A colleague of mine took a college group spelunking into caves that began as a small tunnel into the mountain, then opened into a small bedroom sized space, and then opened out into quite a large sanctuary like space - where it was completely dark and completely silent. There was room for everyone to sit in a circle with about ten feet of distance between each other. After settling in, everyone turned off their flashlights and sat in that complete darkness. My friend said fear and anxiety were palpable. Even for him – even after having done this several times – the question would rise up in his mind – was he alone? The fear was often broken by laughter or some other outburst by the group.
But one time, there was complete silence. After awhile, out of the darkness and silence a young voice quivered: "is anyone here?" “Yes,yes, we’re here!” everyone burst out. After quieting down and absorbing more of the silence and darkness, my friend lit one small kitchen match – and that one small little light was brilliant! It lit up the darkness, and immediately brought warmth and security.
The account of creation and our life with God begins with light. Out of darkness, on the very first day God gave us the gift of light.
"So there is not just darkness, but there is light and dark. Now I don’t mean just the light in the light bulb or in the car lights at night. I don’t mean just this or that light, but I mean all of the light that is light. God gave us the gift of light that all light comes from.
When God saw the light, God said, “It is good.”
Now much, much later, after the waters of creation, and the dangerous waters of the flood, much, much later ….
Someone came. Someone came who said such wonderful things and did such amazing things that people couldn’t help it. They just had to ask him who he was. One time, when they asked him who he was, he said, “I am the Light.”"
This same one – the one who said, “I am Light” was baptized in the waters of the Jordan, and God said to him – “You are my beloved, my Child in whom I am well pleased.”
Those of us who follow Jesus are joined to his life and mission through the waters of creation, the waters of the flood, the waters that parted, the waters of the Jordan, the blessed waters – the water we use at baptism. We become related to Christ, and through Christ, to God. More even than that, we enter into mystical communion with Christ and through Christ with the Creator of all that is, the blood of deep eternal forever life flows in our veins, in our hearts, in our soul.
And so our life is a new life, a different life, because it is no longer we that live, but Christ that lives in us – and paradoxically, we become our brightest and best selves, the selves that are our most unique and beautiful. Our troubles do not cease, we are not promised a bed of roses – that is not the Gospel. But we are grounded and stabilized in this firm unshakeable identity – that of God’s beloved children. Jesus heard these words from God before he entered into mission and ministry – and we must hear them and take them in deeply as well before we undertake any major project – especially now at the beginning of this new year.
Martin Luther regularly remembered his identity as a Child of God each and every time he splashed water on his face – every time Martin washed his face in the morning, he would say, “Remember, I am baptized.” He wasn’t trying to remember his baptism as a baby, he wasn’t trying to remember that certain event. When he splashed water on his face, he was remembering who he was – his fundamental identity as a beloved child of God. And this made all the difference to the rest of his days.
Now you also are baptized in the name of the Trinity – the Holy Three – Creator, Redeemer and Sustainer – Father, Son and Holy Spirit. And you are sealed with the Oil of Chrism, sealed by the Holy Spirit as Christ’s own forever.
"The Holy Spirit goes where it will. It rides the invisible wind like a dove and gives you comfort and power and guidance. It is invisible, like the scent of the oil. After you were bathed in the water and christened with the oil, a candle was given on your behalf to your parents, lit from the light of the Christ Candle." If you were fortunate to be baptized as an adult – that light was given directly to you. You were named as God’s child and given the Light of Christ at your Baptism.
Deep within you is this Light, the image of God. Sin may distort and obscure that image but it cannot erase it, or put it out. Your creation is good. You are an expression of God.
Because you and I are an expression of God, we hunger for God…. Sometimes we meet people who do not seem to hunger for God, who are not aware of any thirst for the life giving waters of communion with the Creator, who reject the body of Christ manifest in the Church – but do not despair because of this. Do not despair if at the beginning of this year, we seem small and insignificant, or our faith seems small and insignificant. We are God’s – and it is God who awakens hunger and thirst for Himself.
Those of us who are here are here because God stirred some longing, some desire, in our hearts – maybe it was only a desire to be with some friendly people, or maybe it was because you wanted to hear something about Jesus, or something about hope in the world. Whatever desire, whatever longing, God stirred in you, give thanks, because that hunger and thirst, that longing, is grace itself. It is gift. It is even the answer you are seeking – that is odd, isn’t it? Hunger and thirst is itself the answer – but in the paradoxical nature of faith, that is true.
We cannot long for the light of Christ, for communion with Christ, without God causing that longing within us – so even if that longing is very tiny, even if it just a small flickering match stick of desire for the Light, gather up your heart and pour it into your longing.
And God will stir up greater faith, will gift you with greater faith – which may be, for you, an experience simply of greater and greater longing to enter with Christ into whatever baptism he is undergoing. That may be the joyful baptism of the revelation of God’s love and affirmation and gift of Identity. It may be the sorrowful baptism of death on the cross - that is the death of your ego and your own will. It may be the joyful baptism of easy fellowship with other believers. It may be the mystery of the baptism of the cross, of entering into the mystery of poverty and illness. Whichever baptism that life brings– whether it is that of sorrow or that of joy – or both – either way, may you, like the Magi of Epiphany be on the lookout for what new thing God is doing, what new Light God is revealing in the world and within your soul.
This morning we renew the baptismal vows that we made at the beginning of our Christian journey – or that our parents made for us, when we were very young – too young to object. This morning, as we remember Jesus’ baptism by his cousin John, we remember that God says to each one of us as we baptized into the Body of Christ – you are my beloved child. Nothing in heaven or on earth can ever separate you from my love. You are permanently and always my beloved child. And as the first of many gifts to come - I give you my Spirit to live within you and to guide you.
May the light of God illumine the heart of your soul. May the flame of Christ kindle in you great hunger, great thirst…. And may the fire of the Spirit free you to be Light in the world. Amen.
*Resource: Jerome Berryman, Godly Play.