Well here we are – Twelfth Night, the end of the church season of Christmas.
I’m fairly sure that today’s extracts from our advent book are intended to focus on baptism in general and our cleansing from sin in particular – but somehow I can’t quite bring that into focus.
What sprang out at me was that part of the baptism story when the spirit descends on Jesus like a dove and the voice from heaven says “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” And it got me thinking. There are an awful lot of “he”s in that sentence…
“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.” Now it is clear that John is doing the baptizing. It is also clear that Jesus was being baptized and is the “he” who is coming up out of the water. What is less clear is who saw the heavens torn apart – John or Jesus. This question so intrigued me that I went to the parallel passages in Matthew and Luke. In Matthew the implication is stronger that all the”he”s refer to Jesus. In Luke there are no “he”s – the proclamation is simply stated that this is the Beloved Son of God, with no indication about who heard this amazing truth.
Until today I’ve always thought that John and the people heard the proclamation – now I’m really not so sure. I now suspect that, at His baptism, obeying fully Abba Daddy God, Jesus Himself hears from His Father Who He is. Let us never, ever forget that the Jesus we read about in the gospels was a flesh-and-blood really-truly-human guy. He didn’t pop out of Mary’s womb fully grown or with a fully developed sense of identity and purpose. He grew into a full understanding of His nature and His calling, just as we all need to do.
As I read and pondered upon this passage my mind also went to yesterday’s and today’s Gospel readings – the account in John’s gospel of Jesus calling His first disciples. Yesterday He greets Simon with “you are Simon – you will become Peter”. In meeting Jesus, Simon Peter finds his true identity. And as we know with hindsight, having read the end of the story, Simon Peter’s life with Jesus, sharing the day-to-day ups and downs and ultimately meeting Jesus in what he thought was his ultimate defeat, enabled him to grow into the fulness of his identity in Christ. And today Nathaniel is told about Jesus and says “Nazareth? you must be joking! Nothing good ever came from Nazareth!”. His brother Philip responds by simply saying “come and meet Him for yourself”. Nathaniel does – and in that meeting finds that he is already known and recognised and accepted.
So just as Jesus discovered His true identity in relationship with the Father, and the Father confirmed that to Jesus when He was living in obedience, so we discover our true identity first by meeting Jesus and then living moment by moment in relationship with Jesus and through Him with the Father, who we discover is our Father also – for us too, God the creator of the universe is also our Abba Daddy God. It is in spending time with God, as Jesus did, that we are increasingly able to hear Him calling us by name – maybe even calling us by a new name – and revealing to us the fullness of the life for which we were born.
And as we step out into a new year and an unknown future, let us put our hands in the hand of the Man from Galilee and go with our heads held high, confident that He is right by our side every step of the way..
Thank you all for travelling with me over the past few weeks.
And here are other people posting on the Advent Book Club: