Jesus is baptized today and he doesn’t seem to have done much preparation for it. He just shows up and demands to be baptized. Well, let me tell you a story about a priest who wants to make sure that a young family has prepared well for the baptism of their child.
The priest approaches the young father and says solemnly, "Baptism is a serious step. Are you prepared for it?” "I think so," the young man replies. "My wife has made appetizers and we have a caterer bringing plenty of cookies and cakes for all of our guests. "I don't mean that," the priest responds. "I mean, are you prepared spiritually?" "Oh, sure," says the young man. "I've got a case of beer and a case of whiskey. We’ve got plenty of spirits!”
I hope that Jesus was better prepared spiritually for his baptism. I don’t think that he attended classes or had sponsors. Who would Jesus have had for a godfather? God? My guess is that he knew all about what his crazy cousin, John was up to there on the banks of the river as he was very well known. John might have been the black sheep in the family, one his mom had warned him about. “Stay away from that crazy cousin of yours, off eating bugs and never combing his long hair. That crazy hippie!”
John may have seemed crazy but hordes of people were coming to be baptized and they all had the same experience: John yelled at them about their need to repent, then he dunked them in the water. First and foremost though, was the issue of repentance. Remember that to repent in this sense meant to change one’s ways, to turn away from sin.
In fact, even the holiest of holy people, the Pharisees and Sadducees, had come down to the river, hoping to join in with the crowds. John attacked them: “You brood of vipers!” he yelled. “Prove by the way you live that you have repented of your sins and turned to God.”
Repent, repent, repent. That was the main point of John’s baptism, which brings us to today. Jesus patiently waits in the crowd, slowly working his way up to John. He then asks his cousin to baptize him. Boy, that puts John in an awkward place. Long ago, when a newly pregnant Mary went to visit Elizabeth, who was pregnant with John, John knew, knew as he leapt in his mommy’s belly, that Jesus would be the coming messiah. Jesus is THE holy one, the son of God. Why on earth then, is Jesus coming to repent. What sins can the son of God have?
Incidentally, this baptism story was a great conundrum for the early church. Just as it perplexed John, it perplexed them. Why would the perfect son of God seek a ritual of repentance? Others could use this baptism as evidence that Jesus was an ordinary man, not the messiah. So let’s see what happens:
When Jesus asks to be baptized, quite logically, John says “No. I’m not supposed to baptize YOU. It’s the other way around. You should be baptizing me.” I never fail to envision this as these two young men standing there by the river going back and forth saying; “No, you baptize me; No, YOU baptize ME!”
Jesus insists: “Let it be so now. This is a proper thing for us to do.” So John dunks Jesus into the muddy swirling waters of the Jordan. As he comes up out of the water, a dove appears and lands on his shoulder and a voice is heard saying, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”
These words beautifully echo Isaiah in our first reading today where Isaiah writes, "Here is my servant, my chosen, in whom my soul delights. I have put my spirit upon him.”
Think of what is happening here. Jesus, son of God, has been baptized. We worship a God who has been baptized. What does that mean? It means that God knows what it is to be human, to work tirelessly toward goals of peace, love, justice, goals that never seem to be achieved. Most importantly, Jesus getting dunked in the Jordan means that our Christ will never ask us to go where he is not.
He humbles himself in this act of repentance, he walks down into those swirling waters to be human, vulnerable, in a beautiful act of solidarity with us.
Remember as well, that before his robes are dry, he sets out for the desert, to spend forty days preparing for his ministry. He is changed by this baptism, he is changed by hearing God’s ringing endorsement of him; ‘my son, with whom I am well pleased.’ Nothing will ever be the same for him.
Today we will renew our baptismal vows. At our baptisms, like Christ, we also were stamped with God’s acceptance and affirmation. We also, like Christ, are God’s beloved children, and God is well pleased with us.
God is well pleased with us. God loves us as we are. We are bombarded with messages that say we need to be richer, thinner, smarter, stronger, healthier, prettier or more handsome, younger, maybe we need to not be gay. And, the insidious part of the message is that until we change, we are not OK. So think of this message: with baptism, God has declared that we are enough, that we are loved just as we are. God is well pleased with us.
A preacher named David Lose suggests this; that each of us remembers this simple thing: “I am God’s child, deserving of love and respect, and God will use me to change the world.” Please repeat after me: “I am God’s child, deserving of love and respect, and God will use me to change the world.”
I pray that we can all remember that.