I’m not sure why, but this season I’ve been dogged by the post-Magi, post-Epiphany story of Herod, known as the Slaughter of the Innocents (Matthew 2:16-18). The immensity of the evil that raised its head as soon as Jesus was born was a sign of all that was to come for him. It’s a sign of the resistance Christ encountered in the scriptures and that which he encounters in us. Not just us as individuals, but us as sets of customs and assumptions, policies and laws that grind up the little ones and the vulnerable, people in our own communities and around the world. It’s still true and ever has been.
Following this murderous punctuation at the beginning of the story, this week we zoom forward to Jesus’ baptism. And while it happens sort of hidden away on the second Sunday of January, partially obscured by lingering Christmas decorations, the Baptism of the Lord is a celebration full of hope for me. It’s a time to remember that in our baptism, the transforming power of water and the Holy Spirit itself poured out onto us. Jesus was first, as our elder brother, but when it was our turn, he led us into a raging river of life that is determined not to leave us as we were.
I read this week part of a poem by Maya Angelou, which paints this hope for you and me and all of us. She begins by listing many wonders, from across the world, then closes:
We, this people, on this small and drifting planet
Whose hands can strike with such abandon
That in a twinkling, life is sapped from the living
Yet those same hands can touch with such healing, irresistible tenderness
That the haughty neck is happy to bow
And the proud back is glad to bend
Out of such chaos, of such contradiction
We learn that we are neither devils nor divines
When we come to it
We, this people, on this wayward, floating body
Created on this earth, of this earth
Have the power to fashion for this earth
A climate where every man and every woman
Can live freely without sanctimonious piety
Without crippling fear
When we come to it
We must confess that we are the possible
We are the miraculous, the true wonder of this world
That is when, and only when
We come to it.
— Maya Angelou, from “A Brave and Startling Truth” (Please watch Angelou read the entire poem at the United Nations.)
If our baptism does not seek to lead us to this, I do not know where else it would go. Personal transformation. Social accountability. Willingness to build love and justice.
As we look back on 2021, I am hearing the stories of how your ministries have fed and served and kept people together. The crisis continues, on top of all that was already hard. But your face-to-face encounter with hope and possibility are God’s gift to you and us and this world. Therefore, this is a time to praise the power of God and to dare to claim our part in what God is going to do next.
Grace and Peace,