Baptism of Our Lord
January 13, 2019
Luke 3:15-17, 21-22
“You are my son, the beloved one, in you I take great delight.”
What powerful words we hear this morning, from God to Jesus. We may likely be more familiar with, “You are my beloved Son, with you I am well pleased.” That’s certainly the most traditional English translation. Both are plausible English translations. As someone who greatly enjoys translating texts (from Greek, my hebrew isn’t so up to snuff), I find it helpful to hear texts in slightly different ways. It is one of the reasons that I translate a Greek text (in my own words) before working on a sermon. Hearing it another way often restores power to words and texts that have lost power, simply because we’ve heard it the same way so many times before. My translation of this final verse of our reading today, hopefully does a similar kind of thing. I hope that by pushing us out of “how we’ve always heard it,” we can hear this text anew. And we can reconnect with the power of our Gospel text.
I had a professor in seminary, Dr. Ralph Klein, who, as we were talking about the first creation narrative in Genesis 1, mused that God created creation out of pure delight in creating. It may seem odd to start here - none of our readings even mention creation. But I hope, by starting at the beginning, by exploring how God intended creation to be, we might get at what God does in the waters of baptism.
Other near-eastern myths have the Gods create, especially in their creation of humanity, out of self-interest. The babylonian myth, for instance, tells us that humans were created in order to be enslaved by the Gods, so that they would be waited on hand-and-foot. By contrast, in our creation myth of Genesis 1, God creates humans to be in the image of God, godself. This is a unique understanding of who God is, and who God is in relation to God’s creation. God created humanity to be in an intimate relationship with Godself, to be in an intimate relationship with each other, and to be in an intimate relationship with creation, as good stewards of it. At the heart of it: that’s the purpose of humanity. And God took delight in God’s creation, calling it not just good, but very good. That delight in creation is highlighted by God’s rest from God’s work on the seventh day; it is as if God took that day to just take in the wonder and beauty of all that which God has created. It is as if God says to God’s creation, “You are my beloved handiwork, I take great delight in you.” The creation myth of Genesis 1 is a powerful and ancient confession about God’s vision for the world, and about God’s delight in the goodness of God’s creation.
“You are my son, the beloved one, in you I take great delight.”
A voice from heaven says. And in this water, as God reaches out to God’s people yet again, Jesus’ ministry begins with his baptism. It is surprising; as we’ve wrestled with in adult forums - If Jesus is sinless, why would Jesus even need to be baptized (by John or by anyone else for that matter)? People gather at the river to be baptized by John. We don’t know what exactly brought each of them to the river to be baptized by John. We don’t know, specifically, what brokenness they were experiencing. They were waiting for the Messiah. They sought forgiveness, perhaps in preparation for that Messiah. I think it is fair to say that, whatever brought them there, they sought to experience and to be in relationship with God. They’re nameless; they are ones that we cannot see - the Gospel text doesn’t let us get that close. Yet, the “one who is more powerful” than John, walks among them. Jesus lines up with the masses of people. Jesus does not turn away from them. Jesus does not condemn them. Rather, Jesus joins them in the water. For Luke, this is why Jesus is baptized. Here, Jesus identifies with the people in the brokenness and the darkness of their lives and of their world. In this water, Jesus takes on all that leads people to the waters on himself.
As Jesus joins them in the water, God takes delight, pleasure, happiness, in Jesus, the beloved son. The cycle of brokenness is, well, broken. This one, the beloved one, is the one who will restore humanity to its intended relationship with God. This one, the beloved one, is the one who will do whatever it takes in order to bring all people to Godself. This one, the beloved one, is the one who will bring good news to the poor and to proclaim release to the captives, in an endeavor to bring all into right relationship in the new community of the Kingdom of God. This one, the beloved one, is the one who will usher in the reign of God into this world, here and now. In Jesus, God stands in solidarity with humanity in their brokenness and in their sin. And God’s grace shines through. Here, in this water, Jesus sees the brokenness of those we cannot or do not want to see. Here, in this water, we see a glimpse of the world as God intended it to be - and God delights in it and delights in God’s son. God finds great delight in the ministry of reconciliation and restoration that God’s beloved son is beginning.
As we move through the Gospel of Luke this year, that ministry of reconciliation and restoration will be revealed further. For the Gospel of Luke, Jesus’ ministry focuses on restoring the outcast, the hungry, those on the very margins of society. As we heard in the magnificat, just a few weeks ago, God “has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; God has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty.” It is a vision for the world of a community of people back in right relationship with each other, where all are wrapped up in the kingdom of God.
This ministry, ultimately, will lead us to the cross. That cross where Jesus, innocent, will hang on the cross in between two criminals. In Jesus, we have a God that risks even death to enter into our darkness, our brokenness, our worry, our sin. Here, on the cross, Jesus identifies so totally and completely, not with the joys, but with the pains of our lives. Here, on the cross, Jesus embraces us in God’s love with an unconditional acceptance of us. No longer can our humanity nor the darkness of our world threaten separate us from God. And we are free to be human, living out our humanity fully and deeply.
Our baptisms, while different than Jesus’ baptism, unite us in Jesus’ death and resurrection. We are freed from any need to justify ourselves to God. By our own power, we can’t justify ourselves. We can’t justify ourselves through good deeds or the avoidance of bad deeds. We can’t justify ourselves through who we are or who we aren’t. We can’t justify ourselves through our sexuality or our understanding of our gender. We can’t justify ourselves through our place in society or what we do for a living. We can’t justify ourselves by having the “right” understanding of God or of Scripture. We can’t justify ourselves through having the “right” religious experience or being free from doubt. In Jesus, all of that goes out the window. But the Good News this morning is that, in this water, Jesus stands alongside us, and through Jesus, we are fully justified and brought into relationship with God. God binds Godself to each one of us in a covenant that nothing can separate us from God or God’s love - not because of what we do or who we are, but because of who Jesus is and what Jesus does. In this water, God lives out God’s intent for a deep and intimate relationship with God’s people. Our relationship with God is what God intended it to be from the very beginning. God accepts us -- not an ideal version of us - but our whole selves - both sinner and saint - and in our whole lives - rejoicing with us in our joys and lamenting with us in our sorrows. Having been forgiven and redeemed, God frees us to live fully into the new life we have found in Christ - as who we are. We no longer need to feel like we have to hide ourselves - our true selves - from God. And God frees us to turn outward in service as part of the Body of Christ in our homes, in our communities, and in the world. Here, in this water, we are adopted as beloved children of God, and we are marked with the cross of Christ forever. And God takes delight in us. It is as if God says to each one of us:
“You are my child, the beloved one, in you I take great delight.”
Thanks be to God for that.