John asks an important, honest question, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” He has already recognized what seems like an inappropriate ordering of events. Things are upside down and he doesn’t understand. And Jesus isn’t really going to make things clear to him in advance except by way of confirming that yes, indeed, something extraordinary is at work.
But first maybe we should back up. I mean, we just cleaned up all the Christmas decorations yesterday. The silent night, holy night, wasn’t even two weeks ago and here we are waist deep in the River Jordan on the outskirts of Judea. There was such a long wait for the nativity of our Lord. And then it burst forth suddenly with heavenly hosts singing Gloria. And then begins the Epiphany.
The Epiphany, the manifestation of Christ, is really a collection of vignettes that inaugurate the incarnate life of God. The visit of the Magi, the Baptism of our Lord, and his first miracle at the wedding at Cana, form a kind of triple feast. And each one of them is a scene of the ordinary meeting the extraordinary. Of the natural touching the supernatural, of humanity meeting divinity. They are the opposite of esoteric and vague, they grounded and rooted in human experience in ever widening circles of revelation. The meeting place was here on earth, on this same planet we still use today; in the very human bodies that we still inhabit; all of the senses that we use to perceive this world were turned to perceive another world.
Preached at: Church of St. Mary the Virgin, NYC
A few years ago, while on pilgrimage in Great Britain, I had the opportunity of taking in a meal at The Eagle and Child Pub in Oxford. While the food was good, the actual reason for visiting The Eagle and Child was that it was a regular meeting place for a literary group known as “The Inklings,” of which authors C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkein were members. Sitting in a cramped corner of this pub I couldn’t help but wonder if perhaps I was sitting at a table where Lewis and Tolkein might have sat, discussing literature, philosophy, religion, and theology. One of my favorite poems from Tolkein’s epic trilogy The Lord of the Rings kept playing over and over in my head. It begins:
All that is gold does not glitter,
Not all those who wander are lost;
The old that is strong does not wither,
Deep roots are not reached by the frost.[i]
Indeed, this became my own personal mantra for the pilgrimage: “Not all those who wander are lost!”
While praying on this theme for tonight’s homily, I turned to the dictionary as I often do, to see what all the meanings of the word ‘wander’ encapsulate. The first definition might be synonymous with rambling: ‘to move about without a fixed course, aim, or goal.’ I do not imagine that inhabitants of this amazingly busy city of New York do much rambling. There are places to go, people to see, business to be done—all of which require a strategy for moving about these crowded streets. If there are ramblers, they might be personified as tourists—folks that seem to wander about the city with their heads pointed up at the iconic skyscrapers or down at their phones trying to navigate where they are going.