You are my child, the beloved with you I am well pleased?
Aren’t they words every child longs to hear from their mother or father or from the person who looks after them. If we encourage and praise our Children – well done, beloved, I am well pleased – they grow up confident and happy – if we constantly criticise or never tell them that we love them, they grow up insecure and with a low self esteem which can harm them throughout their lives. What our parents, and teachers and adults say is important – …. and so here Jesus hears God, his father say: You are my child, the beloved with you I am well pleased?
And so I wonder what he felt as he heard these words? Was it a great miracle booming out of the sky like a clap of thunder – perhaps. Did everyone see the dove and hear the words – perhaps. But the bible doesn’t say that. It says that he saw it : just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove
Some people get great signs : they have visions and hear the voice of God… but for most of us it’s hard to imagine the skies splitting in two and the great booming voice of God ringing out – it doesn’t happen like that very much … but perhaps it didn’t happen like that then either … perhaps it really was just Jesus who saw the heavens opening and who saw the spirit descending and who heard the voice of God… perhaps this was a profound and yet very personal moment… the moment when he – Jesus – knew, … the moment when he – Jesus – realised who he was and what he had to do ..
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.”.
I think it must have been confusing – even for Jesus. How did he come to work out who he was? How old was he when he knew what he was going to be? … his vocation… Had he known it all along? Was he born already fully programmed?
I find that impossible to believe – the idea that the baby Jesus was born just knowing everything about everything. Just as I find it impossible to believe that the child in the manger knew anything about nuclear physics or space travel – I find it impossible to imagine the child in the manger already knowing the vocation of Jesus the man.
I find it just as impossible to believe that the six year old or eight year old Jesus had already worked out the Sermon on the Mount or the night of the Last Supper. So how did it all grow inside him? Did his mother tell him stories about angels and virgin births? I think so … gently …. Did his father tell him that an angel had given him his name? Yes, I think so .. very gently … and by the age of 12 or 13 – the traditional age for a bar mitzvah – Jesus went to the Temple. Like every other 12 or 13 year old Jewish boy – and he had to read from the scroll and answer hard questions from the doctors of the law – just as the bible tells us. And I’m sure that his answers were good … but how much did he know? He knew that he had to be about his father’s business – that he was not only a Child of the Commandment – a bar miztvah – but that he was also a child of God – a son of God. But did he know what that meant – fully?
When did he realise the rest of his story? Was this the first time that 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.” or had it happened before?
We know that this sign in the sky and voice from heaven will happen again for him at the transfiguration .. but perhaps it happened many times -.. perhaps there were many signs and voices on the road of the growing Jesus telling him he was a child of God, opening the heavens, showing him the path. Perhaps he never fully understood exactly what was going to happen to him until he knelt in prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane on Maundy Thursday – when he wept in great anguish.
And for us … whether in a mighty flash or a silent still moment – when did we hear the words : You are my child, the Beloved, with you I am well pleased? When did we first feel the presence of God touching your soul?
Were you a child? – I was 8 years old when I knew in my heart that I had a vocation to be a priest.
But you … was it recently? Are you still waiting for God to speak? And what would the voice of God sound like, for you today?
It is easy to imagine that God alwasy speaks with trumpets and fanfares. But perhaps Mary just encountered a stranger at the well in Nazareth who told her that she was going to have a child. Perhaps the stranger didn’t have wings, or a halo or blond hair. Perhaps the angel looked just like everyone else in Nazareth – he or she just said the right words, at the right time.
Perhaps Joseph’s dream was like every other dream he had – only this one spoke of a child, of Mary, of a boy called Jesus. Perhaps the shepherds saw lights and heard music because they were ready in their hearts to hear God speaking – and perhaps there were other shepherds who saw and heard nothing. Perhaps other wise magi saw stars and conjunctions of stars in the sky and came to different conclusions or no conclusions at all. Perhaps the signs were always there – but only some could see? Perhaps it was like that then – and perhaps it is still like that today.
When Jesus went down the river Jordan to be baptised what he was doing was not unique – all Judea – we are told – were going down to the River Jordan by Jericho to be baptised by John – there were hundreds of people – thousands perhaps – pushing and jostling, queueing and receiving baptism in the muddy water of the River Jordan at the hands of John. There were hundreds of people – thousands perhaps – making the journey to hear this strange prophet who announced a new beginning, who was preparing the way of the Lord. But perhaps only John the Baptist and Jesus saw and understood what was really happening. You are my child, the Beloved, with you I am well pleased.
And so the message of the Baptism of Jesus this morning is to think about our own baptism when we were perhaps too young to hear and remember anything – and now to hear God speaking to us again this morning – You are my child, the Beloved, with you I am well pleased.
Perhaps God says it now during this sermon. Perhaps God says it to you in the words of a hymn? or in the silence of a prayer? or in the Sacrament of Holy Communion.. or perhaps God will speak those words to you over coffee, in a glance from a friend, or in a book, or as you walk home ….. perhaps God is constanly speaking those words to you
You are my child, the Beloved, with you I am well pleased.
Perhaps the heavens are constantly torn apart with the glory of God all around us. Perhaps the Holy Spirit is constantly coming to us, and perhaps God is always God – trying to tell us Good News – everywhere, in everything, and always … if only we have eyes to see and ears to hear.
You are my child, the Beloved, with you I am well pleased.
The Very Rev’d Paul Kennington