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Somewhere in my house, there is a button I got a few years ago that says, “Jesus loves you, but I’m his favorite.” I thought of that button when I read today’s Gospel lesson. As a young girl, I longed to be unique, to be noticed for who I was, and to know that I had God’s blessing. Whenever I heard the account of the Baptism of Our Lord, I could not help but wonder what it would be like for a ray of light to come from the heavens and for a voice to say, “This is my child, the beloved, in whom I am well pleased.” What would it take, I thought, to be the kind of person that God would think was an exceptional being?
It saddens me to think that for so many years, I felt that one had to be exceptional to be loved by God. My child’s view of the world was that only if one was kind, obedient, and followed all the rules, would they would be worthy of God’s love. Of course, now I know that God’s love is a gift freely given to us and that we are all worthy of that love just because we are who we are.
At the same time, it does not seem to me that we can do anything we want, any way we want, and still assume that our relationship with God is perfect as is. If that were the case, we would not have needed Jesus to show us how to fully live into our human identity and our spiritual communion with God.
For many of us, Baptism is the beginning of a lifelong commitment to seeking an understanding of what it means to be a child of God. It is a relationship that begins with a set of promises, sometimes made on our behalf when we are babe or children, and later on when we, as adults, renew those promises within our faith community. The Book of Common Prayer tells us that “Holy Baptism is full initiation by water and the Holy Spirit into Christ’s body, the church.” And that the bond which God establishes in Baptism is “indissoluble.” With Baptism we become Christ’s own forever, and that relationship can never be broken.
Holy Baptism is the process by which our parents, godparents, or we commit to Christ and to live the Christian faith. We promise to pray, continue in the teachings of the Apostles, to participate in fellowship, to resist evil, and when we do sin, repent, and return to God. We promise to share the Good News of God in Christ and to serve one another with love. We promise to work for justice and peace and to respect the dignity of other human beings. We ask for God’s help to live into this covenant because we know we cannot depend on our will power to keep faith with our Creator. We look to Jesus to show us how to go forth and do what we promise God we will do.
It is easy to understand why John was surprised when Jesus came to him to be baptized. Remember that John recognized Jesus as the anointed one when they worth both still in their mothers’ wombs. John’s ministry was to prepare the people to return to God through a ritual immersion designed to wash away sin and to purify the body. So, you can see why John wondered why Jesus, the one born without sin, would ask to be baptized? Although he was still probably unsure about who should baptize whom, John chose to trust that Jesus would know the right thing to do. Scripture tells us that this was the right thing to do because God affirms this decision by saying, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”
Like John, we may not initially understand or even agree on how things should be done. However, can trust that Jesus always knows what is right. When we choose to follow Jesus, to model our lives after his, to trust in him for guidance and strength, we affirm our belief that Jesus is our savior. Jesus will show us how to be in a relationship with God from the time we are vulnerable babies until the day we are called home to be with God forever. We can go forth in the world to heal and do good. We can go forth into the world to seek justice and peace. We can go forth into the world, knowing that God equips us with gifts of grace that come from living in communion with God’s beloved. The bond between God and us cannot be broken because God is with us. Our Emmanuel, God and human, shows us the way to live rightly and to keep the covenant we have made.
We make our promises to God, knowing that we will need God’s help to keep them. Human nature is such that we are subject to going astray, forgetting our purpose, and sometimes we are just plain lost. Prayer can be helpful, and there is a prayer that comes from the Forward Day by Day called For Today that helps me to focus on God’s will and not mine. I share it with you now in the hope that you will also find it to be useful.
“O God: Give me strength to live another day. Let me not turn coward before its difficulties or prove recreant to its duties. Let me not lose faith in other people. Keep me sweet and sound of heart, in spite of ingratitude, treachery or meanness. Preserve me from minding little stings or giving them. Help me to keep my heart clean and to live so honestly and fearlessly that no outward failure can dishearten me or take away the joy of conscious integrity. Open wide the eyes of my soul that I may see good in all things. Grant me this day some new vision of thy truth. Inspire me with the spirit of joy and gladness and make me the cup of strength to suffering souls. In the name of the strong deliverer, or only Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.”