This coming Sunday is Baptism of the Lord Sunday. This has always been the focus of the first Sunday after Epiphany Day, January 6. This whole season continues week after week with miraculous revelations of God’s mighty power. At Jesus’ baptism God’s voice spoke and the Holy Spirit like a dove landed on Jesus and claimed him as God’s – a beloved Son with whom the Father was well pleased. Baptism does that for each of us, too. In baptism we are affirmed and claimed by God, set apart for holy endeavors and divine companionship.
The problem is that often I don’t feel that special. I’ve been rebuffed, picked last, and criticized. Anyone who has played a pick-up game of basketball, sandlot baseball, or backyard football knows how the experience can be downright exhilarating or humiliating. It depends on your team, and when you were chosen. No one likes being chosen last. Sometimes your estimated worth in the eyes of your peers isn’t what you had hoped. If you’re not first, you’re the first of those chosen last. If you’re not top dog and first in line the view changes appreciably, and not for the better.
Check out God’s way of picking people. Does He go for the fleet-footed? The Scriptures describe a God who picks his team without regard for what seems to make for usual success. Abram and Sarai were awfully old to be making a cross-country trip and bearing babies. Jacob was a deceiver. Joseph was an egotistical dreamer. Moses had a speech problem. David was too young when he was first picked by God, and when he grew up he went down hill with his penchant for window-shopping; i.e., Bathsheba. Solomon’s untidy way of making alliances certainly raised a mighty harem, but also destroyed his family.
The list of neurotics could go on and on. God chooses the unlikeliest cast for his tasks. In the New Testament one doesn’t have to look far before bumping into the likes of impetuous Simon Peter, money-grubbing Judas, and Paul with whatever his “thorn in the flesh” was. Of course, everyone is neurotic in some way. We all have quirky little habits that help us avoid realities that we don’t like. Nevertheless, God says that each of us is of sacred worth, and chooses us for His team. The only person ever chosen by God who was perfect was Jesus, but the greatest epiphany for me during this holy season is that he picks the rest of us, too.
God picks us before we ever choose Him. Every human being has enough vestige of God’s image, a spark of resonance with God’s perpetual love affair with humankind that allows us to respond to His grace. We differ from those who might declare that Jesus’ atonement is limited in its scope – the elect and the damned. We are universalists with regard to God’s grace. We believe God chooses everyone. There isn’t anyone from whom God wishes to withhold His grace. However, we don’t believe in a universalism to which most people commonly refer.
We believe we must respond to God’s universal election for it to work. If we don’t choose to receive God’s grace then this isn’t the love affair that it’s meant to be. People of the West really can’t fathom arranged marriages anyway. We think marriage is best when two people choose each other. So it is with God! He wants us to choose Him as much as He has chosen us. God initiates the relationship, and it’s up to us to consummate it.
Perhaps you have a gift for someone that’s leftover from Christmas. Maybe you thought that you would see them at a family gathering or the like. No matter the reason, the connection wasn’t made and you’ve taken down your tree, the holiday goodies have been consumed, and all you have left to remind you of the season is that present all wrapped up but not yet delivered. What do you do?
Someone has to make the effort to deliver the gift, and the gift-giver is the one who has to do it. However, the recipient still has to actually receive the gift. A gift isn’t really given until it’s received. It’s the same with God’s gift of grace to us. The gift is wrapped in the incarnation of Jesus, and the gift has been delivered to the doorstep of our hearts. We must open the door and receive it, “Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God…” (John 1:12), and “Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in…” (Revelation 3:20). The gift of grace is yours through Christ! Hear God’s voice say to you, “You are my beloved, whom I have chosen,” and respond!