[Baptism of the Lord, Year C, Jan 10, 2016. / Isa 42:1-4, 6-7 / Ps 29:1-2, 3-4, 3b+9b-10 / Acts 10:34-38 / Luke 3:15-16, 21-22]
ONE New Year we went on a 10 hour overnight bus trip to visit Ilocos Norte in northern Philippines. We had an excursion for 3 days, swimming, hiking and enjoying the nature along with 2 days of retreat meditating on the truth that God is with us. On one of the days we did a two hour hike to arrive at a waterfall which had a beautiful little lake. The water was cold! I was hesitating to enter the water, dipping my toes in and being cautious. Another missionary showed me another way – he dived straight in!
Sometimes in life, we just have to dive in. There are situations that seem daunting and if we just stand there as a spectator our fears will only grow. The feast of the Lord’s baptism encourages us to enter into the waters. Jesus was not afraid to enter the murky waters of the river Jordan. Likewise he was not afraid to enter into our human condition. He could have remained a comfortable spectator, looking on from heaven at a safe distance. Instead he decided to become man and enter into all the human situations. He experienced joy, laughter, hunger, sadness, anxiety, uncertainty…
— in a word all the situations and experiences which we too encounter. He entered and opened a way for us. How lucky we are! He is telling us in today’s celebration, “Don’t be afraid to dive in!”
If we are not careful we can spend our whole life wrapped in cotton wool, living in our shells like a tortoise. Don’t be afraid to stick your neck out. Life is too short to live in the shadows. In the film “Braveheart,” one memorable line runs “All men die but not all men truly live.” In our baptism we have already died with Christ. The baptismal promises pledge our desire to die to sin, to selfishness and to all that really stops us living as human beings.
This week, back to work after our retreat-excursion, various offers arose for mission activities. At first I was hesitant to commit but in my prayer I received the assurance from Jesus, “Don’t be afraid to die.” This is not a call to be a kamikaze pilot but an invite to trust in the Lord. As St Paul reminds us, “those who die with Christ with live with him.”
In the early Church, baptism was done by full immersion and actually in fact the Greek word for baptism means immersion. It was to enter into the waters, be submerged by them to represent death and dying to sin and then to rise up out of the water signifying the birth to a life that will last forever. As Queen sang, “Who wants to live forever?” The answer – everyone who is baptized.
The alternative to diving in is to sit on the fence. How often we are afraid to commit! Afraid to make a decision, uncertain and insecure. Of course we need to discern well, to “test everything and retain what is good” but sometimes what is needed is so very obvious! We know God’s will clearly. Committing ourselves means we have to confront our inconsistencies. Don’t be afraid to dive in!!!
In the baptism scene, God the Father speaks and reminds all to trust in Jesus — “This is my Son, my beloved. Listen to him.” The Father assures us that we are safe in the hands of his Son. Trust is very important. What is Jesus telling you? If God is for you, who can be against you? Time is passing fast. Get on with it. Otherwise we grow old and we are only theoretical persons, people who bore others with all our “plans” but no action because we have no faith.
What are you afraid of? Mistakes? Die to that self-image that stops you being your true self. Don’t be afraid to dive in. Life is not a spectator sport. What is Jesus asking you to dive in to? Challenges help us to grow – otherwise we become stagnant.
Dietrich Bonhőeffer, the famous protestant theologian put to death by the Nazis said, “When the Lord calls someone to follow him he invites them to die” – a call to die to everything that really stops us living. Don’t be afraid to die, it is the only way to true life. There can be no resurrection if first we don’t enter the tomb. If the snake does not shed its skin it never grows. As Jesus tells us clearly, “if the grain of wheat falls to the ground and does not die it remains alone but if it does it bears much fruit.” What do you need to die to? Dive in here, it is the way to life…