Preached for the Baptism of our Lord.
What would you do if you knew that God delighted in you? How would your life be different? Would it matter? Would it be enough to change you? If you woke up tomorrow with the ceiling of your bedroom exposed to the choirs of heaven and a voice, unmistakable, of God, saying, “You, child, are my Beloved, in whom my soul is well pleased!” would you still have to make breakfast after? Would you still do yoga, go to work? Would you tell anyone that it were so, or would you keep it to yourself for fear of being seen as a fanatic, or perhaps even worse, mistaken? What would you do if you knew that God delighted in you? Would you have less to prove? Some of us spend lifetimes trying to live up to the imagined expectations of authorities we believe are always just slightly disappointed in us, parents who were hoping for just a bit more, teachers to impress with homework. Would we even know what to do with love we hadn’t earned? For others of us the opposite is true, we’ve been so highly praised in this life, so adored by those who raised us that it scarcely seems real anymore. How would it feel to finally fill the emptiness which that kind of blind, permissive love has carved in us? Would we, waking to find we had nothing left to prove, take to the streets instead? Would we be so overcome by the love gifted us that we would do everything in our power to give it all away to those who had been seemingly left without it?
“This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.” Maybe Jesus needed to hear it. Maybe he wandered the Galilean countryside during his youth as the slightly effeminate freak son of a carpenter, confused over his ability to turn clay birds and dried-up fish into live ones, bored with all his teachers had to offer, kind of like the young x-men are before they meet Professor Xavier and learn that they themselves have mutant powers. Maybe he wandered down to the Jordan aimlessly, only to rise from its salty waters with the whole burden of the world’s salvation draped across his shoulders. Maybe it took a voice from heaven to jolt him onto his destined path. Or, perhaps it was his disciples that needed to remember him this way. Perhaps his friends, looking backwards from beyond the tomb and the peculiar way it left their own crucified beloved still somehow vividly alive with them at table, needed also to recall some miraculous beginning to the mysterious middle they were muddling through. Perhaps they recalled him at the Jordan, there when they all were, scurrying to see the thing John was pointing towards. Perhaps an opened heaven and descending dove was the only way to explain how strange he was. After all, he had always spoken with such authority -how could one describe it? As if God himself had whispered in his ear, “You are my Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”
The people of Israel had certainly needed to hear it when the prophet Isaiah proclaimed these words of God to them. “Here is my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights.” Who is this suffering servant the prophet sings of? The earliest friends of Jesus thought it was Christ himself, while Rabbis interpreting scripture in the middle ages took the Suffering Servant to be the whole people of Israel. Here was a people dispersed, some in bondage, some suffering at the hands of apathetic captors, and their prophet was proclaiming them as chosen, them as a delight and pleasure of God. Here was a prophet who was telling a conquered people that God had actually always been with them, had in fact led them by the hand to this place, where they were now to be given as a covenant, and a sign, and a teaching, and a light -to the very people who enthralled them. Here was a people far from delight, far from feeling chosen, emptied of all the privileges they had once stored away for themselves, to whom God says, “You, you are mine, you are the one to bring my justice to the world; go, go into the very prisons you know so well, free the ones you find there, go to those who sit in the darkness you yourselves have dwelt in, enlighten them with this light I am giving you now. For you are my chosen, in you my soul is well pleased, in you my peace will be known.”
It is this last, prophetic call to Belovedness that I believe most closely resembles our own. This call is a communal call, a call to Beloved community. The difference between us and ancient Israel is that we are not so much conquered as self-defeated, most of the imprisonment is of our own making. Yet God’s call is the same. God sees us in the places we have scattered ourselves, enthralled by our addictions to creature comforts, protective walls, dramatic stages of political aggression with real human casualties, and still God calls us chosen. Jesus knew what darkened haunts we would find to hide in, and still he made of his life an invitation to belong instead with him -to walk with him- to find him where he may be trapped, even now, in the prisons and blind alleys of this world, in all persons, loving our neighbor as ourself. Our “yes” to such an invitation is as easy to step into as a bath, as simple as a cross marked on the brow. The promises we make with our “yes” sound much like what is required of Israel when they are called to be a chosen people: to strive for justice and peace among all people, respecting the dignity of every human being with God’s help. Jesus knew how desperately his people would need to hear the name “Beloved” for ourselves, and so he opened his own body wide enough for us to become a part of it, that our ears might be the same as his, humming with the same message throughout all time, for every child of God, as clearly for us as it was for him in the waters the Jordan river, hear it now as we pray: You, child, are God’s own Beloved, in whom the very soul of God delights.