Isaiah 40: 1-5, 9-11; Luke 3: 15-16, 21-22
In his book, The Road to Character, David Brooks writes that his purpose for the book is that he needed to find his soul. As a political pundit, he believed he had gone so far from who he really is that the writing of the book was going to become the roadmap back to his truest identity. He began to realize that he was living a lie and contributing to the larger problems in politics, some of the time didn’t even believe what he was saying but just saying it because it was his job. He believes, and is often evident in our country, that there is no longer a moral code by which we live, that politics has taken the place and we see where that gets us. It’s divisive and a shallow identity, leading us down the same path that Brooks found in his own life, a loss of identity, a loss of soul.
This feast we celebrate today, the Baptism of the Lord, reveals through Jesus our own truest identity. If we can just believe with our heads and our hearts who we really are, beloved sons and daughters, not only of ourselves, but of everyone, the world can be a much different place. Yet, as much as we are baptized into it as Christians, somehow we forget. We begin to think and believe that we are something other than beloved. We begin to think we’re the color of our skin, our sexuality, the amount of money we have or don’t have, our ideology and politics, and we begin to live our lives that way. It’s a search for identity that takes place in this city and I believe it’s the struggle going on in this country. As time passes, like people Israel, we find ourselves so far away from our center that we have forgotten who we really are and we must go and search.
The struggle for identity is the lifelong struggle and part of salvation history. Israel, whom Isaiah writes of in today’s first reading, struggled themselves as a people. It’s easy, even in our time, to begin to think we are something else. How easy it is to think I’m something else. How could Israel not when their experience has been exodus and exile, their experience is war and violence. When that becomes our reality, we begin to think it’s who we are. We wander. We stray. We find ourselves on the periphery and the fringe, exiled from our truest self. But make note, as we hear in this reading and we heard during Advent, the voice continues to cry out. Even in the midst of the dryness, the desert, the voice continues to call us back to our home, back to the place of humility, this crib that we have come to throughout this season. The voice that cries out in the desert is the voice that proclaims the identity of Jesus, the beloved in which I am well pleased.
It was an identity struggle in today’s gospel today as well. In all the early communities, there was much debate as to who John the Baptist was. Now Luke resolves it by writing him out of the scene all together. Before we hear of Jesus’ baptism John is already taken into custody by Herod, and instead, Jesus is lumped in with the other people who have been baptized. It’s not that Jesus was somehow better than others, but rather, at the deepest core of all of us we remain the same, our truest identity in Christ, beloved sons and daughters. What the magi sought for last week and is revealed in Bethlehem is revealed to the people, to the nations, as the Christ. It’s who we really are as people, and if we believe it with our hearts, our lives our changed, the world is changed.
As we come to the end of this Christmas season, our search for the new born King will continue in ways we may never know. We’ll find ourselves like many of the characters we have met, wandering around the periphery wondering who we really are, realizing we have lost our way, trying to follow the voice of one crying out from the desert of our lives. Christmas doesn’t end here, but continues daily in our faith journey as we continue to seek out our truest identity, to give up living the lie and that which no longer works, to seek the voice that calls from the place of humility, this crib, which reminds us of who we really are, sons and daughters of God. When we believe it with all our being, life is changed forever, just as it did for the world on that first Christmas. We are the sons and daughters of God, beloved and with whom is well pleased.