Monday, March 14, 2011

Growing Beyond, Growing Into

Jesus’ baptism marks a significant life-change, a water-shed.  Jesus had been adopted by his father, Joseph, the carpenter – literally, the builder.  He would have been apprenticed as a carpenter-builder under Joseph’s oversight; and as an adult, at the time of his baptism, was most likely working as a carpenter-builder based in Capernaum.  At his baptism, Jesus walks away from this life and takes up the life of an itinerant teacher and miracle-worker.

On the surface, at least, this is massive discontinuity.  And yet there is also continuity.  For on the night of his arrest, the night before his political execution, Jesus tells his disciples that he is going to his Father’s house, in order to prepare additional rooms for his disciples.  His Father, who publically adopted him at his baptism [1], is the ‘archtekton,’ the architect, the one who holds the plans for the building; and Jesus is the ‘tekton,’ the carpenter-builder, who makes those plans solid.  As he was then, so he is now: at work, building homes – a home for us.

Life is full of change, and change always involves leaving behind the life we have known in order to step-into the life we are growing into.  Sometimes – news of earthquake and tsunami – we are confronted with the reality of this, with the futility of denial.

I look at my children, aged nine and eight and four, and I recognise that I was once nine and eight and four, and that who I was then no longer exists – except, perhaps, within the love of God, who is not bound by time.  From who I was to who I am – and who I will be – there is both significant discontinuity and significant continuity.  But we move on, through stages and seasons of life.

That is natural, but it is also profoundly counter-cultural for us in the UK today.  We have pushed back taking up the responsibilities of adulthood further and further.  We have extended academic education, have postponed employment, have created economic circumstances whereby it is seen as an economic necessity to live with our parents into our mid-to-late thirties, not out of a cultural sense of extended family responsibility but of abdicating responsibility (many such parents neither receiving nor wanting to receive financial contribution).  At the other end of life, we use medical science to push back death, to prevent ourselves from having to face up to dying.

At the same time that as adults we are desperately trying to cling on to our childhood, we increasingly force children to dress and behave older than their years, in particular sexualising girls at a younger and younger age (and demonising adults that are then emotionally confused by what we, as a society, have done).

We have all-but-forgotten that each stage of life has good things to it; things to be celebrated; things to be let-go of and left behind in order to move on in a healthy journey through life.  The Toy Story trilogy is a poignant exploration of that very sense of loss and gain, of celebrating the past and then letting go of it.

At his baptism, Jesus leaves behind a season of life and begins another.  And, I am convinced, that the courage required in order to do so came from hearing his Father’s voice declaring “You are my Son, whom I love: with you I am well pleased.”

As we move from season of life to season of life, we too find that courage is required, and that it comes from hearing our Father speak his love and affirmation over us.

[1] I do not mean that Jesus is divine only by adoption: he is the second person of the Trinity from the beginning; but this is the point, in the unfolding ways human language attempts to explore and express the Trinity, at which the Word which had become flesh becomes Son, as foretold before his birth, and the first person of the Trinity becomes his Father.

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