I’ve never been the biggest fan of New Years’ resolutions. While I’m sure it’s helpful for some, it feels a little silly to place a bunch of expectations on myself on the outset of a new year. If another calendar year is about celebrating something new, why are we placing so much pressure on ourselves before it even begins?
Of course, as a Church, our New Year season has come and gone. Advent, though not a time of resolutions, is the start of the church’s calendar year. We’ve gone right through our season of waiting and preparing and just finished our twelve days of Christmas cheer. Personally, I find it unfair that I should be making resolutions to become my fully formed best self in 365 days when I’m partway through my season of copious amounts of cheese and chocolate. Before we know it, it’ll be time for looking through all the sweaters and knick knacks we were given at Christmas during spring cleaning!
Maybe I’m getting a bit ahead of myself on the last part. But the point is, I always feel like there’s this expectation to always be onto some new project or take on some new opportunity or task instead of leaning into our moments of joy. We can’t take a step back and relish in the wonder of Christ’s birth before we’re feeling the pressure to make all kinds of promises that more often than not we can’t keep. We’re always trying to become the best version of ourself with the quick fix of making these promises. Sometimes they make a lasting difference, but “researchers suggest that only 9% of Americans that make resolutions complete them. In fact, research goes on to show that 23% of people quit their resolution by the end of the first week, and 43% quit by the end
of January.” That’s a pretty quick dropoff for all those goals we swear will fix our lives, wallets, and whatever else they’re intended to do.
How interesting is it, then, to think about goals and perfection in the wake of today’s Gospel. In this lesson from Mark, we hear the baptism of Jesus by John in the river Jordan. This story is the beginning – the very first one– in Mark’s Gospel. Jesus’ baptism by John sets the tone for the entire arc of Mark’s telling of Jesus’ life. Through this baptism and divine calling, we hear how Jesus is the Son of God, the beloved, the one John just proclaimed in his prophecy.
Our Christian calendar likewise marks today as the celebration of this baptism. Growing up, to me this baptism felt like a brief moment in Jesus’ overall 33 years on Earth, before the real excitement got started. Within Mark’s gospel, we read countless moments of Jesus healing many, many strangers and followers. Of course, not to skip ahead, but we know all the excitement and intensity that comes during the last few moments of Jesus’ ministry – the doubt, the fear, and the overwhelming joy of resurrection. But as we consider the role of human perfectionism in our own lives, of New Year’s resolutions and the perfection cycles of every season – this deeply human, but also divine, moment of baptism provides an incredible start of Jesus’ ministry and an amazing means of connection to our own stories.
How special is it to know that Jesus, too, was baptized? While many of us may have been baptized as children, there are many who have been baptized as adults. It is something that has been part of our shared Christian life since this moment between Jesus and John. It is incredibly moving when we have a baptism here – to hear so many profess the faith and receive a washing away of sin through the power of the water God created for us. Isn’t it remarkable to know that Jesus, the Son of God, did that too? Just like us? While Jesus was not a wriggly baby held over a stone font in a very urban Manhattan, the tenderness and vulnerability of human touch – of John blessing Jesus in this way – marks the holiness of their divine relationship. There is profound power in this baptism, as we know and share in our own examples today.
The relationship between John and Jesus is likewise fascinating – Jesus himself is already uplifting the ministry of others through fulfilling John’s prophecy and receiving this baptism. While John said “I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals,” Jesus still enters into the water, into this covenant and promise. This beginning moment is the tenderness with which Jesus steps into his ministry. From the mouths of countless prophets before, proclaimed for generations, down to this very moment with John, Jesus’ leadership of a flock begins. The tenderness and power of receiving this baptism from John, a prophet of power from his own work and call, now a saint of our church, gives us a glimpse of the kind of humility and servitude we continue to see throughout Jesus’ life and journey. This is one of many moments where Jesus offers himself to John, to God, to others – to humanity.
We heard how John acknowledges Jesus’ power – “the one more powerful than I is coming after me” and “I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit,” it reminds me of the way that none of our sacraments can exist in solitude. Baptisms typically take place during a Sunday Eucharist. It takes the witness and participation of the congregation for a priest to bless our Eucharist. It takes the presence, the love, the joy of a couple for a priest to bless a marriage. It takes the enthusiastic “we will!” of a congregation to ordain a deacon, priest, or bishop!
We do not act alone in our faith. While we are encouraged to pray and be with God in our own time, the work of our church exists in beloved community – a realm that can always be made new as others enter into or depart from our lives. The hard but beautiful work of the Church springs out of an impermanency that is made perfect through the blessings of God and one another, each and every day.
While God is always with us, it takes Jesus’ presence and willingness, and John’s act of Baptism, for the voice from heaven to say: “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” This is the moment of declaration and confirmation in Mark’s Gospel of Jesus as Messiah. None of this happened in isolation. This moment defines the Gospel, defines Jesus’ story, and defines our own knowledge of Christ’s presence in our lives.
Now, I ask those who have been baptized – is that something that is taken away? Is it something you have to take a quarterly pop quiz on or go through an annual interview or report about? Or is it something that, once performed, has made you part of our Church, part of the Christian family, then, now, and always?
Just as John proclaimed, and as Jesus was baptized, we too share in that celebration as members of the Christian church. And that baptism is active, ever-present, and an offering of God’s grace to start anew every moment. Each moment of our lives can be a reminder of that grace. We don’t need a new year on the Julian calendar, or the Anglican calendar, or even the rising or setting of the sun to define when we are made new. Every breath we take is a reminder of the love of the one who created and sustains us – our redemption is freely and joyously given, and we can celebrate that joy in any and all moments of our lives, whenever we feel that joy in our hearts or the courage and bravery to act.
Living out our baptism is the awareness and acknowledgement of this grace given to us by God through Christ. Living out our baptism means living in the way Jesus taught us, to love our neighbor as ourselves. It means following his lead to walk in love. Over the next few months, as we hear the miracles of Jesus’ ministry, really taking the time to listen and ask ourselves how these stories might inspire us to act. We might be inspired to model ourselves in the image of the one who loved us so deeply and who lived with
the knowledge of God’s call to all of us, to make this life holy, sacred, and good for all who share this earth with us.
Please don’t think I’m telling you to feel the instant pressure to, I don’t know, miraculously heal a bunch of people or give everything you own to charity or a complete stranger. We still have our human limitations and live in this earthly society. But I encourage you to take the time to ask where God might be calling you over the next few months. Where might you be inspired to act with the love Jesus gave us?
But, remember, even with what might feel like a “challenge,” this isn’t a New Year’s resolution. The real joy of Jesus’ life on earth is that we are made new through God’s grace every single day! With each moment we live and breathe, we are made new in the image of Christ. We have received the grace, the love, of God in the ultimate act of Jesus’ presence, and every moment is one that might inspire. Take a moment, take a breath. Remember your baptism, and that you are made new.