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The Feast of the Baptism of the Lord (A)

Scripture Readings: Isaiah 42:1-4, 6-7; Psalms 29:1-2, 3-4, 3, 9-10; Acts 10:34-38; Matthew 3:13-17

My dear encountered couples:

Today we are celebrating another beginning in the life of Jesus – his Baptism. And Matthew records what happened during his baptism in this way: “And when Jesus had been baptized … the heavens were opened to him and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him". And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”

The voice from heaven that Jesus heard speaks directly to him, saying: “You are my Son, my Beloved, with you I am well pleased.” What powerful words of affirmation these are? “With you I am well pleased!” Today I want to talk to you about affirmation – about what it is and how special it is. It’s very unfortunate that the word affirmation is not a word that often mentioned in our vocabulary these days. We talk of loving and supporting but we don't tend to use the word affirm very often. Is it perhaps because we don't engage in a lot of affirming action?

To affirm means to state positively or to assert some truth – especially some truth concerning the nature of another person and the relationship that one has with them. To affirm something means to value it.

I remember as a child longing to hear words of affirmation from my father. I would bring home a report card that I was proud of. I would show it to him, longing to hear the words “Well done, my boy.” And yes, I did hear those words.

But all too often they were followed with, “Don't you think you could have done a little better here in this subject … don't you think if you had put more effort into it, you could have won the trophy, or got on the honor roll?”

I longed for words of affirmation. We all do. We long to be praised. We long to be held in value as worthwhile, as people who can accomplish something of worth – especially by those whom we love, respect, and rely each day. All of us long for affirmation, but too often, those words come too late. They come after we have gone out from our homes and families. They come after we have struggled with things and won over some and lost over others. Too often they come after some victory or in the midst of some crisis. Such is the way in many people's lives, in many families, in many homes. But, thanks God – his affirmation of us, his children, is different.

The whole story of Jesus' ministry begins with affirmation. Even before Jesus had any idea what God had in store for him; even before Jesus had told a single story or healed a single person – there is affirmation: “You are my Son, my Beloved, with you I am well pleased.” And this is a very significant moment in the life and ministry of Jesus. And if we apply the meaning of this moment to ourselves as God means us to do – it is significant for all of us, too.

If we think of our own experiences of giving and receiving affirmation, it usually comes after having done something well. But in the case of God, he affirms the goodness in us – “You are my beloved sons or daughters. With you I am well pleased” before any action that might lead us to think that we have earned the affirmation or even if we don’t deserve such affirmation.

This is the cornerstone of grace and the sign of the power and the ability of God to create and sustain new life. And it is when we can come to understand that we are indeed God’s children, that we can receive his grace, his affirmation, and his love – that can comfort our soul and empower our spirit.

This is what our baptism, our profession of faith, our confirmation, is all about – reminding ourselves and our children that we are indeed children of God. Since the day that Jesus was baptized at the river Jordan, baptism has become a sign of God's unconditional love for us. In our baptism we celebrate God's welcoming love – a love that comes prior to anything we may have done and prior to anything we may yet do.

And the wonder of it all is that, each day God renews his loves for us each day he speaks to us tender words about who we are and what we have done and what we can do.

God's love for us always remains unconditional. It always affirms us. It always nurtures us. All we need to do is remember who we are and turn to Him and open our hearts and our minds to his caring presence, his gentle guidance, his quiet and encouraging word. God helps us begin our relationship with Him with his word of affirmation, with his unconditional love, his unquestioning forgiveness, and his unfailing support. God creates an environment of peace for us to dwell in, and to meditate on, and to pass on to others.

As companions to one another, as brothers and sisters in Christ, and yes as parents, it does us well, I think, to hear these familiar words once again and to consider what they might mean for our care for one another, for our affirmation of one another.

“If a child lives with criticism, he learns to condemn. If a child lives with hostility she learns to fight. If a child lives with ridicule, he learns to be shy. If a child lives with shame, she learns to be guilty. If a child lives with tolerance, he learns to be patient. If a child lives with encouragement, she learns confidence. If a child lives with praise, he learns to appreciate. If a child lives with fairness, she learns justice. If a child lives with security, he learns to have faith. If a child lives with approval, she learns to like herself. If a child lives with acceptance and friendship, he learns to find love in the world.”

God loves us right here and right now. In his holy and powerful and spiritual presence – he loves us and creates for us the environment in which you and me can grow straight and strong – and ever more caring, ever more loving.

Let us show forth the love that God has for us by affirming one another as God affirms us – before being asked, before the other has done either good or bad, before they deserve or do not deserve your favor and our encouragement.

And after affirming one another; after creating an atmosphere of encouragement, praise, fairness, acceptance, and love, let us pray and thank God – and do it all again – knowing that this is how God greets us each morning of our lives. Amen

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