Do you remember Jacob’s ladder, with the angels ascending and descending? Throughout the Christmas season we have contemplated how God came down that ladder to our world, how he came within reach of our eyes and hands, how he came down into our families and our communities and our work (that’s the feast of the Holy Family). But today we contemplate another step that Christ takes down Jacob’s ladder, as he comes down into our problems, our distress and our guilt.If you search online for images of the baptism of Christ, you get lots of beautiful images of blue skies and clean, sparkling water. But anyone who’s been to the Jordan river knows that that’s not what it looks like. It looks more like chocolate milk than sparkling water. Because today Jesus goes down into the muddy water of our sins.
Everyone who was coming to be baptised by John confessed their sins as they were plunged in the river, and those brown swirling waters are the image of the sin Jesus came to be plunged into. He truly came down into our sins and our distress.Jesus comes down to our sins and problems, and identifies himself with those sins and problems. He comes down to be one with us in our sinfulness and brokenness. I think this is the explanation of something that can often perplex us: how God fail to intervene in our life to solve our problems. Think about this pandemic – just when it looked like we were nearing the end, it’s got so much worse. And we can ask ourselves, why isn’t God doing anything? Why isn’t he solving this problem? And we can ask the same question too with more personal problems, whatever your problems are. The most confusing is when we struggle with some particular sin, and pray for God to help us, and yet nothing seems to change. It’s almost as if our Christian faith doesn’t make a difference, as if Jesus by coming among us doesn’t solve any of our problems…Jesus came not to solve, but to save. He comes to make a much more radical change than if he just solved our problems. He comes to be with us in our problems; that is the change: himself. He comes to identify himself to our problems so that even in our problems, even in the guilt of our sins, we can be identified to him. So that we can hear the words, ‘You are my Son, the beloved’ in the midst of our distress.Everything is changed.
Our problems may still be there, our tendency to sin may still be there, but Jesus has made them his own. There isn’t one of your problems that doesn’t belong to Jesus. There isn’t one of your sins that Jesus hasn’t carried. And he will carry them all the way to the Cross. Even if some of our sins and problems won’t find a solution in this life, he saves us from them by his Cross, so that already now we can still know ourselves to be God’s sons and daughters, his Beloved, and know with unshakeable hope that there is a glorious future for us beyond those sins and problems. They may not be solved, but we’re saved.If we could have a glimpse into Christ’s prayer to the Father, that intimate conversation between them we would realise how much Christ prays with us, that the content of that conversation is us and our problems and our sins that he has made his own. Well, in fact, we can. There is a window into that conversation. It’s the Psalms, which are the prayer of Christ’s heart united to our hearts.So listen to these words from the psalms. Realise that it is Christ talking, but Christ talking with you, in you and for you. Whatever your distress is now, realise that Christ is talking about it as his own.
‘Save me, O God, for the waters have risen to my neck.I have sunk in the mud of the deep and there is no foothold.I have entered the waters of the deep and the waves overwhelm me.This is my prayer to you, my prayer for your favour.In your great love, answer me, O God, with your help that never fails:rescue me from sinking in the mud; save me from my foes.’ (Ps 68)
– Br Philip-Thomas, CSJ