Scripture: Luke 3:15-17, 21-22
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“You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” – Luke 3:22
Whenever we baptize someone these days, it often becomes a pretty big deal – perhaps it’s because we don’t baptize as often as we used to or because we love a big spectacle, but it seems that more and more the baptism of a child has become an event.
Everyone gets dressed in their finest clothes (the child is often in a fancy dress or suit), family from all over are invited and fill up the pews, presents are bought, a reception or party is planned and of course lots and lots of pictures are taken to remember the occasion. Whenever we have a baptism here there is that extra layer of hubbub and chaos that comes with it.
And why shouldn’t we celebrate, baptism is a big deal in the church after all. The church wouldn’t exist if we didn’t baptize people into the faith of Jesus Christ, into the community of the church – and so it is all well and good that we celebrate the momentous occasion of promises being made, of commitment and initiation of the receiving of God’s grace and mercy.
Baptism makes the Church a reality in the world, and so we continue to baptize and make a big deal about it too.
It just makes sense to make a big deal about Baptism, when it is one of the sacraments of the church after all! Which makes the story we heard about Jesus’ baptism this morning from the Gospel of Luke, even more remarkable, because there doesn’t seem much of a hubbub or celebration at this remarkable event.
In fact the account of Jesus’ baptism in the Gospel of Luke, is perhaps the most understated part of the narrative up until this point. Throughout the first few chapters angels have been declaring the Good News of God, declaring first to Zechariah and Elizabeth, Mary and Joseph and then to shepherds the wonderful news of God’s grand plan of cosmic salvation.
Jesus’ birth is bookended by the songs we heard all throughout Advent and Christmas – the proclamations, the public pronouncements of Simeon and Anna. Luke has hammered home the point that Jesus’ birth is significant, that the baby is more than just a baby, that God has come down to his people.
And then when we get to the baptism there is none of that. Jesus is just one of the faceless crowd baptized by John that day – in fact it’s almost an afterthought: Luke tells us that ‘Jesus also had been baptized’ – seemingly just a footnote in the story.
Despite John’s words prophesying the coming of one greater than himself and the powerful language he uses to describe the coming of the Messiah (both in this passage and before it), in our story today there is no recognition from John that Jesus is the one, there is no great proclamation, no pointing out of Jesus as the one that John was speaking about. In fact, it seems that in Luke’s recounting, Jesus is baptized with no pomp or circumstance, no special acknowledgment from the crowd or the baptizer.
Even the great revelation at the end of the passage is fairly subdued. Luke tells us that after Jesus was baptized and was praying (we don’t know when or where this happened, and clearly it didn’t impact the people around him, because the speech is directed only at Jesus) and the Holy Spirit descended upon Jesus as a dove and a voice came from heaven (again we don’t know who heard it except for Jesus) ‘You are my son the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.’
And then Luke carries on with a genealogy of Joseph as if it’s no big deal. Just part of the mundane part of life, normal and nothing to see here kind of stuff.
And that is the point to some degree. After all the words spilled about the glory of God and the wondrous circumstances around Jesus’ birth, Luke returns us to ground level somewhat – reminding us that while Jesus is definitely the Son of God (a wonder to behold for sure) he is also definitely an ordinary human being.
He’s one of us, in all of the normal, mundane ordinariness of daily life – he’s just part of the crowd he has the same experiences, the same frustrations, the same joys and challenges as all of us.
In fact, Luke really makes this abundantly clear by highlighting the ancestry of Joseph immediately following the baptism story. Because even though Jesus doesn’t actually descend from Joseph, what is more human than the tracing of lineage and ancestry – we have our own fascination with it in our day and age, we need only look at the constant advertising for ancestry.ca and other such services to see the truth of it.
And the fact that Jesus is thoroughly one of us, is good news for us, for all of us – for you and me, for your children, your neighbours and even the person you try to avoid on the street. Because Jesus is utterly human, because he identifies fully with us in our human condition, because he experiences the totality of this world broken by sin and disobedience, because of all of that the salvation he brings by his life, death and resurrection is complete for all of us – mind, body, soul and strength (as the great prayer of the Shema so beautifully puts it).
St. Athanasius, the great defender of Christ’s divinity and of an orthodox faith wrote in his work, On the Incarnation ‘What has not been assumed [by Christ] has not been redeemed.’ And what this means is that for Jesus’ salvation to extend to all of our humanity, he had to be thoroughly and ordinarily human in all of its facets.
Jesus had (and still has even as he sits at the right hand of God) a human body, a human mind, human emotions, human challenges and even ate, drank and slept just like you and me. And because of that God’s mercy and grace can come into every part of our ordinary human lives.
There is nothing in all of our human experience that cannot be reached by the grace, mercy and forgiveness of God. There is no deep dark corner of shame, or guilt or doubt in your life that the light of Christ’s mercy can’t reach. There is no hatred, ignorance or self-centredness that cannot and will not be redeemed by the healing love of Christ. There is no brokenness that cannot be fixed, no pain that cannot be soothed, no sorrow that cannot ultimately be turned to joy.
And perhaps the best news of all is that because the fullness of God chose to dwell with us in a thoroughly ordinary human existence – the very life of God is extended to us and we can be lifted up into the heights of Christ’s divinity.
God didn’t just send his Son, Jesus, into the world so that we could have the best human experience possible, so that he could be a great teacher and we could follow his example – No, God sent his Son into the world so that we might become children of God, so that we might experience the very life and love of God today and into eternity.
That is when the great revelation at the end of our passage today, becomes a revelation to us.
God speaks to us.
When we embrace the love, the mercy, the grace and life of God that he makes available to us in Jesus, by the power of the Holy Spirit – God declares to each one of us, to you and to me: “You are my daughter or son the beloved; with you I am well pleased”
Think about that and let it sink in for a moment, you – ordinary, plain old you – is God’s beloved. You in all your normal, uneventful, mundane life are God’s son or daughter.
You are his child.
In baptism, you have been marked as Christ’s own forever, you have been utterly claimed by the love of God which knows no bounds. In baptism, you have been welcomed into this odd family of God called the Church, you have gained countless brothers and sisters to share this journey of faith with. In baptism you have been promised the seal of the Holy Spirit, to give you the strength and power to live out your calling as a disciple of Jesus, as a son or daughter of God.
God say to you: ‘You are my beloved. With you I am well pleased.’
If you haven’t been baptised, know that this love is always available to you, it is extended freely to all. Know that you too can be called God’s beloved, you too can be a daughter or son of God – in all your ordinariness, in all your normal humanity.
In his baptism, in his life, in his death and resurrection Jesus has removed every barrier for us to experience the love of God and made it possible for us to join his family. He has dealt with our sin, our disobedience and made it possible for us to repent and lives live of joyful thanksgiving. He has made it possible for our ordinary lives, to be filled with extraordinary love and grace.
Today as we celebrate the Feast of the Baptism of Christ, it should reassure us that Luke’s account of the baptism is so understated, so ordinary because it gives us hope that the wondrous and infinite expanse of God’s grace, mercy and power can come into our ordinary lives as well, can make even the most mundane rituals of our lives filled with holy significance.
May you know God’s love in your life today.
May you hear God say to you in the quiet of your mind, or in the words of another ‘you are my beloved’.
May you know that God is pleased with you.
Let us pray.
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