During the season of Epiphany we focus on incidents which show the world who Jesus was. On the first Sunday we remember the visit of the Magi who saw God incarnate in the child Jesus. This Sunday we remembered Jesus’ baptism when those around heard God declare that Jesus was his Son. The readings were Psalm 29, Isaiah 43:1-7 and Luke 15-17, 21, 22. My reflection is given below:
In this world of Second Life, many people try very hard to portray themselves as they would like to be seen. Unlike in RL, that is possible. If you want to be a tiny mouse or a scary monster, a dainty little girl or a furry cat, perpetually young or improbably thin, here it can be done. You can buy who you want to be in an instant. You can modify your avatar until the look is what you are seeking for. If your mood changes, you can change your avatar to suit.
When you first create an account in SL you can choose your name. Once again, most people choose something that sends out some message about them. A few choose their own name now that it’s possible to do so, but I suspect they are very much in the minority. It is the norm not to reveal your real name. The Terms of Service for SL have dire warnings that we are not to reveal anything we find out about someone to other people on penalty of death, or the SL equivalent, namely suspension or deletion of our account. This is a world of make believe and nothing is to disturb that without our permission.
I remember it took a lot of discussion by the Leadership Team to gain agreement that Leadership Team members and Worship Leaders should give their RL names on the blog. It’s a price we pay as a result of being in leadership positions and I know it is very costly for some who would really like to keep their SL lives completely separate from their real lives. For me the transparency on behalf of leaders here is essential and answers the call for Christians to be counter-cultural. I know others think completely the opposite and I respect their opinion.
Despite all the effort which goes into keeping our real selves hidden from others here in SL, we cannot fully hide who we are. You may have had the same experience as I have, of meeting someone’s alt and knowing in some way who is behind the avatar, even though the name and the type of avatar might be very different from the one you are familiar with. Something of the essence of the person shows through, often in a way that is hard to pinpoint. It’s often just a gut feeling.
I would contrast these attempts at hiding with the way we are made. We are designed to be known, to be in relationship – as God said to Adam: ‘It is not good for man to be alone’. If we are not in a relationship – and I don’t necessarily mean romance – we are impoverished as people. We crave some form of connection, whether we admit it or not. Having someone else who wants to know about us, who cares what we think, how we feel, what our hopes and dreams are, makes our life count for something. It is definitely not good for man or woman to be alone in this world.
We may have connections in RL with those around us with whom we work or relax or share a home. We may have many international connections via SL or Skype or Facebook. Even more important is our connection with God. That relationship has existed from before the time we were forming in our mother’s womb. It is God who formed us and who called us by name, even before our parents knew of our existence, before they had consulted the baby name lists to decide what to call us. God continues to know us completely now we are born and living our lives.
Of course, there is a tension between wanting to be known in a relationship and wanting to be hidden and private. In SL we portray ourselves how we want to be seen with a name we are happy to own. In RL we show the parts of ourselves that we are happy for others to get to know, and we try to hide the more messy bits of our lives. If we are addicted, or depressed, or indulging in inappropriate behaviour, or harbouring anger and resentment, we usually try to keep others from seeing this. If we thought that everything about us was going to be displayed for all to see on a big screen, that would probably be one of our worst nightmares.
We may be able to hide things from our friends and family but not from God. As the psalmist tells us, God is incredibly powerful. Nothing is beyond his ability. He is mighty and glorious; his voice is like thunder; it flashes like lightning; it can shake the world. This same God promises us, his people, the blessing of peace.
We can be at peace because the mighty God tells us not to fear. He is not using his knowledge of us to condemn us. Though he is our Lord, one who has the power of life and death over us as a master might have over his slaves, he also calls himself our redeemer and saviour. He knows what we are like, our hidden thoughts, our disobedience, our weaknesses and he chooses to save us from ourselves. He does this through the ministry of Jesus.
In this season of Epiphany we recall incidents when Jesus’ true nature was revealed to the world. Last week it was the visit of the Magi, Jesus being revealed as God incarnate to those from the Gentile world. This week Jesus is revealed to his people as God’s Son at his baptism. Jesus had lived in obscurity for around 30 years; his baptism marks the beginning of his public ministry that would end with his death three years later. I suspect that as Jesus prayed after coming out of the water, he knew that his ministry would be cross-shaped. God the Father knew what would be needed for Jesus to complete the mission he had been given. Hence the descent of the Holy Spirit to empower him for all he would face. Here, at Jesus’ baptism, the Trinity is on display: God the Father’s voice, God the Holy Spirit descending like a dove; God the Son arising out of the waters of the Jordan after his baptism. Jesus had connection, relationship, at that point and throughout his ministry., an intimacy we witness at times in the gospels.
John made plain just how powerful Jesus would be. He paints quite a frightening picture of Jesus as judge, separating what is valuable (the wheat) from what is rubbish (the chaff). He also talks of Jesus baptising with more than just water – with fire and the Holy Spirit. Even being baptised in water is quite a sobering thought as we are baptised into Jesus’ death, dying to ourselves in order to follow him.
I’d like to return to what God says through Isaiah to Israel and Judah and to us, I believe. He says not to fear and gives us reasons for this. When we pass through water or rivers, God promises to be with us and assures us we won’t be overwhelmed or drowned. Surely it is God the Holy Spirit who accompanies us as she did for Jesus. Passing through the water of baptism, following Jesus on the road of self-sacrifice and danger could overwhelm us, but the Spirit is with us, empowering us. We are not alone. We need not fear.
Jesus looks to transform our lives until they conform to his pattern. That means the worthless things in our lives, the chaff, will be burned up leaving only the good, the wheat. When parts of ourselves are being burnt away, that is a good reason to be scared but God says that the flame will not consume us. The essence of who we are will remain, cleansed and free from the rubbish that so easily clings to us. We need not fear.
When God commissioned Jesus for his ministry at his baptism, he said: ‘You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.’ God the Father affirms the relationship that Jesus has with him: Jesus is his Son, he is loved by God, and God is well pleased with him.
It makes sense that God would feel that way about Jesus. Jesus had been with the Father from the beginning. We know he lived the perfect human life. However, we know that we live imperfect lives, much of the detail of which we might like to keep hidden. God knows us through and through – nothing can be hidden from him. Yet, in words given to Isaiah, he says something to us which should allay our fears. It’s very similar to what he said to Jesus:
You are precious in my sight,
and honoured, and I love you.
Helene Milena – Lay Pastor