In just three short sentences we are presented in the Gospel (Luke 3:15-16, 21-22) with a most decisive moment in the life of Jesus – his baptism in the River Jordan. This event was so important that all four Gospels record it at some length.
His baptism is the moment when Jesus became fully aware of his true identity – the beloved Son of God – and of the mission (outlined in the First Reading) to which he heard God calling Him.
St Luke’s account of the baptism is quite short. He does not describe the event in detail but dwells more on what happened before and after it.
The bare facts are that Jesus was part of a crowd responding to the preaching of John the Baptist. Like the other followers of John, Jesus joined them in being baptised – fully immersed or submerged – in the flowing waters of the River Jordan.
Afterwards, Luke says, while Jesus was ‘at prayer’, he had a mystical experience in which he heard God saying to him ‘You are my Son, the Beloved; my favour rests on you.’
From that moment it was as God’s ‘beloved’ (and with God’s ‘favour’) that Jesus dedicated the rest of his life to the mission God gave him. He invited people to join him in a new community – which he called the ‘kingdom’ – comprising people who would follow His way of relating to God.
It is through our own baptism that we formally join this same community and become, like Jesus, a ‘beloved’ daughter or son of God. In this community we have a bond with Jesus that can never be broken. He became God’s ‘beloved’ here on earth precisely that we might know how beloved and special each one of us is to God.
This sense of being the ‘beloved’ of another is wonderfully captured in a short poem by Raymond Carver :
And did you get what
you wanted from this life, even so?
And what did you want?
To call myself beloved, to feel myself
beloved on the earth.
Carter, suffering from cancer at the time, looks back on his once turbulent life and now rejoices that in his later years he has finally found love. He, now loved by fellow poet Tess Gallagher, is her ‘beloved’. While his is an experience of human love – although all love comes from God – there is also a divine love which Jesus discovered at his baptism. It is in this love that each one of us is also a beloved son or daughter of God. Each one of us, in our relationship with Christ, is God’s beloved, members of a community where Christ is at the centre and everyone is accepted.
In practical terms all this means that no matter who we are, or what we may have done in the past, or even will do in the future, we never cease to be God’s beloved. In God’s eyes, we are better than our worst mistakes. The same Spirit that empowered Jesus at his baptism comes to us in ours and draws us into a union with God that nothing can destroy.
So we are celebrating today not just the Baptism of Jesus but that through him – and in spite of ourselves – God looks as favourably on us as he did on Jesus. We are ‘beloved on the earth’, no matter our past or what is to come in the future..
Holy Name, Jesmond
9 January 2022