The celebration of the Baptism of the Lord marks the end of the Christmas Season. But I have to say, once we get past Christmas it is the life of Jesus on fast forward: Nativity, presentation in the Temple, magi, fleeing to Egypt, return to Nazareth, lost in the Temple and now we’re standing in a long line of people by the banks of the Jordan River. Ahead of us, waist-deep in the water, John the Baptist makes a no-nonsense, unrelenting call to repentance. Behind us, at the very end of the long line, stands that once-upon-a-time baby — all grown up. Thirty years have gone by, and the promised child is about to come into his promise.
The Baptism of the Lord is a story of the most extraordinary about to be revealed in the most ordinary of life. It is a story of profound humility. The child conceived of the Holy Spirit, celebrated by angels, worshiped by shepherds, and feared by Herod, stands in the same muddy water we stand in. In this one act, Jesus steps into the common and inescapable experience of living in a broken and sinful world. A world hungering for righteousness, redemption, and restoration. Whatever walls our sinfulness erected between ourselves and God – those walls are coming down. The Holiness of Heaven is now open to the world. The Holiness of Heaven is now in the world. Standing in line. The Messiah’s first public act is a declaration of solidarity. God has humbled Himself to become one of us. The Divine in solidarity with us.
And so, we who would declare that we are baptized in Christ – we have to embrace His baptism story. We must humble ourselves to accept the truth that the Divine solidarity presents us challenges
We are challenged to decide what it means to declare solidarity with our neighbors in a world that has erected walls between family and loved ones. In a world where we are expected to stand on one side of the line between red and blue, vaccinated or not, language for Mass, and all the muddy waters that would divide us and sweep us away in the rhetoric and language of division. Voices that presume to tell us who we are, how we are to be in the world, give us identity, and declare whose we are.
We have erected walls between “us” and “them.” We have erected walls between “our” piety and “their” sinfulness. In the words of a former President of the United States: tear down the wall. The walls we have created have to come down. We are in this together – the same muddy water of our times.
Our personal “goodness” notwithstanding, our baptisms bind us to all of humanity — not in theory, but in the flesh — such that you and I are kin, responsible for each other in ways we so often fail to honor. We are called into radical solidarity, not radical separateness. We are called to embrace and love all that is broken within and around us, precisely because we are always and already God’s Beloved. We’re beloved not because we’ve done anything to earn it, but because God’s very nature and desire is to love — and to birth within us that same kind of love.
To birth within us that same kind of love. The love willing to take down our part of the wall and step into a broken, sin-soaked world, where people on the other side also hunger for righteousness, redemption, and restoration. To acknowledge the Word of God that proclaims there is one God, one faith, one baptism, and one common hope for all of us. For us all.
To birth within us that same kind of love willing to stand in the muddy water with the people you’d rather not stand next to, fates knitted together — willing to believe and risk that the holiness of Christ will fill the spaces you’ll create together. This is deep water — you can’t dip your toes in. You must take a deep breath and plunge. As St. Paul writes: “Or are you unaware that we who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were indeed buried with him through baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might live in newness of life.” (Roman 6:3-4)
Yes, baptism promises newness of life, but it always drowns before it resurrects. Drowns so that the sinful parts of our lives are washed away. Drowns so that what separates us can be torn down. Drown us so that our anger is replaced by compassion. Drowns so that we can rise up in Hope.
What reason for Hope? Simply this: Jesus is the one who stands in line with us at the water’s edge, willing to immerse himself into our shame, scandal, divisions, and pain — all so that we might hear the only Voice that matters. The only Voice that matters. The One who tells us who we are and whose we are in this sacred season.
Listen. We are God’s chosen. God’s children. God’s own. Even in the deepest, muddiest of water, we are the Beloved.
May we live lives that are well pleasing to God.
May we give birth to love in our world.
Inspired by the writing of Debi Thomas.