In this past week there’s been an enjoyable TV series on BBC4 of people going on winter walks in the Yorkshire Dales. Each programme lasts 30 minutes and features a variety of well-known personalities filming themselves with a 360 degrees camera as they walk unaccompanied for about six miles, delighting in the scenery and conversing with people they meet along the way. The walks start shortly after dawn and conclude at sunset.
Although the programmes, generally, present winter at its mildest, we know that winter can be a hard and cruel season. It is merciless when the weather is at its worst. Fortunately, although we have had snow in the past week, this winter, with some exceptions, we have not had the floods that devastated so many homes around the country in previous years. And how uplifting it now is to see the snowdrops appearing, the daffodil stems peeking above ground, and the first cherry trees in blossom! Winter has its moments of kindness too …
Weather played its part in today’s Gospel story about the baptism of Jesus. We find him with the followers of John the Baptist at the end of the rainy season in Palestine, in late March or early April. It’s when the rivers, like the Jordan and its streams, would be filled with the winter rains and the sun had warmed the shallow waters to a comfortable temperature. John stands in the River Jordan with Jesus and fully immerses him under the flowing water. It’s a symbolic act of dedication to God which Jesus undertakes.
We are told that when this took place Jesus heard a ‘voice’ saying: “You are my Son, the Beloved; my favour rests on you”. This is a key moment in the life of the adult Jesus. It’s when he comes to know his true identity – who He is and what God is calling him to do. It’s where and when here he fully realizes that he is God’s Son and Servant, called by God for a special mission. He learns that he is God’s “Beloved” and is called to undertake the mission outlined by the Prophet Isaiah in the first reading.
There is a short poem by the American poet Raymond Carver that always comes to mind when I hear this account of the baptism of Jesus. The poem is carved on Carver’s gravestone. After a turbulent life, which included alcoholism, he found the love of a fellow poet, Tess Gallagher, and sobered up for his remaining years. He tells us in the poem that what changed his life was the human experience of being loved by another person – of being someone’s beloved. When he became terminally ill, he wrote the following:
And did you get what you wanted from this life?
And what did you want?
To feel myself beloved on the earth.
Carver discovered that to be someone’s beloved, unconditionally loved by another, is a wonderful blessing and, perhaps, one of the greatest of all.
For the Christian, there can be an experience even greater than this human one – to come to know, as Jesus did, that I am God’s beloved, that I am loved unconditionally by God, that I am God’s ‘beloved’. The challenge for you and me is to understand that by virtue of our baptism into the Church we also are God’s beloved – we have entered into a relationship of love and acceptance by God that no failing on our part can terminate.
O to truly know in the depths of our being that I am God’s beloved, that God looks on me as favourably as Jesus discovered at his baptism!
Holy Name, Jesmond
10 January 2021