Baptism of Christ - Choral Evensong

  • Preacher

    The Dean - The Very Revd Andrew Nunn

  • Readings

    Joshua 3.1-8,14-17; Hebrews 1.1-12

It’s very easy to be disappointed in life

You build something up in your head, it’s going to be amazing, the best experience ever, the most wonderful sight to see and then you arrive at whatever it is and feel, well, let down. It was nothing like you’d imagined, nothing like you’d been led to believe. The River Jordan is a bit like that, to be perfectly honest. We hear so much about it that we develop an image in our head of just what this stretch of water must be like.

I’ve always had a great deal of sympathy for the Syrian military leader Naaman. One of the reasons for this is that one of my Sunday School prizes was the Ladybird Book ‘Naaman and the Little Maid’. I can still see the pictures in my head as the story that we find in 2 Kings 5 was retold. Naaman, this great military leader, is suffering from leprosy and his king sends him over to Israel to consult the prophet Elisha and be cured. Instead of coming out to see him the prophet sends him a message that he should wash seven times in the Jordan and in that way he will be healed. Naaman explodes with rage and says

‘Are not Abana and Pharpar, the rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters of Israel? Could I not wash in them, and be clean?’

Eventually he climbs down – in the Ladybird book it is all due to the intervention of the eponymous Little Maid – and washes and is made whole again. But I have huge sympathy with him – I wouldn’t get into the Jordan for all the tea in China!

When today’s pilgrims arrive at the Jordan they’re confronted with a very insubstantial river, a muddy brook, brown water, not very wide, not very deep and you’re left wondering what all the fuss is about.

But as we heard in our First Lesson this river is of huge significance in the story of the people, in the story of the nation of Israel. Crossing this river was like Cesar crossing the Rubicon, entering into another place, establishing something greater than before, going beyond the boundaries. And on this feast day we remember that Jesus would enter that same river, to share with the people in John’s baptism, which for him was a crossing of the Rubicon, a stepping out into ministry amongst the people. He emerges from the water and immediately heads off into the wilderness for that time of testing that will shape what his three years of ministry will look like.

These meagre, rather disappointing waters are more than they might appear at first sight.

God crosses the Rubicon and enters into another territory. It’s this that the writer of the Letter to the Hebrews begins by trying to describe. As we heard in the Second Lesson the prophets had pointed to what would happen, now it happens. Jesus crosses that great divide between divinity and humanity, brings all that was promised and hoped for into human flesh, as we enter into the deep waters of the mystery of the incarnation.

For some of course he would be and still is, disappointing. A crucified God is not what everyone would hope for, a messiah who rides a donkey is not everyone’s image of a hero, a king who dons the attire of a slave and washes his disciples’ feet is not comfortable to know. But Jesus is all this and more. He crosses the boundaries, the dividing lines and challenges all our expectations and as we move now through this Christian year this is what we’ll continually find.

The Jordan may not be what we imagined, but then we never imagined God like Jesus.