Listen to God’s voice: you are God’s beloved, the pleasure of God, and the Spirit is on you to be God’s promise to the world.
Pr. Joseph G. Crippen
The Baptism of Our Lord, year A (First Sunday after Epiphany)
Texts: Isaiah 42:1-9; Matthew 3:13-17; Acts 10:34-43
Beloved in Christ, grace to you, and peace in the name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen
It’s not clear if anyone nearby saw or heard what happened to Jesus in the Jordan.
In John’s Gospel John the Baptist says he saw the Spirit descend on Jesus. But the other Gospels, including Matthew today, if they say anything, say the heavens were opened “to Jesus” and “he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove.” Then the voice speaks: “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”
So did anyone else see the heavens opened? See the Spirit like a dove? And if they didn’t, did anyone hear the voice of God, either? It may be that only Jesus was privy to this whole event.
Regardless, Jesus did experience this, and two things changed him utterly.
He saw the Spirit of God come to him. Now he knew he was connected into the life of the Trinity from which he came, and God’s Spirit, part of the divine dance he knew before creation, now filled him.
And he heard the voice of the Father, calling him a beloved Son, well-pleasing. What that meant to Jesus as the eternal Word, we can’t know. But as a human being like us, this must have been a powerful gift, to be affirmed as beloved and a pleasure.
These two things were meant for what was now coming. From the river, Jesus went into his ministry, the job he came to do as God’s Word from before creation. He headed into the wilderness for forty days of temptation, which we’ll hear about in over a month as Lent begins. After that, he was preaching and teaching and healing and calling people into God’s love. Fulfilling Isaiah’s prophetic word today, being the God’s covenant for all the people, God’s fulfilled promise. A light to the nations, opening eyes, bringing those imprisoned out into the light. Proclaiming justice and, Peter reminds Cornelius in Acts today, proclaiming peace.
Jesus did all of this with this new confidence from his baptism: He was joined into God’s life through the Spirit. And he was God’s Beloved Son, well-pleasing to God. That’s what carried him through all the coming challenges and trials.
But are you content today to simply come to the Jordan River again, as we do every year, and just watch?
The early Church boldly looked at words like Isaiah’s today, and Isaiah’s words for next week, and the ones we heard in Advent, and said, “These are about Jesus, the Christ. He’s God’s servant Isaiah promises.” We look at the same verses from Isaiah and agree: clearly we’re talking about Jesus.
But sometimes we in the Church just stop there. We celebrate this moment where Jesus is baptized and named God’s beloved, well-pleasing Son, and look forward to all the saving work he will do, culminating in his revealing of the height of God’s love for the world in dying on the cross and rising from the dead. We claim him as the Christ, God’s Son, our Savior. And happily move on with our lives.
You could do that today. But first, listen more carefully to the Church’s witness.
The Church took their understanding of Isaiah a lot further.
The experience of Pentecost – another coming down of the Spirit of God, this time on the people of God – led those first believers to understand that Isaiah’s promises applied to them, too. That they were part of God’s covenant to the people, God’s light. God’s servants.
They claimed this on themselves in baptism. So even though we don’t know who besides Jesus saw or heard anything at the river Jordan that day, after Pentecost the Church said, “We were there, too. We, too, are washed in God’s water, have the Spirit within us. We, too, heard God’s voice say we are God’s beloved children, well-pleasing to God.”
Though the Church at times forgets this, there have always been voices calling us to the riverside ourselves, delighting not just in Jesus as the baptized beloved Son of God, but delighting that you, and I, and all God’s people, are God’s beloved, well-pleasing to God.
And therefore, also called to all these servant missions that Isaiah declares, that Jesus fulfills, and now are yours to do, and mine.
This is the joy of your baptism, if you can hear God’s voice and trust God’s Spirit.
In the waters of baptism – even if you were too small to remember it – God’s voice said, “This one, this is my beloved child. I am well pleased with you.” God’s Spirit filled you, and still does. God’s Spirit, as Isaiah proclaimed to us in Advent, the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and might, the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of God, the Spirit of joy in God’s presence.
God’s Spirit, Isaiah proclaims today, gives you breath and strength, holds you by the hand and keeps you, and then gives you as God’s covenant to the people, God’s promise to the world. Gives you the power to open eyes, and free those imprisoned and in the dark.
Remember, though: before Jesus began his calling, he faced that wilderness testing.
That story is coming in Lent, but remember it now, too. Jesus needed to hold tightly to “You are my beloved” and to the Spirit within him, to deal with the testing in the wilderness, and the testing of his ministry. He needed to keep learning who he was, what God needed him to do, and that learning often happened in the middle of suffering and challenge.
It will for you, too. This world is eager to crush your hope of being God’s beloved, to shut your light down, to tell you you are not important to them, much less to God. You yourself might be one of the voices saying to yourself, “I can’t be God’s beloved child, God’s covenant with the world.”
Suffering and difficulty also test your sense of this truth and its calling. When things are hard, it’s equally hard to keep in mind who and whose you are and what your path is. Being light in this world today, a peacemaker in a world lusting for war, a voice of freedom in a country of walls, will be very hard.
And even though Jesus did his forty days in the wilderness and then his ministry, there wasn’t a clear line between testing and ministry for him. People always questioned him, doubted him. He had setbacks, failures. He even had moments wondering if God the Father was with him, and he was the Son of God, one within the Trinity! This continued through and including the cross. It will for you, too.
But: can you hear God’s voice? Listen carefully.
The Scriptures proclaim it, and it’s about you: you are God’s beloved child, and well-pleasing to God. You are. God’s Spirit is in you.
And now God needs you to fulfill God’s covenant promise to the world. To walk away from your baptismal water wet with that promise and keep that wetness as a reminder of God’s blessing and call. So, like so many of God’s beloved before you, you can proclaim the good news of God in Christ through your words and deeds, serve all people, following Jesus’ example, and strive for justice and peace in all the earth.
You are beloved of God, God’s Spirit is in you, stirring in your heart even now. You are not alone, even in the wilderness of this world. Go as God’s beloved and love and serve as Christ.
In the name of Jesus. Amen