The Baptism of the Lord
January 9, 2022 – Year C
Readings: Is 42:1-4, 6-7 / Ps 29 / Acts 10:34-38 / Lk 3:15-16, 21-22
by Deacon Barry Welch, Guest Homilist
Today we celebrate the Baptism of the Lord. It’s a big day. Sometimes that feast seems to get lost, as we’re coming out of the huge feast of Christmas, but it really is a very, very big day. Secular (or non-religious) historians say that this is one of two events that happened with certainty with respect to Jesus. One of those events is the crucifixion of Jesus; historians are pretty certain that that took place. The other is the Baptism of the Lord. Secular historians use this event as the basis for their study of the life of Jesus. So it’s a pretty significant event. Hallelujah!
This feast marks the end or conclusion of the Christmas season. But we get to start Ordinary Time. We switch from our white vestments to our green vestments, and there’s nothing ordinary about Ordinary Time. During Christmas, we heard the proclamation of Jesus’ birth, and we heard the amazing story of the Three Wise Men – the non-Jewish people who came from the East to see Jesus in the manger. We also heard the story of the twelve-year-old Jesus who got lost from the caravan and caused anxiety to His mom and dad, and they ended up finding Him in the temple, or His Father’s House, as He said.
Between now and Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent, we’ll be hearing these Ordinary Time readings, where Jesus is an adult and is beginning to start His ministry. And we are going to learn about His ministry – where He goes and who He’s with and what He says. It’s basically disciple training over the next several weeks, as we get prepared for Lent. And this day, this feast that marks the transition between Christmas and the Ordinary Time season also marks a transition in Jesus’ life. He’s thirty years old now, doing His carpentry work at home, but this baptism marks the beginning of His start in ministry.
Jesus’ cousin is this strange, amazing, and charismatic man, John, and he has attracted a lot of followers with his preaching and what he has been saying. His followers are coming from all around to this rural place down by the Jordan River. Hundreds of thousands are coming down here. And this is a significant place, because it is where their ancestors crossed from slavery into the Promised Land. If you remember, after they crossed the Red Sea, they were forty years wandering in the desert, and now right there at Jericho, they crossed over with Joshua, their leader. That was the same spot where their ancestors left slavery and would no longer have to answer to the Pharaoh. So, this spot is a symbol of the Chosen People’s goal to renounce their attachment to slavery and sinful ways. It is a repentance spot and a renewal spot.
That’s what John is talking about – a repentance and a preparing for the coming of the Lord. And He did come! There He was, walking down to the banks of the river just like everybody else – Jesus the True Messiah! He comes amidst all these other people to John by the Jordan, this special place, and He submits to the Baptism Himself. In doing so, He gives us an idea of and emphasizes two relationships that He has. The first one is Jesus’ relationship with the people, and the second is His relationship with God the Father.
These are two very important relationships. First, Jesus shows that He is one with the people. God with us. God descended from Heaven to be born in His creation as a tiny, vulnerable, helpless infant. He came to be human and to elevate us. Jesus came with all the people to Baptism as an act of solidarity with all the people there and all of us, showing He is with us and for us. He didn’t need to be cleansed of sins – we know that. He didn’t need to repent – we know that, too. In fact, the presence of Jesus in the water of the Jordan River sanctified the water; He made the water holy, not the other way around. He is one with the people. Secondly, He shows that He is one with the Father.
This scene clearly shows all three persons of the Trinity. Jesus is obviously there. Then the Holy Spirit descends as a dove as Heaven opens up and comes down upon Jesus. Finally, the Father spoke, giving us an authoritative answer to that question that was on the hearts of all the people – could Jesus be the Christ? God the Father gave the answer, “Jesus, you are my beloved Son.” So that’s it. The Holy Trinity is there – Jesus is one with the Father.
His mission, defined at this early juncture, is to bring God to the people and to bring the people to God. Only He can do that, because of His dual nature of being both human and divine. He can merge these two worlds together. So, it’s clear that to Jesus, Baptism was important. Why else would He go all that long way down to the Jordan River amongst all the people (aka the sinners) where he got baptized Himself, making holy the waters of baptism, bringing together Heaven and Earth at that moment, as He does every moment that the Church initiates His sacraments? He creates a place between Heaven and Earth, where Jesus can touch us with His grace.
His baptism was so essential to Jesus; not only did He start His ministry by being baptized Himself, but it’s also the last words He utters in Matthew’s Gospel in His great commission to His disciples. Remember, He says, “All power in Heaven and Earth has been given to Me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” These are the last words of the Gospel of Matthew.
Just like those Israelites crossed the Jordan to escape their slavery and arrive in the Promised Land, we cross the waters with our baptism – mine and yours – to escape slavery to sin and death and to arrive in the Kingdom of Heaven. It’s the sacrament of initiation, where we become one in the Mystical Body of Christ. We are spiritually grafted onto the Body of Christ, our King, our Lord and Savior. We are molded onto His mission of bringing God to people and of bringing people to God. It’s up to us, His Church, to transmit His faith.
Today, the Feast of the Baptism, is also a perfect day to consider and reconsider your own baptism. As you receive Christ in the Eucharist today, as you look around at your brothers and sisters and witness this Mystical Body, as you dip your fingers into the renewing waters of the Baptismal Font, recommit yourself to the promises of your baptism, whether they were said for you by your parents when you were an infant, or if you were an adult and said them yourself, recommit yourself to those promises – renounce Satan and all his works and all his show, and to live out the creed. And then I ask that you recall and celebrate, with joy, the date of your baptism. If you don’t know the date of your baptism, find out and celebrate it just like you do birthdays, because it is a very special day – Jesus told us so.
I won’t say anything more important than these words from the prayer of anointing, which is said after every baptism: “Almighty God, the Father of Our Lord Jesus Christ, has freed you from sin, given you new birth by water and the Holy Spirit, and joined you to His people, so that you may remain as a member of Christ, unto eternal life.” Very comforting words, indeed.