Baptism of Jesus, January 9, 2011
See, the former things have come to pass,/and new things I now declare;/before they spring forth,/I tell you of them. Isaiah 42:9
The gospel appointed for Sunday is Matthew’s account of the baptism of Jesus. This is a story with which we are quite familiar; we know how the action plays out and can recount and summarize it with ease. Like the birth narrative, our knowledge of it and regular retelling tends to sanitize and tame this key event in the life of our Lord. Like the creeds and the Lord’s Prayer, we can whip right through it and get on with life almost in the same breath. So how do we recapture the wonder, the mystery, and the sheer counter-cultural effect of this narrative event?
I have been pondering this question for several days while reading, rereading, and praying over the lectionary texts. One thing that strikes me is how “verbal” God is in three of the four readings. In fact, God is active and central in all four texts. God is doing something new and different–be it announcing the servant in Isaiah who will bring light to the nations, or exhibiting a powerful voice through the created order in the Psalm, or working through Peter’s words to announce forgiveness and salvation to all who call on the name of the Lord, and finally proclaiming divine love and pleasure at Jesus’ obedience in baptism at the beginning of his public ministry.
So, yes, God speaks. God speaks often. God speaks through the prophet, through Peter, through lightning in the Psalmist’s song, and, according to Matthew, straight from the heavens. God spoke the world into existence and hasn’t stopped speaking since.
At various points throughout history, we humans have operated under the mistaken impression that God is silent, at one point in the 20th century even going so far as to proclaim that God was dead. God is most certainly NOT dead; the reality is that we do not listen. We fail to open ourselves to the many ways the Creator chooses to communicate. We forget to think outside the box, to use our creativity, to be still and silent in a world filled with pointless noise.
In short, we fail to see the proverbial forest for the figurative trees. God tried to have a relationship with the people of Israel, but they didn’t listen very well either. Finally, after many thwarted attempts at successful communication, God came to us in a form we could grasp–that of a human being. Even so, we still have trouble listening.
Why is it that we have so much trouble listening to God? We listen to our iPods, we listen to talk radio; we even listen to gossip. Our world is filled with noise. Maybe, just maybe, it’s more that listening to God and really hearing God speak is discomforting. There is no mincing of words with the Divine One, and there is no getting around God’s intent. If God is pleased with Jesus, and we are called to follow Jesus, then surely that means we must be “little Christs” and try to pattern our life after what pleases the One who gives us life. Hmmm…no wonder we have a problem we listening to God!
As Christians, we must learn to listen, but that is not the end of the story or the sum total of our responsibility. We must also learn to respond to what we hear. God is always doing a new thing and including us, calling us to the divine dance, desiring to include us in the healing of the world.
Listen…do you hear God calling?