For some reason we get this baptism story numerous times in the church calendar. But it’s only during Epiphany that I wonder why it took God so long to reveal this information about Jesus. I mean, given the historical data, many scholars believe this event took about 30 years after Jesus was born. So what happened in between? Why did God make us wait?
The gospel of Luke gives us a birth story and one quick glance of a precocious 12 year old holding an intense Q&A session with the Rabbis in the Temple. But that’s it. And Matthew skips over the birth to talk about some Magi coming to visit baby Jesus a year or two later.
There are no stories about Jesus having weird emotional mood swings during puberty. Or him dealing with pimples and peer pressure.
Nothing about Jesus’ parents totally embarrassing him. Or him trying to find the words to ask someone on a date. None of the gospels write about Jesus sulking in his bedroom wishing that “someone would just understand him.” And that’s probably a good thing. I think if we knew those stories, Jesus might come off as a little too human for our comfort.
But he was human. And yet he was more than just a man. As he will discover, Jesus is also the manifestation of God’s love in the flesh. He would spend his short life revealing to himself, his community, and to us what that would entail.
In his book “Lamb. The Gospel According to Biff, Christ’s Childhood Pal” author Christopher Moore offers us a great, satirical look at our young, recently bar-mitzvah Messiah. Part of the story focuses on him going on a spiritual quest to find out who he is, and his purpose in life.
Not long into their journey, the two pals come across his crazy cousin John, who is screaming wildly into the heavens while drowning people in the river. The boys try to avoid him but can’t. Before he could resist, John grabs his cousin and pushes him underwater.
While he’s fighting for air, the heaven open and God reveals these divine words to the world. “This is my Son, the beloved, in whom I am well pleased.”
When the young boy comes up from under the water, everyone is starring at him, but no one will tell him why. He has to continue his mission in order to find out who he is, and who God made him to be.
Although it’s satire, it does remind us that Jesus is like us. Which means we can be like him. Which means on any given day, God can tear open the heavens and reveal to the world who we really are: Beloved children. In whom, God is well pleased.
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We don’t know what Jesus did up to this point to earn that title. I mean, what does one have to do for God to say this about you? Or does it take anything? Maybe we’re born beloved. And we just need to go out into the world to discover this truth for ourselves.
Many years ago, my father and I were hiking in the Hollywood Hills. He had come out to visit with me because my personal life was falling apart. It was on that walk my father confessed he didn’t know how to help me because he had never experienced the dark pain of divorce. “But” he said, “you are my son, and I will stand by you no matter what.”
His willingness to join me in my pain, change the course of our relationship forever. Here I was lost in a wilderness of despair. The Hollywood Hills was my Jordan River. The tears that flowed down my face were the waters of my baptism. And my father’s words echoed over the canyon, "You are my beloved." I didn’t do anything to deserve it. Talk about an epiphany!
Charles Hoffacker writes, “On this special day of epiphany, we remember how Jesus declared solidarity with our sin and suffering by accepting baptism at the hands of John—not because he needed it, but because we needed him to be baptized for us...This baptism is a manifestation, not only of Christ but of the Trinity. Jesus is there in the river. The Spirit descends on him like a bird. The Father’s voice announces from heaven, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”
Perhaps the gospel writers jump over the early years to teach us how it’s not our birth but our baptism that marks the beginning of our awakening.
Or maybe they point us to the river so we’re not fixated on the human side of Jesus, but focused on his divine side, the part of him that draws us back to God’s heart. This is a part of him, that thanks to him, we are able to share with him.
That part is God’s grace and love made manifest to the world. A part that reveals to us that we are God’s beloved.
We don’t earn it, or buy it, or barter for it. It’s just given to us. No matter what! To add to that good news, we don’t have to be perfect to claim it.
In fact, I would argue the less perfect we are the better it is, because it helps us understand and grasp the concept of God’s grace and deep affection for us.
This gift frees to become a manifestation of that love, not by living Jesus’ story but by living our own in imitation of him.
Tarfon, a rabbi from a long time ago, makes this same point when he advised, “It is not up to you to complete the task. Nevertheless, you are not free to desist from it.” Because the thing is, God needs you and me, like God needed Jesus. Through us God’s love is made manifest in the world.
Jesus’ baptism is an epiphany moment in that it gives witness to the world that he belongs to God. Like Jesus will later tell his disciples, “They will know you belong to me by the way you love one another" (John 13:35).
Love is our outward sign of our baptismal promise.
As we continue on our pilgrimage journey may we never forget that by our own baptisms, we too are sealed into the body of Christ, confirming within ourselves who we are called to be - God’s beloved Sons and Daughters.
Each one of us is given the same relationship with the Father that Jesus had. Each of us is given the same power of the Holy Spirit that emboldened Jesus to enter into our pain and enlighten us with truth. Each one of us bears the same responsibility to give of ourselves just as Jesus did.
We each have a different story of the same love and grace we share. So let us out into the world as God’s beloved to continue Jesus’ earthly ministry; longing for the day we can hear our Lord say to us,
"When I was hungry you fed me, when I was thirsty you gave me drink. When I was a stranger you let me in. When I was naked you clothed me. When I was sick you comforted me. And when I was in prison you visited me. For every time you do stuff like this in my name, I am well pleased.”
Adapted from a previous sermon My Father’s Voice Calling Out To Me. January 10, 2016.
Hoffacker, Charles. Johnny Appleseed Christianity. January 2, 2023 (Accessed on 01-05-23).
Willlimon, William. "Preaching Epiphanys." ChristianCentury, January 2014.
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.”