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Knoxville, TN, United States
Interim Pastor of Evergreen Presbyterian Church (USA), Dothan, AL.

Saturday, January 08, 2011

Happy Holy Days

2011-01-09 Mt 03 13-17 Baptism of the Lord
James McTyre
Lake Hills Presbyterian Church (USA)

"Happy Holidays." There's that argument about whether you should say,
"Happy Holidays" or "Merry Christmas." If I worked for a company that
told me I could get fired for wishing people, "Merry Christmas," I
might get a bit contrary. Luckily, my boss is totally OK with it. On
the other hand, if I worked for a company that told me I COULDN'T
wish, "Happy Hanukkah," to Jewish people or "Joyous Kwanzaa," to
African-Americans I might get a bit contrary about that, too. The
thing is, I think my boss in heaven is OK with us expressing good
wishes and seasonal cheer to people of all religions, races, and
reincarnations. I'm pretty certain about this because of scriptures
like today's.

Today, we celebrate Jesus being baptized by his cousin John in in the
River Jordan. Technically, today is Baptism of the Lord Sunday.
Baptism goes back to back with Epiphany, which was either last
Thursday or last Sunday, depending on your church tradition. Epiphany
celebrates the coming and gift-bringing of the Three Kings (or three
Wise Men, or Magi, or Astrologers, or whatever they might have been).
(Sadly, one of our own members told me they were firemen. Because the
Bible says they came from "a far." This in turn proves our member has
experienced "reintarnation," which is coming back to life as a

Between the two, we in the Western hemisphere, usually emphasize
Epiphany. At Epiphany, the world, symbolized in the three kings, came
to see Jesus. On the other hand, Eastern Christianity (as seen in
Greek or Russian Orthodox churches) emphasizes Baptism. In one, Jesus
gets gifts; in the other, he is a gift. When Jesus emerges from the
waters of baptism, God's voice goes out to all the world that this is
His beloved son, and with him God is well-pleased. The pronouncement
isn't just for the Jewish faithful, nor just for the righteous
Gentiles who also made their way to the River. God announces Jesus for
[everyone] and to [everyone] -- He is God's gift to ALL the world. The
birth (and Baptism) of Christ is ... the coming of God into history,
God's putting on of flesh, God's taking on vulnerability, God's
accepting human rejection. Baptism is the beginning of God's own march
toward death and God's own undoing it (Christopher Cocca, 2011).
Christ is the good news of a fresh start, of rebirth into new life,
for everybody. Whenever anyone hears that message, it's a happy
holiday, a happy holy-day. I'm  certain the boss is OK with us sharing
the news that these are, "Happy Holy-days."


In the beginning, God created human beings. In Christmas, God took on
flesh, and became one of us, became God-with-us, Emmanuel. In
Epiphany, the world recognizes Christ. And in Baptism, God blesses our
fallen flesh and becomes part of us. It's yet another way we become
the body of Christ, as Tonya so profoundly told the kids.

Most of the time, when we work-oriented Western people think of being
the Body of Christ, we think it means being the hands and feet and
voice of Christ to the world. Which makes sense, because we're
Epiphany kind of people, who think about how our actions are or aren't
gifts to God. When we act in love and compassion, we're part of the
Body of Christ. When we don't we're just saggy old fallen flesh.

But a more Eastern reading of scripture - which is just as valid as
ours - would say that being the Body of Christ means even more. Not
only do we act like the Body of Christ, the Body of Christ is within
us. Christ is within us, yearning for healing and wholeness. The
Spirit of Christ is within our old, arthritic hands. The Spirit of
Christ wobbles on our chubby baby toes. We're all baptized into new
life in Christ, through Christ's baptism. God says, "This is my
beloved Son... and these are his beloved sisters and brothers, in whom
he lives and breathes and has his being."

I've lost count of the number of TV ads I've seen this past week for
health clubs. Almost every magazine at the supermarket has pictures of
people who've lost 100 pounds or more. (That's helpful.) Smoking and
weight loss medicine makers are buying time everywhere. Because it's
the beginning of the year, when everyone makes resolutions, many of
which are about renewing our health. "In 2011 I'm going to eat
healthier; I'm going to quit smoking; I'm going to lift up my fallen

Personally, I'd like to stop cracking my knuckles. I'd also like to
lose 10 pounds. I'm a fan of the as-seen-on-TV men's slimmer shirts
that instantly take 3 inches off your waist. Their cool and
comfortable nylon spandex muscle tanks redefine your chest and give
you instant six-pack abs. You'll have more confidence, stand out in
the crowd. And best of all, no one will know your secret. Get two for
only two easy payments of $19.95. Try and keep me away from Lily's.

The sad part of this (OK, there are several, but the one relevant to
this sermon) is that while we might be ashamed of the way our bodies
look, we're even more ashamed of our instant short-cut methods of
self-improvement. It makes me wonder how things would be different if
instead of concentrating on making ourselves into something new, we
concentrated on what God says we already are. The body of Christ is
already woven into the fabric of you. If you're too heavy or too
light, too wide or just right, the Body of Christ is part of you,

So much of what we do is an attempt to get someone else's approval. We
yearn for the approval of our parents, our spouses, our potential
boyfriends or girlfriends. We yearn for the approval of God. But if we
lived knowing that we already have God's approval built into us, it
kind of stands our motivation on its head. Instead of resolving to
impress, what's left?

We resolve, like Tonya, like Caroline, and so many others both
publicly and privately have resolved. We resolve... to heal.

Scott Cairns, a member of the Orthodox Church, who teaches writing at
the University of Missouri, writes about Baptism, healing, and
purpose. He says,

[...it's] all about healing, it is about the recovery of that divinity
-- His very countenance -- that has been marked on us. [My church]
teaches us that this healing begins with the soul, extends to the
body, and extends to all creation. We are not about spiritual
transcendence of the material world, but about re-infusing that world
with His Life-giving Spirit. This recovery is what is figured -- is
physically performed -- by the particular baptism we celebrate today.


If you look closely at scripture, when Jesus came to town, people
didn't line up to hear him preach so much. They lined up for his
healing. My suspicion is that his preaching and healing were just
different sides of the same thing. Mind, body and spirit are all
interconnected. And when someone's messed up, you've gotta start

Scripture also teaches us that we're all pretty messed up. We need to
be changed, radically redrawn, which is what the Baptism of Christ is
all about. In Christ, we are changed. Not will be, not were, not
used-to-be. In Christ we are changed. Which makes these days holy
days, maybe even pretty happy holy days -- if we're healed enough to
see it, and if the world around us is healed enough to share it.

If you haven't made a resolution for 2011 yet, let me make a
suggestion. Resolve to heal and to be healed. Resolve to heal yourself
of whatever afflictions are messing you up. Resolve to help others
heal themselves of theirs.

Happy holy days.

James McTyre
Pastor, Lake Hills PCUSA
Stated Clerk, Presbytery of East TN
Office: 865-577-8510
Cell & SMS: 865-268-9628
Skype: jamesmctyre