This time of year is enlightening. This time between Christmas and the beginning of Lent offers us some helpful insights. In the birth of Jesus, God identifies with all humanity, esp poor and marginalized. God jumps right in.
Today, in the baptism of Jesus, God identifies with all those far away from God, esp. the helpless. God jumps right in.
This may or may not have actually happened, but it’s absolutely true:
A young adult was walking along and accidentally fell into a deep hole. The sides were so steep that they couldn’t get out. They struggled and worked to find a way up out of the hole, but couldn’t.
Exhausted from the effort, they could see up above a doctor walking by, so they yelled, “Hey, Doc, I’m stuck down here. Can you help me?” The doctor threw some medicine down the hole and said, “Try and avoid an infection.”
Later a pastor walked by, so the person in the hole yelled up, “Pastor, I’m stuck down here. Can you help me?” The pastor wrote out a prayer and threw it down into the hole. “I wish you well,” the pastor said as she walked on.
A little later a friend walks by. The person in the hole yells up, “Dear friend, I’m stuck down here. Can you help me?” The friend stops, looks down, and jumps into the hole.
The young adult says, “Why did you do that? Now we’re both stuck down here!”
The friend answers, “Yes, but I’ve been down here before, and I know the way out.”
That’s what the baptism of Jesus is actually about. Jesus jumping into our situation, joining us there, and leading us out.
It’s not that God waits for us to climb up out of our holes into being good, moral, ethical, righteous people. God isn’t standing up there until we get all our beliefs in line. God isn’t withholding comfort and compassion and mercy just because we’re stuck in a hole. No, the baptism of Jesus reveals that God actively jumps in with us even before we do anything right or good. God meets us in our weakness. God lifts us up when we can’t pull ourselves up. God doesn’t wait to be invited, asked, or received. In Jesus, God simply jumps in.
You can see evidence of this jumping in by Jesus. Take a look at how younger people are much more accepting of racial and sexual differences in our culture. Many of them simply cannot understand why sexual orientation or gender expression is even an issue. Many are much more aware of the harm inflicted by racism than in previous generations. The youth of our society seem much further along in revealing and living God’s unconditional love for all people than at any time before now. Jesus has jumped into our culture and is meeting us in our weakness.
Today, our text makes this just as clear. Jesus jumps into baptism—specifically John’s baptism. Now John was doing a baptism of repentance—people come, confess their sins, and try to do better. “I’ll quit lying; I’ll give more money away; I’ll go to church more often; I’ll quit stealing from work. I’ll find a way out of this hole.” Basically, John’s baptism called on people to say, “I can do better, so I will try harder to get out of this hole.”
But then Jesus comes along and says, “Hey, John, baptize me too.”
John answers, “Why? You’re already out of the hole this world has dug. You don’t need to repent of anything. I’m the one in the hole. I should be baptized by you so I can repent.”
“No, John. I’m jumping in. I’m entering into people’s confessions. I’m coming into people’s repentance. I’m letting myself down into the lives of people who are trying to do better. Do you know why, John? Because although people want desperately to do better, and they try really hard to climb out, there are times when they really can’t. They may work at overcoming some frailties and weaknesses, but as soon as they do, they realize that there are countless others that are still keep them down. No matter how hard they try, sometimes the walls are too steep. What’s worse, their own world seems to keep digging the hole deeper—racism is rampant; war is still present; people created in God’s image live each day hungry, homeless, victims of violence and abuse. People are sometimes helpless to become the people they were created to be. They are quite helpless to change the brokenness of the world. So I’m jumping down into the hole with them. Since they often are so powerless to make things better, I’m jumping down into their powerlessness. I know the way out.
“By jumping into their repentance, I’m entering into their inability to make themselves right. I’m jumping into this kind of thinking that tells them that they simply have to be more, they have to find a way out of the hole they’re in. And I’m changing it. I’m jumping down into their efforts because there are times when they’re helpless.”
And Jesus does just that. He jumps down with us in our attempts at trying harder. He jumps in with us when we don’t have the strength, the resources, the skills, or the ability to climb out on our own.
Today, in the baptism of Jesus, he is jumping down in. He’s offering to lead us when we are helpless, to take our hand when our lives are out of control, to show us the way when the brokenness of our lives and our world overwhelm us. He’s jumping in. And thank God he is. For even though we are powerless to do it ourselves, Jesus knows the way out.