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Epiphany 1, Yr A, 1.9.2011  (Baptism of Christ)
Isa 42.1-9:  Servant song

Ps 29: God’s mighty works by voice, ending w. ‘strength to his people...blessing of peace’

Acts 10.34-43: ‘all the prophets testify about him’
Mt 3.13-17: ‘proper for us in this way to fulfil all righteousness’ –almost as if apologetic for Mark’s account (603)  

Heavenly Father, at the Jordan you revealed Jesus as your Son: may we recognize him as our Lord and know ourselves to be your beloved children; through Jesus Christ our Saviour.  

(What Jesus reveals of God is, quite simply, love)

          I preached on the baptism of Jesus on this Sunday last year, so I’ll take a different tack this time.

          My guess is that many of you will probably have watched the four half-hour episodes of The Nativity on BBC One in the four evenings leading up to Christmas.  Tatiana Masiany, the young Canadian actress who played Mary, has said of the production that “It isn’t so much about the belief in God but the belief in enduring love.”  This morning I would like to argue that at their deepest level the two, belief in God and belief in enduring love, are identical, and they lead to the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.

          Real love is not abstract, for love is deeply personal and interpersonal.  In 1 John the author has reached the almost inexpressible realisation that ‘God is love’.  And, biblically speaking, there is no deeper relationship than that between father and son, which is why the relationship between God and   Israel is expressed as a father-son relationship.          

          In Matthew, Mark and Luke the story of Jesus’ baptism at the hands of John is one of the very few passages in the NT where we find Father, Son and Holy Spirit mentioned together, with ‘Father’ by implication since Jesus is addressed as Son.

          Let me tell you what Father, Son and Holy Spirit mean biblically.  Let’s start with ‘Father’ and ‘Son’.  In Exodus 4.22-23 God tells Moses the following:

'And you shall say to Pharaoh, "Thus says Yahweh , Israel is my first-born son, and I say to you, 'Let my son go that he may serve me', if you refuse to let him go, behold, I will slay your first-born son."'  Thus Israel ’s calling is to be God’s Son, the Son of God.  In the Hebrew family the father is to teach his son.  This role as teacher is central to the notion of a proper father.  That is why when early in the story of Israel Joseph be comes Pharaoh’s counsellor, he is spoken of as being a father to Pharaoh (Gen 45.8).  In the Hebrew family the son was expected to be obedient to his parents, and a son who was 'stubborn and rebellious' (Deut 21.18-21) or who cursed or struck his parents (Exod 21.15, 17) was to be put to death.  This meant that a good son was a shining example of the character of his father, so much so that there was a semitic idiom ‘son of...’, which meant to have the quality of, so that ‘a son of iniquity’ would be an iniquitous person and a ‘son of righteousness’ would be a righteous person.  Therefore, Israel’s calling in the covenant as Son of God was, by complete obedience to God’s will, to show forth the very character of God.  This is what Jesus is called to in the story of his baptism.

          When we look at ‘Spirit’, the word ruach in Hebrew and its equivalent pneuma in Greek mean both ‘spirit’ amd ‘wind’.  This is why we get the double meaning in John’s Gospel when Jesus is presented as saying’the wind blows where it will’ in a context where Jesus has been speaking of the Spirit.  And when we look at how the Spirit of God is used in the OT, it always indicates God’s powerful presence or his present power that conveys and carries out his will.

          So, when we look at what Jesus reveals of God, it is, quite simply, love, agape in Greek.  So, the essence of Jesus is love, the essence of the Father is love, the essence of the Spirit is love.  

    Indeed, what we sang at Christmas is the core of what we know in our hearts, namely, ‘Love came down at Christmas’