Baptism of The Lord Sunday C – You Are The Beloved
I took a walk on New Year’s Eve along the local river, the Dodder. The flow, after another winter storm was fast and plentiful, and the sound of it gushing and rushing over the rocky riverbed and splashing against big boulders was therapy for the soul. I was reminded of some lines from Mary Oliver’s poem “Evidence”: “I listened to the voices of the river talking. Whenever the water struck a stone it had something to say and the water itself, and even the mosses trailing under the water. And slowly, very slowly, it became clear to me what they were saying. Said the river I am part of holiness. And I too, said the stone. And I too, whispered the moss beneath the water.” Echoes of holiness, of otherness in our world.
We celebrate the Baptism of the Lord this Sunday. For Jesus, his baptism was not a cleansing from sin; something more was going on. Luke doesn’t describe the actual moment of Jesus’ baptism but tells us what happened afterwards. “While Jesus after his own baptism was at prayer, heaven opened and the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily shape, like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, ‘You are my Son, the Beloved, my favour rests on you’” – Luke 3:23-24. Commentators see in this a very public call to arms and the decisive response of Jesus to his God-entrusted mission. His baptism was a transforming experience in which he heard the voice of God telling him he was uniquely loved, accepted and valued by God.
John’s baptism was to prepare people for the coming wrath of God. Jesus’ mission was to preach the Good News that the reign of God – his love, mercy and forgiveness – was already here. After his baptism, Jesus was at prayer when this extraordinary event happened and he heard himself called ‘The Beloved’. The event allowed him to experience the monumental reality of God’s love and shouldn’t be seen as a moral-teaching story. We impoverish the gospels when we see them primarily as moral teachings. The gospels are about calling us to experience the primacy and priority of God’s love, mercy and compassion.
Seeing Jesus’ baptism as a call and response to God throws light on our own baptism. Our baptism defines us publicly in relationship to God and to one another. It makes us a child of God, related to God in a different way, and enrols us in the public domain as Christian. “About a third of the world’s population are baptised, 2.4 billion people. People are baptised for all sorts of reasons, perhaps because of a profound experience of conversion, or to pass on their faith to their children, but also just because it is expected, to please the grandparents, to get the child into a Christian school, or just as an excuse for a party. Baptism is foundational to who we are but may seem an unremarkable event, in essence the splashing of a little water and the uttering of a few words….” – Timothy Radcliffe, Take the Plunge, Intro.
Fr. QQ. – 1/5/2022