The Mighty Jordan

Later, Jesus coming from Galilee, appeared
before John at the Jordan to be baptized by him.

Matthew 3:13

We visited the Jordan River in the midst of terrible flooding. We’d had to reroute a few times because floodwater had blocked the roadway ahead. The Jordan flows freely along Israel’s western border. The Jordan is referenced often in the scriptures and our guide was anxious to lead us to its shore. However, when we arrived, we discovered that the tourist area where many modern-day pilgrims come to be baptized was closed off due to the flooding upstream. Those who’d hoped to step into the Jordan to engage in this ritual were ushered to a platform high above the river’s edge. Never daunted by a challenge, Yossi led us around that platform to a narrow gate several yards away. “Come quickly,” he ordered, “because we don’t want to be followed.” With that, Yossi led us to a deserted bit of shoreline which very much resembled what Jesus saw the day of his own baptism. Though I’d seen this place twice before, it’s significance overwhelmed me.

When Moses looked toward the Promised Land, he saw the Jordan River flowing down from Mount Hermon into the Jordan Valley. When Elijah the Prophet grew old and Elisha prepared to take his place, the two traveled to the Jordan Valley where Elijah’s days among us ended. Hundreds of years later, John the Baptist, last of the prophets of old, called people to repentance on the shores of the Jordan. They sealed their commitments with John’s baptism. The baptizer’s most significant baptism was that of Jesus.

The scriptures tell us that Jesus took his baptism seriously. Afterward, he spent forty days in the desert preparing for his public life among us. When Jesus emerged, he returned to John and to that river where the first five of his disciples joined him. As I knelt at that river’s edge, I dipped my fingers into the water. I left it to God to renew me as God sees fit.

Though getting to the shore of the Jordan proved challenging this time around, the result was an amazing encounter. These days, getting through the moments at hand prove challenging as well. It seems that there is a lesson in our Israeli guide’s approach. When our expectations are disrupted, all we need to do is to adjust accordingly. Just as God renewed me at the River Jordan’s edge, God will renew us all if we have the courage to proceed as best we can.

Dear God, as we respond to the challenges as hand, remind us often that you are with us all the while.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

The Mighty Little Jordan

Later, Jesus coming from Galilee, appeared
before John at the Jordan to be baptized by him.

Matthew 3:13

On this second trip to Israel, we viewed the Jordan River from a different vantage point. Last year, we stood on the shore of one of the river’s narrowest segments. Though it seemed a humble setting for Jesus’ baptism, it also typified the Jesus’ unassuming life. This small segment which I could have easily waded across was as important as the rest of this renowned river. The same was true of Jesus’ life. Even his seemingly insignificant interactions changed lives forever.

This year, we viewed the river nearer the tourist center. As a result, we encountered several groups who had assembled to be baptized or to reenact the baptisms they’d celebrated previously. It was difficult to miss the reverence and enthusiasm of each one as he or she entered the water. I couldn’t help acknowledging that Jesus’ simple baptism continues to impact humankind in amazing ways.

As for me, I knelt at the river’s edge and dipped my fingers into the water. Rather than immersing myself into the river’s bounty, I left it to God to renew me as God saw fit. To date, I haven’t been disappointed.

Dear God, you renew us day in and day out. Help us to take notice of your handiwork and to imitate your goodness humbly, just as Jesus did.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

The Jordan River

Later, Jesus coming from Galilee, appeared
before John at the Jordan to be baptized by him.

Matthew 3:13

The Jordan River flows freely along Israel’s western border. The river is referenced often in the scriptures. Though I stood at its shore near a very narrow portion which I could have easily walked across, the river’s significance overwhelmed me.

When Moses looked toward the Promised Land, he saw the Jordan River flowing down from Mount Hermon into the Jordan Valley. Though Moses never entered the Promised Land, his people did. Not long into their occupancy, they turned to worship idols. Elijah is among the prophets who attempted to guide the people back to God. When Elijah grew old and Elisha prepared to take his place, the two traveled to the Jordan Valley where Elijah’s days among us ended. Just after crossing the Jordan together, the scriptures tell us Elijah was carried off to heaven in a fiery chariot and Elisha returned to continue his work among the people

Hundreds of years later, John the Baptist, last of the prophets of old, called people to repentance on the shores of the Jordan. They sealed their commitments with John’s baptism. The baptizer’s most significant baptism was that of Jesus. The scriptures tell us Jesus took his baptism seriously. Afterward, he spent forty days in the desert preparing for his public life among us. When Jesus emerged, he returned to John and that river where the first five of his disciples joined him.

As I stood at the river’s edge, I saw dozens of white-robed people in the distance. They’d come to renew their baptisms in the waters where Jesus began his work. As for me, I knelt at the river’s edge and dipped my fingers into the water. I left it to God to renew me as God saw fit. To date, I haven’t been disappointed.

Dear God, help us to respond to your love by revealing it to all of those we meet along the way.

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

It’s All In The Timing

Over the past several days. most of us have taken down and stored our Christmas decorations. Our Christmas Tree made it’s way to the curb midweek. The boxes in which we store everything else found their home in the basement the same day. Though I normally pack up our ornaments, crèche and the village that rests beneath our tree, my recuperation from shoulder surgery forced me to observe the process this year. Though I am currently allowed to abandon my sling for a while each day, I still cannot engage my arm in work of any sort. So it was that I sat and watched as my dear husband disassembled all evidence of Christmas 2013. In an effort not to offer too much direction to the dear man, I engaged in a bit of reminiscing while Mike worked. As he rolled strings of lights, my thoughts returned to the week before Christmas…

I had been upstairs struggling to wrap gifts. After spending thirty minutes on a single package, I realized that I would have to relinquish the wrapping to my husband. As I descended the stairs, I realized that my mood was as dark as the house on this first day of winter. Before I reached the last step, the lighted garland on the railing blinked on. “Nice,” I said to myself. “I needed that.” As I walked to the kitchen, the tree on our patio lit up. It’s snow laden branches glowed as dusk closed in. I decided to give a thought or two to dinner, but was distracted when the lights on our porch went on. Every year, we find an inexpensive tree to decorate for our screened porch because we can see it from our dinner table. This tree’s lights glow warmly around the vintage nativity figures at its feet -one of my favorite Christmas scenes. As I reflected on the images of Jesus, Mary and Joseph, I realized my discouraged mood had left me. It was then that the tiny tree near our kitchen table lit up.

Until that afternoon, I had not realized that each of the timers that controls our Christmas lighting was set for a different time. Though it occurred to me to tell my husband that he might want to coordinate our light timers more accurately next year, I thought better of it. Instead, I flipped the switch in the living room to light up our Christmas Tree. Just as I raised the blinds behind the tree, the lights on our bushes went aglow. Our mailbox at the curb prompted me to save my husband the trouble of getting the mail. I stepped through the day’s dusting of snow just as the lights over the garage burst into color.

I finally left my musing and returned to the task at hand. As Mike rolled up the last string of lights, I wondered if he was onto something with his seemingly haphazard timing of our Christmas lights. I was not at all bothered that afternoon when our lights took turns coming on. The truth is that each sudden burst of color emitted beauty in its own right which invited me to enter into the joy of Christmas 2013 more fully than I might have. If our Christmas lights had lit simultaneously, I would have missed some of this amazing show and the uplifting grace that came with each click of a timer. I will not mention the serendipitous timing of our Christmas lights after all because I want to enjoy this light show again next year.

The unexpected bursts of light which I experienced that discouraging afternoon have much to say about today’s Feast of the Baptism of the Lord. John the Baptist preached at length about the coming of the Messiah, the long-awaited one who was far greater than he. John proclaimed that he was not worthy to tie the strap of Jesus’ sandal. Yet, when Jesus set out to begin his public life, he went to John to seek baptism. In all that Jesus said and did, he continued to deliver the unexpected. Jesus chose fishermen to be his followers and preached of humility, the poor in spirit, peacemakers and those who mourn. Rather seeking out the powerful, Jesus told his disciples that they were the salt of the earth and the light that must shine for others. Jesus shed a completely different light on God’s plans for us than what those who awaited the messiah expected.

Just as the oddly timed Christmas lights in my home set everything around me aglow, our most mundane circumstances take on an amazing aura when God enters into them. None of us need to wait until next Christmas for the light show. God always sheds light on our lives in the most unexpected ways. Just watch!

©2014 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved