Isaiah 55: 1-11; Mark 1: 7-11
Life seems to become much more manageable when you can finally accept the fact that we are simply passing through this life. We come from God and are called to return to God along the way. We are all visitors, guests, immigrants to this land making the journey home, to God. As is this Feast of the Baptism of the Lord. I couldn’t help but to think of my time in the Holy Land back in October because the Jordan River was one of our destinations. We visited the spot where it’s believed that Jesus had been baptized by John in the Jordan. The fascinating thing about getting there, though, is the drive to the Jordan. We had to pass through this long road that seemed endless at times. The further we got along on the road, you began to see large fences on the sides with signs warning you to stay off the land because of land mines. As we passed through, I couldn’t help but to be enthralled by it all that in making our way to the Jordan, to be baptized for some, we would first have to pass through old war zones, battlefields from fought wars on both sides in Israel and Jordan.
The trouble for us humans, is, that the passing through, like going through a battlefield, is often the most painful and most challenging. When we finally get there all is but forgotten or viewed through a different lens, but passing through the battlefield of life can be challenging at times to say the least. Now it may not be the battlefield of Paris or Ferguson. It may not be the battlefield of Iraq or New York, but a battle nonetheless, and one that comes at great cost, the battle that often ensues within for the life of our heart and soul. It is a battle for the right of our soul and the soul being reclaimed in its true identity, its identity in Christ.
People Israel knew it all too often in their own journey. They didn’t always understand their place and God’s and how they too were passing through this world. They took hold of the land and possessed it, attaching themselves and often finding themselves on the outside looking in through exile, exodus, even having to pass through the Red Sea. This first reading we hear this weekend from Isaiah we will again hear on Holy Saturday when we celebrate the Easter Sacraments. They are once again in that place of being outside and looking towards the promised land, longing and waiting. There is a thirst and hunger, as Isaiah says, leading them to the water to quench thirst and hunger, a loss of their identity in relation to God leaves them elsewhere longing to be home again with God, but first again this passing through, painful, as we know, in giving birth.
Just when you think you’re there and you are about to have your thirst quenched and hunger fed, we come to the bank of the Jordan River. There is that final push. Think about how upset people Israel was with Moses when he led them to the Sea, questioning and doubting where it is that they had been led, and yet, another invitation to trust that the great passage through the waters would lead to the land that was promised, a life that was and is promised. Just as we find ourselves passing beyond the battlefield of life and the one that lies within us, there’s that one more passage into the Jordan.
They say it’s like it was at the time of Jesus as we hear in today’s gospel. It’s milky white and quite murky. It’s not like the Caribbean or some other Sea where you want to just jump in. There’s hesitation because we don’t know what’s beneath. We don’t know where we’re stepping. Will I sink? Is it deep? Will I get swept away, although unlikely? All these things hold us back at the bank of the Jordan. From the very beginning of Jesus’ journey in Mark’s Gospel, we find ourselves with hesitation to where he leads because it will require trust and faith of us to take that step off the banks of the Jordan and into the unknown, even though we know it’s where we are being led and need to go. It is an immersion into the depths of our being that we must be willing to take, the Jordan of our being that identifies us in Christ.
At that very moment, the empty crib and the fullness of the crib become one in the waters of the Jordan. At that very moment, life and death become intertwined. At that very moment, the heavens and earth unite. At that very moment, our true identity is revealed in Christ. You see, when we pass through the waters of Baptism, it’s not just about membership. It’s not just about being a part of this group or another. It is a revealing of our own identity and participation in the great mystery of our faith, an outward sign, as we define a sacrament, of an inward reality, our true identity in Christ. This is not just something receive in the waters of Baptism. It’s who we truly are and the mystery we are invited into each and every day of our lives as we seek to be plunged into the depths and to be raised to new life.
As we close out this Christmas Season and prepare for these weeks of Ordinary Time, we must ask and be honest with ourselves as to where we are on our own journey of faith, as individuals and as community. Do we find ourselves still in the battles of life, fighting for the right to our soul? Do we find ourselves lost in the weariness of it all, longing and hoping as people Israel? Do we find ourselves at the banks of the Jordan River, at peace with many of our battles, passing through the many land mines, waiting with great faith and yet fear to step into the waters to be swept away and taken to new depths? Wherever we are, it’s ok because this season is our constant assurance of God’s forever faithfulness and presence among us, leading us into the depths of baptisms to reveal our true identity as sons and daughters of God, ever seeking the great Mystery of our lives as we pass through, seeking to once again experience the fullness of our destiny.