When we go to church we hope maybe, just maybe, God will have something to say to us, that God will put something we need to hear into words we can understand. Psalm 29 tells us God speaks in things we can see and hear and feel, but does not promise words. The Gospel gives us a God who speaks, but it’s not clear if anyone but Jesus hears the Voice.
John is there, baptizing him, perhaps a little warily. He knows the relationship ought to be the other way around, that Jesus has something to give him that he cannot give back in equal measure. So even though it’s not clear whether John saw the heavens open up around Jesus or heard the voice of God proclaiming Jesus as a beloved child, John’s hesitation tells us he knew this wasn’t some ordinary guy coming out to the River Jordan for a cleansing dose of repentance.
It’s a funny little conversation they have, an awkward acknowledgement that they stand at the edge of more than a river. They stand at the edge of incarnation, of God’s knowing habitation in human flesh.
When you put it into words, it’s pretty amazing. And I wonder, did Jesus know what he was getting into when he went to John? If he was God, surely he knew, we might say. But he was human, too, and maybe he had a sense that something was up, and maybe he didn’t really know it all the way for sure until he heard the Voice put it into words.
You are dearly loved, said the Voice, on his baptism day.
We may not remember the details of the event.
Perhaps we were babies, gently held while a kind hand cupped full of water touched our sweet heads. Perhaps we were older, guided by a strong arm as the water rushed over us. Each baptized Christian has been acknowledged as a member of the same loving family in which Jesus is a dearly loved son. Promises were made, whether for us or by us, to renounce evil and oppression and to follow in the way he laid out for us.
At baptism, we put it into words. We name each baptized person as a child of God. As members of God’s family, we have work to do in this life we live. It is a work of faith, a belief in the Christ who came among us and lived a human life, in the Spirit that lights the way we are to follow, and that even in the darkest times, there is a God—there IS a God!—whose Voice calls out that we are dearly loved, too.
This is a week late – sorry! – but is the first in a series I hope will be helpful to preachers in 2014. I’m proud to be among a great group of writers who contributed to Abingdon’s Creative Preaching Annual for 2014 (also 2015 and just signed on for 2016). You can get a paperback copy at the link or buy it for your Kindle.