What does it mean to be called “beloved?”

In our day and age, love is a much-bandied about word. We say we love this person, but like another, we love this particular thing, and positively hate the other. There is familial love, love of country, platonic love and romantic love (which, by the way, is probably what first comes to mind when we hear that four letter word — Love.) We say we fall in love and likewise out of it (some, falling in, and out of love, faster than they would care to admit.) But, as wonderful as our experiences of love are, have been, or can be they are, nonetheless, dim reflections when compared to the love of God.

“And when Jesus had been baptized . . . . A voice from heaven said, ‘This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”

Today we celebrate the Baptism of our Lord, the second of the three miracles that constitute the Epiphany of Jesus. The first being the adoration of the Magi, where Jesus is recognized as the Son of God by and to the gentiles, and the third being the Wedding Feast at Canna, where Jesus turns water in the wine, the first of our Lord’s recorded miracles. All these are epiphanies.

An Epiphany has been given wider currency as a critical term by James, Joyce, who used it to designate an event in which the essential nature of something — a person, a situation, an object — was suddenly perceived. It is thus an intuitive grasp of reality achieved in a quick flash of recognition in which something, usually quite simple and commonplace, is seen in a new lights and as Joyce says “its soul, its whatness leaps to us from the vestment of its appearance.”

Jesus’ Baptism at the Jordan River is just such an event. On this last day of the extended Nativity festivities, we are given an “adult Jesus” as Christmas time, as noted New Testament scholar Raymond Brown would say. This now fully grown and adult Jesus shows forth yet again, and in a yet another new way, that the Word has been made Flesh — only this time it is God’s own voice that proclaims the fact. The rending of the heavens points for the crowd gathered around that riverbank, and for us, that once again heaven and earth have indeed been gathered into one. But this experience goes even further. As the voice proclaims “this is my Son the beloved” we hear God’s proclamation of the “essential nature” of Jesus, his soul, his “Whatness” as Joyce would say. And just what is that Whatness? Belovedness.

In the ever-unfolding Christmas event; the miracle of the Incarnation reveals God’s self to the world in human form, in the form of Jesus of Nazareth, Jesus the Christ, Jesus the anointed. Jesus the sinless one comes as one among sinners to show us what the love of God actually looks like. The one who needs no baptism, comes to be baptized, joining himself fully to our life and situation so that we too may hear the call thorough him — that we, also, are God’s beloved.

In God’s calling him Beloved, and in Jesus’ full acceptance of that identity, Jesus’ self-understanding of his ministry is inaugurated. This moment, for all four gospels, begins the recorded ministry of Jesus — a ministry of healing to the sick, sight to the blind, movement to the lame, hope to the poor, and the proclamation of never-ending love for all of God’s children. A ministry that would eventually become a Eucharistic self-offering, the very life of the Beloved, a life taken, blessed, broken and given.

This is what the life and ministry of Jesus was all about — to make known and manifest to the world, to you and me, to each and every one of us, that we are God’s beloved. Jesus is the first born of a new creation, and we who follow in his path and share in his death and resurrection; in him we too have been made a new creation. In him we are given new eyes and new ears, new hearts and new minds; and with these new ways of being in the world, we see, and hear, and know, that all around us are called Beloved also.

So, what does it mean to be beloved? It means that God sees you and me, each and every human being as infinitely loved, as infinitely valued, and as infinitely cherished. This is our own epiphany, our own moment of self-recognition. This is what St. Paul means when he says in him, “we live and move, and have our being.” It is the fact of our “Whatness” as Joyce would say. From now on throughout our lives, we grow, and move, and live and appropriate, and try to understand and live into, what this wonderful thing means and how we live a life as one of God’s Beloved in the world.

Look around this place this morning. Look around as you go through your day, even as you watch the nightly news. What do you see? Beloveds. God’s beloveds. Now more than ever, this is what every Christian needs to remember and hold on to. You’re a beloved; I’m a Beloved, that person on the corner is a Beloved. The homeless person, the vagabond — he/she is a beloved. Muslims, Christians, Jews, Hindus, Seihk — in God’s great cosmic redemption of the world through Christ — all are called beloved by him. How can we claim this? Because as inheritors of the first born of God’s new creation through our baptisms, God has gifted us with those new eyes and hearts to see and know this.

No matter how imperfect human love can be, it is because God first loved us that we can even know what love is. With God’ help we too hear that sacred voice calling us Beloved. And just as Jesus’ ministry begins with God’s announcement of him as his “Son, the beloved in whom I am well pleased,” so do the ministries of each and every one of us.

In a few moments we will join with Christians around the globe this day and renew our own baptismal vows. In it we reaffirm our promises to continue in the apostle’s teaching and fellowship and in the sharing of Christ’s body and blood through the sacraments. We promise to pray, to resist evil, and when we fail, not IF we fail mind you, but WHEN we fail – to return and seek forgiveness in the Lord. We promise to seek and serve Christ in all persons, not just some; and we promise to strive for justice and peace among all people, not just some, respecting the dignity of all human life and of every human being.

My sisters and brother, these are strong promises and a strong ministry to which YOU are called. With God’s help and only with God’s help can we do this; and in his name can we be a sign of “Christ’s love to this sinful and broken world, that unity may overcome estrangement, forgiveness heal guilt and that in God joy can conquer despair.”