Saturday, January 11, 2014

Baptized into the Wilderness

I figured I would get this entry written and up on the blog a day early, mostly because I have another entry that I want to post tomorrow to mark an unrecognized (generally) day in the lives of the saints.  Anyway, for those who might be scouring the blogs looking for insights and musings upon the baptism of Jesus, here's mine!

The Gospel lesson from Matthew gives us the story of the baptism in this way:

Then Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan, to be baptized by him. John would have prevented him, saying, "I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?" But Jesus answered him, "Let it be so now; for it is proper for us in this way to fulfill all righteousness." Then he consented. And when Jesus had been baptized, just as he came up from the water, suddenly the heavens were opened to him and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, "This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased." --Matt 3:13-17

We have, in our traveling through time in the liturgical church calendar, completely skipped over many years of Jesus' life.  He is not an infant; he is a young man.  His parents have obviously returned from Egypt, secure in the knowledge that their child is safe from a fearful despot King Herod.  We don't know a whole lot about Jesus' child years, save for one story told in Luke's Gospel, in which Jesus the youngster has gone missing and his parents are desperately looking for him.  They eventually find their son sitting in the Temple teaching the elders.  Mary, as one might imagine, is pretty ticked off that her son decided to go off somewhere and left her frantically looking for him.  And Jesus answers his mother by saying he was where he was supposed to be doing what he was supposed to do.  In today's vernacular he might toss in a "Chillax!"  And, just as at the time of his birth, Mary listens to her son's words and ponders them in her heart.  Moms very often have an inkling when something is up with their children.

So, that's what we know of Jesus the teen from Scripture.  Now here he is getting baptized in the full immersion experience.  And, just as he came up from the water, suddenly the heavens were opened to him and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. 

I see this as the critical moment in which Jesus is opened further to know what his path and his destiny must be.  I'm not saying he isn't God, but when "The Word became flesh" the Word became a human being with all the limitations and the ability to bleed in the same way as everybody else.  If the Word had been the Word as it was without the human baggage, well, it seems to me that would have blown apart the whole mission of redemption.  And so, Jesus emerges from the water...

Water, in psychological terms, is associated with emotions.  In the practice of the energy-based Polarity, a "water session" involves having a client lie in a prone position while working with their legs and their sacrum up to their shoulders.  The times when I have used this session are when a client expresses or demonstrates some kind of blockage in their emotions.  Either they are overwrought with emotion, or maybe they can't seem to express themselves.  The theory is that this work, by contacting certain points and moving their legs, connecting the lower part of their body to the upper part, can bring balance.  So that Jesus comes up out of the river Jordan, a body of water that has had emotional connections in the life of the Hebrew people and cleansed them of sin, and then has "the heavens opened to him", to me, reads as an opening of Jesus' consciousness, and God, through the Spirit descending as a dove, is revealing new wisdom and new understanding.  God punctuates the moment with the exclamation point:

"This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased."

That's a good thing for Jesus.  Because what is about to come next is a time of trial, a sense of being alone, and a period of great difficulty.  Next in the story will be the time in the wilderness, forty days,  which means "a long time" when talking about the Bible.  It will be in this period that the man who had just been immersed in the watery emotions of the Jordan River, and granted new insights in a bright beaming light with a dove descending upon him, will face the perils of what it means to be a person with wisdom.  Fools can go blithely along in life, bumping into walls and stumbling in the dark.  But to the one who has been given much, in this case wisdom, will face the test of using what he has to benefit himself alone, or understand that his mission is humankind's redemption.  Now that he's been baptized and called "My Son, the Beloved,"  will he claim nations for himself to enrich his own ego?  Will he live like he is invincible and throwing himself from the Temple to let the angels catch him?  Why not make a meal for himself out there in the desert out of the rocks?  In other words, being a beloved baptized son doesn't give him a pass on being tempted to be a selfish jerk.

The same applies to us.  We don't need to have doves descending, or bright beaming lights at our own baptisms to be called Beloved Sons and Daughters of God.  Even if those words weren't heard in our human baby (or older) ears, they are the true words that God speaks of each one of us.  Once brought into the fold, and into the church, we are now part of Christ, including all the difficulties and trials and temptations Christ faced.   This is why I call Christ, "My brother."  Like an older brother, who has been through every imaginable good and bad thing, Christ's life as told back to us by the evangelists is like sitting on the steps of my childhood home in New Hampshire, and having my brother share, "Here's how you deal with the bullies."  Christ's constant invite to us is to look at his life, listen to his words, and know that he has walked through fires like ours, and not allowed those fires to consume him.  Because he, just like us, have been first bathed in the waters of baptism.  People and institutions may attempt to grind us down, but nothing will rob us of our true selves as "beloved children of God." 

And that alone I think is reason enough to say, "Thanks be to God!"

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