Jesus came to John to be baptised.
John tried to stop him, saying, ‘Why do you come to me to be baptised?’.
What kind of world – and what kind of God?
This year has got off to a difficult start.
Wildfires in Australia have burnt an area almost the size of Ireland, which itself covers over 32,000 square miles.
And now trouble has flared between the US and Iran, causing uncertainty and the threat of war.
Such headlines, and ones closer to home of violence and crime in our own communities, can cause us to question what kind of world we live in.
Is it a hostile world, a neutral one, or a welcoming world?
And, beyond that, is God hostile to us, indifferent to us or does he welcome us?
If we look at the painful places within our own lives we meet similar questions and problems.
These are the places we might keep buried, hidden in our hearts, but the memories can still make us sad or afraid.
Such experiences and memories can cause us to doubt the goodness of other people, the world and of God.
This becomes even harder if we sign up to the idea that Christianity is all about being good, that we are completely sinful, and that we killed Jesus by being bad.
With ideas like that God can’t be on our side, never was and never will be.
Such a view kills our spirit, our faith and our hope.
The most we could hope for is a neutral God, away in the distance watching but not getting involved.
You might know the song “From a Distance”, written by Julie Gold, which talks about God watching us from afar and seeing a peaceful world living in harmony.
I’ve never liked this song as it sounds too much like what I’ve just been talking about – a God who’s far off, not getting involved, and not understanding how things really are.
Although, to be fair, I should point out that Gold says she believes that God does get involved and that the song is about the difference between how things are and how they seem to be.
But whether we believe God is angry with us or just indifferent we’re in trouble.
On one hand we have a God who we’re always trying to appease while knowing that we can never meet his standards.
And on the other hand, we have a God whose attention we are desperately trying to attract.
A surprising God
But neither of these are the God that we have.
Back in our gospel reading, when Jesus turns up at the Jordan John is taken aback.
John is aware that his baptism is a lesser thing compared to what Jesus brings.
He knows that he’s only a messenger, that Jesus must increase and he must decrease
Yet Jesus is standing in front of him asking to be baptised along with all the other people, as if he was a normal person.
It’s one thing for Jesus to turn up in power, but quite another for him to wait in a crowd for his turn to be baptised.
John was so surprised that he even tried to stop Jesus being baptised.
As great a prophet as John was he hadn’t yet grasped what Jesus’s mission was all about.
To John God was powerful, other, a bringer of judgement, someone to be appeased.
He wasn’t someone who comes to us and joins in with everyone else.
So, John asks in surprise, ‘Why do you come to me?’.
And this is a question we may ask as well.
Sometimes it seems unbelievable that God would come to us.
Maybe it’s because we believe God is distant, cold, and uninvolved.
Maybe we think we don’t deserve to have God come to us.
Maybe we were taught that God is more concerned with our behaviour than with our life.
Maybe pain, difficulty, losses and bad news have caused us to wonder if God even cares.
Maybe God doesn’t act, speak or think how we expect.
God won’t fit in our box and we can’t seem to get out of it.
I don’t know when or if you ask John’s question but if you do the answer is found right here, in the baptism of Jesus.
When Jesus went down into the water with all the frail, flawed human beings he went because he wanted to save us by being one of us.
He joined in with a baptism he didn’t need to identify with us, with our needs, our hopes, fears, dreams, hurts and failings, in short with our situations as human beings.
And he continues now to come to us because he wants to be one with us, to walk with us, and to help us become the people he knows we can be.
There is no one to whom Jesus doesn’t come.
He comes to the people who’ve lost homes, businesses, friends or family in the fires in Australia, as well as to those putting their lives in danger to battle the flames and rescue both people and animals.
He comes to the people who live in fear of bombs and missiles and loved ones being sent out to make war, as well as to peacemakers.
He comes to people living with deep sadnesses, traumas and fears that imprison them, as well as to people who are full of joy and celebration,
He comes to people who commit crimes, and to their victims, to people who’ve made a mess of everything and those who seem to have everything sorted.
He doesn’t come in the way John expected, or in the way we might sometimes wish for.
He doesn’t come with fire and fury and bolts of lightning, crushing enemies and forcing the world to bend to his will.
Instead, his way is to stand by us, to go into the waters of life with us holding our hand, to be the friend, guide and helper who’ll never leave us.
When Jesus came for baptism John tried to stop him.
Imagine if he’d succeeded?
Welcome or shun?
Yet we all have the ability to stop Jesus coming to us.
We can decide to shut him out, not listen, let difficulties and our inability to always understand what’s going on turn us away from him.
Or we can welcome him in, let him have all of us, both good and bad, allow him to be part of both the happy and the sad parts of our lives, and see the difference he can make when we only let him come to us.
So, may Jesus come to us now and always, in all the seasons of our lives, and may we have the grace to let him in, fully, openly and completely.