Baptism of the Lord, 12 Jan 22
Although Greater Christmastide end on the 2nd February, when we celebrate The Presentation of Our Lord in the Temple at Jerusalem at the age of 40 days, fulfilling the Law of Moses in reality today, as we celebrate the Baptism of the Lord, by His Cousin John the Baptist in the River Jordan, closes the Festivities and we enter in the Season of Ordinary Time tomorrow. The joyful and triumphal white and gold gives way to Green, natures colour of growth, in the vestments of the priests and the hangings of Altar and Pulpit. The crib will remain until the 2nd but all else has been or will be put away until next Christmas Eve. The tempo and style of hymns and voluntaries have begun to change.
Just three days ago we celebrated Our Lord`s manifestation of Himself as the Saviour for All humanity as we commemorated the perseverance, faith and witness of the Wise Men. Today, all four Gospels record the Baptism of the Lord which, effectively, begins His earthly ministry of just three short years, after, having been baptised by John Jesus comes up out of the water and goes off into the Judean Wilderness to discern the Father`s Will for that ministry.
From the Old Testament reading from the Prophet Isaiah we read of the prophet foretelling of John the Baptist preparing the way for the coming of Jesus the Messiah, in chapter 40 of Isaiah`s prophecy – a passage familiar to many of us through the music of Handel`s Messiah. Of course, even before Isaiah`s prophecy we recall in Genesis 15, 26 and 28 how God had made a covenant with Abraham, and his descendants Isaac and Jacob, the grandson whom God re-named Israel so that his descendants became a nation, the first-chosen People of God. However, thy became a stubborn and disobedient people. We find slavery in Egypt, the return, over forty years through the Wilderness under Moses, the entrance into the Promised land under Joshua. Even though the People of Israel had abandoned their side of the covenant that God had made with Abraham God Himself did NOT abandon his. We can read al this in the books of Exodus, Judges Samuel and the Psalms. What is more God, in His great mercy, sent numerous prophets to guide His people, right through the Babylonian Exile and then the return to Malachi. From Malachi there were no prophets for some four hundred years until John the Baptist who prepared the way of the Lord. He, who was the greatest of the prophets was the very one who heralded the Messiah. John was just six months older than Jesus as we have noted with the readings of Advent and Christmas and is the link between the Israel of Old and the New Israel of God which came into being through Jesus the Son of God and of which, through our own baptism, we are members.
Until John`s calling to repentance of God`s people and the Baptism of the Lord little is known of the earlier lives of the two cousins except what we find in St. Luke`s Gospel chapters 1 to 3.
A baptism of repentance was used by Jews when pagan converts were admitted as a sign of change of life and obedience but was not used by Jews themselves until John the Baptist called for repentance and renewal, a turning back towards God from their waywardness. You can easily imagine why so many followers of Joh the Baptist had the idea that he might be the Messiah. However, John is specific that he is NOT the Christ when he says:”I baptize you with water; but one who is more powerful than I is coming; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.” (Luke 3.16) A little later, as we heard, Luke records these words: “Now when all the people were baptized and when Jesus had been baptized and was praying, the heavens opened, and the Holy Spirit descended on Him like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, `You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased`. Matthew, likewise, in his Gospel, records the Baptism in ch.3, 13-17. St, Mark`s account give nothing of the birth narratives of Jesus but begins his Gospel, chapter 1, 1 – 13 with the fulfilment in John the Baptist of Isaiah`a prophecy and the Baptism of the Lord by John and the Lord`s subsequent 40 days in the Wilderness. The Apostle John`s account in chapter 1, verses 29 to 34 not only baptizes Jesus but declares: 2…I myself have seen and have testified that this is the Son of God.” The following verse records: “The next day John (the Baptist) again was standing with two of his disciples, and as he watched Jesus walk by, he exclaimed, `Look, here is the Lamb of God.`” In this way he proclaimed that Jesus was not only the Son of God bu the Lamb of Sacrifice who was to offer Himself for the Salvation of the World.
Many Christians, and others, over the years have wondered why it was necessary for Jesus to be baptized if he was without sin and there are three reasons why:
Firstly, by submitting Himself to the baptism administered by John the Baptist, Jesus expressed his humility and obedience to the sill of His Father.
Secondly, Jesus allowed Himself to receive John`s baptism to show his solidarity with the sinful Humanity which he came to save setting aside any exemption for Himself and so completely identifying Himself with all humanity.
Thirdly, Jesus accepted to be baptized, to sanctify the waters of baptism. He entered and made holy the water with His very flesh so that in our baptism our sins are washed away and that we become free from sin and gain holiness and grace.
As we ponder the wonderful occasion of the Lord`s baptism we are reminded too of what St. Luke writes: “After His baptism, while Jesus was praying, the heaven was opened and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, `You are my beloved Son: with you I am well pleased.`” This was indeed a manifestation of God the Holy Trinity – three Persons and One God. The Spirit was seen in the form of a dove and the Son was affirmed by the Fathers voice. That voice we hear again on the Mount of the Lord`s Transfiguration as He completed His Galilean Ministry before the final journey up to Jerusalem.
The Baptism of the Lord has lessons for us:
1. Before we ask God for anything we must first give thanks and praise for all He has given to each of us – not just for what He does but for Who He is and for the greatest gift of all – His Son, Jesus Christ who at His baptism humbly identified Himself with us and obediently began His work of saving us and eventually accomplished eternal redemption for us on the Cross.
2. Many feel that it is sufficient to privately acknowledge our belief in Christ, in reality it is important that we go public with our faith, proclaiming that we have been made children of God through water and the Holy Spirit; that we follow Jesus Christ and have given ourselves up to God, that we have promised to obey and submit to Him; and that we are members of Christ`s Body the Church.
3. Jesus` Baptism was the beginning of a new chapter in His life and the beginning of His ministry and our baptism too is the beginning of our pilgrim journey in a lifelong path to conversion of life being reborn in Christ.
4. As we commemorate our Lord`s baptism today we must, surely, give thanks for our own recalling the promises we made, or which were made on our behalf when we were infants and then asking the Lord to cleanse us of our sin, heal our infirmities and strengthen us when we are called upon to suffer.
5. Almighty God may not always be well=pleased with us but He will in His fatherly way look down on us when he sees us trying to walk with His Son Jesus. In these difficult times it is more and more important that we make use of the opportunities that gives us for new beginnings through the sacraments, particularly confession, faithfulness in prayer and at The Mass which is the centre of our lives as Christians.