Think back to your baptism. What do you remember? Did the heavens suddenly open up? Did a dove come and perch on top of you? How about a thundering voice from heaven?
It’s doubtful any of us had a baptism quite as dramatic as Jesus did – and a dramatic scene it is! The heavens open, a dove descends, and a voice booms: “This is my Son, the Beloved!” There’s never a direct mention of the doctrine of the Trinity in the Bible, but we come close here: with the voice of God the Father, the Holy Spirit as a dove, and of course Jesus, the Son. It’s easy to get swept up in the drama of this spectacular scene and get lost in incomprehensible theology…that we overlook the tenderness of this moment and what is actually said: This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.
It’s like God is telling Jesus: I love you. And the Greek phrase at the end of that proclamation – “well pleased” – means something closer to “take delight in.” I love you…you delight me!
That’s what’s going on here: God is love. God loves. God is loved. That’s the foundation of Jesus’s baptism as he is wrapped in the love of God that goes with him into the wilderness and into his ministry. I don’t think it’s any coincidence that Jesus’s baptism is immediately followed by his temptation in the wilderness and the start of his public ministry. His baptism prepares him to face what comes next, as he is washed in water and wrapped in the love of God that goes with him: into the wilderness, into his ministry, even to the cross, into the tomb, and ultimately into resurrected life. It all starts here, in baptism, where Jesus is loved into being.
If we want to read Trinitarian theology into it, then we should start with St. Augustine’s famous definition: not Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, but Lover, Beloved, and Love.
Love is where it begins: You are my Son, the Beloved. I love you!
During a time of year when many of us have just come from spending an extended amount of time with family, let’s be honest: As much as we love them, it can be exhausting to spend that much time with them. Family is complicated. But being surrounded by family in the flesh can also remind us of who loved us into being, who formed us into we are, who brought us to this font, who nurtured us in our life of faith, who stoked our curiosity, who cheered us on from the sidelines or the audience.
Christina Igaraividez tells the story of growing up as an only child on the south side of Chicago, raised by a single working mom and her grandparents. Christina was especially close to her grandma – “two peas in a pod” as she describes their relationship. She loved listening to her grandma’s stories and sayings, most of them in her native Spanish, and one that always stood out for her, whenever her grandma would listen to music would say: ¡Como me encanta el violín! How I love the violin!
So when Christina got to choose an instrument in fourth grade band, of course she chose the violin! She wanted to make her grandma proud and recalls squinting in the bright lights of the stage and looking out into the audience at an orchestra recital, in between songs, for her grandma’s sign of approval. When Christina went on to attend one of Chicago’s top high schools and was knee deep in honors and AP classes and, of course, orchestra, she would still hear her grandma’s encouragement: ¡Échale ganas! Give it your all!
Christina struggled when her grandma began to decline as her Alzheimer’s diagnosis progressed, as any of us would struggle watching a family member decline from a long-term, life-threatening illness. After all, this was the woman who helped her to live her dreams and expand her world. As Christina tells it, “I got my bravery from her. I got my determination from her. Her words and her sayings helped shape the entire course of my life.”
We all have stories like that. We all have people, like Christina’s grandmother, who loved us into being, who shaped us into the people we are today, who encouraged us and cheered us along.
I grew up watching Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood with two people who loved me into being – my grandparents. After they picked me up from school and we walked the few blocks to their house, we would get home to have lunch and turn on Mister Rogers, and we’d place friendly bets on what color sweater he would wear that day.
All those memories came flooding back to me recently when I saw the film A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, the story of a young reporter for Esquire, Lloyd Vogel, who had been assigned to interview Fred Rogers. Throughout the movie, Lloyd also struggles with his anger and estranged relationship with his father, and Fred tries to counsel him and help him work through his anger and resentment. In one particularly powerful scene, when the two are sitting down for lunch in a Chinese restaurant, just before they’re about to eat, Fred invites them both to try something: “Let’s take a minute to think of all the people in our lives who have loved us into being.” Then everything gets quiet. There is no dialogue. The restaurant patrons hush their conversations. Even in the quiet of the theatre, for a whole minute, everyone is thinking about all the people in their lives who have loved them into being.
So I ask us this morning: Who loved you into being?
Whoever you thought of, I hope you’ll hold on to that for a little while today. And know this: Even in the best moments you shared with those people, that is only a sliver of how much God delights in each one of you and loves you into being and walks with you…into the wilderness and into all of life’s ups and especially the downs.
Fred Rogers was also known for his songs, including one with the repeated line: “I like as you are.” That strikes me as a fitting reminder for this day too, as we hear the story of Jesus’s baptism and remember our own, because that’s the message God has for us: We are God’s children, the Beloved. God delights in us. God likes us exactly as we are. God shows no partiality. Whoever you are, whatever you are struggling with this day, whatever life throws at you: God who has loved you into being loves you even still.