In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters.
Then God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light. And God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness. God called the light Day, and the darkness was called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day.
John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. And people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him, and were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. Now John was clothed with camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. He proclaimed, “The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals. I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”
In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”
This is the Word of the Lord
Thanks be to God
My Beloved, My Own
“The Holy Spirit descended upon the Anointed One in visible form, like a dove. A voice from heaven said, “You are my Own, my Beloved. On you my favor rests.”
– Luke 3:22, Inclusive Bible Translation
Many of you may know that I was born and raised in Rural Central Florida. If you grew up in this part of the world, like I did, you might have had the experience as a kid of exploring in the Florida woods. For those of you who didn’t grow up in this part of the world, let me give you a sense of what that was like:
Running through the center of the Florida peninsula, there is a vast network of rivers and springs that wind through an often densely wooded landscape. If you’ve ever spent time in the Everglades, you can probably imagine it – think more jungle than typical American forest – with water bubbling, and springing, and sometimes pooling around your feet at every turn. As kids, we were always taught two important things about this watery world:
1) Assume every body of fresh water has alligators in it, and that they will eat you.
2) If you find yourself at an unfamiliar place in the woods, return to the river.
It will lead you home.
The Journey of faith is filled with joy, and connection, and miracles.
It can also be perilous and uncertain.
In that way, it’s a little like the Central Florida woods.
There is abundant life. There is glorious beauty. And … there are times when we find ourselves in places where the landscape shifts, and suddenly it doesn’t feel as familiar as it did just a short while ago.
The New Year sometimes has a way of leaving us feeling a little bewildered.
Where did the season go?? Weren’t we just gathering for Thanksgiving, like, last week? Weren’t we just lighting those Advent candles… yesterday? Was the Christmas pageant really four weeks ago??? How can it be that the joy of this season can feel so beautiful and so bright, and yet so fleeting at the same time…? Where does it all go? And can we go there too??
On a day like today, maybe we all need to return to the river.
Every year, right at the beginning of things, the Lectionary brings us back to this story – to the sacrament of baptism. We return to the Jordan River, where Jesus was baptized, where John has been preparing the way for Jesus’s arrival.
We didn’t hear it today, but maybe you’ve heard somewhere before, the beginning of John’s story in the gospel of Luke. John, along with being the cousin of Jesus, and a famous baptizer of faithful people, was also a kind of prophet. And in the early chapters of his story in Luke, he finds himself in prison, his life in jeopardy, after speaking the unwelcome truth to a powerful king.
This is one of those moments, early in the story of Jesus where we first begin to understand that things might not always be comfortable or easy for those who bear the message of the coming Reign of God. In fact, this is a path marked by suffering, uncertainty and peril.
Yet, in every Gospel account, the story of these wondrous events offers us two important messages:
- Life is uncertain. 2) You are beloved by God.
This path that Jesus walks through the Gospels is not just a story of how a savior moves from incarnation to resurrection. It is a template for what the journey of faith will look like – for all of us. The words spoken by Holy Spirit at the baptism of Jesus echo the words of comfort from the Prophet Isaiah, “I have called you by name. I have taken you by the hand. I have kept you”. This is what we affirm together as we revisit this story, and every time we remember our own baptism.
Long before we chose God, God chose us.
God chose us.
Being chosen and beloved by God doesn’t mean that we won’t suffer.
It means that in the depths of our suffering, God is right here with us.
God loves us still.
Throughout this Advent and Christmas season, we’ve been asking the question: How Does a Weary World Rejoice?
Today, the answer to that questions is that we remember that we are beloved by God, and we belong to God.
Belonging to God is our primary source of Joy.
And we learn through this story of baptism, that we are God’s joy too. Because in speaking to Jesus, in the waters of the river, the Holy Spirit was speaking to all of us. All of humanity. Reminding us how precious we are, and how loved.
We don’t have to do anything for this to be true. We can be struggling, and imperfect. We can be lost in the woods, or lost in our own thoughts of self-doubt. Still God’s says to us, in the words of the Holy Spirit,
“In you I find happiness and delight.”
The waters of baptism do not eliminate our difficulties.
They do not fix our problems, or change the circumstances of our lives.
Instead they change us.
They help us to see the beauty all around us. They help us to access the joy that lies within every precious moment of this human life, and remind us that we are part of something that is bigger than any one of us on our own.
While life is uncertain, painful, and full of despair, we are beloved. We belong to God, and we are called to rejoice in that truth.
In light of all that we carry on our journey, this is the perfect Sunday to return to the water, to let go of that which weighs us down, and to immerse ourselves the presence of God.
[Invitation to the baptism font]
As we do this, hear the voice of the Divine all around us whispering,
“Rejoice. Rejoice! For you are precious. I love you. You are mine.”
This is our river. We can come back to it whenever we need it.
It will always carry us back to the place where God’s love will find us.