Isaiah 43:1-7, Psalm 29, Acts 8:14-17
Luke 3:15-17, 21-22
(watch here: https://youtu.be/rj8hb43o1og)
15As the people were filled with expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Messiah, 16John answered all of them by saying, “I baptize you with water; but one who is more powerful than I is coming; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. 17His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.” 21Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heaven was opened, 22and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”
What makes a parent’s voice so special? Realistically, a parent’s voice is not unlike any other voice. Believe it or not, parents are human beings just like the rest of us! Their voices are no different than anyone else’s, practically speaking. A parent’s voice isn’t an alien’s voice! And yet a parent’s voice is special…it is unlike any other voice! It is a voice that can cut through the loudest of crowds. It is a voice that can instill the deepest of fears. It is a voice that calm the greatest of anxieties. A parent’s voice can do what no other voice can do. It can elicit the strongest of emotions and the quickest of reactions. It can move mountains if it wants to! So what exactly makes a parent’s voice so special? Is it the tone? Is it the volume? Is it the inflection? Is it the cadence? What is it about a parent’s voice that gives it so much power?
This morning we celebrate the baptism of our Lord, Jesus Christ, as we heard in our gospel passage from Luke. Each year we dedicate the first Sunday following Epiphany to celebrating Jesus’ baptism. The timing is rather suspicious since we just celebrated the birth of Jesus and the visit from the magi. We jump thirty years later in Jesus’ life to celebrate his baptism. Of course, both events are similar in that they were birthing events; one being Jesus’ bodily birth, the other being the birth of his earthly ministry. Before his baptism, Jesus was an unknown carpenter’s boy. There was the incident in the temple when he was 12 years old when he impressed everyone with his religious knowledge. But for the most part, the 30 years that elapsed between his birth and his baptism were rather unrevealing years for Jesus. And what makes Jesus’ baptism truly unique, aside from the Holy Spirit coming in the form of a dove, is the voice from heaven proclaiming to Jesus, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” It is this voice, God’s voice, which makes Jesus’ baptism unlike any other baptism. God speaks words of encouragement and affirmation. Jesus’ identity as the Son of God is publicly revealed through the voice of God. He could no longer live a life of hidden obscurity. God reveals Jesus as the beloved Son and, in effect, pushes him into starting his earthly ministry.
Though Jesus’ baptism is unique in who it revealed, it is equally unique in how it transformed our understanding of God’s voice. God’s voice is heard all through Scripture. God’s voice is heard in Garden of Eden. God’s voice is heard on a number of mountains, particularly Mount Sinai. God’s voice is heard in the skies. God’s voice is heard in angels. God’s voice is heard by the prophets. God’s voice comes in a whirlwind. God’s voice is everywhere in Scripture. God’s voice guided and protected. God’s voice condemned and punished. God’s voice taught and encouraged. But through Jesus’ baptism we heard God’s voice through a completely new filter. We heard God’s voice take on the most alien, the most powerful voice of all—the voice of a parent. For the first time in all of Scripture, we heard God speak as a father to a son. The voice became the voice that many of us respect the most—the voice of a parent.
Of course, it is the same voice we heard earlier in Scripture. It is the same voice spoken through the prophet Isaiah that proclaims, “Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you.” It is the same voice that David sings about in today’s psalm, “The voice of the Lord is a powerful voice; the voice of the Lord is a voice of splendor.” It is the same voice we hear time and time again throughout Scripture but for the first time we get to see it channeled through the interaction between a father and his son. The same voice that “breaks the cedars of Lebanon” and “shakes the wilderness of Kadesh” is the same voice that cuts through the heavens and reveals the Son. God’s voice is a father’s voice and has all the power and effectiveness that comes with a parent’s voice.
God’s voice, the Father’s voice, does what no other voice can do. It identifies Jesus for who he is and empowers him to begin his earthly ministry. Through loving words of encouragement, the Father’s voice gives the Son the strength and confidence to step out of his life of relative obscurity and live the life of service that he was destined to live. Jesus’ baptism reminds of a story I once heard by the author Donner Atwood. One night a house caught fire and a young boy was forced to flee to the roof. The father stood on the ground below with outstretched arms, calling to his son, “Jump! I’ll catch you.” He knew the boy had to jump to save his life. All the boy could see, however, was flame, smoke, and blackness. As can be imagined, he was afraid to leave the roof. His father kept yelling: “Jump! I will catch you.” But the boy protested, “Daddy, I can’t see you.” The father replied, “But I can see you and that’s all that matters.” The Father could see the Son. The Father could see that the Son needed to jump out of obscurity and into his life of service. Jesus’ life wasn’t being threatened like the boy’s in the story but it was expecting a leap of faith. Jesus blindly jumped into his life of service and he did it through the reassurance of a seeing parent’s voice.
God the Father isn’t just the father to Jesus. Through Jesus and our own baptisms, we have been claimed as children of the same father. We, too, have a heavenly father who calls out from the heavens, “You are my beloved.” Each of us is a beloved child of the same Father. God the Father speaks to each of us in our own unique lives. The Father encourages and affirms, empowers and enables each of us. Like his Son, the Father expects each of us to rely on his voice all throughout our lives of uncertainty. We have been called into lives of service to each other and to God. Lives of service are, by nature, lives of uncertainty. We don’t know how or where or when service will be expected of us but we can rely on the Father’s voice to guide and protect us.
At the start of this message I asked, what makes a parent’s voice so special? Is it the tone? Is it the volume? Is it the inflection? Is it the cadence? Though these are all helpful indicators, what makes a parent’s voice so special is love—pure, unconditional, selfless, endless love. God the Father tells his Son, “You are my beloved.” We are beloved. The Father loves us just as he loves his Son. When God speaks to us, he speaks out of love. He might condemn us, he might punish us, but he does it out of love. A parent’s voice simply reflects a parent’s love. God loves us! God loves you! God loves me! God loves Jesus! God loves us! Shh…did you hear that?
In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.