, now part of the human family. He is the light of the world and the darkness will not overcome it.
And today, the Baptism of the Lord, is the day the heavens are torn open, and Jesus plunges into the waters of the Jordan as sign and symbol speaking the words: I am home, I belong, this is where I have, from the foundation of the world, longed to be.
Be attentive to the gospels of the next few weeks. Jesus rises from the waters and will plunge headfirst into the messy, noisy, chaotic, beautiful, hopeful, alive, annoying, sinful, radiant family of humanity. He belongs to us and we belong to Him. He is our God and we are his people. As the readings unfold notice how often Jesus will call people to take the plunge, to belong to Him. It will not be a theological proposition. It was not be a moral exhortation. It will be a call, a welcome, to belong, to be at home.
Jesus is the porch light that calls, the door that is always opened. He is the welcoming arms waiting to embrace us saying, “You are my beloved. With you I am well pleased. You belong. Now, live as one who belongs. Take the plunge – be for others the porch light, the door ever opened, and the arms ready to embrace.” This is the mission of the community of those who believe, those who belong.
And when we truly open the doors to our baptismal home, like Jesus we enter into the full messiness of the human family. In one watery act, he stepped into the whole Story of God’s work on earth, and allowed that story to resonate, deepen, and find completion. In our baptisms, we vow to do the same. In the wild waters of our immersion, we join our beings to all beings, and throw our lot in with theirs. If this doesn’t startle you, you need to pay closer attention.
To embrace Christ’s baptism story is to embrace the wild truth that we are united, interdependent, connected, one. Whether we like it or not, the bond God seals by water and by the Spirit is truer and deeper than all others. It makes a stronger claim on our lives and loyalties than all prior claims of race, gender, tribe, nationality, politics, preference, or affinity. It asks that we bear all the risks of belonging. The risk that others might hurt us. The risk that others will change. The risk that they will change us.
Even as I arrived home from Kenya those many years ago, I knew that I had been changed. Such is the risk of living out your baptismal vows. The Blue Ridge is home. The sunshine of Florida is home. A slum in Kenya is home. Here in Triangle, I am at home.
The porch light of belonging in Christ is ever on.
Ever calling you home.
Ever calling you to step through the door into the messiness of life and the love of Christ.