Scripture: Mark 1:4-11 "John the Baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. And people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him, and were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. Now John was clothed with camel's hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. He proclaimed, 'The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals. I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.' "
"In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. And a voice came from heaven, 'You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.' "
Grace, mercy, and peace be unto you, and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
This morning, we're back in the wilderness -- the place we began our Advent Journey several weeks ago, the place of either encountering God or running away from God. One of the more fluid boundaries of the wilderness is the Jordan River. The Jordan River begins north of the Sea of Galilee, rapidly decreasing in elevation as it flows north to south. By the time it reaches the Dead Sea, sixteen miles south of the Sea of Galilee, it sits nearly two hundred feet below sea level. In its travels from north to south, the Jordan River picks up silt and sediment in its currents. This buildup of silt and sediment is helpful in the growth of plants and trees along its banks. The downside to this build of up silt and sediment is the murkiness of the Jordan River. This murkiness can create difficulty seeing the bottom of the river, which if afraid of water, can create a sense of panic of not being able to see or feel the bottom of the Jordan River. It is not the crystal clear, glasslike body of water Jesus is baptized in, but rather, the silty, murky, lifegiving waters of the Jordan River.
Here, God is at work: heavens torn apart, a dove descending on Jesus, a voice resounding from heaven naming Jesus the Beloved Son. Then again, murkiness is nothing new for God. Earlier in Genesis, we heard how that murkiness -- and chaos -- are the media God works best in. Making all of creation out of nothing, moving, churning, swirling over the face of the waters, finding and naming darkness and light, night and day. In this murkiness, animals of the air, the earth, and the sea came into being. Bushes, fruits, plants, shrubs, trees, vegetables of all shapes and sizes begin to sprout and grow under water and on land. Murkiness becomes clearer, more definitive. And in all things, God saw that it was good.
As humans, we don't always appreciate or view murkiness as being good. It's unsettling because of not being able to see, because we don't always feel as though we are stepping on solid ground. Besides the physical location of the Jordan River, there is a spiritual reason for Jesus' baptism taking place here at the boundary between civilization and wilderness. This reason is not only because of being God's Beloved Son, but to also be baptized into the murkiness of human reality: the good, the bad, the wonderful, the awful, the incredible, the hurtful, the inspiring, the hopeful, and so much more.
Then again, that's why we struggle with the promises made in the waters of our baptism: they're not as clear cut and defined as we want them to be. Our baptismal promises sound simple enough: renounce the devil and all the forces defying God, renounce the powers of this world rebelling against God, and renouncing the ways of sin that draw us from God. To live them out daily is when these promises become murky. The murkiness comes in the challenge of determining what is or is not the work of the devil, what is or is not a force that defies God, what is or is not a thought, word, or action that separates us in our relationship with God or with others. We saw a lot of murkiness this past week.
We may get so caught up in the murkiness that we lose our identity as Beloved Children of God, or we forget the greater reality we do not swim or walk or stand, or even sink in the murkiness alone. Instead, we stand firmly on the solid wood of the cross of Christ: the very cross that uplifts us when we flounder, strengthens us when we are weak, comforts us when we are grieving, soothes our souls when we are troubled. And even though we can't always see the cross of Christ in the murkiness of life, it's always here: guiding us like the star did for the Wise Men days earlier; guiding us always into a future filled with hope; guiding us as Light that shines in the darkness; and is not overcome by the darkness.
Several years ago, the Celtic musical group Gaelic Storm had a song called "Wade in the Water." Gaelic Storm became famous after the 1998 movie "Titanic" by being the musical group playing at the party below deck. Come on and wade way out in the water with me, we're drowning on dry ground,the refrain sang.
Drowning on dry ground.
In the waters of our baptism, that's exactly where we stand: on the dry, solid ground of the cross of Christ. We stand, too, on the promises made for us, that God will never leave us or forsake us. We stand too, on the words God says to us: YOU are my Beloved, my chosen, whom I have called, and whom I love with an everlasting love. YOU are mine.
Silty, murky, lifegiving waters.
Today, and in the week ahead, remember, and rejoice that in these waters of baptism, God calls us, God loves us, God leads us to stand firmly on the dry ground of God's love for each and every one of us.
Thanks be to God. Amen.