THE BAPTISM OF THE LORD
13 JANUARY 2019
Saint Luke gives no details of the actual baptism of Jesus in the Jordan River. However, it is clear that the Word made flesh, whose birth we have been celebrating during this Christmas Season, had been immersed in the same muddy and sinful waters as the rest of us. After emerging from the waters, Saint Luke tells us that Jesus is engaged in prayer. As he is praying, the Holy Spirit descends upon him in bodily form like a dove. This is the same Spirit that hovered over the watery chaos of the world at the beginning of creation. This is the same Holy Spirit who caused the conception of Jesus in his mother’s womb.
Then Jesus then hears a voice from heaven declaring, “You are my beloved Son; with whom I am well pleased.” As the only begotten Son of God, Jesus will exercise his ministry through the power of the Holy Spirit. Through the power of the Holy Spirit, Jesus will reveal his true nature by teaching, healing, and working miracles. Through the power of the Holy Spirit, Jesus will give himself as the good shepherd of Isaiah’s prophecy and become the Lamb of God sacrificed for our salvation. After his saving death, resurrection, and ascension into heaven, this same Holy Spirit will come upon the Apostles at Pentecost and form the infant Church.
It is most fitting that we end the Christmas Season by celebrating the Baptism of the Lord. This feast reminds us of the critical importance of our Baptism. When we were baptized, we were grafted onto Jesus Christ. In fact, some people refer to Baptism as being “christened.” That is what happens to us. Our identity is intimately tied with that of Jesus Christ. We become God’s beloved sons and daughters. When infants emerge from the waters of Baptism, they are anointed with Chrism, the sacred oil that emphasizes their identity with Christ. Eventually, the baptized are confirmed with Chrism, sealed with the Holy Spirit to live our baptismal promises to point toward Christ, dwelling in our midst, as John the Baptist had done.
As God’s beloved sons and daughters, we depend on the Holy Spirit to guide us in living as people truly grafted (or immersed, to use a water imagery) onto Jesus Christ. That is why our Baptismal Font can accommodate the baptism by immersion of both adults and infants (not a hot tub!). In writing to Titus, Saint Paul quotes a confession of faith used at a baptismal liturgy. He reminds Titus that being grafted onto Jesus Christ is a pure and simple grace. Titus does not earn that gift. He does not deserve that gift. But once grafted onto Christ, Titus works with the power of the Holy Spirit to live temperately, justly, and devoutly in an age that of lawlessness.
The same is true for us. We became God’s beloved sons and daughters at when we were baptized. But that was only the beginning. The rest of the Sacraments flow from Baptism. We are sealed by the Holy Spirit at Confirmation to empower us to live as Christ. We are fed by the Eucharist to nourish us for our mission. When we break our connection with Christ or damage it through sin, the Sacrament of Reconciliation reconnects us with Christ. When we experience sickness, the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick heals us. Those of you who are married receive strength to live your commitment, as do we who live the Sacrament of Holy Orders.
During this Christmas Season, we have been reminded that Jesus took on human flesh and dwells in our midst as God’s beloved Son. Today’s feast sends us out as God’s beloved sons and daughters to recognize the Lord’s real presence in the Sacramental life of the Church. In recognizing that real presence, we can more readily cooperate with the Holy Spirit in making that presence more evident in a world filled with lawlessness and darkness.