Today was a big day.
This morning at Frazer UMC, I witnessed the baptism of three children. Following the service, I was approved by our Charge Conference to go before the District Committee on Ordained Ministry (dCOM) as a candidate for ministry. This was a time for me to reflect upon my own baptismal calling — something I am unable to do without recalling these words from Rowan Williams:
To be baptized is to recover the humanity that God first intended. What did God intend? He intended that human beings should grow into such love for him and such confidence in him that they could rightly be called God’s sons and daughters. […] But that in itself means that Jesus, as he restores humanity ‘from within,’ has come down into the chaos of our human world. Jesus has to come down fully to our level, to where things are shapeless and meaningless, in a state of vulnerability and unprotectedness, if real humanity is to come to birth.
This suggests that the new humanity that is created around Jesus is not a humanity that is always going to be successful and in control of things, but a humanity that can reach out its hand from the depths of chaos, to be touched by the hand of God. And that means that if we ask the question, ‘Where might you expect to find the baptized?’ one answer is, ‘In the neighborhood of chaos’. It means you might expect to find Christian people near those places where humanity is most at risk, where humanity is most disordered, disfigured and needy. Christians will be found in the neighborhood of human confusion and suffering, defenselessly alongside those in need. If being baptized is being led to where Jesus is, then being baptized is being led towards the chaos and neediness of a humanity that has forgotten its own destiny.
I am inclined to add that you might also expect the baptized Christian to be somewhere near, somewhere in touch with, the chaos in his or her own life, because we — all of us — live not just with a chaos outside ourselves but with quite a lot of inhumanity and muddle inside us. A baptized Christian ought to be somebody who is not afraid of looking with honesty at the chaos inside, as well as being where humanity is at risk outside.
So baptism means being with Jesus ‘in the depths’: the depths of human need, including the depths of our own selves in their need — but also in the depths of God’s love; in the depths where the Spirit is re-creating and refreshing human life as God meant it to be.
This Christmas, as we contemplate and celebrate the mystery of the incarnation, let us also be mindful that our baptism is not a status that sets us apart as separate and superior but is a calling that compels us to join Jesus in the depths of a needy, contaminated and messy world. Like Jesus, this calling will not leave us “untouched” or “unsullied.” Rather it is a calling that leads to death and then to resurrection.