At Christmas, the Son of God took on our very flesh so as to be one with us through that flesh. At his Baptism in the Jordan, he takes on the sins of our souls so as to be one with us in our souls.
Ever since man left Paradise, God’s whole yearning has been to have us back home. Our sin made it impossible for us to get back ourselves, and so he came to us in a human body and in a human soul to rid us of sin, and himself bring us back, body and soul.
Water in Christianity symbolises both death and life. When John the Baptist called people to repentance, he wanted the immersion in water to symbolize their decision to die to their sins and to rise to a new life with the firm purpose of amendment not to sin again. He knew, of course, that his baptism was merely symbolic. It could not actually take any sins away. The person being baptised prayed that God would take them away, but without any certainty of that happening. It was then up to the individual not to sin again, but the water of the Jordan did not give him any power to achieve that; he had only his own will power. And we know what human will power can be like.
Christ’s baptism in the Jordan was not because he had sinned, but because he had come to identify himself with the sinner, all sinners. His wasn’t a compassion which looked on our sins only from the outside. Rather, he took them all on and into himself. He is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. His descent into the water evokes his death on the Cross by which he personally carried and destroyed all sin. His rising up from the water evokes his Resurrection by which he personally restores the life of grace and eternal life to all who believe in him.
Heaven was closed by Adam’s sin. It is torn open again by Christ’s death and resurrection, and the Spirit of God is poured out upon all human bodies and souls. The Spirit is the power which makes it possible for us not to sin again. The Trinity was closed off from mankind because of sin. It is now revealed once more at the Jordan because of Christ’s obedience to the Father’s will to redeem us.
It’s worth pondering on that descent of Jesus into the water and his ascent from it. His descent came in stages: first, into the womb of the Virgin Mother; second, into sin and death but without himself sinning; and third, his descent into hell, as we say in the creed. He reached down to the lowest of the low to prove that his offer of love knows no boundaries. There is no sense of inner chaos, no experience of loss, no depth of despair, no experience of loneliness or abandonment, no amount of iniquity that is beyond his redeeming love. For anyone in any state of inner emptiness of whatever kind, the wounded hand of Jesus is stretched out both to greet them and to lift them up. Why? Very simply: he wants us all back home. We all can fit on his back. His shoulders are broad enough to carry us all. That is what his baptism in the Jordan is saying.
Of course, he doesn’t descend into hell and everywhere in between to stay there or to leave us there. We can, sadly, fall in love with our sins and some may even fall in love with hell, mistaking it for heaven. Jesus came to destroy sin, not to condone it or explain it away or justify it. His compassion demands our contrition, not our complacency. He has done what he has done until he can do no more; but he cannot force our freedom. If we will still not be moved to repentance by the magnitude of his love, then that is our own tragic choice.
But his desire, his divine yearning, is that we will say yes, that we will take his wounded hand with both our sinful hands. His desire is to ascend back to the Father, not alone, but with humanity in its entirety on his back. If we take his hand, he will lavish his Spirit upon us to enable us to come out of our darkness, to break the bonds of our sins, to shatter the narrowness of our hearts and to bring us up and out into the expansive horizons of heaven itself. Then each of us will hear the Father’s voice: you are my son, you are my daughter, my beloved. In you I am well pleased. Welcome home!