Reader: Judy Krzesowski. audio begins with the scripture passage; sermon begins at 1:30..

Texts: Isaiah 43: 1-7 Luke 3: 15-17, 21,22

No sooner have we visited the baby in the manger, when, suddenly in Luke’s Gospel, we meet Jesus as a grown man.  Which is how it is in each of the canonical Gospels. In the Gospels of Matthew and Luke, there are a couple of fleeting glimpses of Jesus’ early life; none at all in the Gospels of Mark and John.  But they all, each of them, very soon into their testimony, take us to this scene at the Jordan River where Jesus is baptized by John.  In the Gospels that make no mention whatsoever of his birth, this is the starting point. And even in the ones that do, it is from this experience of his baptism that the rest of the story unfolds. Either way, it seems as though something came together here at the river which set in motion everything Jesus goes on to be about.

Something life-shaping happened through his baptism.

Often, we preachers, we take hold of this story right from the get go looking for what it might mean for us. And so we’re quick to make the connection, to affirm that those words that Jesus heard --“you are my beloved; in you I delight”-- that these are God’s words for us too. We take the story of Jesus’ baptism into the story of our own, so that we might remember again, or if we never really got it the first time, that we could know we too are God’s beloved, God’s joy. Which is all well and good and true, and God knows we need reminding.

But what if there’s something else … something more that may come to light if we paused to contemplate Jesus’ baptism alone … before taking hold of it for ourselves … before inserting ourselves. That’s the tip-off I received from Mary Luti last week … to remember that we’re in the season of Epiphany when this story is given to us to reflect on. We’re in this season of revelation, when, as she suggests, it’s as though the Spirit lights a lamp through these stories, and leads us, bidding us to draw near, to look closely, to see what is being unveiled, right there. [1]

So what is it that awaits our discovery … what are we being given to see about the nature of God being revealed in Jesus as we turn our attention toward this scene at the river, allowing our gaze to stay focused on Jesus … before we wonder about what this could possibly mean for ourselves.

First we’re given to see a great crowd of people, all of these people from every walk of life, drawn out into the wilderness by John‘s compelling call. Something rings deeply true in his message that they wonder “maybe this is the Messiah,” the one they’ve been waiting for. And then we hear John himself clarifying for them … “no, there is another who is coming, mightier than I.”

And then, we could almost miss it … the description is so concise. We read:
“During a general baptism of the people, when Jesus too had been baptized and was praying, heaven opened and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove, and there came a voice from heaven, “you are my beloved Son; in you I delight.”

Sitting with those words, imagining this scene, here’s what I caught after a while as I drew near, looking, listening … I heard the word “YOU!” YOU!
Jesus hearing that spoken to himself … you are my beloved; in you I delight … the particularity of that address.

It is the way the scene moves from the general to the particular.
“During a general baptism of the people,” we read, “when Jesus too had been baptized” … you see, we’re first given to see the whole scene, noticing Jesus among the crowd. And then, it zeros in on him … “Heaven opened and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove, and there came a voice from heaven YOU! You!”

Whatever that was for others -- who knows?? … Now the focus is Jesus. It’s what’s happening with Jesus that fills the canvas.
There’s this move from the general to the particular … from the wide open heavens above, to Jesus, his very being touched, addressed.

What is being revealed, unveiled about the nature of God?
What I’m glimpsing here is how it is God’s way to see, to notice, to connect with Jesus … with him specifically, in particular.
How it is God’s desire to communicate with him … “I see you, I know you, I’m telling you, you are mine, my beloved, my joy! Yes, YOU!”

Not only are there words that are spoken to him, but there is this presence that is descends upon him … descends into him …
perhaps opening the way for those words that are more than words, to become part of him, to reside in him.

From here we see Jesus turning often to God, assuming that intimacy, drawing on that intimacy, relying on that connection. It is this that enabled him to live with such freedom, such wisdom, such compassion, such humility, such courage.
Those words … that connection … this claiming “you are mine … my love, my joy” … he went on to live from this energy, this presence, this connection … to reflect it, to share it. It is the bright beauty that burned in him … all the way. So powerful a love, so enduring, so enlarging.

From the general to the particular.
It is God’s way to see, to notice, to connect, to claim, to love -- the whole world, yes … and the particular, Yes!
AND the particular isn’t exclusive to Jesus. A love this vast doesn’t draw those lines.
So what if those words are indeed God’s words to us?
What if it is God’s way, God’s desire to connect with you, to claim you in your particularity, and me in mine. What if that same intimacy is given to you and is yours to draw on? … given to me and is mine to draw on?

Last week in talking with Johan, he told me that, by chance (I think were his words) he was reading his bible … and he came across this passage in 2 Corinthians 4:
So we do not lose heart. Even though outwardly we are wasting away, inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For this slight momentary affliction is preparing us for an eternal weight of glory beyond all measure, because we look not to what can be seen but to what cannot be seen; for what can be seen is temporary, but what cannot be seen is eternal.”
And he felt it. These weren’t just words on a page. It wasn’t just a case of “oh, I can identify with that.” This was him being personally met, feeling personally addressed, noticed, and known … deeply understood and accompanied. Not alone.
As I hear it, this is Johan experiencing something of God’s way of connecting with him in his particularity. In Johan’s words, it was miraculous; powerful; an incredible blessing.

I wonder how it may have happened along the way for you … where you experienced this touch, this being seen, being known, noticed, where you experienced this personal connection … not this sense of being loved in general, but being valued, remembered, attended to, cared for, for YOU in particular?

For Jesus this experience was a formative event in his life … but it wasn’t just a one shot deal. It was an epiphany for him. It was an event that alerted him to what was real … to the presence of God in his life … this loving, delighting, I-am-with-you-you-are-mine companionship. It was an event that oriented him for the rest of his life … that had him turning and re-turning to the one he called Abba … daddy …which says everything about the quality, the intimacy of that relationship.

It is that same quality of relationship, that same intimacy that can be ours, that God so desires with us … with you … with me.

What more might be in store for us as we turn, and re-turn to the one who loves us -- loves you-- with such particularity?

[1]  Mary Luti, "Hide and Seek With The Divine," posted on December 28, 2017