The Baptism of the Lord – 10th January
At the centre of our Christian life is the sacrament of baptism in which we die to ourselves to become one with Christ. In this sacrament, we hear the words of God spoken saying “You are my Son, the Beloved: my favour rests on you” This becoming one is not actually a denial of self but rather a revelation of who we are called into relationship with. It calls us to move beyond ourselves to discover how we can discover who we truly are. Like a homecoming, we find ourselves also beloved and favoured.
In a time of the pandemic, this can often allude us. I am very conscious of this living in Greater Sydney where we are identified with being the source of COVID and borders are closed to us. In discovering that the normal freedoms that we are familiar with like travel to particular places we can start to feel anything but one and free. When our humanity and compassion focus more on what excludes us rather than what brings us together, we can start to perceive both an internal and external fracturing. There is ambiguity in which we see adverts inviting us to holiday in places to which we cannot go and see our identity shaped by events beyond our control. In many ways, COVID is modern leprosy in which people can quickly be seen as unclean because of where they live and the risk of the exposure of something which is deadly.
As Christians, I believe that the closure of borders can also lead to a hardening of hearts and a stubbornness which alienates people from one another. There, of course, needs to be safeguards for people’s health and wellbeing but where these become draconian they can start to breed isolation of spirit which is greater than the physical isolation. As Christians, we need to notice how our prayer and our actions find ways to give glory to God in our everyday life. This is evidenced by the hard work of people in the frontline of contact tracing, the willingness of people to get tested and the following of basic hygiene and the wearing of masks. Yet in the midst of all this, we are also called to discover how these are safeguards not barriers to relationships. There are questions which naturally emerge about how long border controls can isolate us from each other rather than giving opportunities for better track and trace. The call for a spirit of cooperation between states and nations is of pressing concern. One can wonder where the spirit so present in the bushfires has dissipated in the face of a virulent strain of the virus.
I believe that our responsiveness in the face of this ever-present threat to our health and wellbeing is found in the reading from Isaiah which asks us where is the spring of our salvation? What will bring us joy which will bear witness to God’s providence? In our own time and in union with the Baptism of Jesus we are called to notice how we become one through the spirit, the water and the blood. We witness to a life which is not our own. It calls us to become creative not only to how we respond to the challenges of our time but how we allow the waters of baptism to well up inside us.
Fr. John Armstrong