January 10, 2021
Into the hole you goes! – J. Barry Vaughn – Baptism of Jesus – Jan. 10, 2021
Christmas is over. The trees are down, put away until next year, or else they have been thrown on the trash heap; the ornaments are back in their boxes; the lights are tangled up waiting for us to untangle them again in a year’s time. The shepherds have gone back to their flocks and fields; the angels have returned to heaven; the magi have gone home by another route; and here we are.
One of Robert Redford’s early films is The Candidate. In it he plays a handsome forty-something politician who doesn’t have a clue about what he stands for or why he is running for office. At the end of the film, he wins the election, jumps into his limousine, turns to his campaign manager, and says, “Now what?”
Do you find yourself asking that on this January Sunday? Christmas is so hyped up. Television commercials tell us that it should be a magical experience. And we’re supposed to have such a wonderful, exciting time on New Year’s Eve. But here we are, just like before, only older!
Our Roman Catholic friends and even many Protestant churches call the Sundays between Epiphany and Lent and later between Pentecost and Advent “ordinary time.” That’s where we spend most of our lives, in “ordinary time.”
Years ago a little cartoon series called “The Family Circle” ran a cartoon that featured a little girl holding her doll over the toilet and saying, “I baptize you in the name of the Father and the Son and into the hole you goes.”
Maybe that’s what it feels like for you today. I know that’s what it feels like for me a lot of the time. I feel like life is holding me by the ankles over the swirling waters of chaos at the bottom of a deep, dark hole.
I’m pretty sure that’s what it felt like for Jesus. For Jesus and also for us baptism is not a fire insurance policy. It is not a route into safety. It is a doorway to adventure. It is not a safe harbor. It launches out into adventure and danger. But it also tells us that we do not go alone. Baptism equips us for everything we will face as we venture out.
No sooner was Jesus baptized than he was literally thrown out into the desert. The Greek word that Mark uses is ekballo. It’s the word from which we get “ball”, a thing we throw or hit. Just like a major league pitcher, the Spirit threw Jesus into the wilderness while his hair was still wet from his dip in the River Jordan.
But the story of Jesus’ baptism and his tempting in the wilderness means that we, too, are not alone in the wilderness. It means that there is no place we can go where he has not been, not even down in the hole where the waters of chaos swirl around us.
Just before I moved here, I attended the institution of my friend Kee Sloan as bishop of Alabama. At the service, the bishop of Mississippi preached and said, “I want you to know that Kee Sloan is the kind of bishop will get down in the ditch with you. The question is: Are you the kind of church that will get down in the ditch with the world?”
I suppose a modern psychiatrist would probably diagnose the German Reformer Martin Luther as having moderate to severe depression. Sometimes when Luther found himself in the midst of a depression, he would imagine that the devil was tempting him and sometimes he even saw the devil in the room with him. On one occasion he threw a bottle of ink at the devil. That was in the castle of Prince Frederick of Saxony. I know it happened, because if you go to Frederick’s castle, they will show you the black spot on the wall where Luther threw the bottle of ink!
But when Luther was depressed and tempted to lose his faith, he would say to himself, “Martin, you are baptized!”
You are, too. So am I. One of the reasons that I try to make baptisms so memorable by giving the newly baptized child a T shirt and a candle and a bottle of baptismal water and a big certificate is because I want people to remember that they are baptized. I want them to remember that they are baptized when they go into the wilderness, when they find themselves in holes, when the waters of chaos swirl around.
I want you to remember that you are not alone, that even when you are down in the deep, dark hole with the waters of chaos circling all around you, you, too, just like Jesus, are God’s beloved daughter, God’s beloved son, and that the Holy Spirit is with you, and that God loves you with an everlasting love.