Mark 1:4-11 (NRSV)
John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. And people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him, and were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. Now John was clothed with camel's hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. He proclaimed, 'The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals. I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.'
In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. And a voice came from heaven, 'You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.'
Baptisms, like birth, can sometimes be over-sentimentalized. But there is nothing sentimental about standing mid-stream in a cold, muddy river with a man dressed in camel hair and smelling of locust-breath. Or of being gripped by calloused hands and submerged, momentarily unable to breath, beneath the surface of the water. Of re-emerging, dripping wet, and watching, moments later, as the sky rips apart and something comes careening out of the heavens, right toward you.
Thank God for what happened next. Because out of that rip in the sky came the voice of God, saying, "I love you. You are my child: I love you." Music to any child's ears. How many times do you suppose Jesus called to mind that moment and those words in the weeks that followed?
It turns out: Beginnings soon give way to the actual living of life, life which is inevitably messier than we first imagine.
So on January 1st, we may have promised to spend our money more wisely, share our resources, spend our time differently, reach out to a friend long estranged, live a bit more graciously, forgive others -- and ourselves -- for past failings. Then we step out the door on January 2nd and we are every bit as frightened, impatient, harried or distracted as we were on December 31st. The bank account and our energy reserves both hover just above empty, and we look around at a world so hungry, so riven by violence, so complicated that we may be tempted to retreat back to our beds -- like that groundhog on February 2nd.
The thing is: God never promised simple lives, even for the faithful. That word, "torn apart," used to describe the heavens, shows up only one other time in the gospel of Mark: to describe the ripping of the curtain at the moment of his death by crucifixion.
From the first moments that Jesus claimed his call, there were signs that the road would be fraught with challenge. What sustained him, I suspect, is the same thing that can sustain us: those words spoken out of the breach, in the midst of the messiness, as Jesus stood, sopping wet, in the middle of the Jordan: "You are my child. I love you."
Loving God, we will wade in, as Jesus did, aware that everything will change, and little will be easy. Be with us, and give us the strength to do what You have called us to do.