Isn't the Liturgical year amazing?
Two weeks ago, we celebrated Jesus's birthday...Last week we heard of the visit of the wise men....now today the baby has grown to manhood and his active ministry is about to begin, as he comes for Baptism in the Jordan.
It's also tempting to wonder about the hidden years. What was the teenaged Jesus like? Did he learn carpentry from Joseph? Did he tell wonderful stories with hidden meanings to his half siblings in the family home?
We don't know.
In fact, despite the Christmas carols that suggest otherwise, we actually know nothing about what happened to Jesus between the family's return to Nazareth and the moment when he turns his back on Galilee and seeks out his cousin, on the banks of the Jordan.
In this age of celebrity culture, it's almost unthinkable that a Saviour could ever stay hidden for so many years.....but perhaps Jesus is easier to miss than we might imagine. The star that shone to guide the wise men no longer brightens the way at the start of his public ministry, nor does it offer much help to us in our everyday search.
The truth is, Jesus often seems to be disguised, camouflaged by our own expectations.... though we might do well to look for him in our times in the wilderness.
Meanwhile, though, he might seem to be just one of the crowd that has come to listen to John, and obey his call to repentance...except, of course, that here is one who has nothing to repent...no sin to be washed away.
Poor John is baffled
“What are you doing here? This is no place for you...You already know and live everything I'm preaching on...how can I baptise you?”
It IS hard for us to grasp...small wonder that John was confused.
Perhaps, though, we should know by now that Jesus will always choose the way of humility...even when he comes to claim his God-given identity.
John is right that he has no NEED of baptism...but Jesus does this, as he does everything else, for our benefit. Acting as our representative, he shows us we need to do. He identifies fully with every flawed and broken person, each and every sinner who comes to baptism longing for a fresh start, a new identity.
For, you see, Baptism remains very much about claiming identity. Our gospel passage points to Jesus' identity revealed as he emerges from the waters, but we too receive a fresh identity through our baptism.It's an identity that
transforms how we see our life, our trials, our failures, our wilderness, and finally even our death.
At the Jordan, God affirms his Son in words that only Jesus can hear...and those words are the reason that I specially cherish this scene.
This is just the start.
Jesus has performed no miracles, preached no awesome sermons. All his public ministry still lies ahead.
This is the very beginning and yet God declares
This is my Son, the beloved with whom I am well pleased.
As God looks on him, so God loves him, totally and unconditionally, from the very beginning.
No further action is necessary...There is no requirement to prove himself worthy of love.
And it is the same for us.
There is nothing that we can do that will make him love us more, or less. Loving is just what God does. That relationship has always existed…our Baptism and what follows is our response to it, but for God the love he bears us has always been there, always a given reality. So, what happens for Jesus, in that moment that the heavens are opened, is his realisation of the way things are..his recognition of an eternal truth.
He is God's child.
So are you.
I'd like to share a story that I found online, as I prepared to preach today.
It concerns an man who grew up in small-town America, his life blighted because his mother had brought him up on her own...He had never known his father, and carried that stigma each and every day, bullied by school mates, looked down on by neighbours.
But one day, things changed...A new preacher visited the town, and at the end of the service invited anyone who wished to talk to come and meet with him. Something in the preacher's words had touched the lad and he decided to go and talk...He wasn't sure what he was hoping for, but as he approached, with the sort of embarrassed shuffle that is often adopted by self conscious teenagers, he felt a strong hand on his shoulder. Compelled to look up, he saw the preacher’s smiling face. Then he heard the preacher say, “What’s your name, boy? Whose son are you?”
Before the lad could answer, the pastor continued,
“I know who you are. I know who your family is. There’s a distinct family resemblance. Why, you’re the son of God!”
Then the preacher put his arm around the boy and pointed him to the door and said affirmatively, “Now go and claim your inheritance.”
That's the call for each one of us...To claim and to live out our inheritance.
or us, as for Jesus, Baptism represents an affirmation of who we are before God, of his ever-present love for us, and our response.
That response is not simply a question of words repeated in an expression of repentance, trust and belief for one day only. It is a response that should shape our whole life…a response that may lead us to places of pain and desolation, to the wilderness if not to the cross.
By the door of St Matthew's, there is a holy water stoup, something that looks like a second, smaller font...As many of you will know, it was discovered in the undergrowth when the churchyard was being cleared some years ago. For a while it stood empty and purposeless..but now it contains water from the baptismal font, water that has been blessed for use in baptism.
It stands there to remind us that we were not baptised once upon a time, long ago and far away, but that we ARE baptised...immersed in God's love, changed by his Spirit...As you enter and leave the building, you might like to dip your fingers in the water and trace the cross on your forehead, as a reminder of this...and a reminder of the essence of our baptism.
We are created so that we may each of us hear and respond to God’s word of love for us. We recognise this as we look at Jesus, that love expressed in human form, and we are enabled to live in love through the creative power of the Holy Spirit, who hovered over the waters of our Baptism. It is the Holy Spirit who stirs us and empowers us to live out our true calling, as God’s beloved children, with whom he is well pleased.