Today we celebrate the adoration of the Christ child by the Magi. Our readings, though, are about baptism. There is a connection: The Magi came to Bethlehem for a life-changing experience. Jesus’ baptism was a life-changing experience for him. The Holy Spirit drove him out into the wilderness.
I am incorporating some thoughts from both Enuma Okoro as published in Sojourners (Jan. 2012 issue) and Canon Lance Ousley who is canon for stewardship and development for the diocese.
In the Genesis passage we see what the word of God can do--just the voice of the creator has power beyond imagination. Order created out of chaos. Our baptism in Christ can also make divine order out of the chaos of our lives.
In Genesis, the Spirit hovers over creation and new life is created out of darkness. Each bit of this new life had and still has a niche--a purpose for being. This Genesis story reminds us of our obligation to be good stewards of the gifts of creation so all these elements can work together for the common good. It also reminds us of the power of God and God’s desire and ability to create.
If God’s voice alone is this powerful that it can create a whole universe, think of the power of the incarnate Jesus and what he can do with that same creation. By coming among us, God invited us to have a part in this divine creation story. The Magi wanted to be part of it and we are part of this sacred narrative.
In baptism, such as Jesus’ experience in the River Jordan, we move from God as disembodied voice, from God as brother alongside us to God as indwelling Holy Spirit. The people of Jesus’ time could see him and accept his invitation to live differently even under the oppression of the Romans. We, too, could focus on all kinds of things--obtaining wealth, travel, social media, our work and all the things that vie for our time and attention. But, we have been baptized into Christ and we are called to be good stewards of our baptismal promises--to make a difference in the world in the name of Christ. It is our job to proclaim the kingdom of God.
We all receive the Holy Spirit at baptism and we all receive a job. The chaos of our lives becomes focused on presenting Christ to the world--to being Christ in the world. It is neither our decision to be baptized nor receiving the Holy Spirit that makes us righteous or perfect. It is not the work we do that makes God love us. God simply loves us. When we emerge from the waters of baptism, we are finally able to hear the truth of God’s love in our hearts.
The ministry we do afterward is a response to this overwhelming and unconditional love. We are stewards of this love and we are meant to allow it to flow out into the world. Yesterday Jim and I attended the funeral for Mary Forman whom many of you have met. As her family and the rector at Ascension spoke of Mary, I realized that she took her baptismal vows very seriously. Mary would tell you her faith was very simple. Embodied in the words of the children’s hymn: “Jesus loves me this I know for the Bible tells me so,” Mary’s faith was child-like. Yet, she gave to others from a bottomless heart of love. Her son related how Mary’s home was more like a staging area than a residence. She had little piles set aside around the house and each pile was for someone special. As the family gathered to say their final good byes there were these little treasures set aside in her home waiting for some unsuspecting loved one--friend or family.
Her son told of one such box he had received and these were the contents: newspaper clippings of partial articles, a drawing done by a child in her neighborhood, a packet of dried bean soup from a church fundraiser (not Mary’s church but a church), a package of Texas shaped pasta (Mary was living in Fort Worth at the time), an opened package of blueberry Poptarts, and a green Styrofoam shamrock though the package arrived in July. Oh, and a letter that said nothing about the contents of the package. Her son said he finally realized that each of these items represented a time she had thought of him and because of that she wanted to share them with him. I received a similar package (though there was no food) on Friday from my friend in Indiana and I have to admit, I have been accused of sending similarly strange packages.
Mary was loving--she could see Christ in everyone she met. I think about all the TCM gatherings I have been to since Kim became our missioner and Mary was always there. She prepared meals for us, made tea and coffee and would not allow us to help her. She was there to serve--to love us by feeding us, by listening to our stories, and then she would work quietly so she didn’t intrude on what we had planned for the day. Mary spent her life loving people as God loves us--spreading the Kingdom of God simply because Jesus loved her.
“You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” Imagine traveling miles and miles to see a baby in a stable and then imagine the adult Jesus rising dripping wet from the Jordan and heading out to prepare for his ministry. Then imagine yourself dripping wet with your baptismal faith as you encounter the world and love those who are in it.