Luke 3:15-17, 21-22 (NRSV)
The Baptism of Jesus
15 As the people were filled with expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Messiah, 16 John answered all of them by saying, “I baptise you with water; but one who is more powerful than I is coming; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandals. He will baptise you with the Holy Spirit and fire. 17 His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”
21 Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heaven was opened, 22 and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”
Sitting on top of the bookcase in our living room is a framed list of new year’s resolutions. There is something powerful about writing them down and putting them in a place that you’ll see them. By the time 2018 started to draw to a close, I did my best to not make eye contact with them.
That’s not to say I failed completely. I did start going to bed and getting up earlier (though the Christmas break has basically destroyed that discipline). I did read 30 books and am aiming to increase that number this year. I did – I hope – become a better mentor and carve out more time in my life for investing in people in my community.
I did not, however, lose 20 pounds or perform a 10 minute stand-up comedy routine. (I should definitely have tried the comedy thing because the thought of it makes me so nervous that I probably would have lost 20 pounds overnight.)
As we enter into 2019, I haven’t written new resolutions yet. I intend to. I will get there in time. But before I do, I need to pause and ask myself, ‘What is driving my desire to change?’
Whether it’s ambition, longing, passion or inspiration, we all have things that drive us. And these drivers are important but they flow from and rest upon our beliefs about ourselves, about the world and about what our place is in it. Before I get to the point of asking myself what I want to change, I have to ask myself, ‘Why do I want it to change?’
Before I get to the point of asking myself what I want to change, I have to ask myself, ‘Why do I want it to change?’
Do I want to read more books because it sounds good when I tell people about it? How would they feel if they found out that most of these books are fantasy or thrillers rather than theology? Do I want to keep that a secret? Do I want to be a reader or do I want to be someone who is seen as well-read?
Do I want to lose 20 pounds because I would be healthier if I was slimmer? Or do I want to be slimmer because of how I would be perceived?
The truth is probably both. And that’s ok. It’s part of the complexity of the human experience.
But as we dive deeper into our inner lives, as we dig deeper into the subconscious motivations that play such a big part in our decision-making and our life’s trajectory, we eventually come face-to-face with what we believe about who we are and what we’re worth.
Do I believe that I am loved? Or do I want to change in order to become lovable?
Do I believe that I have value? Or do I want to change in order to prove my value to the world?
Do I believe that I am enough in this present moment? Or do I want to change in order to earn my place.
At his baptism, Jesus hears words that become the bedrock of his understanding of who he is. They sustain him through his temptations in the wilderness, they help him navigate the ways in which he loves and serves those he meets along the way and they help him endure his eventual torture and crucifixion.
As the dove descends, Jesus hears the words, ‘You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.’
At this point, Jesus does not have much of a following. He has not healed the sick, restored sight to the blind, raised the dead or preached to thousands. He has not achieved anything — at least not in a way that can be quantified like we so often do. He does not become a child of God nor become beloved by God nor become pleasing to God by achieving. Instead, everything he does flows from knowing who he is, whose he is and who he is loved by.
Which reminds me to wrestle with my resolutions: Am I changing in order to be loved? Or is love changing me?
Scott Evans is the Church of Ireland chaplain to University College Dublin, producer of The Graveyard Shift Podcast and co-founder of Paradoxology, a prayer space at Ireland’s Electric Picnic music festival. He grew up in Bangladesh and his life has been a series of crazy decisions, odd adventures and bad haircuts. He is also the author of 3 books, Closer Still, Beautiful Attitudes and Failing From The Front (& Other Lessons From The Lives of Losers.) He loves Vietnamese food, coffee, writing, Aston Villa and Jesus.