Have you ever been away from home for an extended period of time? Maybe it was when you went away to college or when you went to help a relative or friend who was ill or when you traveled for a period of time. What did it feel like when you finally went home, to familiar surroundings? Usually it feels very good to get home after a vacation or business trip. It may feel like you are returning to an old friend whom you have not seen in years.
The prophet Isaiah writes to the people called Israel in chapter 43 about how God feels about the people of Israel. He writes that God will gather them from the four corners of the earth and bring them back home, out of exile. They will return to the place where they belong and nothing will stop them. Whether it is flood or fire, God will be with them and bring them back because they are precious in God's sight, they are honored by God, and because God loves them. The passage is one of the only places in scripture where God says the words, "I love you" to human beings. It is implied in many places in the Bible but it is plainly said in this passage---I love you.
Feeling precious, honored, and loved by others is not an everyday experience to many people. Many people feel unloved, unworthy, dishonorable. Society and the people within it have made people to feel that they are less than they are by the way people are treated by others. Organizations and governmental entities have caused people to feel dishonored by the massive amount of red tape and the nonsensical rules that they have established. It is very easy for persons to feel less than they are because of bureaucratic regulations and dead-end organizational requirements.
I heard a story recently about a person who had to find a governmental agency in a foreign country so as to make a financial transaction that was necessary in order to travel in that country. This person went to office to office without finding the correct place, directed by persons who spoke little of their language to one place after another. This person had almost given up hope of finding the correct place when suddenly it was discovered by sheer luck. Many of us have had similar experiences over the years and have felt that life was a hassle and we were ready to just give up. Usually, someone or something comes to our rescue and brings us that ray of hope that we had been seeking. Perhaps that something is grace to remind us that God is always present with us, especially when we are in despair.
This Sunday we celebrate the baptism of Christ, where Jesus hears the voice from heaven say, "This is my son, the Beloved, in whom I am well pleased." It resonates with the same kind of words that we find in the Isaiah passage..."You are precious, honored, loved." God announces to the world that God's Son, fresh from the waters of baptism, is loved and honored for who he is. Jesus, the boy who was in the Temple at 12 talking to the religious authorities, is not the 30 year old man, ready to begin the ministry that awaits him among many who care nothing for what he had to say. Jesus, the son of Mary and Joseph (they thought), was going to proclaim the "Kingdom of God" among people who needed to hear a word of good news. Little did he know that the road ahead would be long and hard and sometimes he would be less than appreciated for what he had to say.
Perhaps Jesus needed to be reminded that he was loved by God at that moment when he would be driven into the wilderness for testing and then launched into a ministry that would be under-appreciated. Hearing words of affirmation from his Heavenly Father would be something that Jesus could remember all his life to lift him up in his dismal days (and he did have some of those, I am sure).
We all need to hear words of affirmation that remind us that we are loved by others, that we are honored for who we are, that we are precious in the sight of many. We all need to tell others those words too. Many times people walk around on the earth, weary from the weight of the world, needing to hear from someone that they matter. We are often too negligent to tell others that they matter to us. Too often it is only after someone has died that we say really nice things about them. Perhaps we need to resolve in this new year to spread words of love and affirmation among others in our world so that they will know that we honor them and love them and find them valuable to us.
God loves all of humankind and thrusts us into action to make that same type of declaration about one another. If you do love another person, let them know it. If you value someone for what they mean to you, express it in words. If you honor someone else as someone important to you, let that be known to them. The positive words you say today may be the light that brings hope to someone who feels hopeless and may bring cheer to a life that is longing for relief.