"I will never forget you."
Christmas seems such a long time ago now, but it was just three weeks ago that we celebrated the birth at Bethlehem, the beginning of the earthly life of our Savior.
Today we celebrate another beginning in the life of Jesus - it is the beginning marked by Baptism. Jesus is now a grown man and approaches the banks of the River Jordan one hot and dusty day. There he comes face to face with John the Baptist and is baptized. This action in the waters of the Jordan marked a new beginning for Jesus that would end at the cross of Calvary. As Jesus left the Jordan River, we are told 'heaven was opened to him, and he saw the Spirit of God coming down like a dove and lighting on him. Then a voice said from heaven, "This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased."
Jesus is about to embark on the most difficult journey anyone could undertake over the next few years. It would involve every kind of hurt - verbal, physical, mental and spiritual - from his enemies and even from those who were the closest to him. And as he begins this part of his life, he hears these powerful words of affirmation, "You are my own dear Son."
There is no doubt in my mind that Jesus, knowing what was coming, gathered strength from those words. What a way to begin a new part of one's life! What a way to feel before setting out on a new course! What a thing to hear and reflect on later when the challenges that life would throw at him would be almost too much to bear.
How many times would you have loved to hear, "Well done! I am pleased with you." Being critical and negative is easy, which is strange because we all have felt at some time the pain of a hostile and critical comment. Our society, for the most part has become a people who have become focused on criticizing and accusing instead of affirming each other.
Praise the Lord that we have a God who is an affirming God, an encouraging God. Usually, we express our appreciation after a person has done something that pleases us, but with God, it's different.
For before Jesus had told a single story, did a single miracle, or healed a single person, before Jesus remained faithful to his task as Savior, before he spoke about God's love and forgiveness, in fact, before he did anything, there is God's affirmation of who he is. "This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.”
God affirmed Jesus at the beginning of his ministry, and he affirms his relationship with us even before we can do anything that we might think would earn God's favor. In grace, he says to us, "You are my dear child, and that pleases me."
God said that to each of us on the day of our Baptism. For most of us, he said it when we were too small even to know what was going on. Through the water and his Word of promise, God made a one-sided deal, in that he promises to be our Father and Savior who will love us and care for us throughout our journey through life. He is ready to do that even when we have done nothing to win such approval.
In Baptism, God promises to support and nurture us. He gives us a new life, a new beginning, and the hope of eternal life. He gives us the Holy Spirit to plant in us the seed of faith that grows in maturity as we journey through life. All of this is God's action that marks us forever as God's children.
Baptism is an act of God that celebrates how special and precious we are in God's eyes. In our Baptism, as in the Baptism of Jesus, we celebrate God's welcoming love, a love that comes before anything we may have done and anything we may yet do.
And the wonder of it all is that each morning God's mercies are renewed as he promised us. Each morning he renews his love for us, and each day he speaks to us tender words about who we are, how much we are loved and encourages us to be who we are – God's children who share the love of God in words and acts of kindness in a world that badly needs all the positive input that it can get. That's part of the covenant God has established with us – to give others the same kind of love and forgiveness that he has given us.
And even though we often fail to do what God wants us to do God's love always remains unconditional -it always affirms us, nurtures us, and calls us again to live as one of God's dearly loved children.
When the water of Baptism is poured over us, however long ago that might have been, the pure grace of God was at work at that moment and ever since. In our Baptism, He created a new relationship with us and made a personal promise to each of you that he will always be close by as our Savior and Helper.
In his Word to us, he tells us, "It doesn't matter where life's journey will take you, I will walk beside you. Even if you aren't always loyal to me, I will always be loyal to you. When life takes a turn for the worse, I will be there to comfort and help you. When you need strength to overcome trouble, I will be your strength. When you call to me in prayer, I will hear and respond in a manner that is best for you. When it comes to your dying moment, I will take you to the place I have prepared for you in heaven".
That is his promise, a promise to all those he calls his dear children. In the Old Testament, he promised the people who were experiencing very troublesome times, as he told them through his prophet, “I have written your name on the palms of my hands."
How's that for affirmation and encouragement? The almighty and all-powerful God of the universe commits to affirming us as his dearly loved children even when we don't feel we deserve that kind of favor. He tells us he will hold our hand to comfort and encourage us even when the situation appears to be hopeless.
None of us knows what the future will hold. You can be sure that this year will have days of trouble. In those days of trouble, God's promise to never forget us and always be there with his loving help and support makes us realize what a wonderful God we have.
Today, we recall the way Jesus was affirmed and encouraged by the voice from the heavens and the descending dove, is a great day to remember with thanks the way God has assured us that we are his "dearly loved children" and affirms that regardless of what may happen he will not forget us and hold our hand, even carry us if necessary, through dark valleys and troublesome times.
This promise is certain, for God says to you, "You are my own dear child." "I will never forget you. … I have written your name on the palms of my hands". Amen