So closely does Christ identify with the plight of humanity that our sin has become his sin. And so you see, bearing all that sin he must come to be baptized. In identifying with our sin, Christ has paved the way for us to share the righteousness that characterizes God himself. For he is reconciling the world to himself, "not counting our transgressions against us, since for our sakes God has made Him who did not know sin, to be sin, so that in him we might become the very holiness of God.” Jesus goes down into the cool waters of conversion to mark God’s irrevocable marriage bond with us.
And so fittingly the heavens are opened, the reality of this wedding of heaven and earth in Christ is proclaimed. The Father’s voice and the Spirit’s hovering declare who Jesus’ is: the Beloved Son who always does what the Father wants. The Father presents his Son to us, to be our beloved. And the waters of our earth open to receive him. United with him, we are beloved in him.
So here Jesus is, here in the murky water that is our humanity- all that is wobbly, squishy, fluid and unpredictable, all that tempts us- Jesus has immersed himself in all of it, descended into the somewhat slimy reality of it all. He waits for us there- in all that embarrasses and burdens us, our regrets, our failures and foolishness, all of our soggy, sad truth. There is Jesus, with us always. And it is there that we will find him. Only the passion of his love for us can explain this- his desire for baptism, his desire to take our flesh in the first place.
We are meant to meet him down there. Like John we may ask, “What are you doing here of all places?” That is why we love the word allow. Jesus asks John to allow him to be baptized. Said another way to each of us, “Please allow me to be who I am- truly God, truly human. I have become your sin to rescue you from it. I bear all your burdens with you. Please allow it. Please let me in.” Why do I hesitate? Will I allow him to meet me there in all those places that seem most unlikely, most unresolved, messy, tempting even sinful? He is waiting. Are we ready to take our humanity seriously as sacred place of encounter with him?
Section of window in the north walk of Mariawald Abbey cloister, by Gerhard Rhemish, 'The Master of St. Severin', Germany, 1500-49, Victoria and Albert Museum. Excerpt from this morning's homily.