January 10, 2020

“Pointing” and “Being Loud.” A Homily for the Baptism of the Lord

Isaiah 42: 1-4, 6-7 / Psalm 29 / Acts 10: 34-38 / Luke 3: 15-16, 21-22

Today we celebrate “pointing” and “being loud.” 

Those of us who are extroverts, well, we sometimes feel persecuted for being so. We often are the ones that make others uncomfortable. Sometimes we come off to people as being too flashy, too loud, too boisterous; we often are experienced (rightly so in many cases) as not being good listeners – and are asked to please keep our voices down, and not interrupt and be the center of attention as many of us – not always consciously – tend to be when we are in a group. As being an extrovert myself – as one who can often exhaust others who are in my company – please know, that we do not intend to dominate or overwhelm you when you who are introverts, are in our midst – it is just that we tend to get really excited, and our adrenaline and high spirits tend to get out of control. So on behalf of extroverts everywhere – I am sorry that we tend to drive you introverts crazy. 

Now saying that – and this may sound arrogant and self-serving – we really need extroverts. And John the Baptist, from all that I can tell, was most certainly an extrovert. For us extroverts – he is our patron saint. He really knew how to “put on a show,” if you know what I mean. He obviously had great charisma, and it would be easy to imagine what it was like at the Jordan river, witnessing him going on and on, and preaching with the passion that we see and hear in this story, and throughout his life. People were amazed at this preacher, wondering who he was – many wondering if he was the messiah that they were waiting for. 

His followers began to project their hopes and dreams onto him, as the gospel today begins, “the people were filled with expectation.” He was most certainly, an extraordinary person, and perhaps, they thought, he was THE extraordinary one; as they were looking for a “star,” someone who could free them from their anxieties. And as people often do with charismatic extroverts, they looked to him with hopeful eyes and hearts. 

Now this is the part about being an extrovert that can get us into trouble. Public people, people who are in front of people a lot of the time and not shy, often have greatness thrust upon them. And too often, such extroverts and highly charismatic “stars” can become caught in the attention, and unwittingly, let their “persona” become the message in of itself. 

John the Baptist – or maybe better named – John the Preacher, had the uncanny ability, in the midst of all of the attention given to him, to hang on to the deeper gift, being able to resist the temptation to become drunk and dizzy from the praise of the people who encountered him. He knew not to be seduced by the glory that the people offered, and was able to respond differently. 

His response? He chose to point. 

Point? Point where? Beyond himself – to Jesus. This must have taken his audience by great surprise. John pointed beyond his accomplishments and efforts and “worked the people up” in their enthusiasm to embrace something and someone greater, and more sustaining then himself: he pointed to Jesus, the Christ. 

Coming out of the waters of the Jordan was not an end itself for those being baptized, and it should not be for us either – it was and is an invitation, or to be more blunt, a command to join John in pointing beyond ourselves; to point beyond toward what was to come in the name of God; to point out all things in our lives that are not godly at all – to point, and call us out of the many choices we make that are not of God. Pointing – to the grace and mission that Jesus the Christ is calling us to – to become the Body of Christ; the hands, feet, heart, and mind of the Messiah. Pointing us all to the baptism of the Spirit and pointing us all toward embracing a servant’s heart. 

Pointing. That is our call – that in all things that we do, to remind and announce to all that it is not about us. It is about the Christ, the anointed one in our midst, who truly turns our lives upside down toward lives transformed, to call the world to a true repentance (a turning from something toward something else) to proclaim the kingdom of God as not just some hopeful dream, but concrete, real and present among us. It means to humble ourselves, and truly say: “I must decrease, and Christ must increase.”

But taking on this kind of humility does NOT mean that we should confuse it with timidity. Although John was humble to know who he was and who he was not, he did not shrink from being full-throated in his calling people away from a life devoid of God. He was loud in everything he did. And his loudness certainly got him into trouble, especially with Herod. And we know that his loudness eventually led to his execution. 

It may seem contradictory, but our call to follow in the footsteps of John’s witness as a disciple, means to be “louder” in our approach. Not necessarily loud in “volume” and with screeching decibel levels. But loud, in terms of “living loud.” Pointing to Jesus Christ is interesting and lively stuff indeed – and we cannot be timid about it. 

Again – the call is not to extroverted in the ways we usually think about being extroverted – but to live loudly by “being” Christ to our sisters and brothers, without reserve, with great generosity. Loud living in Christ means speaking out and taking action when we see and witness injustice. Loud living in Christ means responding boldly when our sisters and brothers are in need of shelter, of food, of having their dignity restored. Loud living in Christ means we do not mince our words (and our lives) when we build God’s reign by choosing non-compliance with systems that oppress the poor and discriminate against those whose skin looks a different color than ours; when systems knock down and humiliate those with different patterns of loving than our own; when violence continues to be the course of action that people take when fear has them by the throat. 

Living loudly. The verses of our responsorial psalm today (Psalm 29), provide a landscape of what such loud living looks like: 

“Give to the Lord glory and praise,
Give to the Lord the glory due his name;
adore the Lord in holy attire.

The voice of the Lord is over the waters,
the Lord, over vast waters,
The voice of the Lord is mighty;
the voice of the Lord is majestic.

The God of glory thunders,
and in his temple all say, ‘Glory!’
The Lord is enthroned above the flood;
the Lord is enthroned as king forever.”

I mean, this is loud living! 

This is the mantle of our baptism. Our voices, our songs, our lives – need to be “mighty” and “majestic.” Our actions and behavior, anointed by God alongside the Christ, need to become “thunder” and resound, with yes, both our humility and our boldness. Introverts – you too! It will probably be much quieter in volume, but loud just the same – for being the voice of Christ is much more than making sounds, and much more than singing our songs. We have to become the song. You can help teach those of us who are extroverts, on how to do that better. 

Our voice is our very lives – lives that are loud with compassion; loud with mercy; loud with justice making; loud with, as the refrain of the psalm calls us to, blessing all “people with peace.” 

Alone, our pointing may seem meek and weak; and our lone voice cannot penetrate the noise of darkness. But we are not alone. We are the people of God. Introverts and extroverts – all of us, together, become the font of living water from where our sisters and brothers can and hopefully, will, drink and be born again, not just once – but born “again and again and again.” Our baptism is not something that happens to us as individuals – it transforms us into a “people,” a chosen race, a royal priesthood – a community of voices that are unceasing in their “pointing,” making loud statements of faith to a world desperate to listen and hear. 

Isaiah agrees. Listen to his words today:

“I, the Lord,
have called you for the victory of justice,
I have grasped you by the hand;
I formed you,
and set you as a covenant of the people,
a light for the nations, 
to open the eyes of the blind,
to bring out prisoners from confinement,
and from the dungeon, 
those who live in darkness.”

Sure sounds like “loud living” to me. This is not timid stuff. This is a calling to live a life that is passionate. Such passion will look different for each of us (introverts and extroverts) – but it must be passionate, all the same. 

Finally, notice the last couple of sentences from our gospel reading today. If you notice, it is not just about Jesus. It is about all of us: 

“After ALL (emphasis mine) the people had been baptized
and Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, 
heaven was opened and the Holy Spirit descended upon him
in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven,
“You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.”

God was most certainly well pleased with Jesus. But God is also well pleased with us – We are ALL the “beloved.”

What is said of Jesus is said of all of us.
And what was asked of Jesus,
is also asked of all of us.

So let’s get loud. 
Let’s keep pointing to Christ.
And while we are at it,
let us remember to “point out” to one another,
that we are all,
like Jesus,
the beloved of God.

Loud enough? 

Copyright © 2020 David Haas / The Emmaus Center for Music, Prayer and Ministry.  All rights reserved.

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