Dec 29 2012

Joined by Jesus (Emerging from the Jordon)

Luke 3:21-22

It was time for a bath. That’s what the prophet John was telling us. A bath … not quite like any other. He’s coming, the Baptist said. He’s coming soon. The One we’ve all been waiting for! Are you ready? Time to turn your life around, repent, wash off all that “uncleanliness”. Do it now, or you’ll be up this river and there’ll be no paddle for you.

It’s amazing, isn’t it, how when people get scared, that’s when we get religion! There were mobs of people at the river. Folks I hadn’t seen at worship since, well … But I’ll tell you what, the folks in the pews with me, they were there too. I had even picked Tuesday, because that’s when my people always go to the diner for breakfast, and I didn’t want them seeing me “having to repent”! Imagine our collective surprise. I guess the tips were going to be light that morning!

It wouldn’t be fair to assume that it was just fear that was bringing us all there. John was an edgy character, he reminded me of what I had always pictured Jeremiah to look like. The clergy were always telling us to repent too, but there was something more authentic about John. People even thought that maybe he was the Messiah, because of his authority. You could see that he lived what he was talking about. And underneath all our layers of covering, we’re looking for authenticity. We want something real. Something honest, that touches the places in us that we don’t let others see. Something that makes our lives different, even with our weddedness to routine. When all is said and done, and someone asks, “So, what’s the take-home?”, we have a take-home deep within our souls.

Well, we were wading into the river water, and while John baptized the people in front of me, I scrubbed myself furiously. The Baptist beheld my raw skin and gave me a rueful look, then he thrust me under the water and shook me vigorously. When I finally came up I was gasping and coughing and sputtering. He pointed his finger, looked me in the eye and said, “Bear fruits worthy of repentance!” That’s the prophet’s way of saying, “Remember your baptism, and be thankful!”

Baptism of JesusThen there he was. I didn’t realize it at first; none of us did. He was just standing in the line with everybody else. The only thing that distinguished him at all was that when he spoke he had a Galilean accent. In Judea, someone with a Galilean accent often gets looked at like a person off the street who has wandered into a private party. But in the Jordan we were pretty much equal.

In retrospect, it’s amazing. He waded into the river with the rest of us, among us, really. When John called him forward, he allowed himself to be thrust into those same waters, muddy as they were with the grime of all our sins.

He came up gasping and sputtering too. But John didn’t tell him to bear fruits worthy of repentance; I actually think he may have put his hands on John’s shoulders. It was what happened next that was startling. I missed it. I was over near the shoreline, still scrubbing, worried that the baptism might not “take”, pretty sure that I would still disappoint God. A couple of people told me later that after he — I would learn that he was called Jesus — after he was baptized, he had stayed at the river until everyone else had been baptized, too. And he had prayed. I think he was praying for us. And while he was still praying, it was as though the very heavens opened up! And it looked like a dove came down on him. The people swore that heard a voice from the heavens saying, “You’re my Son. I love you! I’m pleased with you!”

It wasn’t until much later, when I experienced Jesus calling me to be his disciple, giving me the power to claim my identity as a child of God, that I realized what it meant that he entered the water with me, with us. He became one of us. In everything: in birth, in vulnerability, in needing to grow. Like us, he had come to a time when it was important for him to move from where he had been most of his life. He was joining us in being burdened, getting betrayed, facing our death. (How he acts toward those who betray him — that means a lot to me.)

What is it that John’s gospel says? From the beginning, he was with God. Well, he’s with us, too! There isn’t anything about our lives that doesn’t get shared.

I realized that I had been bathed in God’s grace. That I was immersed in what God is doing in the world, in God’s outrageous dream for all humanity. It was God’s doing. I didn’t need to scrub myself furiously. Those waters would pour over me again and again. The Spirit was on me, even if I didn’t see it. I could bear fruits worthy of transformation. I could make different choices. Repentance isn’t working off my sin; its transformation starts with God! And now I could hear a voice speaking to me: You’re my child. I love you! I’m pleased with you!

And at Bible study, an old word came alive:

Do not fear, for I have redeemed you. I have called you by name. You are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you. And through the rivers, they will not overwhelm you. When you walk through the fire you shall not be burned, and flames shall not consume you. For I am the Lord your God, your Savior.


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