Scripture Readings: Isaiah 42:1-4, 6-7; Acts of the Apostles 10:34-38, Matthew 3:13-17
With today’s liturgical celebration of the Baptism of the Lord the beautiful Christmas season draws to a close. Yes, we monks keep the Manger Scene in church and Christmas decorations up until now, still singing Christmas carols and keeping a festive mood, long after the secular society has ceased, probably as early as December 26th. A pity, when there is still so much to celebrate between Christmas and the Baptism of the Lord! Only the day after the Lord’s baptism do we return to Ordinary Time in the Church’s calendar.
At his Baptism, Jesus’ public ministry begins, with the hidden life at Nazareth for the most part left behind. On this feast the emphasis is on Jesus entering the Jordan River, receiving baptism from John the Baptist and the proclamation of who Jesus of Nazareth is. The work of John the Baptist, baptizing in water only, comes to an end, and the baptism in the Holy Spirit and fire now comes to the fore in the person of Jesus Christ.
While King and Messiah, Jesus is at the same time and always is, servant of all. Endowed with the Holy Spirit, the saving mission of Jesus is realized through meekness and peace. The Lord does not bring oppression, but a reign of justice on earth, a reign that is symbolized in opening the eyes of the blind and bringing freedom to prisoners. God’s covenant and promises of old to our ancestors in the faith are now embodied in Jesus Christ, Redeemer of all people. In a word, Christ is the light of the nations.
In the second lesson at Mass from the Acts of the Apostles, Peter mentions Jesus’ baptism as his Messianic anointing with the Spirit of God. As God’s Anointed One, Jesus “went about doing good works and healing all who were in the grip of the devil, and God was with him” (Acts 10:38).
It is true that Jesus had God’s Spirit from all eternity and that his being anointed cannot be pinpointed to any particular moment of his life on earth. Nonetheless, the baptism in the River Jordan can be considered as the moment when Jesus’ Messiahship, thus far hidden, is revealed and manifest to the nations, beginning in Israel. The Baptism of Jesus can be called the starting point of his Messianic career or vocation, the beginning of a new stage in the history of salvation.
The Gospels tell us that at the Baptism of Jesus the skies opened, a way of indicating that God is “coming down,” in a tangible way. God’s Holy Spirit is intimately involved in this reality and a the voice from heaven confirms the divine presence in what is taking place, that is, salvation by God, which is what the name, Jesus, literally means. The new and final era in salvation history begins with Jesus, and a new people are and will be until the end of time, born in Christ.
As the Church Year unfolds in the following Sundays of Ordinary Time, we will hear and ponder the words and works of the Spirit-filled Son of God, Jesus Christ, Second Person of the Blessed Trinity. Jesus calls us to faith in himself, which will grow out of continual conversion and turning of self over to God. Thereby we enter God’s Kingdom.
God declares to us whenever we hear Sacred Scripture, the Bible, especially the Gospels, who is the Savior whom God has sent. We pray that we might be more and more be filled with a deep appreciation of the inexhaustible love of God lavished upon us in Jesus Christ.
As we read and hear the Gospels in the coming days, weeks and months, as we ponder Scripture in the solitude of the monastic cell, prayer corner at home or in church, we should be contemplating the presence and person of Jesus of Nazareth, proclaimed as God’s “beloved Son,” in whom God the Father is “well pleased,” as the Gospel today describes it. God’s pleasure also includes our being redeemed in the blood of Christ and being led to eternal life.
We should freely and joyfully (“May God protect me from gloomy saints,” as Saint Teresa of Avila said) commit ourselves to Jesus Christ totally and find our deepest joy and delight in the person and saving power of the Lord.
The grace we received at baptism as children or when we were older, is constantly going to work in our spiritual lives, enlivened by the sacraments we receive throughout our lives, especially the Eucharist and Penance or Confession. Our own baptism, which we should be thinking about on this day of recounting the Lord’s baptism, should make hope in God a reality, who asks us to share the best part of ourselves with the world family of Jesus’ followers, but also with those not of our faith or of no faith.
We end the Christmas season by commemorating the Baptism of Jesus and our own rebirth at baptism. We are enjoying now and for eternity what the prophets and people of old long to see. The eyes of faith open up this possibility.
May the Lord help us in this year already underway, to conform our thoughts, desires, words and actions to the ways of God. May we grow to full maturity as the Lord’s disciples, in good times and bad, in joy and in sorrow, as life unfolds each day.