Sunday 11th January 2009
The Baptism of the Lord
He proclaimed, "The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals. I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit." In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. And a voice came from heaven, "You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased."
In the course of his preaching, John the Baptist said, “Someone is following me, someone who is more powerful than I am, and I am not fit to kneel down and undo the strap of his sandals. I have baptized you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”
It was at this time that Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptized in the Jordan by John. No sooner had he come out of the water than he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit, like a dove, descending on him. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; my favour rests on you.”
Can you remember times in your life when you felt specially loved? It may have been when you were a child and you knew you were special in the eyes of your mother or father or grandparents. It may have been when you grew up and some one fell in love with you. Or you may think of a close friend in whom you put your total trust. If you are an older person you may think of the faithful love of your spouse over many years as you lived through the good and the bad times and grew in understanding of one another. If you are a parent you may think of moments when you were keenly aware of the love your children have for you.
Loved by God
You may remember an experience of being deeply
loved and favoured by God, a time when unexpected blessings came your way or an urgent prayer was answered beyond your expectations. I once visited an old priest on his ninety-fifth birthday. He was in a nursing home and confined to bed, but with tears in his eyes he said, ‘God has been so good to me; I can’t find words to say how grateful I am.’
If you remember a time when you felt specially loved, thank God. Your experience is like the experience of Jesus at his baptism in the river Jordan. It was a turning point in his life. He was leaving behind his home and family and his work as a carpenter to make a completely new beginning. As he joined the crowds beside the river, he did something extraordinary. He did not present himself as a saviour or a teacher or a healer. He simply joined the people who were coming to repent, to confess their sins, to be baptized by John and to be forgiven. He asked to be baptized like everyone else. Jesus knew that he had no sin, but in an extraordinary gesture of humility and solidarity with sinful and broken people, he took his place among the sinners.
It was then that he had the experience of being deeply loved. He saw the heavens opened and heard the Father’s voice: ‘You are my Son, the Beloved; my favour rests on you.’ (Or as an older translation put it, ‘You are my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased’).
The love you have experienced – has it made a difference to your life? The certainty of being loved by the Father gave Jesus the confidence and strength to carry out his life’s work to the very end. At the Last Supper he knew that his apostles would leave him on his own to face crucifixion, but he said, ‘I am not alone, the Father is with me.’ A teacher who was injured in the Enniskillen bombing was in a coma for thirteen years before he died. One of his pupils once asked him what three things he would take with him to a desert island. He answered: The Bible, the story of Robinson Crusoe, and my wife – I couldn’t live without her.’ On the strength of that love and God’s love, his wife cared for him in the hospital every day during those thirteen years.
Love is all that matters
I knew an elderly lady who developed Alzheimer’s illness. Her husband cared for her at home for as long as he could. When she had to go to a nursing home, he took two buses each way to visit her every afternoon. I called to see her once while he was present. She spoke to me for a minute or two and then fell silent. After some time she said to her husband, ‘Jimmy, do you love me?’ Without embarrassment he said, ‘Indeed I do.’ She said, ‘Isn’t that all that matters!’ There was a long pause and then she asked the same question; he gave the same answer and she said, ‘Isn’t that all that matters!’ When she had forgotten most things, she had not forgotten that she was specially loved. And I knew that in Jimmy’s love, she was experiencing God’s love for her as well.
God, our Father,
at his baptism in the river Jordan,
your Son Jesus heard your voice saying,
‘You are my beloved Son.’
May we hear your voice in the depths of our hearts
assuring us that we are your beloved sons and daughters. Amen.
Traditional site of Baptism