I can’t remember the last time I saw fireworks. But I love me a good pyrotechnic display. First there’s the build-up. When the time approaches you find a good seat and get in the right frame of mind. You relax, surrounded by friends, drink in hand, and turn your gaze toward the horizon, granted it’s more than just a backyard event put on by a bunch of teenagers, but rather a professional exhibition of excellence and artistry, of sight and sound that invites the mind and heart to soar high above life’s troubles if only for a moment and float slowly back to earth knowing we are capable of dispelling the darkness at will with sweeping majestic music and blazing sparks of glorious color. It is a fleeting experience that employs creative minds and extravagant resources, but we will remember it with greater fondness than we would perhaps plain boring candles standing faithful watch in the sanctuary. No offense to plain boring candles.
But every so often, despite the rare convergence of great artistic talent and the promise of an awesome audio-visual experience, something unexpected happens. Or rather, nothing happens. The music skips or cuts out momentarily or the explosive mix fails to ignite. It could be a glitch in the technology or actual human error, which really only the experts and their financial investors might actually revisit, but which the rest of us will likely just ignore because we can move on without much trouble to the next exciting something else. We won’t be offended by a dud, as long as the dud was not the headliner, and we weren’t responsible for the glitch, and the fireworks cost us nothing.
Still a glorious pyrotechnic spectacle is a feast for the senses. And for a fleeting moment we escape the limits and failures and burdens of our nature. So, when we must take leave of such examples of excellence in our midst, we can better appreciate having witnessed such awesome displays of talent and beauty and compassion. Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Betty White, Sidney Poitier, just to name a few. Usually, we only hear about people who make the news. But surely, we know others who have impressed us and have changed us even more profoundly. By popularly determined celebrity standards these might have gone unnoticed. But to us they shone with a fierce and bright light amid the surrounding darkness. They proclaimed loud and unwavering a message of hope and courage. They have become for us a beacon to light the uneven path ahead and remind us that we too are created for excellence and destined for glory if only we don’t end up being duds. Well, are we going to be duds?
Today’s feast of the Baptism of Jesus in the Jordan marks the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry. He then spends the next 30 days and 30 nights in the desert following his baptism to be tempted by the devil. And upon his return, he calls his first followers to join him in proclaiming the good news of God’s mercy and doing wonderful signs. The future is promising. He is aware of what he came to accomplish. More immediately for us, today’s feast marks the end of the Christmas season in our liturgical calendar and the beginning of Ordinary Time. The novelty of a new year often fades quickly. But it’s only week 2 of 52. We can still be awesome. Unless you think you’re already a dud.
On the day of our baptism our parents and family accompany us to mark in solemn fashion the promise of a fulfilling journey of our Christian discipleship. At least when we celebrate the sacrament of baptism here at St. John, I will take the occasion to remind everyone present that although the child to be baptized is the immediate recipient of God’s Spirit, the whole Christian community is in fact endowed with the Holy Spirit so that the light of Christ given to us at our own baptism many years ago may be ignited once again. You may also have noticed that we use much bigger baptism candles that I encourage parents and godparents to decorate with the child’s name and the date of their baptism. This allows us to remember and celebrate each year the day when God claimed us as his own. “You are my beloved Son. You are my beloved daughter. With you I am well pleased.” Few of us do actually remember the day of our baptism. Even fewer mark it with anything resembling joy and gratitude.
If nothing comes of your being in church this weekend beyond resolving to mark this year with joy and gratitude the anniversary of your own baptism, I will count it a win. Maybe as you take time to ponder the journey of your Christian discipleship on that day, you will remember the words of the prophet Isaiah spoken to herald the coming of Jesus and hear it spoken of you. “Here is my servant whom I uphold, my chosen one with whom I am pleased, upon whom I have put my spirit. 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.” God has such awesome hopes for how our lives and our Christian witness could unfold. For as long as we live, we have time, and God is always willing to give us the gift of his Spirit. I’m confident God never designed us for anything but excellence. So, I beg you. Don’t be a dud.
Rolo B Castillo © 2022