Have you seen this on the news over the last couple of weeks; this crazy custom of people in their bathing suits, running and jumping into icy cold water? Some kind of New Year’s tradition, or something like that.
Apparently, in Eastern Europe at around this time of year, there’s a custom which commemorates the baptism of Jesus, where priests throw crucifixes into rivers or lakes, and then thousands of young men would leap into these icy waters, to retrieve those crucifixes. It sounds like fun…. I think.
Well, I’ll put you at ease. On this Baptism of Our Lord Sunday, I’m not going to have us all head out en masse to the Grand River, and have us all jump in, so don’t worry.
But, … even if we were going to do that, wouldn’t you agree that it’d be easier to do that in a group, together, as opposed to, say, all by yourself, alone.
What I’m getting at, is that there are some things in life we can do easier, when we do them together, as a group, especially the hard and risky and uncomfortable things. In fact, life in general is easier to live through, especially through the harder times, when we have each other, when we’re in community, when we’re not alone.
In today’s reading from the Gospel of Luke, Jesus also goes into a river, the Jordan River, to be baptized.
But there’s a detail about this event that strikes me: Jesus is not alone. He is surrounded by a large group of people.
Verse 15: “As the people were filled with expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts…” Verse 16: “John answered all of them…” Verse 21: “Now when all the people were baptized…”
In our imagination, we need to envision Jesus, in the midst of crowds of people walking in and out of the waters of the River Jordan, getting baptized.
Far from popular or traditional depictions of Jesus getting baptized all by himself, in some surreal, otherworldly moment where the heavens open and a dove descends, and Jesus stands in the River Jordan all by himself in all his shimmering, divine glory, … here, in the Gospel of Luke, Jesus quietly and discreetly gets into a long line of people, willing to wait his turn, to get baptized.
This image of Jesus getting in line with others, joining with, mixing with, rubbing shoulders with people directly around him as he’s about to be baptized is important.
It’s an indication of the kind of God we have … One who comes down, and in Jesus, gets in line, and waits with all the rest of us.
I don’t know if they’re still on, but do you remember those TV reality shows a year or two ago where the CEO, the boss of a company goes incognito, as a common worker, and joins all the workers on the factory floor doing the nitty gritty of the job? I forget the name of the show, but do you know what I mean?
God is like that. In Jesus, God comes down and “gets in line,” and gets to know what it’s like to live the nitty gritty of every day, ordinary, and sometimes difficult human life.
And why would the God of the universe want to do that? For no other reason, than love. Out of love for you, and me, and the world God created.
And today, the living God continues to walk among us, close to us, “getting into line” next to us.
So close, in fact, that God also enters into, and abides deep in here, in our hearts, and minds.
But also, and more importantly, the Christ-in-us reaches out to, and acknowledges, the Christ-in-the-other. We sense the living, and loving God, in and amongst us, in community. As I said last Sunday: Community is where God is at.
In that community of people on the shores of the River Jordan, Jesus does something else: He prays.
Luke is the only Gospel writer, among the other Gospel writers Matthew, Mark and John recounting the baptism of Jesus, who includes this small yet important detail of Jesus praying at his baptism.
And notice it’s while Jesus prays, that he hears the voice of God speaking words of affirmation and encouragement. “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” In other words, God says to Jesus: “You are amazing. You are of immense value and worth, and I so appreciate you, am happy with you, and I love you.”
I think it’s safe to say that those words of affirmation Jesus heard, strengthened him, giving him the spiritual, emotional, and psychological stamina and courage to go forward in his life and ministry.
Each one of us needs to hear this powerful affirmation from God, again and again, through prayer and meditation.
But we also need to hear affirmation from each other. I think we often don’t realize how important, and what a big difference it makes, to express words of thanks, appreciation and affirmation to and amongst each other.
Just recently I had a conversation with someone who said that in her workplace, she couldn’t believe what a difference it made for her, that her new manager took almost every opportunity to speak a genuine word of thanks and appreciation for her work; whereas her previous manager hardly ever did. She couldn’t believe what a difference it made. She liked her job better. She wanted to do a better job, and go over and above what was expected. She was happier.
Genuine expressions of affirmation can go such a long way to provide that spiritual, emotional, and psychological stamina to go on.
In the African culture, there’s a saying: “Ubuntu”. It’s often spoken as a greeting when people meet each other. Ubuntu essentially means: “I see you. I acknowledge you. And I am, because you are. I am a person, because you are a person.”
It’s the wisdom of recognizing that we can’t exist as a human being in isolation. You can’t be a human all by yourself. We are interconnected. Our individual existence is so affected by, intertwined with, and shaped by others.
Let’s honour those relational ties, with one another, and with God. Let’s value whatever we do that helps us stay connected to God, and to others; through prayer, meditation, and acts of care and love.