Baptism of Christ – morning
Sunday 12th January 2020
Epiphany 1 – Baptism of Christ – morning
Isaiah 42. 1-9
Matthew 3. 13-17
Revd Preb Maureen Hobbs
Here we are at the beginning of another New Year – possibly a New Decade (although I know there is some argument about when that truly begins). Some of you will have made NY resolutions? More will probably already have broken those you thought were a good idea on 31 December last!
We don’t often consider that Jesus himself must have made a resolution before he turned up on the bank of the River Jordan, asking John to baptise him? After all, we know he was not a child. We don’t know much about his early life after the extraordinary events of his birth and then one tantalising glimpse of him as an adolescent – giving his parents much grief and worry before they discovered him safe and sound in the Temple, debating with the scholars and scribes there.
Now here he is – fully mature. Presumably he has spent long years in the building industry with his father and maybe other family members. But he has reached a momentous decision. One part of his life is complete and finished and new possibilities are just beginning to open up. God is calling him; urging him on to realise his full potential; but what is that potential to be exactly? At this stage in the story no-one knows for sure .
Now some would argue that of course Jesus knew. He was God after all so he would know everything that lay ahead…. but personally, I am not so sure. I think that while the presence of God was very strong in Jesus, he was also fully human. And human beings cannot cope with knowing too much about what precisely the future holds. Or else we become paralysed with fear about the future. Just think back over your own life. If you had known exactly what was going to befall you, do you think you could have survived?
For what it is worth, I think this is part of what Harry and Meghan are finding so difficult to live with. We may think they have a life of privilege and comfort – but they see only a future stretching ahead with unending public scrutiny and criticism. I am not excusing them, but I do think few of us would be willing to live that life with all it entails.
But back to Jesus with John in the River. It must have taken a great deal of heart-searching to bring him to that point – a point of No Return. A point of acceptance of his calling to whatever God had in store for him.
And in one sense, he is not disappointed – on emerging a voice is heard to say, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.” – Reassurance that he is doing God’s will and a dove hovering above him, just as the spirit of God hovered over the waters of creation in the beginning of time.
And yet, – there is also a terrible loneliness that descends at the same time. If we read on, the Bible tells us – “Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.” Whatever else is coming, it is not an easy option he is choosing.
And I think we can take a great deal of comfort from this as we face the trials and tribulations in our daily lives too. Too often we may imagine that if we could only get our faith right, then we too would be carried along on a wave of confidence that would push all the troubles and doubts of life out of the way. Or conversely, we think that if faith comes only with struggle with gritted teeth and clinging on for dear life, then we are somehow failures as Christians. Both outlooks are wrong. It wasn’t like that for Jesus – so it certainly won’t be like that for his followers.
But the baptism of Jesus is important because it means that the Spirit of God is always with him, consciously with him, from that moment on. And that too is something we can claim for ourselves with our own baptism – whenever it occurs.
So this is all part of the gracious activity of God – his plan and purpose. Jesus leaves the carpenter’s shop and suddenly sets about his mission, his destiny – preaching that the Kingdom of God is all around us if we can but open our eyes and realise it. Not everyone finds it easy to accept. John asks questions and Jesus’ own family were to send after him to curb his supposed madness. But there is no turning back. What begins in the waters of the Jordan must go on until the cross of Good Friday and the ultimate Resurrection in the Garden the following Sunday. And the story of Jesus becomes our story also. We too have to learn that spiritual high spots are often followed by the struggles of living out our faith and that personal faith may – indeed will – have social consequences. Like our Saviour, once touched by the hand of God, there is no turning back.