For Christmas, I made my dad a book of recent photos of family members. Dad likes to look at the photos my siblings and extended family post on Facebook, but it’s not all that convenient, and his eyesight is not that great, so it can be challenging to see them on screen. I expected it to please him, but even I was surprised at how much. His face lit up as he realized what he was holding in his hands—a small album with the faces of every one of grandchildren and great-grandchildren, as well as his surviving children. My mom told me that someone who had stopped by, hoping to find her at home, shared that Dad asked her if she had a minute to look at the book he received for Christmas, and proceeded to walk her through the pages, telling her who everyone was, and the occasion at which the photo had been taken.
He was—and is—delighted to have this opportunity to look at the faces of the people he loves.
It changed my response to this passage of Jesus’ baptism from the Gospel of Mark which you heard this morning.
It starts with words you heard just a few weeks ago—Year B of the lectionary cycle seems to spend an inordinate amount of time on John the Baptist—but then tells in a few brief words the event of Jesus’ baptism in the River Jordan, how the Spirit descended upon him as he arose out of the waters, and how he heard ‘a voice from heaven’ say, ‘You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”
God the Father is expressing delight in Jesus, God the Son.
You won’t hear what happens next until the first Sunday of Lent. For the next few weeks we’ll skip forward in the narrative flow, and in fact step out of Mark altogether on occasion, and hear about the call of the first disciples and Jesus beginning his teaching and healing ministry. It will not come as a surprise to some of you that this leaping around annoys me a bit. There is a reason things happen in the order they happen, but the lectionary doesn’t let you experience that way. So I encourage you to take some time to read through the Gospel of Mark, from beginning to end, sometime in the next few weeks. It’s the shortest and most straight-forward of the Gospels, and won’t take long.
For today, we are left with this expression of God’s delight in Jesus.
Because of the imagery of light and darkness in the readings, as well as the description of Dad’s face as “lighting up” I began to puzzle about why the word delight means what it does. Surely delight comes from de-light, to remove the light from, right?
No, it comes from a different root, which means to take pleasure in. Or perhaps, in the words of our first reading, “to see that it is good.” God saw that the light was good. God delighted in the light.
I have said this before, but it bears repeating whenever a portion of the first chapter of Genesis comes up. This is not a science textbook. It is not an attempt to describe how the universe came into being. It is a poem to assure people whose lives were in chaos that God had not abandoned them. It is a promise that God has always sought to bring light out of darkness, order out of chaos, life out of death.
With that in mind, it’s less about trying to make scientific evidence fit this story as it is being in awe that people who knew nothing about astrophysics came up with an image that so perfectly fits the Big Bang.
Let there be light. And there was light. And God took delight in the beginning of creation.
Just as God took delight in Jesus’ baptism, the beginning of the new creation.
Baptism in the name of the Lord Jesus, to use Paul’s language from the second reading, is about so much more than just repentance. It’s not just about being freed from the sins of the past; it’s being freed for the new life of the risen Christ.
In some of the earliest baptismal rites, the act of baptism was meant to be a re-enactment of that death. The person was not just sprinkled or quickly dipped into the water. He or she was held down, under the water, powerless to save him or herself, aware of the reality of death closing in, so that when they were raised up again they had a visceral sense of resurrection and new life. I believe some Pentecostal traditions still do it this way. I’m not suggesting we shift our practice—I would not at all enjoy baptisms if I were in charge of such a risky endeavor—but I do think it’s worthwhile to occasionally stop and ask ourselves if we understand the importance of what we are doing when we baptize in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. We’re claiming for them the promise of adoption by God, that God will claim them as God’s own children.
And, I hope, we will convey to them a sense of God’s delight in them. I wish part of the baptismal liturgy was that we take a moment and echo those words: You are God’s Beloved, with you God is well pleased.
How differently would you move through this life if that was how you thought of your relationship with God? If every morning you woke up with the idea that God was delighted in you?
I know, we all still make mistakes, we all still hurt ourselves and each other, and we all still need the promise of forgiveness of sin that comes from being baptized. But what would the world look like if we all acted as though the very maker of the stars was delighted that we are in it? How would your interactions with others be different if you began to think of them as people in whom God delights?
Epiphany is the season in which we celebrate the manifestation of God to the world. Have you considered the possibility that part of that manifestation is showing how delighted God is that we just are? It won’t do away with all the pain and violence and hatred in the world. But it might make a dent in it. It might make a crack in the darkness that allows the light to shine through.