Baptism of Christ

Today we celebrate the feast of the Baptism of Christ. For us, in the church of the western world, I think it would be fair to say that this feast day has become a bit of a half hearted affair – not as cosy as Christmas and not as exotic as Epiphany. Not as picturesque as either. But this feast is a continuation of the Christmas season – every week we are given hints and reminders of Jesus, God with us, and of glory – the God of whom Jesus is part.

So here are echoes of Christmas. Here, the Son who’s birth we mark at Christmas, is announced by the Father. In the culture in which Jesus lived, public declarations of paternity – ‘I am this child’s dad’ – were of great importance. This pronouncement by the voice from Heaven is a declaration to us that this man, standing in the river, wet and bedraggled – is God’s son.

This passage is the only passage in the Bible, so far as I know, written in Lancashire dialect. God is ‘well pleased’ with his son – everything was well good, as we say – perhaps our young people more than others

To most ears this passage sounds singularly unexciting. God being ‘well pleased’ sounds singularly underwhelming to most english speaking people. What the word really says is that God is full of delight and joy, as anyone would be in acknowledging their child.

The voice of God also expresses love – my beloved. The greek word is the famous ‘agape’ – again, often used to describe that profound love between parents and children. Think of taking a newborn child into your hands, this thing of wonder – I don’t think you even need to be its parents – you might be its aunt or uncle, a grandparent or a friend of mum and dad. That lurch of the heart – that is what God is talking about here.

So here, the New Revised Standard translation of the Bible has done us something of a disservice. This is a passage oozing with love, delight and tenderness.

Jesus’ baptism in the wilderness by John is something of a puzzle, for John was preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. If we believe in Jesus’ sinlessness this is a bit hard to understand. We don’t really know why Jesus came to be baptised by John. Maybe it was simply an opportunity for this revelation of love to be made.

It was Jesus’ last wish that his disciples should go out into the world and baptise people in the name of God; Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Making the link back to the events recounted in today’s Gospel reading, we begin to understand the message – Jesus, sharing with us that great expression of God’s love and delight, of God voicing his fatherhood.

So we know from our Baptisms that God loves us, all of us. That God delights in us. That we are God’s beloved children.

And, this week, in hard times – for many, lonely times, let’s not forget – God loves us, delights in us, and calls us by name. We are God’s beloved children