If you ask any member of the congregation that I now minister to and with if I "like" baptism, they will likely answer your question with a laugh before responding, "Like it? He never shuts up about it!" This is perhaps for several reasons. First of all, my dear friend and mentor in all things liturgical, Kimberly Bracken Long, is also obsessed with the spiritual and liturgical aspects of this sacrament and much of her emphasis on this practice has splashed on to me (please forgive the pun. I couldn't resist!). Secondly, the congregational context of which I find myself is an atmosphere of excitement mixed with lingering pain and hopeful anticipation (perhaps this sounds familiar?); I believe Baptism to be a healthy framework to discern this congregation's movement forward into uncharted territory. Thirdly, as a life-long Presbyterian, I do not "remember" my Baptism in the literal sense of the word. So perhaps I am on a quest to re-live my baptism and this is a quest which I would like to share with you!
The lectionary passage for this upcoming Sunday is Luke 3:15-17, 21-22 which contains the familiar words of God to the newly-Baptized Christ: "You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased" (NRSV). I will be frank with you, I have never liked this translation. To me it sounds too formal, too stagnant. For example, I am "well pleased" with this cup of coffee that is warming the palm of my hand on this January morning. I am "well pleased" with the result of the Kansas-Iowa State game last night (Go Jayhawks!). I am "well pleased" with my new iPad. For this reason, God's words to Christ seem to lack a certain "umph" that I have always felt is deserved in this moment of sheer wonder.
A few years ago I found a new translation of this passage which warms my heart. The Common English Bible translates this passage as follows: "You are my Son, whom I dearly love, in you I find happiness." Now, that's more like it! I might be "pleased" with a cup of coffee, a Kansas basketball victory, or a helpful new iPad, but I certainly do not find happiness in these objects (or at least I shouldn't!).
Baptism, when viewed through the lens of this translation, is the moment when God looks upon Jesus, and says "yes! You are the one that I have created! You are the one that brings me joy and warmth and hope and laughter! Yes, you are my beloved and I couldn't be happier!"
If our hearts are not yet strengthened by this alone then hear more good news: our baptisms bind us to the baptism of Christ and into his death and resurrection! Therefore, when God smiles and finds happiness in Christ after his baptism, God does so and finds such in you and me as well!
It's quite a remarkable thought when you think of it: God finds happiness in you and in me! You and me who are such broken people, who stray and wander and stumble and grumble. I will not attempt to explain it but rather to proclaim it! God is with us! God has stood in line to be baptized with us and to be with us! And that news does not make me "well pleased;" I couldn't be happier!
Grace and peace,