Feast of the Baptism of the Lord-C
Harriet Beecher Stowe [1811-1896], the author of Uncle Tom’s Cabin, wrote about an experience she had that was greater than any praise an audience or critics could offer her. The assignment that was given in school was to write an essay, the best of which would be read at the school graduation.
The best essay was read and the audience applauded at the end. Then the name of the author was revealed, and it was Harriet. When she looked out into the audience and saw her father’s face, it was the greatest gift she could ever imagine: seeing the pride, the love and the approval of her dad.
We all deeply desire to be wanted, loved and approved. And on this Sunday when we bring the Christmas season to a close, we celebrate the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord.
Jesus is baptized by His cousin, John the Baptist, in the Jordan River. And “heaven was opened and the Holy Spirit descended upon Him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, ‘You are my beloved Son. With you I am well pleased.’” What a beautiful affirmation for Jesus to hear from His heavenly Father.
Our behavior tends to mirror how we feel about ourselves. One boy was born in Eastern Europe in 1892, and another boy was born in Illinois in 1895. Both of them were Catholics and were altar servers. And both of them dropped a cruet of altar wine right in the sanctuary which broke and splattered wine all over the place.
The boy in Eastern Europe was scolded by his priest: “You clumsy oaf! Get out of the sanctuary! You will never serve here again!”
The boy in Illinois heard this from his priest: “Don’t worry. Accidents happen. Someday you will be a great priest of God.”
The first boy eventually lost his faith and became a Communist and the dictator of Yugoslavia named Tito. The second boy did indeed become a priest and we knew him as Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen.
Now that is not to say that one accident with a wine cruet fundamentally shaped both of those boys. But it is to say that the messages we hear and internalize do have an effect on the ways that we live our lives.
The painter Pablo Picasso said that when he was young his mother used to tell him: “Pablo, if you join the army I know that you will end up being a general. And if you become a monk, I know that you will eventually become the pope.”
And Picasso added: “So I became an artist, and eventually became Picasso!” No self-image problems here! But he gave his mother’s vision for him a lot of credit for his success.
We all need people who believe in us, no matter what our age. We all need to feel wanted and loved and approved.
And those of us who have an influence on younger people know how important it is to make a distinction between someone’s misdeeds and their essential worth as a person.
There was a mother of three pre-school children who were very energetic. And someone asked her, after a very trying day, if she had it to do all over again, would she still have children?
Exasperated, she answered: “I certainly would. But not these.” Yes, it was work raising those youngsters!
Another mother asked her pediatrician when she should best put her children to bed. And the doctor answered: “While you still have the strength.” Yes it is work, but it is worth it.
And we make a distinction between a child’s misdeeds and the child’s worth as a person. There is a world of difference between saying, “You are a bad boy. You are a bad girl” – and, “What you have done is a bad thing to do.”
The conductor Arturo Toscanini wondered his whole life if his mother really loved him. At the end of a concert, audiences would clap and cheer and rise to their feet. But he always wondered if his success brought any joy to his mother’s heart.
Another woman with a painful upbringing wrote that when her mother died, she was quite relieved because “there was one less pair of eyes looking at her in judgment.”
We all need to feel wanted, loved and approved. We need to make a distinction between someone’s misdeeds and their worth as a person. When we look at the cross, we see Jesus doing this. He makes a distinction between our sins – which are real – and our worth. Even while still sinners, we are worth so much to God that He sent His beloved Son to die for us, so that we could live with God forever as His beloved sons and daughters.
A little girl was running around in the house and caused a vase to fall and break. That vase was a family heirloom. Her mother came into the room and the little girl expected her to be angry. But she never forgot what her mother said: “Oh, honey, are you alright? I heard the crash and I was afraid that you were hurt.” And she realized that in her mother’s eyes – in spite of the broken vase – she was really the family’s treasure.
We heard God the Father say about His Son, Jesus, at His baptism in the Jordan River: “You are my beloved Son. With you I am well pleased.” What a beautiful affirmation for Jesus to hear from His heavenly Father.
When we were baptized, God adopted each of us into His family. And God feels the same way about us too. “You are my beloved son. You are my beloved daughter. With you I am well pleased.”
What a beautiful affirmation for us to hear from our heavenly Father.
What a beautiful life-giving and life-changing affirmation for others to hear through us when they need to feel wanted and loved and approved.