Isaiah 43.1-7 / Luke 3.15-17, 21-2
When looking at today’s gospel reading the question that stuck in my mind was: “Why does it matter that Jesus was baptised?”
It’s a very short story here but Luke obviously thought it was important enough to include, so there must be some purpose to it other than just a story about Jesus’s life.
Water is a powerful symbol in the Bible, with contradictory meanings.
In the beginning God is shown bringing creation and order out of watery chaos.
Here water was both the birthplace of creation and a place of danger.
Then water is used to turn bare earth into places full of plants of various – here it is a source of life and renewal.
Then in the story of the Flood water is a cleansing agent to wash away evil and restore the world to how it should’ve been – at least temporarily.
And the sea is described as the home of great monsters like leviathan, symbolising chaos and the world without God.
Even our first reading today refers to this, talking about having to pass through rivers that threaten to overwhelm us.
So water is both chaotic and dangerous, and the place of new life and healing.
And this is where Jesus went in today’s gospel reading.
Jesus is about to start his public ministry, and the first thing that happens to him is that John plunges him fully under the water of a probably not particularly clean river and holds him there for a while.
And it’s important that Jesus took this step because it shows us that wherever we go Jesus went there first.
For life isn’t only lived in safe, clean places.
It’s lived in sleepless nights and worry-filled days, and in moments of contentment and joy.
In relationships that are good, bad and something in-between.
It happens in jobs and schools and homes, in times of joy and fulfilment, and in times of boredom and despair.
It happens in hospitals and prisons and attempts to find a better life.
It happens in places of power and wealth, and among those who struggle to make ends meet.
It happens in moments of great triumph and great goodness, and in moments of sin and failure.
Life happens everywhere people exist, and so it can be chaotic or healing, destructive or renewing.
And when the waters of life threaten to overwhelm us the story of Jesus’s baptism teaches us that we aren’t the first ones to pass through a raging river.
Jesus has already gone in ahead of us.
We can’t go anywhere in life that Jesus hasn’t already been.
And there’s nowhere we can end up where he won’t be standing right next to us.
In more technical language, in his baptism Jesus identifies with all of humanity, becoming one with us in all the aspects of our lives – both good and bad.
So, one answer to the question “Why does it matter that Jesus was baptised?” is that it is a clear sign of Jesus becoming one of us, experiencing human life from the inside, and becoming our guide through the waters of life.
But there’s a second aspect to this story of Jesus’s baptism.
When Jesus comes out of the water he hears these words from heaven:
“You are my Son, the Beloved, with you I am well pleased”.
These words don’t come as a result of anything that Jesus has actually done – he hasn’t yet healed a single person, raised anyone from the dead, preached or taught or called anybody to repentance.
These words come to him because he’s God Son and the Father loves him – not for anything he’s done or thought or said but just because.
In this baptism the Father claims Jesus for his own.
Of course, we might think, that applies to Jesus, he’s the Son of God, but does it have anything to do with me?
Well it does because in our own baptisms we enter into the baptism of Jesus.
We are also claimed by God, we are also given the Holy Spirit, and we also are recognised as belonging to God’s family.
We become sons and daughters of God.
God looks at us and says with love and approval “This one is mine! I see my image in her. I’ll send down my Spirit to sustain and guide her”.
This is reflected in the words of the baptism service, where it says, “Christ claims you for his own”.
There’s no need to wonder whether we’ve done enough to be accepted or considered worthy.
We don’t need to worry about whether we’re loved as much as the next person.
We all face struggles at times to be good people, to cope with difficulties, to keep our faith alive, but none of that affects how God sees us for even a second.
For God says, “You see him? I’m so proud of him. He’s not perfect but he’s mine”.
So, Jesus’s baptism matters first because it’s a sign of Jesus becoming one of us.
And secondly it matters because it paves the way for our own baptisms and for our own belonging to God, and it shows us that God’s love and approval don’t depend on who we are but on who he is.
For God says to each one of us “You are my beloved. With you I am well pleased”.
It sounds unlikely but it is the truth.
And it’s in the knowledge of our secure place in God’s love and family that we can go out into the world, face its difficulties, strive to live better lives, and share the good news of God’s love with all.
We do all this not to earn love but because we are already loved, and that love prompts us to follow Jesus.
And we do all this to share that love with others who are longing to hear God’s voice saying to them, “You are my beloved. With you I am well pleased”.