Luke 3:15-16, 21-22
A voice came from heaven, ‘You are my Son, the Beloved; my favour rests on you.’ (Luke 3:22)
The feast of the Baptism of the Lord which we celebrate this Sunday brings to conclusion the celebrations of Christmas and Epiphany. Today Jesus descends in the river Jordan to receive baptism and after emerging from the flowing waters he is manifested to those around him as the Son of God, as the One loved and honoured by the Father above all, and as the One in whom the Father rejoices.
The scene described in our gospel reading must have been quite astonishing for those present as it may be for us too who read about it almost 2000 years down the line. The voice coming from heaven and the appearing of the dove of the Holy Spirit are astounding elements full of meanings in themselves, but there is a yet more astonishing point in our story, something about this baptism that few people may easily overlook, whilst others may find deeply puzzling; and it is the very identity of the one being baptised, Jesus the Son of God. This episode is recounted in three of the gospels, and in Matthew’s version of the event even St John the Baptist feels more than a little uneasy about this when he says to Jesus, ‘I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?’ (3:14)
The baptism that John was administering on the banks of the Jordan was a baptism of repentance; those who were immersed in the waters of the river by him confessed their sins and failings seeking forgiveness, and they promised to repent, that is to change their lives, following ever more closely the commandments of God. So in a sense this is similar to the Baptism we ourselves have received at church; but think for a minute about who is being baptised here… Our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ. He who was born of a virgin through the action of the Holy Spirit, he who was announced and proclaimed by angels at his birth, he who was greeted by a new star appearing in the skies, he who knew no sin and never did any wrong, he who is God; today he submits himself to a ritual designed to give repenting sinners another chance at life.
He, who is described in the Bible as ‘holy, holy, holy’ (Isaiah 6:3), is happy to ‘blend into the grey mass of sinners waiting on the banks of the Jordan’ (Benedict XVI, Jesus of Nazareth, 16). Today he is truly revealed as the Emmanuel, God-with-us. And just what is the reason behind Jesus’ actions? Our Lord does this in order to show us the way, to point us towards what we should do ourselves.
In the gospels Jesus teaches us how to live as his followers, as Christians, and in today’s reading he gives us clear examples of two basic aspects; the first one is to repent of our sins, admitting our wrongs, and growing each day to be more and more loving towards God and towards others.
The second aspect about being Christians is never to think ourselves better than others or never to consider ourselves above others – if Jesus, who knew no sin, humbled himself to be with repenting sinners, who are we not to seek repentance, and to look down on others who fail just as much as we do?
If we do these two things that Jesus shows us today we too will blessed by the Holy Spirit descending on us and by the voice of the Father saying, ‘You are my Son; my favour rests on you.’