Let us take a moment before we begin to pray and reflect on the things to be grieved and the things to be thankful for. Things might be feeling raw and open, so let us allow this Sunday morning to be a place of peace and comfort for those open wounds.
We know that, “there are times when the darkness of suffering opens up whole new vistas of growth and insight into our lives that, perhaps, we could never have learned in the light. (Wierderkehr)” Perhaps it is too early to see clearly this truth, but trust and know that it is there and be okay with settling into a time of sadness and allowing yourself to take refuge in coming together with one another.
This week, we celebrate Epiphany and the baptism of Christ. These are the early times in Jesus’s life when we realize his Holy Nature. One, when the three wise men, who have traveled from far and distant lands to pay homage to the baby Jesus. This is when we realize that the gift of Jesus will spread far beyond the bounds of the lands of his birth. Two, when the older Jesus comes to be baptized by John and the holy spirit proclaims that Jesus is more than a mere man.
As I said last week, I think John can help us in our moving forward. He comes to do two things: to clear the way and to bear witness. After last’s week’s reflection on Bearing Witness…I had hopes of bearing witness to the joys in each other’s lives this year, and I still do, but we also were reminded that sometimes we are charged with bearing witness to chaos and discord.
Clearing the way. I think there’s a lot to clear out from 2020. When we clear the way, we do the work so that when Good comes, we see it and when darkness comes, we see it. When the face of God comes, in all its many shapes and forms, we can see it.
There is a very practical side of clearing the way. Let these first weeks of January be a time of letting go and rest. It doesn’t mean we forget or don’t care or that we don’t have work to do, but that we allow for rest. We allow for Goodness and good memories to begin to bring us to love and hope (if we have lost our way). Quiet and contemplation helps to not stay stuck in the patterns that keep us from seeing and hearing clearing. Clarity allows us to let go of things that may make us feel stuck in hopelessness and faithless, so that we stand solid as a force of light and good in the world.
Baptism is a clearing the way. A Shedding. A letting go. Let’s come right to the word we don’t like: sin. Sin. Baptism is a cleansing of sin. Our own sins. This isn’t the work for someone else, for the other people’s sins, but for our own. It is a choosing, a choice, to walk into the water and cleanse ourselves of our own sins.
But what is sin? What are we actually cleansing and clearing away? Sin actually comes from an archery term, which means: “missing the mark”. Perhaps in baptism, we are clearing away our guilt and shame for not being perfect, for “missing the mark”. Claiming it, acknowledging it, and letting it go so that we can move forward with Goodness. Or at least washing it with water so that we can see out own inner “demons” with more clarity…that maybe they aren’t so terrible after all. Perhaps they are, perhaps there is something big that needs to be shed and we have made the choice to no longer let this thing, this “demon” hold us back from being our best selves.
Sin might also be considered obstacles. Our own obstacles that keep us from being the best, most Good, versions of ourselves. Perhaps in baptism we claim our obstacles and are choosing to tackle them and to be helped to overcome them so that we can be beacons of hope and light and love in the world.
Clear the way. A letting go of sin. Missing the mark. Obstacles. Choosing Goodness. If a baptism can clear the sins of some of the biggest wrongs and help someone to change, to become not a force for bad, but a force good in the world, surely we can clear the way of some of our own griefs and sufferings and imperfections. Perhaps, not even to rid ourselves of them, but to acknowledge them as parts of ourselves and that being imperfect is part of being human. Perhaps through letting go, we are choosing a fresh start. A fresh start.
One might wonder why Jesus who is free from sin would take part in baptism? Perhaps it is to proclaim that he is also clearing the way to move forward. Perhaps he is proclaiming the path of love and peace despite all odds. This is not that Jesus won’t do the work to right the wrongs, but that he will do it as a man of peace…not with the sword. He will create change with his heart, his devotion, and with his community. He needs his twelve and he needs everyone, everyone, to spread the word of Peace and Love. Imagine that world…
A world very different from the unlawful chaos we saw last week. A world very different from the unlawfulness and violence of his own time.
His baptism could be a proclamation that there is a clearing of the way. A new way. Instead of a world fought with the sword, where we meet aggression with aggression, a world met with true Courage.
John clears the way for Christ.
Christ clears the way for us.
By choosing a path of walking with Christ, we begin with a clearing of the way. To reflect with honesty and integrity with ourselves. Where are we (honestly) missing the mark? What obstacles (truly) stand in our way? To ask ourselves…how do we truly want to be present in this world? To ask ourselves, how could we reflect the light of Grace in the world?
That is what Jesus asks of us. To walk the path of Courage not with a sword, but with an open heart. It is only with an open heart and deep Courage that the light shines in the darkness.
So, yes, take this Sunday of respite, peace, and comfort. Search your heart with clarity and ask yourself: what do I need? Pause. Listen for the answers. God is waiting for you to ask. God is waiting for you to listen and see. Not with your eyes and ears, but with your heart.
Mini Prayer for the week:
O God, when I am afraid, I put my trust in you.
Psalm 56:3 (paraphrased)