God, We Pray at this Beginning
First after Epiphany - Baptism of Jesus
January 7, 2007
First after Epiphany - Baptism of Jesus
January 7, 2007
Let us pray: Parapharising the hymn writer, God we pray at this beginning of our lifelong search for you, bless us your children. Help us too, with older vision, as your changing children grow: help us see that changing people your unchanging blessing show. Amen.
Given my appreciation for word games, it was like finding a buried treasure. There I was thumbing through the index of a text book on computational numerical analysis when my eyes lit on the very last entry on the last page. It seemed completely out of character for such a word to appear in this index, so I took the bait. Zeitgeist was the entry and it indicated a page number. I curiously began thumbing through the book looking for the page, all the time wondering why that word appeared in this text book. As I flipped through the pages I realised that the reference was near the end of the book. You can imagine my surprise when I realised that the page number in the entry was the page number of the entry. In other words, the index entry was a self-reference. In other words, an infinite loop, which even if you have only a limited knowledge of computer algorithms, you will know is both a bane and an expectation for many programmers - experienced and inexperienced alike. With my rudimentary knowledge of German I seized upon the two words that make up the word - zeit meaning time and geist meaning ghost and assumed that this index entry was a symbol of the ghost of time, as described by the self-referring infinite loop. Recognising that this was some kind of hidden joke perpetrated by the text book author - the same thing is called an easter egg when it is hidden inside a piece of software, I was quite anxious to tell others about my discovery and analysis of what it all meant. So I told about it in an online forum, only to be set straight with regard to my interpretation of the word “zeitgeist”. Zeitgeist is not the “ghost of time” that I had discerned from my own simple translation of the German words that comprise it. It’s more than that - more like the “spirit of a time”.
The people at Google have seized upon that word zeitgeist and use it in a weekly publication of the top gaining search phrases typed in to their internet search engine. They quite cleverly have worked out that the zeitgeist of any particular week in modern day history can be determined at least in part by taking a look at what people are searching for on Google. Perhaps you’ve heard a weekly report of the top ten of these phrases in a CBC Radio segment. It’s perhaps a sad commentary that the list often sounds like the table of contents for an issue of People magazine. From this it might be right to assume that the zeitgeist of modern day culture is an overactive interest in the lives of the rich and famous. Occasionally, however, there is a topic or two that appears to strike a chord among the searching public such that something with a bit more depth becomes one of the top gaining search phrases. I’m wondering if Google has any plans to take a year’s worth or perhaps even several year’s worth of these lists of top gaining searches, scrape away all the searches done on newsworthy personalities, movie stars and popular singers and really come up with a somewhat more penetrating insight into the psyche of modern day web surfers. There might actually be some information there to tell us the true “spirit” of the time that guided people on their electronic quests. Of course it may be that people are using search engines to discover facts - even if it is the “facts” about which movie star is currently interested in any other movie star, and that some of the deeper questing being done by people is not one for which the Google search engine has much to offer. Soul searching is different from web searching and Google may not have much to contribute in any analysis of what it is that people are looking for when it comes to the deeper inner journeys which people are taking.
All of this reflection comes about in part because we have just passed an important marker of time. Here we are in a new year and even though we try as Christians to mark time somewhat differently than the way described by most calendars (and as I pointed out with the children earlier today), the new calendars on our walls, the new year designation on our chequebooks and in our daybooks reminds us that another segment of time has begun. Such markers are usually seized upon as opportunities to reflect on what lies ahead and what has passed. What is the zeitgeist of 2006 and what will it be in the year that lies ahead? These are some of the questions that we spend time considering whenever a significant time marker occurs. Two thousand and seven is not a year like two thousand was, or like two thousand and ten will be, but still it does invite us into a time of thinking forward and back.
We add into this the fact that yesterday on the Christian calendar was Epiphany - a season of insight and light, in itself a kind of time marker on the journey, and that today is the celebration of the baptism of Jesus - an adult baptism and regarded as the event which marked the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry.
So it is not just one thing, but an accumulation of symbols, celebrations and markers that lead us to reflect on the journey ahead and the spirit of the time just past. What will the year ahead bring? What can we say about the time just past? Was it a spirit filled time for us and if so, how so? Were our spirits consoled, filled and renewed, or were they wounded, drained and worn out? Of course I’m not just talking about the Christmas season just past, although that may be the one that comes most readily to mind. It needs consideration as well, but what else happened in the time past to give us hope? Is the first decade of the twenty-first century living up to your hopes and expectations? Is it full of surprises, bad and good? Is it replete with insights or concerns?
Let me suggest that this Sunday - a Sunday of beginnings, a Sunday which comes after a time of hectic preparation and hopefully, more recently, a time of rest and relaxation, is a good time to get ready for the journey that lies ahead. Before a backpacking trip I always needed some time to get ready - to make sure I had some food dried (it takes time to do that - it can’t be hurried), and make sure that all the clothes I need were laundered and that all the equipment I had lent out had been returned. I think this is a perfect time to do a similar thing for the journey of two thousand and seven that begins this week. Some of it falls naturally into place. The season of Epiphany is upon us - the season of light - to light our path as we travel. It’s not just one light however, there are pinpoints of light to guide us - the magi were guided by a star surrounded by many stars, and it’s the same for us. We need strength for the journey and here we are about to gather at table - where we find strength in the physical elements of bread and drink, and where we find bread for the journey brought to us by those who have gone before us and summoned forward by those who will come after - this bread is part of who we are - brought to us and which we bring to others. Spiritual food as well as physical food. Sign and symbol of the tradition of which we are a part. That’s one point of light. We gather together - in community - a word that bears the same root as communion. We are not alone. We are together. Another point of light. Our scripture passages this morning all had reference to the blessing which we have from God. Yes, we are together, and God is with us. Another point of light.
Who will make this journey with us? Whom will we invite to travel the road of two thousand and seven beside us? There is no limit on the number of points of light. And who knows what insights will come from the light cast by an unexpected companion joining us on this journey? Come to the table. You will find strength here. You will find companionship here. You will be encouraged here. You are part of the story. You are a carrier of the story that arrives here and begins here. You will find blessing here. There’s a spirit in the air. Amen.