Homily for the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord, Cycle B—2018

FIRST READING            Isaiah 55:1-11

Thus says the Lord:  All you who are thirsty, come to the water!  You who have no money, come, receive grain and eat; come, without paying and without cost, drink wine and milk!  Why spend your money for what is not bread, your wages for what fails to satisfy?  Heed me, and you shall eat well, you shall delight in rich fare.  Come to me heedfully, listen, that you may have life.  I will renew with you the everlasting covenant, the benefits assured to David.  As I made him a witness to the peoples, a leader and commander of nations, so shall you summon a nation you knew not, and nations that knew you not shall run to you, because of the Lord, your God, the Holy One of Israel, who has glorified you.  Seek the Lord while he may be found, call him while he is near.  Let the scoundrel forsake his way, and the wicked man his thoughts; let him turn to the Lord for mercy; to our God, who is generous in forgiving.  For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord.  As high as the heavens are above the earth so high are my ways above your ways and my thoughts above your thoughts.  For just as from the heavens the rain and snow come down and do not return there till they have watered the earth, making it fertile and fruitful, giving seed to the one who sows and bread to the one who eats, so shall my word be that goes forth from my mouth; my word shall not return to me void, but shall do my will, achieving the end for which I sent it.

SECOND READING                  1 John 5:1-9

Beloved:  Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ is begotten by God, and everyone who loves the Father loves also the one begotten by him.  In this way we know that we love the children of God when we love God and obey his commandments.  For the love of God is this, that we keep his commandments.  And his commandments are not burdensome, for whoever is begotten by God conquers the world.  And the victory that conquers the world is our faith.  Who indeed is the victor over the world but the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?  This is the one who came through water and blood, Jesus Christ, not by water alone, but by water and blood.  The Spirit is the one who testifies, and the Spirit is truth.  So there are three that testify, the Spirit, the water, and the blood, and the three are of one accord.  If we accept human testimony, the testimony of God is surely greater.  Now the testimony of God is this, that he has testified on behalf of his Son.

GOSPEL                Mark 1:7-11

This is what John the Baptist proclaimed:  “One mightier than I is coming after me.  I am not worthy to stoop and loosen the thongs of his sandals.  I have baptized you with water; he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”  It happened in those days that Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized in the Jordan by John.  On coming up out of the water he saw the heavens being torn open and the Spirit, like a dove, descending upon him.  And a voice came from the heavens, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.”

My sisters and brothers in Christ Jesus,

On the Epiphany we spoke of light and the radiance of love.  Today we speak of water and being immersed in the Lord.  The mystery of the Epiphany and the mystery of the Baptism of the Lord are the same mystery with perhaps a stronger focus on God’s action toward us in the Epiphany and a focus on the need to die on our part in the mystery of the Baptism.

Die?  Yes, the Baptism is about dying to ourselves so that we can live in Christ Jesus.  The first reading is from the Prophet Isaiah, just as it was on the Solemnity of the Epiphany.  The focus of the Epiphany was on God’s light coming to us and today the focus is on our being called to the Lord and the necessary inner transformation that would allow us to be caught entirely up in the mystery of Jesus Christ.

Come to the water!  But we will only come to water if we are thirsty! Are we thirsty?  Probably not always!  Only as we begin to recognize the brokenness of our world and the craziness of it all do we begin to look and wonder whether there is not something better and more stable and with less bent to darkness and evil.

The second reading today is from the First Letter of Saint John.  It is so clear that our belief is only true if our lives begin to reflect the love of God, both for others and also for ourselves.  We must love.  We are invited to love.  We are told that love is all that really matters.  We come to understand that love is not about feeling good but about serving others and looking for their good.  When we love others in this way, our lives and our world can become transformed!

The Gospel today is Saint Mark’s account of the Baptism of Jesus.  The first thing to notice is that the heavens are opened and a voice is heard:  “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.”  The Father wants us to recognize His Son and also the presence of the Holy Spirit.  We can spend our whole life without paying much attention to God.  Perhaps at some point we begin to recognize that there is a God and then perhaps, we recognize that God wants us to believe in Him and to come to understand Him more and more.

The world is transformed in the Baptism of Jesus.  Jesus has taken on our flesh and goes into the very depths of our humanity.  God seeks us out and looks for us.  Do we look for God and seek Him out?  God gives His life for us.  Do we give our lives for Him and for His people?

Baptism is death to ourselves and life in Jesus.  We must be taken over entirely by God and by His love—and that will be reflected in the way we live.  May our baptism be strengthened today so that we can die for others and so gain our own lives.

Your brother in the Lord,

Abbot Philip