I love the words of God at the baptism of Jesus: "Thou art my beloved Son; with thee I am well pleased." Note that God says this at the beginning of Christ's ministry, before Jesus has actually done much.
Here's the best news of all: God feels the same way about each and every one of us.
In this season of New Year's resolutions, consider this question: How would your life change if you believed that God loves you the way you are, right now, before you even make any changes to become a better person?
It's true. God's not waiting for you to become more spiritual before God claims you. Even if you never get to the point where you pray more often, where you give away more money, where you become that good and patient person you are sure you can be, God loves you, marks you, claims you, delights in you and with you.
You don't have to lose that 10/20/50 pounds for God to find you worthy. You can have a wrecked household budget, and God still loves you. You don’t have to be the best parent/child/spouse/friend/colleague for God to care about you.
During our long years through the nation's educational systems, most of us learn all the ways we are inadequate, and most of us never unlearn those lessons. Even as grown humans, often the focus – in pop culture, in our jobs, in our families, in church even – is on our failings, on all the ways that we would measure up if we just did this thing or that thing or another thing. And then we work hard on self-improvement, and even if we’re successful, we've still got those messages: Well, great, now you can focus on changing this next enormous thing.
All this effort toward self-improvement can make us a bit self-absorbed, and we forget to work on some of the real and serious problems in the world. But what would happen if we decided that God needs us to be the person that we are, right here, right now, without any changes? What if we declared ourselves to be good enough?
The juxtaposition of Epiphany and the baptism of Christ gives us an opportunity to see how differently people respond to this gift of grace and love. Herod is so threatened that he slaughters every child in Bethlehem and the surrounding region. John, on the other hand, tells everyone about the coming arrival of Jesus.
Many of us dwell in the land of self-loathing this time of year. Maybe we've spent too much money on our Christmas festivities. Maybe we've eaten too much in that time between Thanksgiving and New Year's. Maybe we've already broken our New Year's resolutions. We look in our mirrors and see multiple reasons to hate ourselves.
Try a different practice for a week or two or 52. Look in the mirror and see yourself not as the world sees you. Look in the mirror and remind yourself that God loves you. God chose you. God delights in you.
You may find this hard to believe. You may be able to believe that God loves people like Pope Francis or Archbishop Tutu, or any number of people who seem more worthy than you. The good news is that God loves you the same way. God sees you in the same way. We are all equally worthy.
No matter how much you improve yourself, God will still love you. No matter how many times you lose sight of your goals and move further away from the best self that you could be, God will still love you. Of course, God sees your full potential and probably hopes that you'll move in that direction. But even if you don't, God will love you anyway. No matter how miserably you've failed, God will always welcome you.
We've lived in the land of self-loathing long enough. Why cripple ourselves with this kind of thinking? There's work to be done, and the world cannot afford for us to waste time feeling bad for all the ways we've failed.
God loves you; you are God’s child, and you please God as only you can. Remind yourself of this good news proclaimed at your baptism. Proclaim it yourself at every opportunity.
Kristin Berkey-Abbott is a lifelong Lutheran, a college professor and department head. She has taught a variety of English and creative-writing classes for the last 20 years.