The Baptism of Christ has traditionally been one of the big Sundays of the year, and for good reason. It marks the first recognition of the adult Jesus as Spirit-filled and particularly beloved of God. It blesses him as the heir to John the Baptist’s movement, and next in line as Public Enemy #1 of the oppressive kingdom that God’s kingdom threatens to overturn. The Jordan baptism gives us a symbol of what the way of Christ asks of us—the ritual death followed by resurrection, the humbling, loving, self-emptying followed by being filled with the Spirit’s higher power. (Next week we will hear the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. talk about the oneness that comes through that Spirit.)
The oldest terms describing this path that the Baptism of Jesus symbolizes are the Greek, “kenosis-metanoia.” The newest terms are “zero-one.” Kenosis empties and shrinks our old selfish self toward zero, and metanoia expands our true self toward being one with God and neighbor and all creation.
This path that Jesus taught and modeled is what enables us to “get rid of the selfishness, greed and self-preoccupation that…are ingrained in our thoughts and behavior but are also the source of so much of our pain,” theologian Karen Armstrong says. The path has always been at the heart of mystical or contemplative Christianity, and every true saint of every church in every age has exemplified it, but it has rarely, if ever, been the way of an entire society. As G. K. Chesterton said, “It is not that Christianity has been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and left untried.”
Last Sunday we asked ourselves what it would look like if our society followed the Golden Rule or love of neighbor in relation to problems like climate change or racism or poverty. We realized that two of the biggest obstacles to the Golden Rule in our personal lives as well as in our society are selfishness and fear.
We have gotten away with the selfishness of the “me generations,” or we thought we were getting away with it, but now we see that we were only delaying payment of an enormous price. The crisis we are now in threatens human civilization and the survival of most living species including our own. This generation can no longer afford to be a me-generation. We need to be Generation Zero-One, we need to be the last of the old way and first of the new, or else there will be no new.
The good news is that Jesus assures us that his path leads to the most abundant and joyful life possible, so the Baptism of Christ with all its symbolic meaning is a cause for celebration, even as Jesus turns from the Jordan toward the wilderness of trial and temptation and confrontation with society and the cross. We would not have a church today if it were not true that the love and comfort, the enthusiasm and miracles that come from the Spirit-filled life far outweigh life’s inevitable struggle and loss.
We will read Psalm 29 about the power of God in a thunderstorm and hear Isaiah 43:1-2, Acts 8:14-17 and Luke 3:15-16, 21-22. We will sing “O Worship the King, All Glorious Above,” “O Spirit, Help Me Open Wide” and “Spirit of the Living God, Fall Afresh on Me.” The choir will sing “Lo, I Am with You,” a “Sanctus/Hosanna” and Larry Shackley’s anthem inspired by Martin Luther, “Here I Stand.” Pianist Annemieke McLane will play beautiful, uplifting pieces by F. Couperin and J.S. Bach.