This coming Saturday night, we will celebrate the in-breaking light of the Epiphany Season with the premiering of a special candlelight service at 6:00 p.m. entitled, [LINK] "Festival of Light." This is a marvelous opportunity for our entire Sioux Falls community to trace, and more deeply understand, the connectedness of the Advent, Christmas, and Epiphany stories – including dramatic sketches, Scripture readings, together with the music of colorful brass, percussion, flute, organ and festival choirs of all ages. The service will conclude with the [LINK] visit of the Magi. Then, on Sunday morning, at all three worship services (8:00, 9:30, 11:00), we will celebrate Holy Communion together around God’s Word from Mark 1:4-11. It’s a Word that speaks not only of Jesus’ baptism, but connects you with the promises God has made for you at your baptism – as his beloved child. “You are my beloved daughter/son; with you I am well pleased” (Mark 1:11; RSV)
Now let me ask you to stop for a moment and reflect. How often, if ever, do you think about baptism in general, or your own baptism, in particular? And what, if anything, does baptism mean to you? Do you consider baptism an important event in your life or no? Finally, would you agree that baptism is the most important event in our lives? Here’s why I ask …
I’m certainly no “techie” (just ask my colleagues!) … However, I am struck big-time, in today’s culture, by the many data related expressions of affirmation. Facebook gives us the chance to “like” movies or music or posts and to have things we write or post “liked” by our “friends” in return. Twitter and Instagram for example, invite us to collect thousands of “friends” or “followers,” most of whom we’ve never even met! Right? And ads are increasingly personalized, targeting (“geo-tagging”) our particular tastes and creating the impression that we’re the most important customer in the world. And so on.
One of the reasons I think social media and various digital platforms are so powerful is precisely because they creatively offer affirmation (here’s that word again) in plentiful doses. Deep down of course, we know that this kind of affirmation doesn’t really mean all that much. Or at least shouldn’t. And many of the folks we encounter via the web, after all, don’t really know us and we don’t know them. So how can their “likes” or “hearts” create any enduring sense of value or worth? Yet, it’s hard not to wonder what’s wrong with the picture we posted to Instagram if only ten people “liked” it when another picture gathered-in hundreds. Right?
So, while this kind of affirmation may be somewhat superficial, it’s at least better than nothing. We crave that recognition/interaction because we are, at heart, inherently social critters. Almost every element of our being reflects God’s observation in Genesis that ‘it’s not good for us to be alone’ (Genesis 2:18). And so the affirmation, relentless as it is ubiquitous, social media creates the perception that we’re linked or connected to a community of all these like-minded, like-able people who really value or like us. If you, like, know what I mean.
But is this perception or illusion? In a book that was published in 2015 by Dr. Sherry Turkel, a Psychology prof. at MIT, entitled, Alone Together (TED Talk link), she’s discovered that people today report feeling simultaneously more connected and lonelier than ever before. Why? Because while we may crave affirmation (those superficial kudos of “likes”), what we really need is acceptance (valued just as you are, warts and all, by God). Come and hear more about this amazing gift, that no matter how unacceptable we are – being guilty as sin – we are still accepted and beloved by God, the very Creator of the whole Cosmos! This is what’s at the heart of baptism. And for a generation that’s been sold a cheap affirmation as a substitute for genuine acceptance, there’s no more powerful or important word.
May the light of Christ shine on you in this season of Epiphany,