SAYING YES TO GOD – BAPTISM OF CHRIST 2014

Religion is always a matter of learning to say Yes and learning to say No. Yes to God and life and his good purpose, No to the corruption and flattery of evil that leads to death. John the Baptist’s hearers were drawn to the Jordan’s waters both by a desire for God’s kingdom and a sense of inadequacy, failure, a need to repent. Theologically the action of God in taking his kingly rule has the priority; it is the hope or the conviction that God is good and his kingdom is just that makes repentance possible. But being what we are, our failings are often more vividly in our minds than God’s goodness. The self-evident need to repent may tend to eclipse God and his grace.

Jesus comes to the Jordan, to join with the rest of those who have heard and responded positively to John’s message. And John is taken aback: this man does not need repentance; it would be quite wrong to baptise him; surely it should be the other way round? Jesus may not need to repent – although he is willing to identify with his fellow men and women in this their need – but he does need to express his desire for the kingdom of God, of which baptism is also the sign. We may imagine that desire for God has been at the heart of his identity from the beginning, but now he begins his adult work with a public expression of that desire, to teach us that saying Yes to God and his love takes priority over saying No to sinfulness. Sooner or later the one must lead to the other, but the priority is with God and his goodness and grace.

Learning to say Yes can be nearly as hard as learning to say No. When we are little, we have to learn to say Yes to early bed-time and eating our vegetables and doing our homework. When we get a bit older, we find ourselves having to make the major life choices: what career will we have, and what study or training do we need to undertake? What friends will we have, and in particular, will there be someone as our life partner? Is this person the one? Taking someone into our inner self is a real act of faith. As we get older still, saying Yes may involve a coming to terms with limitation, disappointment, reduced opportunities and reduced abilities. Our early idealism, about the world and about ourselves, gets replaced with something less glowing – and still we are to say Yes to God and to life from this altered perspective.

As we observe Jesus at work, we find that he is not naively idealistic about real life and real people, but he always begins from the positive: God loves good and bad alike and wants their answering love, however incomplete it may be. Let them only be drawn to God, let them only know their heart’s desire, and repentance will follow in due course.

When Jesus says Yes to God by humbly accepting baptism, there is an epiphany, a theophany – God is truly revealed. There is something very affirming about the Baptism of Christ: the creation is renewed as the Spirit moves over the waters and the voice of the Creator is heard; the human being is renewed as the image and likeness of the Father is made manifest in the Spirit-filled Son. The descending and abiding Spirit is a promise of renewal and re-creation to all who will recognise the Son and desire the Father. 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