A new student looks out on a sea of strange faces in the high school cafeteria,
… wondering where he should sit,
… which group he should join,
… how he will be received…
A woman walks down the hall in her empty house to look at her daughter’s bedroom,
… the bedroom contains pictures and souvenirs of child-hood and high school, left behind when this youngest daughter set off for her first year at an out-of-town college;
… now the mother wonders what lies ahead – not just for her daughter, but also for herself, suddenly cut adrift…
An older man shifts uncomfortably in his bed at the retirement/nursing home.
… retirement from his successful law practice had not been that difficult;
… but now, a chronic illness has left him in pain, feeling lethargic, and unable to move very much,
… having nothing much to do, or show for his days,
… He feels worthless.
Who am I? Where do I belong? What makes me worthy?
These questions we all ask at one time or another in our lives.
Typically they come to the forefront in adolescence and young adulthood.
But they never really go away.
Unexpected accidents, illness, job transitions, or just even the natural process of ageing and retirement, inevitably brings on these questions.
Dementia, Alzheimer’s – the disease that gradually takes away one’s own memory, one’s own mind – has a way of bringing into sharp focus very quickly those existential questions, not only for the person having the disease, but for those loved ones surrounding him or her.
This disease affects a growing number of seniors;
…I heard a statistic that said that one out of every three people die from dementia/Alzheimer’s.
My dad, who’s only 76 years old, has lived with this disease already now for about 10 years.
And something he struggles mightily with – because he’s very aware of everything he cannot do anymore – are those very existential questions: “Who am I now?” “Where’s my value, my worth?” “What’s the point?”
Once a week, my mom takes him to attend a support and friendship group through CCAC, where he can be with others also living with dementia/Alzheimer’s.
My mom has made an interesting observation. She tells me:
… how loved he is by others,
… how the nurses and residents embrace him, speak kind and appreciate words to him, smile and joke with him, and basically just receive and enjoy him as he is.
… they enjoy being with him, and show him.
And my dad loves it!
His new community of friends truly “take delight” in him, as he is.
What a wonderful picture! I’m so grateful for this.
Descartes coined the phrase: “I think therefore I am.”
What I think is more the truth is the phrase: “I am loved therefore I am.”
Or “We are loved, therefore we are.”
My dad is a person of value and worth, not because he can think clearly, but because he is loved, delighted in, and enjoyed.
Isaiah 43 has some of the loveliest words found in our sacred scriptures expressing God’s deep delight in, and love for us.
“Do not fear …I have redeemed you … I have called you by name, you are mine…When you pass through the waters I will be you … because you are precious in my sight, and honoured, and I love you.”
You really get that sense that God loves with a parent’s love; that protective, possessive (in the positive sense) kind of love, one that is willing to die for, and promises never-ending support and presence…
Wow… that’s the best kind of love…. the kind that’s always there for you, … and not because of anything you’ve managed to accomplish in life, not because of any “marketable skill” you can use or “sell”, or monetary value or professional status you may have attached to your name …. not even because you can think clearly or think straight…
But simply and only because of who you are as one of God’s precious creations.
That unique, peculiar, colourful self that you are – along with all your quirks, flaws, hang-ups and disabilities – is deemed valuable and precious… and something in which God takes delight! Fun! Enjoyment!
In Isaiah 43, the prophet speaks to a people bloodied, bruised, and beleaguered.
The Babylonians had conquered the Hebrews, and taken them into exile into Babylonia, where they lived as a conquered people, far away and cut off from Jerusalem, their Temple, and familiar land.
They’re uprooted, miserable, depressed and vulnerable to an oppressive, hostile Babylonian regime.
And yet, at this lowest of their low, the prophet Isaiah speaks God’s words of assurance and abiding love: “Do not fear, for I am with you … you are precious in my sight, and I love you.”
A woman sits in a restaurant with her daughter, son-in-law, and only grandchild.
And this grandchild – a granddaughter – is playing in the lap of her grandmother.
The grandmother is enthralled by the child’s every move.
The baby girl, just barely two years old, is precious in the older woman’s sight.
Others sitting in the restaurant observing the grandmother with her granddaughter can see this delight written all over the grandmother’s face.
We can picture this in our own mind’s eye – this delight, this joy.
Can we picture God’s delight in us?
… God’s face looking upon each one of us with a tender and enduring affection which is unmistakable, as it is forever.
In the Gospel reading, Jesus is just at the point of beginning his 3 year ministry.
He already has an inkling not only of the joys, but also of the challenges, suffering, and even death coming to him over the next three years.
For Jesus, this is a time of mixed feelings, uncertainty, even fear, as he joins in line with all the others in the waters of the Jordan River, waiting to be baptized by John.
And yet, in this moment of uncertainty, as he submits to John’s baptism, and emerges from the waters, Jesus hears God’s reassuring voice saying to him: “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”
As we begin another year in our lives and in our church,
… as we consider all the plans and possibilities, as well as the challenges and difficulties unique to our own lives with which we already struggle and live with,
… we allow the words of Isaiah and the Gospel to sink in and absorb into us,
… so that we become ever more aware that we exist always in the glow of God’s presence, and in the light of God’s precious love.