“You are my child, the Beloved, in you I am well pleased.”
It’s hard to say exactly what they saw that morning on the banks of the Jordan. It’s hard to know exactly what the voice sounded like. As the young man Jesus prayed, water still dripping from his hair, the grey sky split. An arc of sunlight pierced slantwise through a crack in the clouds. They said they saw some kind of bird. What kind of bird? What color were its feathers? Did the bird really rest gently like a dove? Or did it come crashing down, with purpose, swooping like a hawk? What did the voice that spoke those words sound like? What was the pitch, the tone, the cadence?
This Jesus, some remembered the stories of his birth. the shepherds, the angels. But that was many years ago. No one expected the sky to split when the young man came, with the others, to be baptized.
Their expectation was for the wild-eyed John. Some whispered that he, John, was the messiah, the anointed leader. This bearded man with crazy eyes, wearing musty camel fur, dreadlocks constantly in disarray. His breath smelled of locusts. His teeth were rotting (too much wild honey). But the wild man John scared Rome’s puppet leaders. He had the guts to call them vipers. John could be the Messiah. Rumor had it that Herod were afraid of John. John could be the one. But John said “no.” “Wait for another, I am not worthy.” So the people waited.
No one expected much from the young man who came to be baptized, the carpenter’s son. Yes, some remembered the story of the wise men from the East. Just after his birth these wizards appeared, wandering, following, in search of a star. They brought gifts to the baby, but since then? Who would have predicted the strange meteorological phenomena? Who expected that wild bird to come down? No one was waiting for that voice. But that’s the thing about epiphanies, they come when you least expect them.
This epiphany came with words. The voice came from heaven. So did it come down from the sky or did it come from “heaven?” which is to say the voice came out of nowhere, and out of everywhere. The voice came from no one, and yet from everyone. The words echoed in the hearts of the people, reverberated in the chests of the onlookers, like a deep bass beat. “You are my Son, the beloved, in you I am well pleased.”
This is sort of Jesus’ IPO- His initial public offering. 30 years after those wise guys came wandering through the desert, not much had happened. Then boom, another Epiphany. “You are my Son, the beloved, in you I am well pleased.” Get this, Jesus’ first public act, his initial public offering, is to HEAR the voice of God. Before he acts, he hears. Before he heals, he hears. Before he teaches, before he stirs up trouble, before he calls disciples, before he walks on water, before everything he hears God’s voice saying, “You are my Son, the beloved, in you I am well pleased.”
“Well pleased with WHAT?” we might ask. We, who live in Washington, the land of confirmation hearings. We want a public record. We want to weigh accomplishments. We want to see a resumé. WHAT had Jesus done that was PLEASING to God at this point? Answer: nothing. Zilch, nada, nein, zero. BEFORE he acts, he hears. Before he does anything of note, before he does anything worth writing down, he hears this voice of love and affirmation. God doesn’t wait for Jesus to act before he announced his love, his approval.
So the voice came as an epiphany, not an expected revelation, but an unanticipated uncovering of the truth. James Joyce wrote that an Epiphany is when we recognize things as they truly are. When an object becomes clear, when “It’s soul, it’s ‘what-ness’ leaps to us from the vestment of its appearance.” This is an epiphany.
An epiphany occurred on the banks of the Jordan that morning, a shared realization, a vision of the “what-ness” of Jesus. Jesus hadn’t yet accomplished much of anything. He hadn’t merited the divine attention, but there on the banks, God did not care. In front of everyone Jesus’ soul leapt into appearance. The people heard a voice, a voice they understood, a voice which declared “I love this one, and I am well pleased.” How it happened, the angle of the light, the appearance of the bird, these elements are all left up to our imagination. It is hard to say how they saw, how they heard, but somehow on the day of his baptism Jesus saw and felt the presence of the Holy Spirit. The people heard the voice of God. “You are my Son, the Beloved.”
Luis likes to say that he wishes our dome was retractable, and not because he wants to be more like the Dallas Cowboys. He wishes we had a Steven Spielberg budget for baptism Sundays. If he had his way, the dome would open up, a hologram of a dove would come crashing down with beams of light surrounding each person who was baptized. “You are my beloved daughter. In you I am well pleased,” the congregation would all hear.
Perhaps today it takes special effects to hear the voice of God, to hear “You are my son, my daughter, my beloved, in you I am well pleased.” Why is it so much easier to hear the cacophony of voices that constantly say to us, “You don’t make enough money. You don’t eat the right food. You’re too tall or too short. You are too old or too young. You aren’t pretty enough. You’re too loud. You’re black. English is not your first language. You don’t have the credentials. You don’t have what it takes.” These voices too often drown out the voice of God. These voices strangle life. These voices, we need a break from these voices. We need an Epiphany.It takes courage to hear the voice of God. It takes courage to have that kind of Epiphany, to embrace who you truly are, your true identity. St. Irenaeus, one of the early church theologians wrote: “The glory of God is the human person fully alive.” To be fully human, fully alive, is to glorify God. It takes courage to hear, over the din of self-doubt: “you are my beloved child, in you I am well pleased.” But God never stops speaking these words. God never fails to say these words to each and every person. How do we quiet the voices of culture? How do we help others hear? How do we ourselves hear this voice, “you are my child, the beloved, in you I am well pleased?”
God speaks these words to us, not because we merit them. God’s love is not something we can merit, or fail to earn. God who created us loves us, loves each and every person, all people. God loves you. God is well pleased with you. God loves your neighbor, and your sister, and your cousin, and God loves the children of Syria, and the widows in India, God loves AIDS patients in Haiti, and God loves the gay rights activists in Uganda. God is well pleased with infants. God is well pleased with the vulnerable. God is well pleased with people who can do nothing. God is even well pleased with politicians in Washington. God is well pleased because God looks upon us and sees first a beloved creation, a daughter, a son.
Each time God looks at you, each time God looks at anyone, God has an Epiphany. God sees who we truly are. “You are my children, the beloved, in you I am well pleased.” Do we have the courage to have that kind of Epiphany?