The Baptism of the Lord

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Baptism of JesusThe Central Panel of the Baptistry Tapestries in the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels, Los Angeles, created by John NavaThe story of Jesus, according to Mark, begins with his baptism:

“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.” (Mk. 1.9-11)

Jesus came to himself at his baptism – he knew who he was uniquely. His uniqueness was that relationship of a son to a father. It was through his baptism that he discovered his unique self.

So when we begin to reflect upon who we are we too can begin with our baptism. It is there we are named, “John” or “Mary”, and are identified uniquely. There is no one who is precisely as we are. No one can give to the world what we can. So we begin with our uniqueness. As Jesus came in the fullness of time for his unique self to be revealed, we come in our own particular fullness of time for our unique selves to be revealed.

So Jesus, the Redeemer, accepted his time, the circumstances of his time, the people of his time. He did not wish for another time, not another set of circumstances, not different people, different social structures, a different place. Since his time was the only time for the uniqueness of himself to be, he accepted his time. This present age is our time.

Jesus was immersed in the river Jordan. He went all the way down – down into his history, the history of his people, down into their sin and weakness, down into the depths of their life. He took upon himself the hands of John, and John’s preaching the baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. Jesus identified himself with his people. He did not stand off, he went down with them. He took for himself all their sins as well as their righteousness. He was willing to let his people tell him who he was – or rather, it was only as he accepted them, identified with them that he heard inwardly – nobody else heard it – the declaration that he was a beloved son in whom his father was well pleased. He discovered himself through his people. It meant acceptance, immersion, and going down with them.

Jesus came to his understanding of who he was and we come to our understanding of who we are, by fundamental decisions at certain turning points in our lives to trust somebody else, to trust some other people, deliberately to involve ourselves with them. As we let them carry us we let God tell us who we are.

God usually speaks to us through the pressure points of our lives. God deals with people as God sees fit to deal with them. But it seems fair to say at those decisive turning points, where we are forced to make decisions about life because there is no other option to us, that God comes to help us discover who we are and who God is calling us to be.

How do you become who you are? As you trust yourself, your fellow human beings, and your God, they will tell you who you are as you make your decisions to go toward them in trust, to be immersed, to be involved.

The Christ is in that immersion with you. The Christ is in those people. The Christ is immersed in the waters and the turmoil, in the pain and the difficult decisions, in all the struggles. Jesus is there with you in that kind of immersion.

The Christ is also in the opening of the heavens when you see the vision of who you are and who you are to become. It is the voice of your Redeemer that you hear: You are my beloved. This is really who you are. I like you. I love you.

Excerpts from a series of radio talks in 1997 by the late Bishop John B. Coburn, formerly Episcopal Bishop of Massachusetts, USA.

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