The Baptism of the Lord, Sunday, 9 January 2022 – Bible Readings for Mass: I: Isaiah 42: 1-5, 9 – 11; Responsorial: Psalm 9; II: Acts 10: 34-38; Gospel: Luke 3: 15-16, 21-22
Today we celebrate the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord. The Christmas season has concluded and this Monday we begin the first week of Ordinary Time. This celebration today is actually a second facet of the beautiful gem of the Epiphany of the Lord. What begins with the visit of the Magi to the Christ child is followed by His baptism and with ancient tradition concludes with the Wedding at Cana of Galilee. Each facet of this manifestation, this revelation of God provides the faithful an invitation and many graces in which to grow in our relationship with Jesus, Emmanuel, God with us.
The Baptism of Jesus beckons us to wonder and grow in the workings of God with humanity. The act of baptism was an evolving sacred rite with the Hebrew people. Spiritual, religious ablutions were common in many diverse ways to many religions at this time. The Jews had used spiritual washing for their sacrifices and as an act of cleansing and penance for matters of uncleanness or sin. It is believed that John the Baptist had involvement with the Hebrew monastics, the Essenes who practiced frequent cleansing rites by immersing themselves in water. The Hebrew people at this time are understood to have a rite, like baptism for converts to Judaism that included circumcision for men and baptism(naked for men) in running water. It is very possible that God caused the prophet John to develop and share the baptism of repentance from sin for those who heard God’s call to seek His Kingdom. John’s baptism is understood to have also been an immersion in running water, usually the Jordan river. It is a consistent message that whatever the practice of baptism was it embraced the conviction of repentance from sin and conversion. This gives a very clear and powerful understanding for those seeking to be baptized as Christians, especially as the teaching of cleansing from Original Sin and conversion grew in the hearts of the faithful. But it also brings us to wonder, Why was Jesus baptized?
Jesus, Son of God and son of Mary certainly did not have sin, original or otherwise of which to repent. He had come to do and bring the Kingdom of His Father so was any conversion necessary? It has been said that in His baptism Jesus gave us His example. And indeed this is true. But was that all?
It is in the Spirit of Epiphany we are called to realize that while baptism is indeed a sacred act of cleansing and conversion it is also desired by God to be an act of Epiphany, of manifesting God’s Kingdom and graces. In His humble surrender to the hands of His cousin John, to be immersed in the River Jordan Jesus was sharing a dynamic invitation to each believer to follow Him and to be immersed in the fullness of God.
The Feast of the Baptism of Jesus is an invitation, by way of example in which Jesus seeks for each of us to join Him in the flowing, abundant waters of grace. It is a call to grow in the witness for and of God in our lives. It matters not whether we were baptized as infants or as adults. The longing and graces of God still seek to flow abundantly. The baptism of Jesus was a full manifestation of God and God’s happiness at this act of Jesus. The witness of God the Father, through His Word of affirmation, the Presence of the Holy Spirit in the holy dove, and the drenched obedience of Jesus the Son all testify to God’s holy joy at this event.
Our own baptism is an eternal opportunity to share in the witness of God as we too seek to be immersed in the Presence and will of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. It is in the life-giving waters of God’s grace to which we are called to grow ever deeper.
The love of God the Father would immerse us in the hope and blessing for which God knew and created us. While our baptism is an act of repentance and conversion from sin it is particularly our acts of becoming and growing in the will and designs of our Heavenly Father.
In baptism, we follow Jesus in our much-needed drenching in His mercy and cleansing. As the holy Anima Christi prays,” water from the side of Christ, cleanse me, blood of Christ, drench me”. In the Baptism of Jesus, we witness the Epiphany joy of God at the humble obedience of His Son. In our baptism we can share the realization of the joy of Heaven at our salvation, immersed in Jesus.
And in this holy immersion, we are brought with Jesus to know the manifestation of the power of the Holy Spirit in our lives to live for God. In another holy paradox, we see the Holy Spirit descend upon Jesus at His baptism as a dove. So it is with us. We may be unaware of the holy presence and infinite power of the promised Holy Spirit in our lives. We may feel our weakness and inabilities more than we think we should feel God’s power. Yet, with and in the fullness of God the ever-flowing power of God would flow in and through us.
But there is one more vital epiphany reality we are called, with Christ in which to be immersed. The Oneness, the Unity of the Holy Trinity, of God. The church in the world today, Catholic, Orthodox, Protestant is infected with a pandemic of viral divisiveness. Christians through the Body of Christ are so often obsessed with whom they identify. Catholic, Protestant, Orthodox, progressive, traditional. conservative, liberal, male, female, youthful, or old. This deadly infection is now being seen with ugly symptoms of the politics of the world, nationalism, ethnicity, or political allegiance has become, for some a litmus test of a malformed faith. In the Catholic world, many are so obsessed with divisions and interpretations of liturgy so that what should be our source and place of manifesting the Oneness of our faith has become a place of great spiritual battle and wounding. But, I repeat…. there is one more vital epiphany reality we are called, with Christ in which to be immersed.
St. Paul would write that we share: ONE Faith, ONE Baptism. In our second reading, the Apostle Peter speaks that “In truth… God shows no partiality.” It was a profound epiphany for Peter to see that in God, the lowly gentiles were actually loved by and blessed by God. We begin a new year. What if we were to seek to live as called and redeemed by God as a people of faith. What if as much energy were to be devoted to God for healing of His wounded Body as has been poured out on all the silly causes and agendas that have oppressed the Church, the people of God. What if, instead of emulating the divisive “them vs. us” creed of the past we emulate the immersion of Jesus into the fullness of His Father’s love and His Spirit’s power? What if we, by the witness of our words and lives show the world..why Jesus was baptized?