Verkondiging 9 januari 2022 – Baptism of the Lord

Jesaja 40, 1-5.9-11
Psalm 104
Titus 2, 11-14; 3, 4-7
Lucas 3, 15-16.21-22

Dear people of Our Saviour,
May I take advantage of this opportunity to wish you a happy new year! Fr De Boer asked me to replace him in his absence. So you will have to bear with me once in a while. Today a fresh start with the baptism of the Lord, but it is not what we see: we see a man being immersed in water to repent and to start a new life. If it is so for all people baptized by John the Baptist, it is not so for Jesus Christ: He himself is at the origin of our existence. The voice from heaven explains the real meaning of this baptism: the living Word reveals himself to us. Liturgy learns us that we encounter this voice every time we listen to the gospel and when we receive the Holy Bread. Let us open ourselves for this voice, because it will give us the same message as was given to Christ himself rising from the river Jordan: You are my beloved child! May we understand the full meaning of this message to our selves, that is the essential message of each baptism.

Dear brothers and sisters, dear friends of the Lord,
The scene on the banks of the river Jordan looks quite familiar to us. It is quite concrete and I suppose we all remember magnificent pieces of art that we have seen in churches or musea. We see Jesus standing up to his knees in the middle of the water; we recognize the somewhat savage lookalike John who pours water over the head of Jesus. And we see a dove floating around. Sometimes we even see an old man peeking from behind the clouds as the great director who is behind the scenes of it all. Of course, nobody knows how this baptism really took place, but the image is strong. Is it a reassuring image? Or is just a mythical image with some biblical roots? Our interest today should be: what is the spiritual or theological message of these images of the baptism of the Lord? The first question is: what is the link with Christmas? Is there a link or is just a practical solution? After the stories of the birth of Christ, we begin to read the stories of his public life, that open with baptism. You know the message of Christmas is that God is on the move: He is moving towards us. This movement is a descending movement. This is not self-evident. Also for us humans a descending movement in life is difficult or not to say hardly possible. We are not eager to humiliate ourselves, or to put ourselves aside in order to give way to someone else. When we are hurt by someone else, we try to defend ourselves. We raise our children with a good sense of personality and self-reliance. We do not let ourselves be put aside.

The message of Christmas is that God who is the eternal source of all creation, choses to be born from a human being as a dependent little boy, who needs the nourishment of his mother and the protection of his father. Without them this little infant is lost. This boy is even born in a stable and laid arrest in a manger: outside of history, already form the start cast aside from humanity. It is as if mankind is crying out to him already before he uttered a word: “You should not be here; don’t interfere in our existence!” This movement continues today in his baptism: Christ, the living Word of God, humbles himself to be lower than the Baptist and to descend in the river Jordan where the whole people once almost perished, when they tried to enter the Holy Land. He who is master of winds and waters, who can silence storms and walk on the waters of the stormy lake, He descends now into this water and is most likely completely immersed by John into to the river.

We must understand this movement of God. This is a revealing movement: God is descending from the heavens to the human world, He is descending from his glory to the manger among shepherds and other outcast, from eternity into the waters of Jordan by the hands of the Baptist. These Christmas movements are already referring to the Easter mystery when the movement is from life to death. It is today a prediction of this movement from life to death. That is Easter and this means not the end of the movement, but this will come later in the year. Apart from the movement of God from heaven to our existence, there is something else happening. At the occasion of the baptism of Jesus, we see the Holy Trinity unfolding before our very eyes of faith. Remember the images I described in the beginning, the image of baptism that we are so familiar with: Christ in the water, the dove somewhere floating around and the old man peeking from behind the clouds.

From this moment on we will speak differently about God. Of course also in the first testament we encounter the spirit of God and we listen to the words of God that he utters to his prophets, some of them reluctant or even resisting against the message of their calling. Like a flower unfolding we see clearly in the moment of baptism that God’s reality is manifesting as a creative Father, a redemptive Living Word in Jesus Christ and a Holy Spirit who is reaching out to us all and giving this same message: you are my beloved child. The moment of this descending movement of God’s Word reveals the Trinity.

The further question is though: what will this mean to our own existence? What has the baptism of Jesus Christ to do with our own baptism and with our own life? It means that even in our descending experiences, our saddest moments, our lonely hours, and periods of feelings of isolation and despair, the Spirit is reaching out to us with this message. And also it is a calling upon to us to transfer this message to others who experience these descending movements, these sad periods and hours of despair. Let us be the messengers of the Living Word of God, transferring this message to the people we encounter. Amen