From out of the shadow and protection of Nazareth and anonymity, Jesus steps forward and stands face to face with his cousin, John the Baptizer.
It’s a moment of truth for both of them.
Without his usual confidence and energy, John, almost hesitantly, baptises Jesus in the waters of the great river Jordan.
And John’s faith and prophecy are vindicated in the voice from heaven. John relaxes, his tension ebbs away. He was right. There was one coming who is greater than he and this cousin of his, Jesus, is that one. John’s work is fulfilled.
And out of the shadow and protection of our minds’ recesses Jesus steps forward and we find ourselves face to face with the one God calls “My son, the beloved”.
It’s a moment of truth-testing.
Is the Jesus who stands before us today the one we’ve imagined or is he altogether more challenging, more powerful, more compelling, more loving?
Are we the people we believed we were, are we indeed living true to our calling as we hear Jesus pass on the words from heaven, “You are God’s son, God’s daughter – you are God’s beloved”.
Jesus knows his work is about to begin. The Spirit of God drives him, compels him to retreat for a time of self-examination and preparation for what he has to do. All his weaknesses and strengths are exposed, all possible paths are there for him to choose which he will follow: which is the way of the God of love?
Alone he struggles with the thought of who he is and how he must carry out his life’s mission. Yet not so completely alone. Angels minister to him by their comforting presence as wise counsellors and guides.
This will not be his only time of temptation. For the next three years or so he will be in situations where he is again tempted to forsake love’s way. Maybe sometimes he still is.
When even his closest disciples don’t understand him, when people just want miracles and signs not his teaching and message; when he is exhausted and people are being petty, nit-picking and critical. Then he will think there must be an easier way to get people to listen to him and to follow him. Each time he withdraws so that the angels may wait on him again.
And as our realisation of who Jesus is grows, each time we see him a bit more clearly, the spirit of God compels us to examine our thoughts and ways of living to hold them against the example of the way of God’s beloved son.
Daily we struggle with our own particular demons who know just when and where we are most vulnerable and can most easily be tempted. Only we ourselves and God know who our demons are. Whatever they are, if we take Jesus seriously we keep battling ever watchful for an outbreak of un-loving in our lives. And we, too, need to withdraw for times with God who knows us better than we know ourselves. And we need to be as angels ministering to each other.
John’s work is finished and Jesus again leaves the shadow and anonymity to begin his mission. He proclaims to the people around him and to us the good news of God.
In our wilderness times, in our days of self-examination and our sense of failure to live up even to the standards we set ourselves, we can hear and respond to the good news of God.
God’s good news to Noah was this: “I establish my covenant with you, that never again shall all flesh be cut off by the waters of a flood, and never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth”. The sign of that covenant was the rainbow.
God’s good news to us is this: “I establish my new covenant with you. Never shall you be cut off from me by your weaknesses and failures, never will I allow sin to destroy you completely. Recognise and name your weaknesses and your failures; tell me about them, of your longing to change and of your yearning to know me. To this, your repentance, I will answer, “You are my son, my daughter, the beloved, in you I am well pleased”.
The signs of this new covenant are a cross, an empty grave, bread and wine.
“Repent and believe the good news”. That is the way of eternal life