This is a day of movement. Flow. Good news erupting in a dream. A shift. The shift from unborn to born. From anticipation to alleluia. From fetal kicks to contractions, warm birth waters, and that first gasp of life. We think we know the birth Story—that narrative wrapped in swaddling clothes. In our homes, in our yards, here… in our sanctuary… we place replicas of the images etched in our minds. A stable. Worried parents. Smells. Noises. Moos. Baas. Street noises. That far away small town, Bethlehem, come to life with people who were forced to respond to the decree proclaimed by Emperor Augustus that “all the world should be registered” in their home town. (Luke 2:1-3). A mass movement of people hither and yon. Those that had money rented rooms, and the rooms rapidly filled. Others went without. It was this time of movement, oppression and fear, ordered by the Empire, into which God put on flesh and was born. This, in our understanding, is the birth of God-With-Us through which we will walk together over the upcoming weeks towards Holy Week, the journey to the cross, death, and resurrection of Jesus. Process Theologian Marjorie Suchocki writes that through the cycles of birth, death and rebirth, “…the reign of God is that which always calls us to dare a new future.”
So the question I ask us to consider today is: Where might the birth of God in our midst be leading us into a new and daring future?
This day is a shift, immersed in water. Something new coming forth in the rupture of birth waters, pain, love, and joy. Something new proclaimed in our celebration of a baptism in worship today. For the sacrament of baptism has at least two sacred parts: Welcome and transformation. Baptism welcomes the child, or the adult, who is being baptized into the faith community. It is also a reminder to all that God promises to be, and is, present. It is a retelling of the story of Jesus’ baptism and the other acts of baptism recorded in scripture. Baptism is the Word and Living Water in our own now, both for the individual being baptized, and the gathered witnesses who each recall their own baptism. And so we welcomed Kaysin into our midst. As followers of Jesus we have entered into a covenant to support Kaysin in his life’s journey. We have covenanted with Jamie and David to be with them, growing with them in faith in the years ahead.
But liturgical theologian Ted Jennings cautions against seeing baptism as a one-dimensional sacrament of welcome into the faith community. He points to baptism serving “…to make clear the unity of all who are participants in the messianic reality, (serving) as a dramatic point of identification with the change from death to life that results in a radically altered form of life.” Water gives birth, but can also cause life shattering transformations. Tom Driver, who was a Paul Tillich Professor of Theology and Culture at Union Theological Seminary, expands on this idea stating that, “…both Baptism and (communion) include reminders of death and dying: To be baptized is to surrender one’s life to flooding waters… Christian sacraments celebrate something that is humanly absurd, something literally unbelievable and beyond all worldly expectation. The sacraments are about deliverance from oppression, including the grip of death.” Baptism is reliving our covenant with God and with one another—and reaffirming that we are called to be transformed; to live in a radically different way, in and out of church, as followers of Jesus.
The cycles of birth, death and rebirth draw us into a new and daring future this day. A radically different way of living into the world around us. What if “IT,” the incarnation, the birth of Jesus, is much more than what we have assumed it to be? What if our FAITH is much more that we have lived into? What if our baptisms flow through our lives with urgency?
I offer you this reflection from Richard Rohr. He describes “the incarnation (or the birth of God) not as something that happened ‘in Bethlehem two thousand years ago.” Instead, he insists that the Christ event we anticipate today “…is just when some of us started taking it seriously. The incarnation actually happened approximately 14.5 billion years ago with a moment we now call ‘The Big Bang.’ That is when God actually decided to materialize and to expose who God is… Two thousand years ago marked the human incarnation of God in Jesus, we Christians believe, but before that there was the first and original incarnation through light, water, land, sun, moon, stars, plants, trees, fruit, birds, serpents, cattle, fish, and ‘every kind of wild beast’ according to our Judeo-Christian creation story (Genesis 1:3-25). This was the ‘Cosmic Christ’ through which God has ‘let us know the mystery of (God’s) purpose, the hidden plan (God) so kindly made from the beginning in Christ’ (Ephesians 1:9).”
God’ unexpected shift, exposing who God is. God is present, and God is presence.
Once again, we have cycled through the four weeks of Advent. The beginning of the new year in the life of the Church. Once again, we have gone through the waiting period, anticipating the birth of God-With-Us. Wherein lies the paradox. The tension. God already IS. God is, and has been, eternally present. God. Is. Present. God is presence. In the Hebrew Bible reading today, God pushes back on David’s idea of building a single, static place for God to live:
“You’re going to build a ‘house’ for me to live in? Why, I haven’t lived in a ‘house’ from the time I brought the children of Israel up from Egypt till now. All that time I’ve moved about with nothing but a tent. And in all my travels with Israel, did I ever say to any of the leaders I commanded to shepherd Israel, ‘Why haven’t you built me a house of cedar?’” (2 Sam. 7:5-7, The Message, emphasis added).
The Hebrew word for “house” used in 2 Samuel is “bayith,” which can also be translated as “family,” or “descendants,” or “belonging of one household.”
God in response says, “(I) will build you a house! When your life is complete and you’re buried with your ancestors, then I’ll raise up your child, your own flesh and blood, to succeed you, and I’ll firmly establish his rule. He will build a house to honor me, and I will guarantee his kingdom’s rule permanently…” (2 Sam. 7:11b-12, The Message)
Suchocki writes that, “…God (gives) us birth in every moment through the touch of the divine will for us… There is in this intense faithfulness to God, for the import is that God continually provides presence… faith has long proclaimed: the nature of God is expressed through presence… God’s presence is faithfulness… God’s presence is guiding… God’s presence to us is… also God’s love… the aim of God will push us toward relations… nudge us back to the world, pushing us toward renewed attention to the content of that touching, guiding, creating aim for our good… the God that cares for us cares for others…”
This is the ever present “I AM.” The God-With-Us. The presence of love. Our one cosmic household on earth. Our dwelling with the Divine eternally. Our intimate connection with the cycles of birth, death, and rebirth. Expected shifts become unexpected. Holy presence.
Reborn this day, the birth of God, Yahweh, I Am, splashes forth in warm waters, leading us into a new and daring future. Clothed in flesh. Wrapped in swaddling. This is a day of movement. Good news erupting in a dream. A shift. The shift from unborn to born. From anticipation to alleluia, as we surrender our lives’ to the flooding waters of baptism. God nudging us back to the world. Welcomed. Transformed.
 Marjorie Hewitt Suchocki, Divinity & Diversity: A Christian Affirmation of Religious Pluralism (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 2003), 81.
 Theodore W. Jennings, Transforming Atonement: A Political Theology of the Cross (Minneapolis: Fortress, 2009), 194-95.
 Tom Faw Driver, Liberating Rites: Understanding the Transformative Power of Ritual (Charleston, SC: BookSurge, 2006), 202.
 Paintner, Christine Valters. The wisdom of the body: a contemplative journey to wholeness for women. Notre Dame: Sorin Books, 2017. 133-134.
 Strong’s Hebrew: 1004. בָּ֫יִת (bayith) — a house. Accessed December 21, 2017. http://biblehub.com/hebrew/1004.htm.
 Suchocki, Marjorie. God, Christ, Church: a practical guide to process theology. New York: Crossroad Publishing Company, 1995. 66-68.