Sunday, January 13, 2013

TableTalk, Baptism of Lord 2013

This feast of the Baptism of the Lord is the last day of the Christmas season.  Today, the glory of Christmas draws to a close.  Perhaps for some, maybe many, of us this was another cosmetic holiday season.  Under it all, we still feel the same ache as before, the same helplessness in our life, the same sense of being overwhelmed by the reality of our world.  Christmas didn’t change the world again.

We are invited today go to the river to see Christ now the adult.  We are all there at the Jordan, the “bruised reeds” and the “smoldering wicks.”  We are, nonetheless, still filled with expectation.  Maybe if the new year did not begin at the stable it can begin at the river!

The Baptism of Jesus in the Jordan is a spiritual drama in three acts.  First, Jesus steps into the water.  By this act, he identifies himself with broken humanity.  He knows with whom he bathes and there is no denial in him about the human reality of it all.  No denial, no rejection of the truth of the brothers and sisters in the river with him.  While sinless himself, he wants to be known as one of them.  While whole in himself, he embraces their bruises.  Might he be saying to all the bruised reeds in the river that recovery of the new life begins with the truth about oneself?

Second, Jesus allows the water to be poured over him.  He is yielding to spiritual treatment, to a cure provided by the Baptist for those who have come to the river.  Jesus, God-With-Us, does not make escape into his own divine self-sufficiency.  Amazingly, the Divine Physician opens himself to the curing power of another human. He does not distance himself, does not isolate, but connects.  Might he be affirming to all the smoldering wicks in the river with him that there is healing power in togetherness, in community, healing power to relight a nearly extinguished fire?

Finally, Jesus steps up out of the water.  He has been anointed by the Heavenly Dove and empowered as Beloved to complete his mission in life.  He has already begun to set his face toward Jerusalem.  He has already begun to offer his body for the sacrifice.  He does not shrink back in the face of pain.  He has already begun to roll back the stone from the tomb.  Walking the walk is the discipline, the mission therapy, to which he commits himself in order to see the achievement of his saving destiny. Might he be asking to those in the river with him not to give up on the Christian life-therapy, the discipline of discipleship, that promises each of arrive successfully at their God-given destinies?

Is it at the Jordan, with the splash of Jesus’ foot in the water, that we see a prescription for the healing of ourselves?

The prescription:  as Jesus goes down into the water, we hear the message of “no denial.”  Real recovery begins with self-honesty.  I am who I am, I’ve done what I did and I will remain vulnerable to evil my whole life.  To deny any of that is to refuse the medicine that cures.  And we are so prone to denial:  the evil is never in me but always in you or in the rest of them.   It’s always somebody else’s fault.   I can’t bring myself to admit that I am wrong.  But the healing of my inner self requires, first of all, “no denial” of my truth.

The prescription:  as Jesus lets the water flow over him, he yields to the curative treatment of another.  Coming to health means “no isolation.”  I can cure myself, I say.   I don’t need anyone telling me what to do.  I don’t need to be connected to a church.  I can pray by myself.  Going to confession or Mass is superfluous.  Opening up about myself to others is unnecessary.  But we have forgotten that the context for full realization of our human self is in togetherness, in community?  That is why the prescription calls for “no isolation,” if we want to recover our life.

The prescription:  as Jesus comes up out of the water, he is empowered for his destiny.  He begins the walk into his future with determination, taking on whatever discipline the mission requires of him.  The road to full health means “no giving up on the therapy,” no giving up on the life of Christian discipline that purifies and strengthens.  If my marriage hurts, I keep up the dialogue.  If my faith hurts, I keep up the praying.  If my optimism hurts, I keep up looking for the good.  If my chastity hurts, I keep up watching over myself. “No giving up on the therapy” is the only way to new life.  It is the Gospel Baptism of Fire that must not be fled.

For those of us who look back on a disappointing Christmas, there is today this Jordan River prescription.  It is not a cure-all for all the evil around us, but it is, at least, a way for the inner self to be healed.  Perhaps, in the end, that is the best thing I can do to change the world:  to provide it with one small, new center of health, namely myself.   To do that, I will have to follow the prescription:  no denial, no isolation, no giving up on the therapy.

As on every Sunday, we have come together for the Eucharist.  It is, in some sense, the clinic of our complete recovery.  Here we celebrate and are transfused with the full health given us in Christ.  Here that the Word keeps us truthful about ourselves.   Here we join hands in support of one another on the way to God together.   And from here, when we leave, we are fortified for the discipline of Christian life to stay recovered and to be a center health for the world around us.   The prescription: no denial, no isolation, no giving up on the therapy.

Today we close the Christmas season, but at the River Jordan we can open a whole, very new year.   
 [So] we gather at the river,
        the beautiful, the beautiful river;

Gather with the saints at the river,
that flows by the throne of God.

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