The Ultimate Word

"The ultimate Word is not a paragraph but a person. If Jesus is the Word of God incarnate, then the heart of proclamation is personal and relational, not propositional."

Marjorie Hewitt Suchocki * God, Christ, Church, page 135

Monday, January 12, 2009

The Baptisms of Gaines and Miles


**NOTE: This weekend I've been visiting family in Jackson, MS. The primary cause of our gathering was to witness and celebrate the baptisms of the two newest members of our family, Gaines and Miles. I did not preach at the baptism, but I did write a sermon for the occasion to give to my brother and sister-in-law and to my nephews to offer my reflections on the occasion of their baptisms. So, now I share it with all of you. I hope you have had a joyous celebration of the Baptism of our Lord and that the baptisms in your community made you all mindful of the great responsibility that we share in our Baptismal Covenant.**

11 January 2009
Epiphany 1B; The Baptism of our Lord
Genesis 1:1-5; Mark 1:4-11


Reflections on the Baptisms
of
Gaines Carter Richardson
and
Miles Samuel Richardson


“In the beginning…”

They may not be the most familiar words in the Bible, but they are at least pretty close.

Today we’ve heard them as a part of the story of creation: “In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep…”

Two weeks ago, on the Sunday after Christmas, we heard them again, in the opening verses of the Gospel According to John: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”

And even in the gospel lesson today, we hear resonances of “the beginning” even though the words were not said outright. In these opening verses of the Gospel According to Mark we hear that “Jesus came…and was baptized by John in the Jordan.” Before the 40 days in the wilderness, before the teaching, before the miracles, before the betrayal, denial, and death – before we are even told who he is, we hear that in the beginning, he “came…and was baptized by John in the Jordan.”

In many ways, we Christians are in the business of beginnings, and this is the beginning of the story of Jesus, the Christ. Sort of…

The thing about “in the beginnings” is that they aren’t quite as tidy as “once upon a times”. They leave much more to chance. In fairy tales we start at the “once upon a time” beginning and work through to the “happily ever after” end. It’s a comfortable and predictable pattern. We know that there will be bumps along the way, but we trust the formula to lead to a happy ending.

This time of year it can be especially tempting to allow the familiar beginnings of the story of Jesus to fall on us like a fairy tale – as though once upon a time a magical birth and its accompanying magical announcements might naturally lead to some “happily ever after.” But in real life beginnings, unlike fairy tales, the plotlines can be less clear. The same is true for the real life drama of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus that we celebrate and in which we participate here today.

“The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ,” according to Mark, is not a tale of stars and shepherds and stables, but our own centuries-long story of preparation and waiting. In the few verses before we began reading this morning, Mark’s gospel opens with these words: “As it is written in the prophet Isaiah, ‘See I am sending my messenger ahead of you who will prepare your way; the voice of one crying out in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord…’’” After those ancient words are recited once again, we hear the story of John, one who was sent to prepare the way of the Lord, baptizing in the wilderness. It was not until then that history conspired to bring us the Christ: “And a voice came from heaven, ‘You are my Son, the beloved; with you I am well pleased.’”

We mimic that cycle of circuitous beginnings in the church. Advent, the beginning of the church year, began back in November. It was a season of preparation, followed by the excitement around the birth and the celebration of Christmas.

In our own lives during that season there was shopping, and cards, and lines at the malls, and time with families, and travel, and returns, and exchanges. It is not until today that we can finally move toward the “ordinary time” of winter. More than a month ago we began preparing to celebrate the life of Jesus, but it’s not until today that we can really move into the day-to-day living with Christ.

And today, as a part of that day-to-day living with Christ, we remember that the advent of Christ began ages before the birth of Jesus.

“In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters. Then God said, ‘Let there be light’; and there was light. And God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness. God called the light Day and the darkness…Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day.”

The conspiring begins.

Yes, real life beginnings can be a little messy. As people, who are in the business of beginnings, just where do we begin?

When I consider the lives of these two who are to be baptized today it can be tempting to think of this as the beginning. Their lives are so new. So much of the world lies in store for them.

But we all know that this isn’t really the beginning for them.

Their lives began back in September. They were born too soon and in a fog of anxiety. The early weeks and months of their lives were overrun with doctors and nurses and procedures. There were good days and bad days, but through each day thousands of prayers converged around them, willing them into strength and health.

But even that was not really the beginning. You might say that their beginning was on that sultry, August day in New Orleans, six and a half years ago, when their parents pledged to love one another and a new family was born. Or you might say that the story begins with the journeys of generations of aunts and uncles and grandparents and more. Or perhaps their story begins, “In the beginning God said ‘Let there be light’, and there was light, and God saw that it was good.”

Wherever the story begins, it is not until today that history has conspired to bring us to this moment – the last breath of the advent to the ordinary time of day-to-day living with Christ. And even so, this ordinary time is yet another advent to some other beginning not yet seen.

As “in the beginning” people, we celebrate this beginning as our own. We stand with the soon-to-be baptized, and with their sponsors, and with the whole company of the church throughout time to reaffirm our own beginning again. We reaffirm our desire to continue in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship and to persevere in resisting evil. We pledge once again to proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ. We renew our promise to seek and serve Christ in all persons, and to strive for justice and peace among all people.

It’s a tall order – this business of beginning. All the more so is the business of beginning the Christian life. It is not now, nor will it ever be as simple or as predictable as any “Once upon a time”. But none of us stands alone. We stand with the living Christ who is preparing the way. Through the love of that One, the fallacy of the world’s “happily ever afters” gives way to the truth of Christ’s “hopefully ever after.”

That hope proclaims that we are not alone in this beginning. And neither will be these two newest members of the household. We stand in this community gathered today and with the saints of the ages. We begin again, with God’s help.

2 comments:

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Ah, your own 'Baptismal Love Letter" to the two boys. I knew you wouldn't be able to resist.

Bravo.

Jon M. Richardson said...

exactly right, EK... "couldn't resist" :)