I love babies. Tiny bitty newborns and cuddly toddlers…babies give luscious hugs and their smiles, melt my heart; We humans are born with a natural affinity for little ones—we see our own babies are cute and babies of other animals, from puppies to baby aardvark cubs. A friend once told me, when you hold a baby you are closer to God than you’ll ever be, as they just arrived from heaven. Maybe that’s why we love babies.
I often think it a shame that Jesus doesn’t get to be a baby very long—at least, in our church calendar he doesn’t. Jesus is born Dec. 24th , visited by the Magi 12 days later, then baptized…as an adult. As much as we’d like to have all the time between filled in for us, we don’t have those stories in our canon. Luke and Matthew give us a short glimpse into Jesus birth, but that’s all we get. Mark’s gospel, that we read today, begins by introducing Jesus to us as an adult, skipping the birth stories entirely and getting straight to the important stuff. Mark begins by telling us of Jesus baptism.
“In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan” Jesus’ baptism inaugurates his ministry—baptism is the kick off, we might say. Jesus intentionally went out to the Jordan to be baptized. And we wonder why? Here’s John offering baptism for the forgiveness of sins…but as the Son of God, Jesus didn’t need forgiveness. There must have been other reasons.
To start with, Jesus’ baptism is the public acceptance of his role. Jesus gave himself over fully and before all the people so that they know he is committed. In his whole life of ministry, Jesus never stands aloof. He’s all in, aligning himself with us, never standing apart. Jesus ate with, talked to, and cured all those around him.
So, we can say, Jesus baptism helps us to know that he “stands with sinners.”
There is more, though. A close reading of this short baptismal story tell us of the significance of this event—the heavens are split open, the spirit descends upon Jesus, the very voice of God is heard coming from heaven.
Scripture holds for us many instances of people hearing God’s voice, mostly in the Old Testament. My favorite is when Elijah is looking for God in the wind and the earthquake and in fire, but God comes to him in a still small voice. For Moses…God’s voice did come in fire…God’s voice is often Instructive, but it can be a warning or even a calling as it was for Samuel.
The voice of God is what we hear all about today in Psalm 29–(one of the very oldest psalms in the bible) In this ancient song we learn what God’s voice feels like…. the voice of the Lord is a voice of splendor,” the psalmist says.
God’s voice thunders, makes the heart skip…it flashes like fire. God’s voice both shakes the wilderness, and offers peace. God’s voice breaks through to God’s people in wondrous ways. just as it did at Jesus’ baptism.
Jesus, following his people’s ancient Hebrew tradition, listens for God’s voice, and follows it, beginning his ministry in baptism, committing his life to doing the will of his father, and those present hear God’s voice, calling Jesus, Beloved.
As it is the New Year, this story had me thinking about intentions. Jesus’ intention in being baptized, and our intentions in our own lives. Several years ago, I attended a workshop at Peabody, the education college of Vanderbilt University. We were all administrators in education so we heard from college administrators and instructors on best practices in managing schools. We learned a good bit, I remember. It was a good experience. One administrator’s advice stands firm in my memory, as it was particularly memorable. This man said to us, plainly, “No one cares about your good intentions.”
Huh, I thought. He must be right. People want results, not to hear about what you’d intended to accomplish.
He sounded so sure of himself. “No one cares about your good intentions.” He was a Vanderbilt administrator, after all. But I had this feeling that something in this just isn’t quite right. Maybe I was just being Pollyanna, too optimistic. After all, there’s the old saying, I think it was Samuel Johnson, an Englishman, who composed an impressive dictionary in 1775, who wrote, “the road to hell is paved with good intentions.”
Then just a couple of years ago, I listened to an interview with a man named James Doty. Doty is a brain surgeon whose research at Stanford University is in compassion and altruism. Doty can describe with beautiful intricacy his experience working with the brain’s valleys and hills and seeing how the blood vessels that course over the brain turn the membrane pinkish and pulsate in rhythm with the person’s heart. His life’s work is learning how the heart and brain are connected more than just physically, but extraordinarily, even mysteriously and majestically.
Carrying this question about good intentions for so long, I was ever so grateful to learn that our intentions DO matter! Sure, it may not seem that the world cares about our good intentions, but Doty’s research shows clearly that our intentions have the power to change everything about our lives. For example, he’s shown if you make the intention to open your heart to others, and even for short periods of time, remind yourself of that, become attentive to your intention, then that has a profound effect upon how you interact with the world.
On the other hand, if you say “me first,” I can only take care of me, and make that your intention, then your life will bear out that selfish motive. And the world will suffer for it.
We see this taking place in our world today and in our own country particularly. It was scary and very sad to see folks ransacking our congress, terrorizing those elected to serve the country, and worse, clad in anti-Semitic and racist symbols. Our intentions matter—good and bad, they matter! They matter for us and for the good of the world. Maybe you saw what NJ Congressman, Andy Kim did on the day after January 6th. His actions were imitated Jesus more than any through this. None of the mess was his, but there he was picking up the trash, sweeping the mess left in the wake of the terror of the day before.
Jesus’ intentions mattered. Jesus did not stand apart from us and judge us from afar. He did not say this mess is not MY fault. It makes no difference whose fault it was, my mother taught me that, if Jesus didn’t. We are all called to work together to clean it up.
Jesus joined us in the waters of baptism to show us the way– none of the mess was or is his fault, not slavery, not the oppressive economic injustices that follow slavery, not racism or sexism or agism, he fought against all oppression…none of it is Jesus fault, but he says, I’ll join you in the waters of baptism for we are all one in God’s eyes.
Thanks be to God.