fathoming the deep

(Otto Dix)
a wee reflection on Jesus baptism

There’s nothing there: no bird or tree, fish or sea, land or feet to walk there. Only darkness and a formless, watery deep – fathoms of chaos. That’s how Genesis begins. But over the disorder and confusion of the waters, the spirit of God hovers ready to transform chaos into something beautiful and good: creation.

Fast forward in time. The bubble and flow of a muddy river. The world that once was beautiful and good is full of chaos again. Standing here is John the baptizer. People bring to John their disorder, confusion, shortcomings, each hoping for something more.

John dunks them in the river – a sign to themselves and God of a willingness to change. Like an ancient wash-house of the soul, you come here to the Jordan with a lifetimes dirty laundry. You come in anticipation of something new. It’s a baptism for repentance of sins.

Who was in the straggling queue that day waiting for John to wash them in the water and clean up the unpaid debt of guilt and regret; waiting for the water to be a sign of how they weren’t going to be their old selves anymore.

We know who was in the queue – people like you and me – the man who wasn’t sure why he’d come along but knew he needed a new direction before the dim wick of his days blew out; the woman whose past was a jotter full of sad stories, a bruised reed if ever there was one; those tired of billionaires gathering at Davos while locusts eat their way through African crops, while refugees are stuffed into overcrowded camps on Lesbos, and Australia becomes it’s own apocalypse.

Jesus was there. Simply waiting in line, as the queue inched toward the water until it was his turn. When John saw him he said: “It’s me who needs your help to turn towards God and do you come to me?

That question of John’s “And do you come to me.” Is that not a question we instinctively want to ask Jesus: And do you come to me -when I am a living contradiction? And do you come to me – who so often wants change without the growing pains change will ask of me? Do you come to where my faithfulness is a bent and bruised flower stem that a puff of wind could break? Do you come to me whose hope is a candle flickering in a gale?  

Jesus answers John’s protest: Let it be

And immediately as I hear those words I remember who they belonged to long before Jesus ever spoke them. Words a peasant girl once offered an angel, that day when Gabriel arrived out of nowhere and invited her to become the site where salvation found a way into the world.

Mary answered “Let it be…”

Let it be that this child will grow in me; let it be even though I’ll be submerged in the pain of false accusation and misunderstanding, as the world considers my growing belly a cause for shame; let it be as you say. That was his mother’s baptism.

John, relents and Jesus submerges in the waters of the Jordan and the deep complexity of bringing humanity back to God.

John’s baptism is a baptism for repentance of sins so what’s Jesus turning away from?

Nothing. When he steps into the waters muddy flow there is a turning happening, a turning of God towards us. At his baptism Jesus plunges into the chaos of a world: the pain and meaninglessness of what people must live, the hurt and horror of what invades our heart – not to condemn or destroy what he finds there but to transform it. When Jesus spoke those words to John he was unafraid of numbering himself among those who have failed, are flawed and carry more than they can manage.

On the river bank of wherever life has brought us between what is not working anymore and what needs to change Jesus draws our story into his so that what God says of Jesus is spoken over us: You are my beloved…I delight in you.

Now come and share that belovedness with the world.

If you grew up in Jesus’ village and went to school in the world of ordinary folk in Galilee then by the time you were 6 a third of all children in the village have been carried away by illness and disease. 60% of your class mates wouldn’t make it past their teens. By the time you are in your mid 20’s 75% of your class mates are gone to their graves. If you make it to your mid-forties 90% of the people you grew up with are gone. That was the reality of being a day labourer, a fisherman, a mother a child in rural Galilee.

Jesus is in his early thirties when he dunks into the Jordan. Few ordinary people in Galilee make it to that age –so the Jesus standing on the Jordan is not a young man. He has lived most of his life and more than most. I find that moving for reasons I’m not sure why. But at the very least it says we who are no spring chickens are never too old to fathom the depths of suffering, the depth of love, into the chaos of the world and human heart.

Jesus says, come with me and bring what you’ve lived, who you’ve loved, what you’ve lost and learned on the way, and trust all of that to me. I will transform your wound, loss and chaos into something you can share with others. Share the good news that there is no single life that God does not delight to reach out and redeem: No one who is not beloved by the love that spoke over Jesus:

you are my beloved child- in you I delight

When heaven opened and the spirit hovered over him like a dove.

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