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... - Isaiah 43
...When Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, ... a voice came from heaven, "You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased."- Luke 3
Dear friends -
Can we imagine the Heavens opening, and hearing the voice of God saying to us, "You are my child, with whom I am well pleased"?
Actually, I really believe this happens all the time, to all kinds of people. Sometimes we believe it. Sometimes, we mishear it and draw the conclusion that God really said was, "I am more pleased with you than I am with anyone else." Sometimes, we simply hear it and don't believe it at all - or don't even hear it above the noise of our brokenness.
But God keeps whispering it, to every one of God's children.
The heavy-hearted people of Israel, exiled to Babylon, had a hard time hearing these words of comfort. Little wonder; the prophet Isaiah had just finished saying, in verses just before his words as written above, that the people were banished in exile because they had abandoned their God. While there might be fair debate about whether God actually did so directly, Isaiah told his people a real truth: they had forgotten the holy favor - and challenge - that God had placed before them.
But God had not forgotten them.
I recently found myself in conversation with a parent whose childrenreally, really don't like attending Sunday School. The parent was anguished about this; did not want to battle with or force the children to attend. After listening to this anguish, I answered with my view that forced religious instruction is worthless; even a violation. We worship voluntarily; if we don't choose it, it isn't worship. We learn about God because we choose to, not because someone requires us to. And God is present in the public school - as everywhere - even if it's not the lace where we teach about God.
Jesus didn't have to be baptized. To put it really simply, baptism in his time was seen as a means of washing away sin. Since Christians tend to assume Jesus to be without sin, what point would there be to washing away something that wasn't there? Religious scholars have even gone so far as to say that the story of Jesus' baptism, which appears in all four Gospels, is actually embarrassing.
But maybe Jesus comes forward to take part in this sacrament as God's way of saying, "With you I am well pleased. I am glad to be among you - one of you - even in your brokenness. I'm not doing this because I have to, but because I want to be with you."
Why? Because, as God says, in the words of Isaiah, "I have called you by name; you are mine... [I will be with you wherever you are]."
A broken, grumpy, cynical, fear-filled world is healed by these words. Like the crowd gathered in Luke's telling of the baptism of Jesus, we are all "filled with expectation" about a different, better world. One where brokenness yields to wholeness; where grumpiness yields to joy; where cynicism yields to hope; where fearfulness yields to gentle courage.
God comes among us, by active choice, to invite us, in our turn, to make the same active choice. God keeps whispering, "You ARE my child, and with you I am well pleased."
Can we hear this? Do we believe this? How might this change us - and the world - if we really believed it?
We keep trying; we choose to keep trying.