While this is both a baptismal and epiphany story, Susan Butterworth believes it’s also a Christmas story of sorts.
She argues “this moment by the Jordan River, when Jesus is called to ministry, his divinity affirmed by the Holy Spirit and God the Father, is Mark’s birth narrative. For Mark, Jesus’ baptism by the Holy Spirit, this proof of his divine nature, is the moment of birth.”
Sure it’s not the nativity we honor at Christmas, but it is a birth story nonetheless when we consider what Jesus stated rather matter of factly to Nicodemus in John’s gospel. He said, “No one can see the kingdom of God without being “born of water and spirit” (cf. John 3:1-10).
This is where the church got the idea that baptism has an eternal culmination in heaven, which of course, raises all sorts of questions. Most notably, “Why would the beloved Son of God need to be baptized?” Doesn’t his divine nature already come with eternal privileges?
If we take the more traditional stance that baptism is for the repentance of sin, then what does that assume about Jesus? Did he need to repent for something?
And if we take the more universal approach that states we are all loved by God, and if salvation is freely given to both the washed and unwashed, then why get baptized? Is it really a golden ticket that takes you to the front of the line into heaven?
According to my faith tradition, “Baptism is an outward sign of an inward promise.” It’s kind of like getting yourself notarized - only the signature and stamp is our promise we make to God with our hearts.
Does God need us to be baptized? I don’t know if God needs it. But we do.
We need baptism because some of us are carrying the heavy burden of guilt and shame, and need to hear that the stain of sin has been washed away.
Some of us live with so much fear and need to have that assurance that at the end we’ll see God in heaven.
Some of us need to be anointed with water and oil, to have that physical mark on our life as a reminder to our commitment to faithfully follow Jesus.
I don’t know if the baptismal font is some magical realm. But I know it has transformative power. I believe we all need baptism, if only because we all need to hear God call us beloved.
If you’re going to move forward in life in God’s good pleasure, then it might be a good idea to have your heart sealed by the same divine Spirit that Jesus had.
Baptism identifies us. It seals us. But more importantly, it sends us out into the world to live a new life one which mirrors the divine life of Jesus Christ. Soaked with living water, Jesus learns his true identity and his true purpose. And so does the world. He is God’s beloved Son, in whom God is well pleased.
By definition, the word ‘beloved’ means dearly loved or dear to someone’s heart. So the way I see it, Jesus is the joy of God’s heart!
If you heard you are the joy of God’s heart, how might that change the way you approach the daily struggles of life? How might knowing you hold space in God’s unconditional love transform the way you love yourself? Or welcome a new co-worker at your office? Or deal with a difficult roommate?
Henri Nouwen wrote, “Jesus truly heard that voice, and all of his thoughts, words, and actions came forth from his deep knowledge that he was infinitely loved by God.”
Everything Jesus did from his baptism onward began “from that inner place of love.” Despite the rejection, jealousy, and hatred that he constantly he faced, Jesus “remained anchored in the love of God.”
With his new identity, Jesus moved from the wilderness into the very heart of Anamesa. In this space he healed the sick, raised the dead, fed the hungry, forgave the unforgivable and loved the unlovable. His baptism not only changed who he was, but it would go on to forever change the world.
If, by our own baptism, we become beloved children of God then we too are also called to be the joy of God heart - to live out our Christlikeness by living into our belovedness. If baptism reveals our true identity, then our job is to live baptismally in all the ways we love God, love others, and serve both.
Jesus made it clear that his ministry didn’t end with him. He commissioned and sent his followers to go into Anamesa proclaiming the good news, making disciples and baptizing all (Matthew 20:19-20). Which tells me the task of all who have been baptized in his name is to let the world know that they too are beloved children of God, called to love one another as God first loved us.
The way Jesus lived his baptismal life set the bar by which we are all called to live. Standing “from that inner place of love,” Jesus embraced God’s desire for the world. One that opposed violence with peace, bigotry with acceptance, and hatred with love.
When we stand in “that inner place of love,” we can turn the other cheek and set aside our personal needs to put others first. We can live a different kind of life that is set apart from the world even while we are very much a part of it.
To paraphrase Henri Nouwen, “Once we accept the truth that we are God’s beloved children, loved unconditionally, then we can go into the world to speak and to act as Jesus did.”
In other words, we can be who God created us to be – God’s Beloved. We all must ask ourselves, if I am God’s beloved, then am I living in a way that pleases God? Am I walking as Jesus walked? Loving as he loved? Am I caring for the least of these my brothers and sisters to the best of my ability?
Because here’s the thing, if you’ve been baptized, either as a baby or an adult, you can no longer simply live as ordinary people in the world. Instead, you are called to a new life, to live as Jesus lived, both human and divine, striving for justice and peace among all people; and serving the Christ in everyone you meet.
I don’t know if baptism gets you into heaven, but I believe when we live out our baptismal promise we brings heaven to earth. It's here, in this sacred space, we find ourselves in a covenantal relationship with God and one another.
And so I will you with this, a baptized life is not a live it once-a-week kind of life or a part-time job. Nor is it an insurance plan or a guarantee first class ticket to heaven. It is a vocation, a way of life, meant to be lived out with every fiber of our being.
Jesus has called us to follow him into space of life to fill it with the glory of God’s steadfast love. If you don’t want to follow him, if you don’t want to do what he has called each one of us to do, then what good is your baptism?
God doesn’t need you to be spotless and sin-free. God just needs you, as you are, to show up to be and bring the joy of God’s heart to a hurting world. And there is no better place to start then at the water’s edge, with the Spirit of God upon you blessing you with this divine truth, “You are my Beloved child in whom I am well pleased.”
Adapted from You Are My Beloved on January 10, 2021.
Bartlett, David L and Barbara Brown Taylor, eds. Feasting on the Word, Year B. Vol. 1 (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2008).
Bates, J. Barrington. Christ’s Own Forever. January 7, 2018 (accessed no January 3, 2024).
Jolly, Marshall A. Beginnings. January 4, 2021 (accessed no January 3, 2024).
Nouwen, Henri. You Are the Beloved. (New York: Convergent, 2017).
An ex-copywriter turned punk rock pastor and peacemaker who dedicates his life to making the world a better place for all humanity.
"that they all might be one" ~John 17:21
“Prius vita quam doctrina.”
~ St. Thomas Aquinas (1225–1274)
* “Life is more important than doctrine.”