FEAST OF THE BAPTISM OF THE LORD
We celebrate today the feast of the Baptism of the Lord and by this celebration the Christmas season comes to a close. Tomorrow, Monday we turn to the "Ordinary Time" of the liturgical calendar. This feast caps off the Christmas season by expressing who this child was, who was born at Bethlehem: the “Beloved Son of God”.
Every year on this feast of the Lord’s Baptism priests all over the world take a measure of trouble and time trying to explain why Jesus had to be baptized. One old priest said he repeats his sermons because the doctrines are still the same. So if you can predict with certainty my sermon today it is because the doctrine on the Lord’s baptism hasn’t changed. It is the feast day of the Lord’s Baptism and so talking about it is part of the celebration.
The Gospel narrates the occasion of Christ’s baptism and since we know that Christian baptism is so closely linked to the idea of forgiveness of sin, we might wonder why Jesus had to be baptized. After all, he had no original sin or any sin at all that needed forgiveness and he had no need to turn back to God or open his life to God as he was already, and always, fully in communion with God his Father. Even in today’s Gospel before Jesus presented Himself for baptism John the Baptist had already spoken of Him as the one who would baptize others – not with water but with the Holy Spirit and with fire – and not otherwise. So why this baptism drama? We need to often remind ourselves of the best answers to these challenging questions.
Jesus gives one sentence in answer to this, and it is massively important. He says, “Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness” (Matt. 3:15). ‘Righteousness’ is associated with the commands of God (Psalm. 119:172). To fulfill righteousness, therefore, is to be obedient to God. The life of Jesus is a commentary on what obedience is about. Jesus saw his life as the fulfillment of all righteousness. He demonstrated by his baptism that he was committed to doing his Father’s will. In this he is our perfect model for righteousness and humility. In submitting Himself humbly to baptism Christ provided the example for us all. He had no need of it and yet He accepted to be baptized. Do we realize how much more thankful we should be for this sacrament, which frees us from the darkness of sin and incorporates us into the Church, the life of Christ on earth! Our baptism dates should be the greatest anniversaries to celebrate because “our birth would have been no gain had we not been redeemed!” (Easter Exsultent). Baptism opens up the door for our redemption.
The Fathers of the Church ways back gave three reasons to explain Jesus’ baptism. This doctrine hasn’t changed:
- First, by entering into the water of the Jordan River, Jesus sanctified it and made the water of baptism a place for the working of the Holy Spirit; that he himself may sanctify the waters and purify those streams which he touches. Descending into the waters of the Jordan, Jesus makes that living water flow with healing mercy. His Baptism, therefore, was necessary – not for Him, but for us.
- Second, because baptism among the Jews was seen as a ritual (act) of death and burial of the old man (the old ways of life), Jesus confronted the Ruler of Death in the baptismal waters of the Jordan, that he might defeat death and bestow life upon all creation. By his baptism into death, the giver of life destroyed the power of death: “death no longer has dominion over him” (Rom. 6:9).
- Finally, in his baptism, Jesus (as a priest) took us by the hand and raised from the dead each one of us who were bound to death through the sin of our first parents; e, empowering Baptism with the remission of the Original Sin).
Brothers and sisters, today we close the Christmas season. If we have repented in the season of Advent, saw the light at Christmas and Epiphany, we too are ready to be filled with the Spirit from our baptism and go out and do the things that we know Jesus would want us to do. The baptism of Jesus reminds us of our identity and mission. First, it reminds us of who we are and of Whom we are. By Baptism we become the adoptive sons and daughters of God, brothers and sisters of Jesus, members of his Church and heirs of Heaven. Jesus’ baptism also reminds us of our mission: to experience the presence of God within us, to acknowledge our own dignity as God’s children and to appreciate the Divine Presence in others by honoring them, loving them and serving them in all humility; to live as the children of God in thought, word and action so that our Heavenly Father may say to each one of us what He said to Jesus: "You are My beloved son/daughter with whom I am well pleased.”