January 11, 2015

First Sunday after The Epiphany Year B
The Baptism of Jesus

The baptism of Jesus is presented as a profoundly symbolic and profoundly mystical beginning for the whole world. It’s not just any baptism. This is nothing less than the creation of the world beginning over again. And thanks to the lectionary we have other readings to help us see the point.

We have the creation story from Genesis 1, with God’s spirit moving on the face of the deep to create the world. And we have a like-minded Psalmist celebrating the creative power of Israel’s God—with God’s voice thundering upon the great waters; with God enthroned above the water-flood. 

Here in today’s Gospel this is the imaginative backdrop we’re given to the Baptism of Jesus. Here the Spirit of God moves again upon the waters, the voice of the Lord thunders out again: ‘this is my beloved son’—Jesus as God’s new creation, Jesus as God’s new beginning for the world God loves. This is the message we’re meant to take from Jesus’ baptism loud and clear. 

It seems that by coming for John’s baptism of repentance, Jesus was identifying with the rest of sinful humanity in our hunger for God’s grace, all of us desiring to be accepted by God.

For Mark, the Gospel in a single phrase, is the message Jesus hears once he goes down in the river in solidarity with the entire human race, and comes out of the water again. The heavens are torn apart, like sheets being ripped up for rags, a dove descends on Jesus, and a voice fills his ears and the depths of his soul: "You are my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased". If you are looking for hope, then remember these words, dwell on them. For in a sentence they contain the entire good news of the Gospel. "You are my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased."
Here's the great mystery of this day, which makes our Lord's baptism worthy of a feast. Jesus enters into baptism as an act of solidarity with the entire human race. His baptism is an enactment for all the world to see, there on the banks of the Jordan, of what it means for the Word to become flesh. God with us. God for us. God among us. God for us all. Every last one of us human beings, without regard to age, race, gender, or anything else. God for us all, down to the last and worst and best among us. God for us all, and if God is for us, then who cares who’s against us? So, if you're looking to find him, there he is, in the river being baptized by John for the love of you and me.

The least we can do is jump in right after him. That's what Christian baptism and living the baptismal life is all about. Jesus engages in a life of solidarity with us and we are empowered by his Spirit to engage in a life of solidarity with him.

Our baptism into Jesus means we hear the same voice he hears. The same message from heaven is aimed at us. God speaks to you as he speaks to Jesus when we are baptized into Christ: "You are my beloved child, in whom I am well pleased."

We may think that to be an outrageous, unacceptable statement when directed to us. After all, who are we to be children of God, children with whom God is pleased? But it is God who says this about Jesus and because of our identification with him it is also therefore about us. Remember God says: "You are my beloved child, in whom I am well pleased."

You don't have to be up to your waist in river water to hear this message come at you like a bolt from heaven. Listen carefully to the cracks and crevices in your life, and by God's grace, that message will sound forth. It may come as a whisper, it may come as a shout, and some days it may even seem like a mumble, but that message will be there, because it is a message to you that God does not withdraw or eradicate. God keeps saying it, whether or not you choose to listen: "You are my beloved child, in whom I am well pleased."

Some people say that Christianity is a matter of believing and there's truth in that. Some people say that Christianity is a matter of doing and there's truth in that. But Christianity is also a matter of listening and receiving. Listening for the message from heaven. Listening for what Jesus heard at his baptism. Listening and receiving the same message spoken to us day by day in the cracks and crevices of our lives: "You are my beloved child, in whom I am well pleased."

Now this baptismal listening, is no easy business. Because there are other voices echoing in the world and echoing in our hearts, voices that deny in one way or another our identity as God's children. These are the voices of temptation. They may sound smooth, they may seem respectable, and sometimes nobody argues with them, but they are a lie. Following Jesus into his baptism is more than a matter of belief and practice; it is knowing how to listen and receive, and to discern which voices are true.

All of us are learning time and again to listen, to listen to the right voice, not the wrong ones, to get in line with the constant message of God: "You are my beloved child, in whom I am well pleased."

Gregory of Nazianzus famously wrote, in defense and celebration of the Incarnation, “What has not been assumed in Christ has not been healed.” 

Jesus stands before John to expose and assume all our hidden darkness and heal it – not only our sin but every single part of us – whether betrayal, excess, deception, or violence – we carry in memory’s pockets and retrieve at times to start another round of self-flagellation. He frees us from the hopeless project of trying to claim a better past.

This is where we are being led by the Incarnate Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit: to a place where we, too, are named beloved sons and daughters of God.