'In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptised by John in the Jordan. And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. And a voice came from heaven, ‘You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.’’
Brothers and sisters, I’m sure you never do this, but imagine you’ve been out playing and you come back covered in mud. Maybe you’ve been sledging this week, and managed to get covered in wet, muddy, snow. Maybe you’ve been out walking the dog, or walking the kids, and some how you end up totally covered. What’s the first thing you do on arriving home? You have a bath, right?! And God teaches us in the Scriptures that all of us are like muddy children. All of us in our day to day lives, go off and get dirty. We make a mess, we tell lies, we hurt people - sometimes by mistake, sometimes on purpose - and we, all of us, ignore God. As it were, spiritually we get covered in dirt, we get covered in mud from head to foot. And so if we decide to turn around - if we turn back to God - what’s the first thing He does? He gives us a bath. That’s what John the Baptist has been doing in our Gospel story, today. He has been giving those who have turned back to God - who have come home - a bath. We call it baptism. Baptism is when God washes us clean of all our sins, all our mistakes, so we can begin again in His family with a clean start. So all those people who know they have messed up, who know they have ignored God, have come to John the Baptist to start again, and to be washed clean. That’s the setting of our story. That is where today’s story begins.
Now we’ve just had Christmas. We’ve been telling the true story of a king being born in Bethlehem. We’ve heard the angels tell us, that this baby - this king - is not just any baby, or any king, but is in fact God Himself. God come to earth. God being born as a baby. God whose name is Jesus. But, have you ever wondered, what kind of king Jesus is? I mean, He is obviously special, He is obviously one-of-a-kind; but what’s He going to be like as our king? Is He going to be like some rulers who spend all the money on themselves? Is He going to be like those kings who look down on everyone else? Well, today’s feast - today’s true Bible story - is there to show us just what kind of king Jesus is! Back to first century Israel; back to our Gospel reading. All those dirty people - all those people who are just like you and me, who have made mistakes and ignored God, and who have recognised that fact - are coming to John the Baptist, for a bath, for baptism. They are spiritually dirty, and so they come to be baptised. But now look at what God tells us in verse 9: ‘In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptised by John in the Jordan.’ What is going on? This is not right! Jesus is God! Jesus is perfect! Jesus never did anything wrong. Jesus never disobeyed God’s Law. What is He doing coming to be washed? Jesus is not like us. He isn’t like a muddy child, covered in dirt. No Jesus is more like a bride on her wedding day, wearing a spotless white dress, not a hair out of place. Jesus doesn’t need a bath. After all, Jesus is the one who cleans people up, not the one who gets cleaned Himself. What is Jesus thinking?! Well Jesus is showing us just what kind of king He is! It turns out, Jesus is not the type of king, not the type of person, not the type of celebrity who acts like He is better than everyone else. Jesus hasn’t come to lord it over us. Jesus hasn’t come to look down His nose at us. Jesus hasn’t come to make us feel bad, coz He is so much better than us, or even to be an example which we can never match. No, Jesus is the kind of king who chooses to associate with us. Who chooses to stand in our place, walk in our shoes, and deal with our dirt. Jesus chooses to look like a sinner as He steps down into the River Jordan. Chooses to associate with you and me, and doesn’t care whether people give him stick for that. God comes to earth, takes our place, deals with our dirt and shows us the way home. What kind of king is Jesus? A loving and merciful king, who stoops to serve the least, who stoops to serve you and me. Here at the beginning of His ministry Jesus shows what kind of king He truly is. And in so doing points to the end of His ministry, when He will take our place again, as He goes to the cross, to bear our sins, so that we might be forgiven. The Church has us read this passage, and celebrate this Feast of the Baptism of the Lord, so that, having celebrated Christmas, we might not go off into the year with the wrong idea about what kind of king Jesus is.
We are then left with one final question: how should we respond? How should we respond to a king who would choose to step down in to the muck of our lives? Surely the answer is to thank Him, listen to Him, and then to follow Him. After seeing what King Jesus did, let us not pretend that we are not mucky. Let us not pretend we don’t need a bath. God was so committed to cleaning us up, that He stepped down to earth, and took our place so that we could be forgiven. If we accept that we are in need of a bath, and have not been baptised, then let’s get that organised. Adults if we have been baptised but have not confirmed in our faith, then let’s get that organised. And if we have done both, well let’s be honest we will still get mucky, and so let’s make sure that we confess to Him, and receive His forgiveness each and every time. Let each of us make sure, we are the kind of people to accept that forgiveness, and receive the spiritual bath we so desperately need. Amen (from Fr Mike).