My sister and brother-in-law had found the ruins of an old ghost town where they thought it would be fun to hike. We drove down a road that I would have sworn was actually not a road ("No, that's it; that's where we are supposed to go," my sister said). We got out of the car and stared out at the spare beauty of the desert, not seeing anything but varieties of cactus and palo verde trees. There were no houses, no buildings, no roads that we could see.
When we got closer, though, we saw bricks, the remains of walls, some old pipes still sticking out of the ground, the last vestiges of the town that used to be there. We hiked a bit, pointing out the clues to the former times, the times when humans prospered here, until my sister started insisting that we go and find the path to Queen Creek.
We knew it was near; we could hear it. But the trick was finding the right path, the safe one that would take us there. We even once looked down at the creek from a hill, but knew we could not get down to the water from there.
My brother-in-law wanted to go home; we had seen the ruins, after all. That was the most important part. But my sister kept talking about the creek; we couldn't go home until we found the creek. At one point she disappeared for a little while; we thought she was lost. But she knew where she was. She was looking for the path to the water.
When we found it, it was just a little stream, tucked away in the middle of the ruins. It was just a little stream, but once you saw the place, you couldn't help but notice -- in the middle of the desert, everything was starting to be green. Green was sprouting up there. We couldn't help it; we just started taking pictures. There was something shimmery there, where the light touched the water and bounced back. It made me feel like this could be a place where secrets are revealed.
We started taking pictures of each other. I took one of my sister, standing just in front of the creek, with the light reflecting off the water and a finger of the creek in the eeriest shade of blue. I thought then that I knew why my sister liked this place. She is an artist, after all, and I thought she must be attracted to the way the light and the shadows and the water all work together to make everything beautiful.
On Sunday it be The Baptism of Our Lord, the 2nd Sunday after the Epiphany. We hear the same gospel story every year, although a different variation. This year the variation I am hearing is from Matthew, where Jesus is baptized by John in the river Jordan, and John doesn't want to do it. Somehow, in the River Jordan, the secret is revealed, and John can see it: "I need to be baptized by you." But Jesus knows something else, and he insists. Somehow his being baptized will "fulfill all righteousness" whatever that means.
In my imagination I have sometimes thought that Jesus had a list, a list of all of the things he had to do to effect our salvation. "Be baptized" was there, at the top of the list, even though, as the story goes, he had no sins to repent of. That is what 'fulfill all righteousness' meant.
Today, though, I am imagining something else: I am imagining Jesus and John, standing in Queen Creek. "I need to be baptized by you," John says. Somehow in the space between the water and the light he sees something about Jesus, something about himself. But Jesus insists. He insists because there is another secret that the world needs to know.
When he comes up from the water and the Spirit descends, the voice speaks. "You are my son, the beloved." And the Words shimmer in the space between the water and the light, and it all works together to make everything beautiful.
He has made known to us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure that he set forth in Christ, 1as a plan for the fullness of time, to gather up all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth. (Ephesians 1:9-10)