Polar Bears, Harry Potter and the River Jordan: are you ready for the Plunge and transformation of Baptism?!

First Sunday after the Epiphany: Baptism of our Lord Jesus Christ Year C 2021

Father in heaven, who at the baptism of Jesus in the River Jordan proclaimed him your beloved Son and anointed him with the Holy Spirit: Grant that all who are baptized into his Name may keep the covenant they have made, and boldly confess him as Lord and Savior; who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, in glory everlasting. Amen.

Do you have unique ways to bring in the New Year?

The right food- black eyed peas, cornbread, greens?

Do you make an intentional way to reflect on the past year and look forward to this new year?

Did you read the article about the people who take a plunge in the Atlantic Ocean as an annual polar bear plunge- to plunge into the new year? I know there was also a group down St. Teresa, Dog Island way who did the same this year.

Polar Bear plunges are unique, exhilarating, and total immersion.

In high school, much to my parents and the school nurses’ chagrin we would do our polar plunge every Wednesday morning, once the outside temperature reached a certain level of briskness and we would continue weekly until the outside temperature rose above that same designated mark.

This did mean sometimes it was just cold and sometimes this meant you had to break ice in order to do our polar bear jump/plunge.

In the weekly polar plunge, you could jump off the T-deck (dock) or you could lower yourself in one step at a time off the ladder, or if you desired (and had the will power) you could walk into the water, and submerge yourself that way. We were encouraged to give a barbaric YAWP as we plunged into the water.

I do believe the sales of fluffy bathrobes increased along with the alertness of students on Wednesday morning classes. And also the noise at breakfast.

Regardless of how we did our plunge for the day, our day was transformed. The jarring disruption from the comfort of our warm bed to the crispness of the air and water heightened all of our senses for the day. The sharpness of the temperature of the water brought every sensation alive in our body, we were awake, alert and ready for the rest of the day. Transformed.

Today, we find ourselves jarred from the scene of sweet adoration, just over 2 weeks ago, of the celebration of Christmas with Baby Jesus in a manger, to this past Thursday when we celebrated the magi showing up with gifts for the child Jesus, to today- where Jesus is an adult being baptized by his cousin, John the Baptist.  We don’t know what happened in between- where were those awkward teenage years?

Today, Jesus, too, is being plunged into the water, submerged and transformed. The scripture does not say that Jesus gives a barbaric yawp when he emerged, instead we hear of a different sound.

Something quite unique happens in this baptism- a voice from the heavens saying for all to hear, “You are my son, my beloved, with whom I am well pleased.” Our gospel writer, Luke, tells the story in his own way. He clarifies John’s identity and Jesus’ in these 5 short verses and from here the Gospel continues to transform the rest of our understanding of who Jesus is. This opening of the heavens heightens everyone’s senses and awareness of the uniqueness of this Jesus, his identity (in case you didn’t hear about the angels, shepherds, magi and star)- a new thing is happening and in the midst of this ordinary Jordan river, transformation of understanding occurs and continues to be revealed.

God’s love for god’s creation continues to be unveiled and revealed and continues to become apparent to those around Jesus and us today.

In baptism, regardless of if we are plunged under and submerged under the water in our childhood or adulthood, or if we had water poured over our heads at a font in a sanctuary as a baby, our identity too is transformed.

We too are claimed as God’s child and reminded that we are beloved, loved by God and called to love because of God. The water is the outward and visible sign of the grace bestowed on us. The act of baptism is both a r-i-t-e and also a covenant between you and God. A promise of Love. Love bestowed and love to be shared with those we encounter because in the words of John, “you first loved us.”

You are beloved.

You are enough.

You have received a love that is more faithful than any human love that you have ever received and in fact any love you have received is a glimmer of the love that God has for each of you.

Over the holidays there are often opportunities to watch some of your favorite movies in their entirety, each part of the series. Harry Potter is one of those Christmas/New year’s series. One year, I remember every time I turned on the television there was Harry in some phase of his career at Hogwarts. (For those of you who read the books, I know, I know the movies are not as good- but they tried and they did get many of the major themes to carry through.) Two of the themes are first the power of sacrificial love and second, we always have the choice to act in love.

With Harry Potter, it is the sacrificial love of his mother that shields him from death. This love is given to him unrequested, and he is reminded of this love by the mark on his forehead, left as a reminder of her death and his survival. “The boy who lived.”

Each time Harry is faced with self-promotion or leaving someone behind so that he might win/succeed/be the best, Harry always chooses to assist the other person—often putting competition aside and instead promoting collaboration and togetherness. One of my favorite examples of this is when Harry plunges into the water in the third movie and completes his designated task and also completes the task of another who has dropped from the competition. Harry can’t leave the other behind knowing their fate and his abilities could change that fate.

Don’t get me wrong, Harry doesn’t always think altruistically as his first inclination, as he grows older it becomes more and more challenging for him to not give into anger, pain, and revenge. Yet, in each decision he makes, Harry inevitably shows the love that he received and realizes is the motivation that he should choose for each action is because of the love that he has known and continues to understand from that initial action of self-sacrificing love of his mother.

We, too, receive marks on our foreheads, while they are not scars in the shape of a thunderbolt like Harry’s, we too are marked by sacrificial love at baptism with a cross made with Chrism oil. We remember the love of God that has saved God’s people time and time again from captivity in Egypt, to Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan and life that we are given through the death and resurrection of Jesus, God’s son, God’s beloved. We too are plunged into the waters and brought up out, awoken to a new life, a new day, a daily opportunity to be transformed.

During these covid times we have not had a baptism within our Sunday morning liturgy, but we continue to reaffirm our baptismal covenant together, our promises to God and this community gathered to continue to see uncovering of God’s love in our lives, god’s love transforming our lives and while we too might still struggle with what shall I do—we always have this community to support us in discerning the acts of love that we too can commit to, building up community rather than promoting self, seeking to serve and live in this world.

In this new year, shall we together commit to refreshing our covenant, taking the plunge and immersing ourselves in (as father bill said last week) putting others first, loving with our whole heart. Remembering that we are sons and daughters of God, and beloved, treasured?!

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