The season of Epiphany is about the manifestation and emergence of the life of Jesus in the world in which he lived. What does it mean to be made manifest? What does it mean to emerge? I think it is about a life, about our life, rising up in this world and finding its place. What a remarkable place Jesus was compelled to take. The place of healer, teacher, advocate and finally martyr for justice and compassion and the redemption and reconciliation of this world to the world of divine blessing.
Truly, how do any of us rise up from birth and discover our place in life? I think most of us are simply looking for any place. Just give me something to do, allow me to make a living in order to start a family. Become a mother, a father, a craftsman, an artist, a teacher, an employee. Give me a place to emerge and take care of myself along with those who are mine to care. Some seem to be driven to some kind of destiny, but most of us just take the breaks, open doors, and opportunities that come our way, and along the way we discover the hidden person that is me…and you. Becoming a parent, taking on a vocation, serving a purpose in our community..these are the ways most of us emerge and find our way in this world. And along that way, we become, we grow, we are made manifest, and the epiphany of our life, the unveiling of who we are and what our unique contributions to the world around us unfolds as the years pass by.
I think that was the story of Jesus’ life as he grew up in the quiet little town of Nazareth. He became part of a family, of a community. He most likely learned much from Joseph about being a carpenter. Joseph and Mary, aware of the unusual circumstances concerning how he became part of their family, encouraged his interest in learning the ways of their Hebrew tradition. As the years went by, Jesus grew up. Until, he reached that age in his culture and tradition when a man assumes his place in the community as a man at the age of 30. It was time for him to assume the place for which he felt he was born…rabbi, teacher, healer.
All healthy spiritual traditions instruct the faithful in how to watch and read the signs in life. Jesus often taught, “for those who have eyes to see.” Paul prayed for those early Christian communities, for the eyes of their heart to be open.” Good spirituality teaches us to watch and observe and be sensitive to the changes all around us and within us. As the journey of a life unfolds, there inevitably comes those times of change. Things have changed around us. Something has shifted within us. A chapter is over . . . a new chapter awaits to be written. That time had come in Jesus’ life and he knew what he had to do. He went out to John who was baptizing in the Jordan River, and he said to John. I NEED TO BE BAPTIZED…BY YOU.
I think the church is not the only place where authentic baptisms happen in life. I think life itself submerges us into the waters of dying from which we rise into new ways of living. When I reflect upon my own 6 decades of life, the story it tells portrays profound and sometimes traumatic experiences that served as baptisms from which I would eventually emerge changed and redirected in life. Some of those baptisms were subtle and gentle, like that we observe at this font. But others could be more accurately compared to the splash and deep plunge from being pushed off a high cliff overlooking the ocean. We are submerged into Christ’s dying and we emerge into Christ’s resurrection.
Jesus knew his life was about to change. He knew it was time to “do the work for which he was sent.” And so he went out to John and proclaimed, “I need to be baptized.” I need to leave and let go of what is and was, and I need to begin what is to become. “I need to be baptized” to mark this ending and this beginning, to enter the waters from here and exit the waters from there, and keep on going. I need to be baptized, to yield all that brought comfort and security and belonging to me in order to cultivate and embrace the beloved community the spirit births through my life. I need to be baptized and declare my kinship with God and accept the call and purpose that is my life. I need to be baptized, because everything passes away and everything becomes new.
A little over nineteen years ago our 1993 Saturn sedan became a sacred font. Our family of four got into it in Bakersfield, CA. Somewhere between Albuquerque and Oklahoma, Annie said, “It just kind of hit me…there will not be a return home.” That was one of the many and profound baptisms of our life together.
The church offers you the sacrament of baptism, where the water symbolizes new birth, the oil symbolizes renewed life, and the candle is a sign of the new light and life that the Christ brings to humanity. But no less profound and life transforming are the baptisms offered in life. Those milestone and transformative experiences that close and open the chapters in the book of our life. I believe that the grace and blessing and nurture and presence of God is with us through all these baptisms, in all these dying and risings, in all the passing away from and passing through to… again and again and again.
This morning the font is prepared for us to reaffirm the vows we made at baptism. But let it also be perhaps a sign, a recognition, a pronouncement, that perhaps I and you, need to be baptized. We need to accept and follow the change, the growth, the transformation, the new chapter that life has submerged us into. And we need to affirm and accept the same grace and love and nurture and belonging God lavished upon us where we were, is with us and awaits us in deeper and more profound ways where we are going. From one place to the next, from one time to the next, from one normal to the next, God’s grace, mercy, and blessing is with us.