The Feast of the Baptism of the Lord

Today’s readings

Sadly, today is the last day of the Christmas Season. The rest of society may have tossed out the Christmas trees, and taken down the festive decorations, but not us. What a wonderful gift we have as Catholics to celebrate the birth of our Lord for an extended period of time! Last Sunday was the Epiphany of the Lord, a time to celebrate Christ manifested in the flesh, the greatest gift of God to his creation. On the occasion of the Epiphany, we have three traditional readings. The first is the reading about the magi visiting the Christ Child. The second is the wedding feast at Cana, where Christ turned water into wine, the first of his miracles. And the third is the Gospel we have today, of Christ being baptized by John the Baptist in the River Jordan.

As we heard last week, Epiphany means “manifestation.” In each of these Gospels, Christ is manifest in our world in a different way. The magi celebrated that this baby was truly the manifestation of God in our world, because no other birth would have been occasioned by such great astrological signs. The wedding feast at Cana celebrates that Jesus is no ordinary man, that he had come to change the world by the shedding of his blood, just as he changed the water into wine. And today his baptism celebrates that Christ is manifest in the weakness of human flesh to identify himself with sinners through baptism.

Obviously, Jesus did not need Saint John the Baptist’s baptism, because it was a baptism for the forgiveness of sins, and Christ had no sins. So he chose to be baptized so that he could identify himself with us sinners through baptism. That being the case, then we who have been baptized must also identify ourselves with him. We must manifest him in the world through living the Gospel and following in his ways. Today we hear in the first reading from the prophet Isaiah that God sent his Word into the world to make things happen: “My word shall not return to me void, but shall do my will, achieving the end for which I sent it.”

So today we need to reflect on the end, the goal of all that we have celebrated in these Christmas days. What was God’s purpose in sending his Son to take on our sinful flesh and live among us? Well, we know the whole story, don’t we? God sent his only-begotten Son, Jesus Christ, into our world as a human being, born to a poor family as a tiny child. He did that because he created us good, and even though we acquired sinfulness along the way, our humanity was good enough to be redeemed. He would not have us die in our sins, so he sent his Son to take flesh and lead us to heaven, our true home. That’s worth celebrating for many days, and that’s why our Christmas season extends beyond the point where the stores haul on the Valentine’s day candy!

Christ is baptized today so that our own baptism can be the source of eternal life for all of us. His baptism sanctifies the waters of baptism forever, and to make the waters of baptism, with which we too were baptized, consecrated in holiness. Then we who have been sanctified in baptism must now go out and do what Jesus himself did: doing good and healing the broken and all who are possessed by evil spirits. It is easy to see how we can go about doing good. There are thousands of opportunities to do that in our lives. Every day there is an opportunity to do good in ordinary and extraordinary ways. All we have to do is decide to live our baptismal call and do it. Healing those oppressed by evil spirits might seem harder to do. But there are lots of ways to cast out demons. Teaching something to another person is a way to cast out the demons of ignorance. Reaching out to an elderly neighbor is a way to cast out the demons of loneliness. Educating ourselves on the evils of racism is a way to cast out the demons of hatred. We have opportunities to heal those oppressed by the devil all the time. All we have to do is decide to do it.

On this Epiphany Day, on this Christmas day, Christ, born among us, enters the waters of baptism to sanctify them through his body. Our own baptism is a share in this great baptism and outpouring of the Holy Spirit. We who have been baptized then are literally INSPIRED – given the Holy Spirit – in order to continue to make Christ manifest in our world. All we have to do is decide to do it.

The Feast of the Baptism of the Lord

Today’s readings

I think we have to be a little bit careful about how we read and hear today’s readings.  We’re still in the Christmas season – at the end of it, actually – and, more precisely, we’re at the octave day of the Epiphany of the Lord, which we celebrated last week, in which we started to see Jesus revealing himself, manifesting himself, to the world.  Today’s readings are Epiphany readings, too, because they show us even more about who Jesus is and why he came.

But I say that we have to be careful about how we hear these readings because I think they can lead us to define Jesus by what he does.  And that’s a start, but it’s just inadequate.  Let’s see if we can recognize this a bit more clearly.  In our first reading, the prophet Isaiah tells us about the Suffering Servant, and he says that that suffering servant is one who would “open the eyes of the blind … bring out prisoners from confinement …. and from the dungeon, those who live in darkness.”  So it’s easy to see Jesus as the suffering servant who would bring about justice.  This in itself is pretty huge, but again, if we define Jesus as a justice-bringer, then he’s just a glorified judge or legislator.  But Jesus is the true Suffering Servant: the one who would come and serve the people while himself suffering the effects of the peoples’ sins.  Jesus did in fact came to suffer and die for us, to pay the price for our many sins.  So far from being a judge or legislator, he also stands in place of the condemned – that would be us – and pays the price we deserve for our own lack of justice.

In our second reading from the Acts of the Apostles, Saint Luke tells us that Jesus “… went about doing good and healing all those oppressed by the devil, for God was with him.”  Going about doing good and healing those who are suffering is a great thing.  But if we see Jesus merely in this way, then he’s just a glorified social worker or physician – there’s nothing special about that.  But during this year of grace, we will see Jesus as the divine physician who heals us from the inside out and makes us fit for heaven.  He won’t be just a food service worker, but instead the one who spreads the lavish feast that becomes food for the journey to heaven, where we are called to the heavenly banquet.

And we know this is hard because we get confused about our own identities all the time.  We can easily define ourselves or especially others by what we or they do.  “He’s a computer programmer … she’s an attorney … he’s a retail worker.”  Or we may even go so far as to define ourselves or others by superficial factors like nationality or sexual identity.  None of this is adequate; it all falls short of saying who we really are.

So we’re in a quandary.  If we don’t know who we are, it will be pretty hard for us to see who Jesus is.  If we define ourselves by what we do, then we’re definitely going to look to Jesus to fill a role for us, perhaps a different role depending on where life has us at the moment.  But it’s all inadequate, and we go through life confused.

Until we hear the words of God the Father in today’s Gospel.  With Jesus coming up out of the river Jordan, the Father boldly proclaims: “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.”  So Jesus isn’t what he does: he is what he was begotten: the Son of God, who is in relationship with the Father and the Holy Spirit from before time began and until eternity.  Because of this, his interaction with us is life-changing.  Maybe he will heal us of this or that current ailment, but whether he does or whether he doesn’t, he will surely heal us from the inside out, and if we let him, he will lead us to heaven.  Maybe he will help us with a family issue that has us up half the night every day, but whether he does or whether he doesn’t, he will surely give us a strength we never expected that will help us through it.  All we have to do is stop seeing Jesus for what he does, stop expecting him to fill a role, and instead enter into relationship with him as the Son of God who does nothing but please his heavenly Father.

When we do that – when we enter into relationship with Christ – he will give us identity too.  And not just the paltry identity of what we do or our nationality or whatever, but the real identity that God created us with – our identity as sons and daughters of God.  It is our task to live that identity with authenticity.  And all of this is hard to do.  But thank God he gives us himself and gives us the Church to help us on the way to him.  We sons and daughters of God live for that day when he tells us that with us, too, he is well-pleased.

The Baptism of the Lord

Today’s readings

Today is the last day of the Christmas Season. What a wonderful gift we have as Catholics to celebrate the birth of our Lord for an extended period of time! Yesterday was the Epiphany of the Lord, a time to celebrate Christ manifested in the flesh, the greatest gift of God to his creation. On the occasion of the Epiphany, we have three traditional readings. The first is the reading about the magi visiting the Christ Child. The second is the wedding feast at Cana, where Christ turned water into wine, the first of his miracles. And the third is the Gospel we have today, of Christ being baptized by John the Baptist in the River Jordan.

As we heard yesterday, Epiphany means “manifestation.” In each of these Gospels, Christ is manifest in our world in a different way. The magi celebrated that this baby was truly the manifestation of God in our world, because no other birth would have been occasioned by such great astrological signs. The wedding feast at Cana celebrates that Jesus is no ordinary man, that he had come to change the world by the shedding of his blood, just as he changed the water into wine. And today his baptism celebrates that Christ is manifest in the weakness of human flesh to identify himself with sinners through baptism.

So if Jesus Christ identified himself with us sinners through baptism, then we who have been baptized must also identify ourselves with him. We must manifest him in the world through living the Gospel and following in his ways. Today we hear in the reading from the Acts of the Apostles that Jesus, having been anointed with the Holy Spirit, “went about doing good and healing all those oppressed by the devil.” That’s the model he set for all who would be baptized as he was. So we baptized ones must do the same.

It is easy to see how we can go about doing good. There are thousands of opportunities to do that in our lives. Every day there is an opportunity to do good in ordinary and extraordinary ways. All we have to do is decide to live our baptismal call and do it.  Healing those oppressed by the devil might seem harder to do. But there are lots of ways to cast out demons. Teaching something to another person is a way to cast out the demons of ignorance. Reaching out to an elderly neighbor is a way to cast out the demons of loneliness. Educating ourselves on the evils of racism is a way to cast out the demons of hatred. We have opportunities to heal those oppressed by the devil all the time. All we have to do is decide to do it.

On this Epiphany Day, on this Christmas day, Christ, born among us, enters the waters of baptism to sanctify them through his body. Our own baptism is a share in this great baptism and outpouring of the Holy Spirit. We who have been baptized then are literally INSPIRED – given the Holy Spirit – in order to continue to make Christ manifest in our world. All we have to do is decide to do it.

The Baptism of the Lord

Today’s readings

Do you know the date of your baptism?  I know the month of mine, but have to admit I’m not really sure about the date.  But when was the last time you even thought about your baptism?  Most of us don’t remember much about our baptism day, having been to young for it to really register in our memories.  In some ways, our lack of knowledge about our baptisms is sad, because baptism is, we believe, a radically life-changing event.

In the sacrament of baptism, our sins are washed away.  For those of us baptized as infants, that means our original sin.  For those baptized as adults, that also includes any personal sins committed up to that time.  Baptism also gives us the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, which fills us with grace to participate in the mission of Christ in this world.  So those waters of baptism are powerful ones: they wash away our sinfulness and give us the grace to be who we were created to be.

Today, Jesus himself is baptized.  Which is odd: he certainly didn’t need to be cleansed from sin, which was the type of baptism John the Baptist was doing.  But there was a reason for it.  Jesus told John to allow it for now.  This was how Christ desired to be one with us, to be manifest to us.  By entering the waters of baptism, Jesus makes those waters holy.  When we then enter the waters of baptism, we are made holy – that never could have happened if Jesus had not been baptized.  By being baptized, Jesus identifies himself with sinners; pledges to be one with them and make salvation possible.  Today’s Gospel story is an incredibly significant event.

So if Jesus Christ identified himself with us sinners through baptism, then we who have been baptized must also identify ourselves with him. We must manifest him in the world through living the Gospel and following in his ways. Today we hear in the reading from the Acts of the Apostles that Jesus, having been anointed with the Holy Spirit, “went about doing good and healing all those oppressed by the devil.” That’s the model he set for all who would be baptized as he was. So we baptized ones must do the same.

It is easy to see how we can go about doing good. There are thousands of opportunities to do that in our lives. Children and young people can do good by obeying their parents, being kind to brothers, sisters and friends, attending to their school work, and praying for those who are needy. Adults can strive to lead godly lives, raising families in peace, working diligently at their jobs, and being of service to the community. Every day there is an opportunity to do good in ordinary and extraordinary ways. All we have to do is decide to live our baptismal call and do it.

Healing those oppressed by the devil might seem harder to do. But there are lots of ways to cast out demons. Teaching something to another person is a way to cast out the demons of ignorance. Reaching out to an elderly neighbor is a way to cast out the demons of loneliness. Educating ourselves on the evils of racism is a way to cast out the demons of hatred. Bringing food to the food pantry, or volunteering at a soup kitchen or loaves and fishes is a way to cast out the demons of poverty and hunger and homelessness. Visiting the sick, or picking up medication or groceries for a sick neighbor, is a way to cast out the demons of illness. We have opportunities to heal those oppressed by the devil all the time. All we have to do is decide to do it.

Today we are called upon to remember our baptism, and perhaps to think about it in a slightly different light.  We should remember that our baptism was made possible by Christ’s baptism and above all by his saving sacrifice.  Given that extraordinary price, we must always be mindful of how important that baptism is.  We can live our baptism every day: all we have to do is decide to do it.

The Baptism of the Lord

Today’s readings

What wonderful words we have in today’s Gospel to close out the Christmas season: “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well-pleased.”

We have come a long way since December the 25th.  Jesus, the Son of God has become the son of Mary, and has sanctified the world by his most merciful coming.  The Second Person of the Holy Trinity has taken on flesh and become one like us in all things but sin.  He took that flesh as the lowliest of all: as a baby born to a poor young family in the tiniest, poorest region of a small nation.

But during his Epiphany, which we have been celebrating ever since last Sunday, we saw the importance of this Emmanuel, God with us.  Magi came from the East to give him symbolic gifts: gold for a king, frankincense for the High Priest, and myrrh for his burial.  Today, the Epiphany continues with the second traditional reading of the Epiphany: the Baptism of Jesus.  Obviously, Jesus didn’t need to partake of the baptism of John, because it was a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.  But Jesus’ taking part in that baptism manifests himself as One who has come to be with sinners, to take on their sinfulness, and to sanctify those waters of baptism so that they can wipe away our sins.

And here’s a wonderful thing: even though the Christmas season officially ends today, we continue to celebrate it in some ways, all the way up to Candlemas day, February the 2nd.  We see that especially this year, because next week, we get the third traditional reading of the Epiphany, the Wedding Feast at Cana, in which Christ is manifested in his ministry, ready or not.

The secret to our celebration of the Epiphany is that we must be ready to accept the manifestation of Jesus in our own lives.  We have to let him be our king and priest, accepting his death for our salvation.  We have to celebrate our own baptism, which is only significant because Christ has gone through it first, long before us, sanctifying the waters.  We have to let him minister to us as he did at the wedding feast, giving us the very best of food and drink, in great abundance, to nourish us into eternal life.

This is the One with whom the Father was well-pleased; he is the One with whom we are in awe.  We are moved to silence before our Christ who came most mercifully to sanctify our way to heaven.  That silence can only be appropriately broken by the exclamation of the Father:  “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well-pleased!”