Excerpt from Matthew 3:13-17
And a voice from heaven said, "This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased."
Martin B. Copenhaver
According to a beautiful Muslim practice, as soon as a baby is born, the adhan - the call to prayer - is whispered into the baby's right ear. It begins, "Allahu Akbar" - which means, "Allah is great," or, "God is great." So the word "God" is the first word a baby hears. And this is the same call to prayer that is issued five times a day. In Muslim areas it echoes through the streets in a haunting chant. Wherever you are, whatever you are doing, the call to prayer finds you and, if you are Muslim, it is a reminder of what was first whispered in your ear when you were born. It strikes me as a powerful way of binding a child to God in the very first moments of life.
Jesus was an adult when he came to the waters of the Jordan to be baptized by John, but in Matthew's Gospel the story is told almost as if it is a second birth narrative. When Jesus emerged from the baptismal waters, dripping like an infant fresh from the womb, the Spirit of God descended upon him and a voice from heaven said, "You are my Son, the Beloved; my favor rests on you."
That, in essence, is what we whisper in the ear of anyone who comes to be baptized: "You are God's beloved." Those are the first words we hear. That is who we are. It is good to be reminded of that. At least five times a day.
Holy Spirit, help me to look past the many voices that seek to tell me who I am and what I am worth, so that I might hear again what was whispered in my ear at baptism: "You are my beloved."
Martin B. Copenhaver is Senior Pastor, Wellesley Congregational Church, United Church of Christ, Wellesley, Massachusetts. He is the author, with Lillian Daniel, of This Odd and Wondrous Calling: the Public and Private Lives of Two Ministers.