Fast Forward Thirty Years
We leave the warm light of the manger and the Holy Family, and move to Jesus’ baptism this Sunday. But Jesus was not baptized as an infant; 30 years have passed, and Jesus is an adult, having worked with his father Joseph for a good 15 years or so as a carpenter, we assume. But something changes in him, and he feels led – compelled? – to redirect his life. He walks several day’s journey south into Judea, and joins the group around a fiery young prophet named John. John is preaching a message of repentance to Jews, and he is offering a sign of washing and renewal: baptism in the river Jordan.
We don’t know how long Jesus spent listening to John, perhaps joining John around a campfire in the evenings, asking questions about John’s view of God, and John’s understanding of what would happen in the not-to-distant future. (I’d give a lot to have tapes of those conversations!) At some point, Jesus decides to commit: to undergo baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. Jesus becomes a disciple of John. (The meaning of John’s baptism is well-described in the Advent hymn “On Jordan’s Bank,” so we shall sing it on Sunday.)
But John has attracted negative attention from the Roman governors; he has criticized Herod for improperly marrying Herodias, the former wife of his half-brother. He was a troublemaker to Herod. Soon John was imprisoned, and subsequently executed. This created a void into which Jesus stepped. The story picks up there in the Gospels. Jesus began to preach and gather his own disciples around him. Jesus’ message is not identical to John’s, however. Jesus preaches not just repentance, but a completely new mode of relating to God, based on love and grace, rather than on law and sacrifice. The question for us is, how do we live based on God’s love and grace, when the world turns on the basis of power and transactional relationships? JBM