But now thus says the Lord, he who created you, O Jacob, he who formed you, O Israel: Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine.
When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you.
For I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior. I give Egypt as your ransom, Ethiopia and Seba in exchange for you. Because you are precious in my sight, and honored, and I love you, I give people in return for you, nations in exchange for your life. Do not fear, for I am with you; I will bring your offspring from the east, and from the west I will gather you; I will say to the north, “Give them up,” and to the south, “Do not withhold; bring my sons from far away and my daughters from the end of the earth —
everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory, whom I formed and made.”
Now when the apostles at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had accepted the word of God, they sent Peter and John to them. The two went down and prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit (for as yet the Spirit had not come upon any of them; they had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus). Then Peter and John laid their hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit.
Luke 3:15-17, 21-22
As the people were filled with expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Messiah, John answered all of them by saying, “I baptize you with water; but one who is more powerful than I is coming; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”
18 So, with many other exhortations, he proclaimed the good news to the people. 19 But Herod the ruler, who had been rebuked by him because of Herodias, his brother’s wife, and because of all the evil things that Herod had done, 20 added to them all by shutting up John in prison.
Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heaven was opened, and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”
So please be sweet, my chickadee And when I kiss ya, just say to me “It’s delightful, it’s delicious, it’s delectable, it’s delirious, It’s dilemma, it’s de limit, it’s deluxe, it’s de-lovely”
So goes part of a refrain from Cole Porter’s song De-lovely which is most famously heard in the musical and movie Anything Goes.
I don’t know who gives you delight. I don’t know whom you take delight in…
Actually it sounds a little archaic doesn’t it.
I take delight in….
But that is what is in our gospel lesson today. When Jesus is baptized, the voice from heaven says: “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”
This may be a mash up citation of Psalm 2:7 (“I will tell of the decree of the Lord: He said to me, ‘You are my son; today I have begotten you”) and Isaiah 42:1 (“Here is my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights; I have put my spirit upon him; he will bring forth justice to the nations”).
It is hard to say if the gospel writer tried to make the words from heaven sound like those two scriptures…
And what we have is a remix…or what the voice from heaven actually said including tone and emotion…
…because all we have is a translation which doesn’t always do justice to the original.
Many of the translations of the New Testament phrase it this way…
With you I am well pleased. Or
I am pleased with you.
But pleased doesn’t really do it justice.
It sounds like your child ate all his or her vegetables and so you are pleased with him or her.
But it is much more than pleased.
Pleased is so understated and always seem to have the meaning that the person has to do something for the other to be pleased.
It sounds conditional.
And that it one of the problems of literal translations.
Consider this gem from the King James Version in Song of Solomon. My beloved put his hand to the latch, and my bowels were moved for him.
Today we might say: my heart went up in my throat
I was so filled with yearning for him,
My excitement knew no bounds
And so when Jesus is baptized and there is a voice from heaven which says to Jesus personally.
You are my son. In you I take delight.
Or with you I am pleased.
It really means that God is over the moon.
That God is filled with such joy and delight that God cannot contain God’s self and God literally speaks to the earth with a pronouncement of love for God’s child.
And it is not a conditional love. I am pleased with you because you have done something good. It is an expression of unconditional joy and delight in ones’ child.
I know that feeling. I am sure that you do too.
Spending time over Christmas and the holidays with children and grandchildren give me such joy and delight.
And my two granddaughters, every time I see them, my bowels are moved for them…
Oops, I mean, I am over the moon with joy and delight and excitement…
And not because they are good, but just because they are…
It is an unconditional feeling.
Maybe because I am a grandparent and there is a different relationship than parent, but it doesn’t matter what they do. They can throw temper tantrums or not eat their food, (although with Spencer that never really is a problem. Spencer loves to eat) or do whatever and all I feel is love and joy.
The point is that Fiona and I don’t love our grandchildren because they are good or only when they are good, but we loved them before they even knew us, and we love them good or bad or whatever.
And more than even loving them. They fill us with amazing joy.
This is the sense of baptism I want us to understand today.
John comes on the scene and John baptizes for repentance.
John in effect says:
You are a bunch of bad sinners and you have to change your ways, and repent, and get with the program.
In fact in the early church and in the later church there was always speculation about why Jesus was baptized; and maybe in the early church some embarrassment about Jesus being baptized, because Jesus wasn’t a bad sinner who needed to repent and get with the program, so why was Jesus baptized.
And so sometimes in the church we think that baptism is primarily about us repenting, about us asking forgiveness, about us choosing to follow Jesus.
That is why some churches won’t baptize infants or children until they are old enough to confess sin and repent.
But when Jesus came on the scene baptism became a whole different thing.
It wasn’t about our doing and about us…
It was about God’s doing and God’s loving and God’s forgiving and God’s accepting. And God’s spirit and God’s power…
All for us..
God’s love and acceptance and joy is the same as Fiona and I have for our children and grandchildren. It is overwhelming and unconditional…
So Jesus’ baptism is not about him repenting…it is about his identity.
God has made him child of God, son of God; and loves him and is overwhelmed with joy.
And when the water washes over us in baptism it is a sign of what God is doing.
God is taking such delight in us, God’s children… God is overwhelmed with joy.
Imagine that for a second. God takes such joy and delight in you, not because you are good or bad or whatever, but just because you are you, and you are God’s child.
That is not to say that God doesn’t care about what you do,…or that when you do something that hurts someone that God doesn’t want you to repent and change…
But that is not the primary feeling God has for you, nor the primary reason for baptism.
In baptism God is declaring to the world. You are my child. You overwhelm me with joy and love.
In Luke’s gospel there is an interesting turn of events. The lectionary leaves out verses 18-20 of Luke chapter 3. I included them.
The lectionary leave out the verses where Herod arrests John the Baptist and throws him in prison, because in Luke’s gospel it seems that John is already in prison and then Jesus is baptized.
Well if John is in prison, who baptized Jesus?
I think it is a literary device used by Luke. The other gospels have John baptizing Jesus.
I think though, Luke uses this literary device to point out something: that the real baptizer is the Holy Spirit.
The real baptizer is God’s Spirit.
When I put water on Gracia and Rachel, Harry really isn’t baptizing them, God is the one soaking them in love and acceptance, and declaring to the world: These girls are my children. They fill me with love and joy to overflowing.
But there is something else going on at Jesus’ baptism. Who is there?
According to Luke there were people from the whole territory there.
Crowds of people from all over, from every walk of life. Jews and Romans and others.
Specifically in Luke’s gospel John the Baptist calls them all snakes. In Matthew’s gospel it is just the Sadducees and Pharisees he calls snakes, but Luke acknowledges the brokenness of all humanity.
And Luke mentions two groups of people. Not good people either. Tax collectors: Jews who are working for the evil empire Rome and cheating the people of their money.
And soldiers: Roman enemies, who are the ones who carried out most of the rapes and assaults and violence on the Jews.
All these broken and wounded sinful people are going into the Jordan to be baptized, and yet, that is precisely where Jesus ends up; In the Jordan river, being baptized with the snakes, the enemies, the violent, the cheats and the traitors, with Jews and foreigners alike.
By wading into the water he identified with all of broken humanity.
In fact it is right after this that Luke puts in his gospel the genealogy of the ancestors of Jesus and shows that the ancestors go right back to Adam; and that Adam is son of God. Therefore since we are descendants of Adam we are all family with God and Jesus.
In a recent episode of the television show Madam Secretary, the Secretary of State Elizabeth McCord, played by Tea Leoni finds out that Arizona is separating refugee children from their parents and keeping them in cages in detention. (Sounds like something in real life, doesn’t it?)
When she goes to Arizona and gains entrance to one of the facilities she is arrested for trespassing.
When she appears before the judge the judge says that the Secretary of State will be released on her own recognizance pending her trial, but Madam Secretary says that as long as the children are in detention she will stay in jail in solidarity with the children.
That what Jesus does. He enters whatever prison we find ourselves in. He enters the waters of our faults and failures. He stands with us in all our pain and problems. He is beside us and with us in all our sin, with his grace and forgiveness.
Jesus is there for us… He is taken prisoner for us, and executed by an unjust power, for us… because Jesus is our family and he loves us and always stands with us.
You see, our relationship with God, our status as children of God, is the one thing we cannot screw up, because we didn’t make it, God did.
God makes us God’s children, family with Jesus, and Jesus stands with us and loves us and never gives up on us, come hell or high water. Amen