CBaptism of our Lord
Immanuel Lutheran, Chicago
“At The End of the Year,” a poem by Irish priest and author John O’Donohue.
“As this year draws to its end,
We give thanks for the gifts it brought
And how they became inlaid within
Where neither time nor tide can touch them…
Days when beloved faces shone brighter
With light from beyond themselves;
And from the granite of some secret sorrow
A stream of buried tears loosened.
We bless this year for all we learned,
For all we loved and lost
And for the quiet way it brought us
Nearer to our invisible destination.”
I wonder, for what do you give thanks from the past year? What have you learned? What have you loved? What have you lost?
Perhaps by blessing the old year — saying goodbye intentionally and purposefully — we’ll find the courage and honesty to face 2022. The world-worn wisdom of poet John O’Donohue withstands the test of time. “Grateful hearts are resilient ones, and thankfulness can actually build a better future, creating what researchers call an “upward spiral” of well-being. I’d sure appreciate 2022 becoming an “upward spiral” of communal health and compassion!” (Diana Butler Bass, The Cottage)
The prophet Isaiah declared, “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you.” (Isaiah 43:2).
We need that promise. We need God’s protective presence right now. When it feels our life has become a long-distance marathon and don’t know for sure when it will end. Two years ago, we put on our running shoes and headed up what looked like a short-but-steep incline called Covid-19. We worked together to move up one learning curve after another. We made it to the top only to see another peak rise in front of us. Every summit revealed yet another one to climb. And yes, our momentum carried us through the first few difficult steps, but our path was obstructed by additional hurdles—”political division” and “racial unrest” and “ecological meltdown,” to name a few. Now, most of us are running on a near-empty tank and we still can’t see the end.
Two weeks ago, the unthinkable happened. I came in early Sunday morning as I usually do to prepare for worship and discovered the baptismal font was bone dry. We keep the level low to reduce the spread of Covid. All the water had evaporated, and no one noticed. We are running on empty. We can’t see the end. We lose heart when we lose hope. We need an infusion of strength to renew that hope, and to offer renewed hope to our community. But where will it come from?
We have learned how much we need one another. This year has taught us we must be fed. Our Lord has prepared for us a bountiful feast. Here is the divine word. Here is bread and wine. Here is the living well-spring of grace that never runs dry, an upward spiral of thanksgiving, wellbeing, and life that draws from the Holy Trinity to renew our hope and strengthen us as we pass through the waters, cross rivers, and walk through the fires of these times. Our font may be empty, but our hearts will never be when we are together in Christ.
The Apostle Paul offers this: “We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance. And endurance develops strength of character, and character strengthens our confident hope of salvation. And this hope will not lead to disappointment. For we know how dearly God loves us, because he has given us the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts with his love” (Romans 5:3-5).
“So, a heart that is filled up with the love of God endures when endurance seems humanly impossible… Dr. Angela Duckworth, whose research into the foundations of personal grit morphed into a bestselling book, found that people who live with a marathon mentality have developed a passion for something higher than themselves. As Paul explains, and Duckworth reiterates in her research, we need a source of strength and hope that is higher than ourselves. It’s only a matter of time before we reach the shallow bottom of our own well—when “hang in there” and “keep fighting” seem like hollow platitudes. When we’re tested beyond our capacity, we naturally look for help outside of that capacity.” (Rick Lawrence, Executive Director of Vibrant Faith, “Creating an Oasis of Hope,” Friday Thoughts, 1/7/22)
As Christians, we learn from Jesus that love is who we are. Who and what we give ourselves to is what ultimately defines us. As Christians, we know all our yes’s and no’s find their proper direction in alignment with God’s yes in baptism. The most beautiful life it is possible for us to live begins and ends with uncovering who we are in God.
God’s words to Jesus, “You are my son,” is God’s graceful Living Word for you: ‘You are my child, a member of my beloved community, a living sanctuary of hope and grace in the midst of a dark world, with you I am well pleased.” (Luke 3:22b)
We wash ourselves daily in the renewing power of these words in the water of our baptism. Brother Luther has said, “A truly Christian life is nothing else than a daily baptism once begun and ever to be continued” (Large Catechism). Day by day, through all our yes’s and no’s the old self is drowned, replaced by the Holy Spirit with new life in Christ. Love is who we are.
We will get through this. We lean into 2022 with a song in our heart and ample food for the journey because we have learned that endurance and perseverance come, not from our own meager resources, but from an orientation toward the Diving. Intimacy with God generates the powerful passion that real hope requires. “Deep hope is fed by our experience of Jesus’ heart, not the information we’ve collected about him.” (Lawrence). And so, for ourselves and those we love—we pray. We assemble around Word and sacrament. We sit in silence. We ingest the words and actions of Jesus. We ponder them as Mary did. We take risks based on our trust in Jesus’ heart, not merely because the risk seems strategically sound. We can live in, and invite others into, an Oasis of Hope in a desert of bad news and endless marathons as Christians have done for generations before us. We can do this because we strive to be a living sanctuary of hope and grace.