Scripture Readings: Prophet Isaiah 42:1-4, 6-7; Acts of the Apostles 10:34-38; Mark 1:7-11
The Christmas season comes to an end with the Sunday of the Baptism of the Lord. We still have a glimpse of the season when we celebrate the Presentation of the Lord in the Temple, on February 2nd, forty days after His birth. Nonetheless, the Christmas decorations are coming down now, and on Monday, January 10th, we return to Ordinary Time in the Liturgical Calendar of the Church.
The first lesson for the Baptism of the Lord comes from the Prophet Isaiah, written eight centuries before the birth of Christ. Even so, the text beautifully illustrates for us who Jesus is, the Chosen One, upon whom God’s Spirit rests, who brings justice and light to the nations, opens eyes that are blind, releases prisoners and all who are confined in darkness. Such encouraging words for all of us! And all who will come after us as well.
While Jesus is prophet, Prince of Peace and Messiah, He is first and foremost a servant. As Jesus described himself: I have come to serve not to be served (see Gospel of Matthew 20:28). This sets the tone for the public ministry of the Lord, which began after His baptism, ultimately leading to suffering and death, with an enormous sacrificial value: nothing less than resurrected and eternal life in Christ.
Jesus was endowed with the Spirit of God, like the kings of old, but also different, by not being set on defeating and conquering others. Instead, Jesus’ mission is realized through meekness and peace. Only the devil is defeated and conquered by the saving deeds of the Lord. As a result, humanity can experience justice, liberation and light. No greater gifts can come to the human race, to each of us.
In the second reading for the Mass of the Baptism of the Lord, from the Acts of the Apostles, the inspired hand of the Evangelist Luke tells us that Saint Peter, the prince of the Apostles, sees the baptism of Jesus as the moment of the anointing of the Messiah Lord. As such, Jesus possesses the power to perfectly fulfill the mission described by the Prophet Isaiah centuries earlier. The program is beautifully described this way: “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).
The Gospel text assigned for this Sunday is the opening words of the Gospel according to Saint Matthew, who announces that the fullness of time has come and now is the time of Jesus’ saving proclamation and work. First, though, is the Baptism of the Lord, who has come from heaven, but now exists in time and space. Expressed another way, Jesus is true God and true man.
The role that Jesus has on earth is rooted in His unique relationship to God. Jesus is the “Beloved Son” of the Father, who anoints Jesus at the time of baptism, for the unique mission as Savior of the world, who died and rose so we might be full partakers in God’s Kingdom, on earth and in Heaven.
Jesus is not the Spirit-filled Son of God for Himself, but for all God’s people, past, present and still to be born. The new and final era of Salvation History begins when Jesus is Baptized, and our own Baptism, as infants, young people or adults, is closely linked to Jesus’ Baptism. By our Baptism we are anointed to become full partakers in God’s life, which we want to cultivate throughout out life. How best to do so? By lives of loving service and self-forgetfulness, in accordance with our particular vocation in life. Saint Teresa of Calcutta used to say, what matters most in life is not how many people we touch, but the quality with which we touch those who enter our lives. How true that is!
May we be filled with a deep appreciation of the never-failing love of God extended to us in Jesus Christ. May we think back on the day of our own baptism, which we may not even remember—I certainly do not—recalling those who “stood in our place” (as in my case, my parents, godparents and grandparents), to bring us to the Fountain of Life, Jesus Himself, and to immortality!
In our lives we should hear the words that Jesus heard from the heavens: “You are my beloved son or daughter. On you my favor rests.” That doesn’t mean we are the Messiah, but certainly potential partakers in Divine Life, which God alone can give.
May we commit ourselves to Jesus Christ totally and find our deepest joy and delight in the Lord!
Abbot Christian, OSB