This morning as I did a quick prayer for illumination and for the day, suddenly I remembered the Shepherds who “went to see/that thing they had been told/in Bethlehem”. They left their fields and flocks and went to town and found “the Babe/wrapped in swaddling clothes/and lying in a manger”. What newborns do Shepherds usually gather around? Lambs! They would care for the orphaned lambs by hand, wouldn’t they? They count them, watch them grow, see them. Shepherds found the baby Jesus lying in a manager and “made know what had been told to them”. But they were on the edges of society, uncouth, dirty, smelly — the townspeople were amazed because why would a bunch of Shepherds go strange like this? Leave their sheep? That’s like just dropping your wallet on the ground and walking away. Foolishness! But Mary pondered their words in her heart. The Shepherds gathered about her newborn and spoke of the Messiah, and Mary knew that was both amazingly joyful news, yet perhaps also something to fear, with a mother’s intuition.
So God this time is revealing His Messiah by baptism — in John’s Gospel I just realized there isn’t the “repent” language we’ve seen in the other gospels. Instead John so clearly says, “… I came baptizing with water for this reason, that he might be revealed to Israel.” That is, he is baptizing so that God can reveal the Messiah. And He does, with the Spirit in the shape of a dove…..
But this is the same Lamb as the newborn the Shepherds gathered around — this is the Lamb of God. Maybe instead of a Lamb of sacrifice or Passover, neither of which quite fit, we should see a Lamb of birth, life, hope, mystery, change — we are so used to interpreting the phrase “…take away the sin of the world” by thinking of the Cross and pain and death. But first Godself came to us as a Baby, Godself in some mysterious way of transformation became born to us in a city of bread, and Angels sang of peace.
Maybe at this point in the story that death was optional — after all John didn’t know that was going to happen. What God can be killed? Why would a God let himself be killed? John is joyful and excited and remembering a Birth not pointing ahead to a death. This is pure joy!
“Look! Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!”
No waiting for a Cross required; just see Him, love Him, follow Him. Just like the Shepherds.