And when Jesus had been baptized, just as he came up from the water, suddenly the heavens were opened to him and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, ‘This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.’ Mt 3:16-17
Before Nora’s bath-time last night, I read a Christmas pop-up book, one of dozens in her extensive pop-up library. If you’ve read any pop-up books with an infant, you’ll notice the most amazing thing. No matter how many times we read, Nora is always delighted to pull back the stable door and see baby Jesus; always as if it was the first time. Actually, thanks to Nora, you don’t even have to read a book with her at home to experience this phenomenon, she brings it to church every week. Some of you know that nearly every time the altar curtain is closed and then opened, Nora yells ‘Daddy!’ (and though I hate to admit, sometimes she yells ‘Bobby!’)
You may find Nora’s ongoing game of church peek-a-boo cute or you may find it distracting; Yn. Anna often finds it embarrassing. But on today’s Feast of the Nativity and Theophany of our Lord, I propose that this children’s game is theologically revealing, and reaffirms the words of our scriptures that “Out of the mouth of babes and children is offered perfect praise.” (Mt. 21:16)
Psychologists tell us that Peek-a-boo is not just a cute game, it reveals a key aspect of healthy development and connection with the world around us. You see when we are small infants, if we can’t see something, we believe it has ceased to exist. But right around the age of one and a half to two years old, we start developing something called object permanence. This is the ability to hold the presence of someone or something in your mind and heart and figure out where it may have gone when no longer in sight. That’s what makes pop-up books and peek-a-boo so much fun and important at this age. When Baby Jesus is hidden and revealed in the pop-up book, or I am hidden and revealed behind the curtain, Nora is delighted, because now when something goes away, she can eagerly anticipate its return. Moreover, kids like Nora live totally in the moment. Unlike us adults, they have few past disappointments to guard against and few future ambitions to be greater. They just delight endlessly in the presence of those loved ones right in front of them.
When each of us was a small child, we knew how to delight in the presence of God and one another in the present moment. But we lost this paradise of delight in God’s presence, getting caught in our own traps of what should have been and what we might yet be. Today’s feast of the Baptism of Our Lord is a reminder in words and in deed, a revelation of the face of God from behind His veil, of the greatest joy we were created for; to delight in God, our neighbors and ourselves, as God does delight in us.
And when Jesus had been baptized, just as he came up from the water, suddenly the heavens were opened to him and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, ‘This is my Son, the Beloved, in whom I delight.’ Mt 3:16-17
The story of Jesus’ birth and baptism is the story of our birth and baptism. We are born once into this world and then born again when it comes to us who and what we were born for. As for Jesus, it should not matter much what happened to us in the past, or the life we aspire to make in the future. Jesus did not dwell on his past. We know nothing of how he was raised and what he achieved before begin baptized at age thirty. Jesus wasn’t ambitious for the future, and was keenly aware that his would be short. Immediately after his baptism, he renounced the temptations of an accomplished life in the eyes of the world. Free from his ego’s need to look backward or forward, Jesus lived as a child in the sacred now, trusting that his Father was present, even in his darkest moments, and delighting over and again in seeing Him revealed in his life and the lives of all those he touched.
And today our Heavenly Father peeks out from behind his veil and reveals himself to us. ‘This is my beloved son or daughter in whom I delight.’ The moment we take to heart this calling, this boundless love of our Heavenly Father, this is always a moment of revelation, of Theophany, of baptism and rebirth. Let us not be as tiny infants who doubt the existence of what they can’t see. Let us not be as jaded adults who are stuck in the past or anxious about the future. Let us instead learn to live our lives in the sacred now, like a child. Let us learn to live like the Son of man, who accepted each moment, bitter or sweet-as a gift from God…and whether hidden from view or clearly revealed, delighted endlessly in the gaze of his Heavenly Father, now and always, amen.