John the Baptist’s voice boomed out over the waiting crowd. “Repent!” Here in the desert, people had come to the water for baptism. The river must have been a symbol for them, since their means of cleanliness were limited. Jesus was one of the people. He entered John’s baptism just like the others, entirely submerging his weary body when told to do so. But when he came up from underwater, a great surprise waited for him: the heavens were “torn open.” Out of the torn sky came the voice of the Holy Spirit, to announce to the world that God’s ancient covenant of love now was before them in person, in the flesh- dirty and wet, just as they were.
Covenant? A covenant is an agreement. God said, “I agree to be your God and you agree to be my people.” This proposal was re- stated many times in the Old Testament, with varying degrees of success. But now Jesus had come into the world to become this covenant. He was the most profound agreement possible of God and humanity. He was both halves of the covenant, God’s and humans. After so many centuries had passed, the Holy Spirit was descending now upon Jesus and a voice was saying, “You are my beloved Son- with you I am well pleased.
What would this brand new covenant life in God be like? It would be gentle “ not crying out, not shouting, not making his voice heard in the street.” It would deliver God’s love to the unkempt, the dripping wet, the honest and the dishonest, the alluring (and repulsive) people of everyday life. Instead of excluding them, Jesus, who had become the covenant, would invite people down from trees where they had scrambled to see him. He would say “of course I want to”, in answer to “Lord if you want to you can cure me.” He will pity the soldiers who were ordered to kill him. He will agree to the thief’s cry for pity.
We cannot doubt that he will reach into the heart and soul of each one of us, even into the parts that may shame and embarrass us.
In the baptismal waters we have been washed clean, washed free so that we may surge up and out of our sin and reluctance, that we may be surprised by the great words Jesus now says to each and every one of us:
“You are my beloved; in you I am well pleased.”