Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Baptism of the Lord

Dearly Beloved in Christ

There’s a song made popular by a woman named Shari Lewis along with her friend, lamb chop, that goes “This is the song that doesn’t end, yes it goes on and on my friend. Some people started singing it, not knowing what it was, and they'll continue singing it forever just because...This is the song that doesn’t end, yes it goes on and on my friend. Some people started singing it, not knowing what it was, and they'll continue singing it forever just because...” and, by now, that’s sort of how I feel about the Christmas season in the church. I start to feel like I’m singing the song that doesn’t end. Stores have long ago put their discounted ornaments and villages in the back of their storage areas for next year, our left over wrapping paper and tags are put away in some closet, and our Christmas tree is probably sitting in some recycling area along with a million others. The church is the only entity that still believes the Christmas Season isn’t done and, by the looks of our tree, we are even starting to feel a little bit dry. But there’s one more thing that deserves reflection before we move onto the Ordinary Time.

Today we celebrate the feast of the Baptism of the Lord, which doesn’t seem to have much to do with the season of Christmas from outset. I mean, there’s a contemporary connection with babies and baptism. Most of the baptisms we do are for infants, which is partly why our baptismal font has that rectangular raised part along the side, so that we can immerse the babies just like we do adults. (In fact, here shortly, Fr. Ev will show you what that means and I invite all of you, during the baptism, to leave your pews and come closer to see what happens during that ceremony.) But, Jesus wasn’t a baby when he was baptized, he was probably somewhere in his late twenties or early thirties when it happened. And, unlike almost every baptism that I have when I immerse a baby in the font, the first noise that is heard after baptism isn’t the noise of a baby screaming, it’s a voice that seems to continue the Epiphany of last week, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.”

There’s a very interesting interaction that happens before the baptism that is, I believe, the heart of why this is a fitting conclusion to the Christmas Season. One of the seeming contradictions that the early church had to deal with was that it maintained the Jesus was born without sin and never committed sin during his life. They would say Jesus was “One like us in all things but sin.” But, it was also well known that Jesus ministry began after he had been baptized by John in the Jordan, a baptism that was known to be for the forgiveness of sin. So why would someone who was without sin need a baptism that was for the forgiveness of sin? According to the gospel, it was “to fulfill all righteousness.” In other words, Jesus didn’t come as a mere observer of the human condition, he came to be fully human. To use slightly crass language, Jesus didn’t come to be a wall flower, he came to dance.

This is important for several reasons, not the least of which is that, by becoming human and fully entering into our life, he transformed our potential so that we may enter into his life. In a sense, by God becoming human, he showed us humans a glimpse of what it means to be God. The first reading described this as God's justice. The second as God's impartiality. The Eastern Orthodox have the term deification, literally that by entering into the church we become like God. This isn’t meant in a sacrilegious way in that we can somehow have the power of God or the wisdom and understanding of God. That’s the sin of our first parents. Adam and Eve sought to be gods. As Christians, we need something to remove all our human imperfections, all things that stop us from loving God and loving neighbor, in order to become like God. Christmas would have been meaningless for us had God not shown us how we participate in it, which is what baptism is supposed to be. Just as the Eucharist is our entrance into the eternal life offered at Easter, so Baptism is our entrance into the divinity of Christ, our ability to know and appreciate that the tiny infant none of us got to see in the manger, is truly God-with-us, prince of peace. This is the salvation that cannot end. God with us so that we can be with God.

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