Isaiah 42, 1-5, 6-7 + Psalm 29 + Acts 10, 34-48 + Matthew 3,13-17
We all suffer from a bad case of “habituation.” The symptom of “habituation” is that nothing surprises us, and there is no place where our case of this shows up than with the Bible. So, nothing surprises us, and therefore nothing leads us to deeper reflection. That is not good. This Gospel story should cause us considerable surprise, and lead us to a lot of soul searching about what is going on and what it means for Jesus to be Baptized. What does it mean for Jesus to be numbered among the sinners? It’s as though you might come into a church and find Jesus standing in line for confession! What’s that all about?
It is not by chance that this feast completes the season of Christmas and our annual celebration of the Incarnation. The Baptism of Lord, feast and fact is perhaps the ultimate affirmation by God through Jesus Christ assuming our humanity. All of our humanity, even the sinful part. The whole life of Jesus was about embracing humanity, the sickness, the poverty, the helplessness, the dying and the sin! He took it all upon himself. By his choice to be with and among publicans and sinners, he was judged by some to be a sinner. Guilt by association. Remember how they criticized him for the company he kept? This was his way of being with those he came to save, heal, and redeem. His association with them was the beginning of their salvation.
The Jewish people in the first century were not an aquatic people. Water was something to be feared. It represented the power of chaos. To be baptized involved loosing control. Being swalloed up by water was a departure from the order and contol of the universe. His immersion in the Jordan anticipates the chaos of his death.
In reality, at this moment of his Baptism, Jesus is Adam He is everyone. See the similarity between this moment and the moment of his death. The sky opens. In this account, a voice from heaven speaks. At Calvary, the voice of Centurian speaks in behalf of us all. It is the same message. In Jesus, the whole sinful mass of humanity is accepted and loved by God. At this moment Jesus knows something that no one else knows: in spite of sin, there is no longer any seperation between heaven and earth, between God and the human family. Sin which is that very seperation is finished. Even while we were sinners, God’s love is more powerful. Even if we do not go to God because of our sinful ways, God comes to us!
This is the very heart of what Jesus preached, and the very goal of his mission.
Here is the challenge. As long as we we do not recognize our sin, the gratuity, the grace of God’s love, is undsicovered. To think that we are without sin fakes our relationship with God. It is the awareness of our need, the acknowledgement of our guilt that provides us access to God’s merciful love. It is only through the door of mercy that we find access to the heart of God.
Something happened at this point in the Gospel: a carpenter’s son became the hearld of God’s Kingdom. At this moment it became clear to Jesus that the relationship he experienced with the Father in the Spirit was accessable to all, and the doorway of that relationship was recongnition and acceptance of the truth that he is one with us. Everything he did was for our sake and for our salvation.
We celebrate today the humanity of Jesus in its totality. In him we see our own humanness more clearly. Because he was willing to be associated with us sinners we never find in him that attitude heard in the prayer of the man who said: “Thank God I am not like the rest of men.” We cannot find salvation in our own private world. The man of that prayer was isolated, stuck in his individualistic life. We see that our isolation from God isolates us from one another making us lonely and sad, empty, and alone. The Incarnation we celebrate is our reunion with one another as well as our reunion with God. The human family is restored.
Pope John Paul II insisted that individualism “leads to the denial of the very idea of human nature” This thinking and this behavior leads us to trample on the rights of others, destroys the foundation of the human community, and corrupts and saddens those who embrace it. This leads to the exploitaton of others.
Philosophers made a distinction between being a “person” and being an “individual.” A person means being in relationship with others; being an individual means we are distinct and seperate. Personhood allows us to grow in cooperation with others. Indiviuality only asserts that we are different. Jesus chose not to be different. His Incarnation breaks the isolation of sin and draws indiviuals back into personhood as God created us.
Rejoice today, my friends. Look around. See those around you. See what God has done in Jesus Christ by drawing us together, healing our divisions and our sins. Stand in the strength of God’s Spirit in the face of what sin remains, and let it be overcome by never seeing a stranger or by never making one. The more the human family comes together, and the more we risist alienation and seperation. The more we love our neighbor as ourselves, the more the Kingdom of God is revealed. The message that springs from the waters of the Jordan is that God is one with us, and nothing can seperate us from God and nothing must seperate us from one another. What a surprise it is to find Jesus among us.