Monday, December 8, 2008

I Baptize With Water

John the Baptist is often portrayed by artists as pointing to someone just outside the picture frame. The someone, of course, is Jesus of Nazareth who would come to John to be baptized in what Christopher Duraisingh calls a "solidarity plunge" with all of us. Jesus, the Word of God Incarnate, casts in his lot with us, becomes Emmanuel, God with us. In that sense the artists got it wrong - the One to whom John pointed is not outside the picture frame of our life in the world - he is in the very heart of it, transforming the world with the power of love.

It is no accident that the inaugural sermon that Jesus preached - as recorded in Luke's account of the good news - has as its text Isaiah 6:1-3:

The spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me, because the LORD has anointed me; he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed, to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and release to the prisoners; to proclaim the year of the LORD's favor, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn; to provide for those who mourn in Zion— to give them a garland instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the mantle of praise instead of a faint spirit.

I take this list to be evocative rather than prescriptive, encouraging us to discern for ourselves in these times what actions of ours - as the Body of Christ - would serve "to proclaim the year of the LORD's favor...." In each context in which the Body seeks to live faithfully the answer will be somewhat different. In one place, the Spirit may move the community to house the homeless. In another, God's people may be moved to raise moneyto build a school in Pakistan. In another community, the call may be to work to end legal discrimination against gay and lesbian people. For others the call may be to be present with those who are dying.

The promise of Emmanuel is that we will never be left alone, that God will always be present with us - in us - as we face the challenges of living in these difficult and even dangerous times. The Incarnation, God's choosing to become one with us in our humanity, speaks powerfully to me of God's desire to be God only in realtionship with us - and not only the "us" that we find acceptable, but with all people.

Many years ago, my narrow understanding of God's love was challenged by a poem by the Victorian poet Robert Buchanan. At the end of "The Ballad of Judas Iscariot" Buchanan wrote these lines:
'Twas the Bridegroom stood at the open door,
And beckon'd, smiling sweet;
'Twas the soul of Judas Iscariot
Stole in, and fell at his feet.
'The Holy Supper is spread within,
And the many candles shine,
And I have waited long for thee
Before I poured the wine!'
The supper wine is poured at last,
The lights burn bright and fair,
Iscariot washes the Bridegroom's feet,
And dries them with his hair.
May our love be so transformed by God's love that we might rejoice to welcome even the likes Judas Iscariot to the feast.

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