Now when all the people were baptized and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heaven was opened, and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, "You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased."
A few years ago I was getting ready to preach on this passage when I received a call from a parishioner with an intriguing question. He had been reading this text and began to wonder - why did Jesus need baptized? At the time that Jesus was baptized, John had been preaching a message of repentance to his followers, and proclaiming that baptism washed one clean of their sins. But we know that Jesus was sinless - so why did he need to be baptized at all?
There have been many words spilled on this topic but the way of thinking that makes the most sense to me is this - Jesus was baptized because it gave a chance for him to be publicly marked and identified by God. The importance of the story is not that Jesus was dunked underwater by John, but what happened afterwards - when the heavens parted and the dove descended and God's voice was heard saying, "You are my son, the beloved, with you I am well pleased."
This declaration showed to all who were watching that this man was special. This was the Messiah they had long been waiting for, the one John had just been preaching about who came to baptize not just with water, but with the Spirit. In this moment God declared Jesus to be his son, and identified him as his beloved child.
Likewise, baptism helps us to claim our identity as God's beloved children. Baptism teaches us who we are, and confers upon us the promise of God's unconditional love, grace, and mercy. We live in a time when traditional markers of identity have been diminished - we don't usually live in the same place or work at the same job for our whole lives, we change churches with frequency if we attend at all, friendships grow and change and not all families stay intact. This means that many of us are left craving to figure just who we are. In response to this craving and need, baptism reminds us that we discover who we are in relation to whose we are - God's beloved children. We belong to the family of God, and baptism is a tangible sign of that.
To be clear, baptism is not required for acceptance into God's grace and into the Christian family, it is not an entrance exam that must be passed. Rather it is an outward sign of an inward grace, a confirmation of what has already been done with God. God claims you. God made you and loves and claims you, on this day and each day. We are God's that is who we are.
So on this day, whether you can remember your own baptism or not, know this: you are God's beloved child, that is your identity.
God of all, when I struggle with knowing who I am, help me to remember whose I am. Help me to remember that at my baptism, and in my everyday, you claim me as your own. Help me to live into this identity as your beloved child, made in your image. Amen.