The Baptism of the Lord
Scripture Readings: Is 40:1-5, 9-11; Ti 2:11-14, 3:4-7; Lk 3:15-16, 21-22
In preaching about the coming Messiah, John the Baptist warned that the Messiah would use a winnowing fork to gather the wheat into his granary and burn the chaff with fire. He cried out: “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? … For even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees…“. Centuries earlier the prophet Malachi had written: “… the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come…but who can endure the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appears?“
Then an astonishing thing happens. Jesus stands among the brood of vipers, not with winnowing fork and axe, but with humility, identifying with the people who need to be baptized. The prophecies of John about the Messiah coming with fire and axe didn’t come true in the way as John expected. Later on, from prison, John will send disciples to Jesus asking him, “Are you [really]the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?” What would John have felt and thought had he lived to witness the horrible crucifixion of the Messiah? The fulfillment of prophecy is often very different from what we expect, even from what the prophets themselves expected. In Luke’s gospel Christ comes not with fire, axe and winnowing fork, but with the gift of the Holy Spirit to make us partakers of the divine nature, beloved children of God.
Baptism not only washes away our sins, it transforms us, making us sharers in God’s divine nature. This mystery, this gift of God, continuously amazes me. I think about it every day!
Christ’s baptism foreshadowed his descent into death by his immersion in the waters, being buried in the Jordan River. Then he rose from the waters foretelling his resurrection and was revealed by the Father as his Beloved Son. So also, our baptism is an immersion into death, a death to our sins, and a rising from the waters into Christ’s own divine life, sharing in his resurrection and divinity.
The baptismal font is the womb of the Church.1 In our mother’s womb we received the gift of human life. In the womb of the baptismal font we receive the gift of the Holy Spirit who transforms us, making us truly divine, ready to receive Christ’s body and blood in the Eucharist. Let us rejoice every day in these gifts of divine life and divine nourishment.
- Vatican II, Decree on the Missions, #15.
The Baptism of the Lord
[Scripture Readings: Is 42:1-4, 6-7; Acts 10: 34-38; Mt 3: 13-17
I think it is correct to say that most of us here experienced baptism as infants. Because we were baptized as infants it is easy to see baptism only as something that happened at the beginning of our lives. Those who experienced baptism as adolescents or adults can remember their baptism and received instruction in preparation for it. Yet here too it may be true that baptism is seen as an event that happened in the past and is now over.
If we take the baptism of Jesus as the model for our own baptism, we can come to a different and a richer understanding of our baptism. Jesus’ baptism was the beginning of his public ministry. St. Peter summarized this saying that God anointed Jesus with the Holy Spirit and power and that he went about doing good and healing. The anointing Jesus received at his baptism remained effective throughout his ministry. Rather than see baptism as a discreet event that occurred in the past I find it more helpful to compare baptism to a seed that is planted and then over time comes to fruition. The rite of baptism was the germination of that seed in the past. Its fruition is still in the future. The present is the time of growth. It is also the time of service.
Baptism was the beginning of our life in Christ and we are still living out of our baptism. We received the power of the Holy Spirit which heals and frees us and which also empowers us to share in Jesus’ ministry. The power of the Holy Spirit takes on a variety of manifestations in our different life experiences, but Jesus is the model for all of us. The power of the Holy Spirit, the power which is the Holy Spirit is not a power of force or coercion. It is the power to serve. It is not a power that works in ostentation that we are to use for our own aggrandizement. It is a power that works gently and quietly allowing God to accomplish his will through us. It is a power that frees us from the prison of selfish isolation and opens our eyes to the truth that we are children of God and brothers and sisters of Jesus Christ; and therefore brothers and sisters of one another.
St. Paul wrote to the Romans that they were buried with Christ through a baptism into death so that as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father they too could walk in a new way of life. These words are addressed to us also. If we are willing to accept it, baptism was the death of our old self and the birth of a new self created in Christ’s image. It empowers us to faithfully live in imitation of Christ so that we too will be God’s beloved in whom he delights. Baptism has made this a possibility for us. In humility and gratitude let us accept the power that we have been offered and bring our baptism to fruition.