Sunday, January 9, 2022
I have a 2022 goal which I’m hesitant to share with you because the more people I tell, the more I will have to follow through on the goal! I’m a bit intimidated, even, admittedly, a little afraid to pursue this goal. Why? Because this year, this summer, I would like to learn how to surf. When we moved to Long Island and I realized we were 20-30 minutes from all kinds of beaches, I thought, “Why not? I’m not getting any younger!” I love to swim. I love the water, and I consider myself a strong swimmer. But the ocean also scares me, a bit. It’s not so much the shark sightings although sharks are a teensy bit concerning. It’s the feeling I’ve had in getting too far in over my head and then the waves crashing along with the strong undertow that can easily threaten even a strong swimmer. I love the water, but I’m afraid of drowning. The ocean is a powerful force. So I can see myself really enjoying surfing, but there’s an element of being out of control or taking a risk beyond what I’m comfortable doing swimming out there in the ocean, too.
Do you ever feel at all like I feel about surfing? Hopeful? Excited, but also overwhelmed and anxious? Afraid of drowning or getting into something over your head? Regardless of the politics and media attention on the pandemic, I’d say it’s safe to say many of us are tired, overwhelmed, and perhaps even on edge or discouraged with this latest COVID surge. Our health, the health and education of our children and grandchildren, our finances and the day-to-day worries of living can easily weigh heavily despite the hopefulness, dreams, and fresh start of the new year. The season of Epiphany is about perceiving God’s signs to us that God is indeed always with us. God shines light into our darkness, and gives us hope even in hopeless times. For the coming weeks, I’d like us to focus on these signs that God gives us to know that God is with us, no matter what, in the promises of scripture but also in signs we can still point to today.
This is where Isaiah’s words of assurance and hope from our first reading today continue to encourage us with words of grace from the Lord: “Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you.” Why? The Lord continues, “Because you are precious in my sight, and honored, and I love you.” I can’t think of any words more important for us to hear from God, on a regular basis, to keep us going when we are afraid, discouraged, overwhelmed, burnt out and burned up. You are precious and I love you, God says. We have passed through the waters of baptism to a new life in Christ. Baptism is that sign as a daily reminder that we are God’s beloved. When the waters of daily life are overwhelming and even threaten to drown us, God offers us the gift of the redeeming, lifesaving waters of baptism.
So today, we focus on God’s sign to us in baptism as we remember that Jesus himself was baptized at the beginning of his adult ministry on Earth. After his baptism, the Holy Spirit descends on Jesus like a dove to tell everyone who is watching and wondering who exactly Jesus is that this is God’s beloved Son, and indeed he IS the Messiah people have been waiting and longing for. But baptism isn’t just God’s sign to remind us of who Jesus is. Our baptisms are God’s sign to us of who we are to God. Baptism is a sign not only of God’s glory revealed in Jesus Christ with this miraculous scene of the heavens opening and a voice speaking from heaven. Every baptism, including our own, is a sign first and foremost of God’s grace; the undeserved love of God for each one of us. Through the waters of baptism, God has made us his own. In baptism, God’s words to Jesus become words we can carry with us throughout our whole lives: “You are my beloved child; with you I am well-pleased.”
These words from God to us are foundational for our faith. They are most basic to a trusting relationship between God and us: no matter what, we are God’s beloved children. Like a parent, God can get upset, frustrated, and disappointed with us but at the end of the day, through amazingly no effort of our own, God is well-pleased with us. Those words of God will carry us through the most difficult times.
Obviously, one of the hardest things about sustaining a deep trust and faith in God is that we DON’T often see the kinds of miraculous signs that happen in scripture, like turning water into wine or voices speaking to us from heaven. Many of us were baptized as young children or infants, and we don’t remember our own baptisms. How can baptism mean much to us when we can’t remember? How do we know that God is with us and still loves us as his own children, as his only begotten Son? It’s partly a matter of trust, of faith, that God is there even when we don’t see him or when God seems silent, isn’t it? But amongst the miracles that we tend to emphasize in scripture, we also see God sending signs in more ordinary ways.
A dove flying down and resting on Jesus isn’t completely implausible. John baptizes Jesus with ordinary water in the Jordan River, and others are baptized with him. We use ordinary water still today, but in that sacred ritual, as ordinary as it may seem, three splashes of water for the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, we see something holy. God uses the most basic available element on the planet, water, something we need each day to survive, so that we can’t help but be reminded over and over again of God’s love. When we wash our hands. When we take a shower. When we’re washing the dishes. When it’s raining. At the beach, with waves crashing and all. God uses ordinary signs to assure us again and again that God can be trusted to be with us, to carry us through when life gets overwhelming. God uses water, something we can’t get away from or avoid to daily remind us of his great, amazing, gracious love for us. Every time we encounter water, then, we can hear these words from God to us, “You are my beloved child, with YOU I am well-pleased!” With the knowledge of this foundation, God emboldens us to dive in, to take risks for the sake of Christ’s mission and not be afraid because no matter what, our loving God will be with us. We are precious in his sight. Amen.