Grace to you and peace in God who has claimed us, who loves us, and who delights in us. Amen.
The last time that most of us were together was Christmas Eve. We were celebrating Jesus’ birth, and we heard that marvelous proclamation: A child is born.
Only two weeks have passed since then. But in the story of Jesus, as Matthew tells it, we’ve jumped ahead maybe thirty years. This child – the one born in Bethlehem, the one whom magi from the East came to seek out – is now a grown man, who shows up one day at the Jordan River, where a man named John is baptizing.
Now John is doing something quite amazing at the Jordan River.
He has announced that God has sent him to proclaim a baptism of repentance, for the forgiveness of sins. And folks from all over the countryside, from Galilee, and Judea, and even the big city of Jerusalem, have come to the wilderness, to the banks of the Jordan River, to confess their sins, and to receive this gift of baptism.
And one by one, they come to John, and they confess their sins to him. And John proclaims God’s forgiveness of all their sins, and he baptizes them, immersing them in the waters of the Jordan.
And then, one day, Jesus shows up at the banks of the Jordan River. He takes his place in the crowd, and he waits until it is his turn to wade into the Jordan.
In this crowd, Jesus is just like everyone else. Just a country bumpkin from Galilee. But when he gets to John, John recognizes him. “Whoa, wait a minute! Jesus, you’re coming here and asking me to baptize you?? I should be asking you to baptize me!!”
But Jesus insists that God has called him to this place, to be baptized by John. And so John baptizes Jesus – he immerses him deep into the waters of the Jordan. And when Jesus emerges from the river, something incredible happens. The sky opens up. The Spirit descends on him like a dove. And a voice from heaven says, “This is my Son! My Beloved! With him, I am well pleased!”
Perhaps this translation doesn’t help us to understand the full emotion of these words, of what God is saying about Jesus. So listen to a few other translations:
The Common English Bible says, “This is my Son, whom I dearly love; I find happiness in him.”
The New English Translation says, “This is my one dear Son; in him, I take great delight.”
The New Living Translation says, “This is my dearly loved Son, who brings me great joy.”
And the Message says, “This is my Son, chosen and marked by my love, the delight of my life.”
Wow, right? There’s no mistaking God’s love here. It’s like this is God’s proud parent moment: like God is a mother or a father bursting with pride, who wants everyone to know, “That’s my boy!!”
This happiness, this joy, this delight: I’ve caught glimpses of this as I’ve watched my parents become grandparents. As you may know, my sister had a baby girl in September, and my parents became Baba and Grandpa. And you can see it in their faces, when they hold their baby granddaughter, when they play with her, even when they talk about her or show you pictures on their phone. They light up. Anyone can see just how much Baba and Grandpa delight in this little baby.
Their joy, their happiness, their pride: it’s not because of anything that this little baby has done, or anything she has accomplished. It’s simply because she is.
And in the same way, at Jesus' baptism, God the proud parent declares for the entire countryside to hear, “This is my Son! I love him! And I delight in him!”
And it’s not because of anything Jesus has done. He hasn’t performed any miracles yet. He hasn’t healed anyone yet. He hasn’t even preached a sermon. God’s joy, God’s delight in Jesus is simply because he is.
And everyone at the Jordan River that day heard it. There was no mistaking it: God showed up and told everyone how proud God was. “This is my Son! I love him! And I delight in him!”
[At the font]
Once upon a time, you were baptized. Perhaps your parents brought you to a font like this one as a baby, or perhaps you came on your own two feet. On that day, a pastor poured water over your head, and said, “Beloved child of God, I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.”
And at that moment, God’s Spirit stirred up inside you. And God proclaimed: “You are my child! I love you! And I delight in you!”
And everyone around that day witnessed that moment. And there was no mistaking: God had done something truly amazing. God gave you a promise. God declared God’s love for you, a love that is immeasurable, a love that is undying, a love that delights in you, not for anything you have or haven’t done, but simply because you are.
And this is why baptisms are not private events. This is why we hold them on Sundays, with everyone around, so the whole community can say, “I was there the day you were baptized. I was there when God said, “You are my child. I love you. And I delight in you!” So that the whole community can bear witness to God’s love for you.
So that’s our role, as a community of faith. To bear witness to God’s love for each one of God’s children, whether that child is nine months old, nine years old, or nineteen years old, or ninety-nine years old. That’s our job, to remind each other as often as we can: “You are God’s child! God loves you! And God delights in you!”