In a delightful children’s book called Tales of the Kingdom, Karen Mains tells the story of Hero, a young boy who finds a gateway into Great Park. He has been raised to believe that there is no safe place, that children are not suppose to laugh or play, that the Enchanter’s dominion is absolute, and that the story of a loving King is a fairytale. In Great Park, one of the favorite activities for the children is Sighting Day where they play “seek-the-king.” Hero doesn’t believe in the King, so he doesn’t recognize him in his many different disguises. For Hero, seeing is believing, but in the Kingdom, “believing is seeing.”
The lectionary text for Sunday is Mark 1:4-11, the Baptism of Jesus. We have just celebrated Christmas–the revelation of God in the birth of Christ, a mystery of enormous beauty; then Epiphany, the manifestation and witnessing of this revelation by the wise travelers. Now, the curtain is pulled back further. Jesus is baptized and sees “the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove.” He hears a voice from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” I’d like to think that John saw and heard this exchange as well–that John’s belief allowed him to see into glorious reality.
For Hero and John, each must first be open in order to see something amazing–not foreign or somehow separate from life, but in and through it, when everything becomes more real. Hero ultimately sees the King when he allows himself to let go of fear, and begins to play and laugh. He begins to hope and trust the strange loving people he has met–and the King appears . John actively looks for the one who “will baptize…with the Holy Spirit,” and is primed to see the heavens torn apart, and the second person of the Trinity in human flesh.